Thursday, May 5, 2016

How Do I Find Community?

Last time I wrote about what community is, to our family. You can read that post here, but the short of it is that community is a group of people that choose to be family... even though they don't have to be.

It sounds very fantastical and lovely and maybe just something that we could pull out of a fiction novel or a really great movie, but it's not. We can find and build community. Here's what's worked for us.

Start by having someone for dinner. You don't have to make it fancy to make it good. A lady at our church says that if you order pizza you're on the right track, and how true is that? I'd love to order pizza at a friend's house! Have a favourite dish you like to cook? Or maybe just a dessert? Food is going to be your friend here. (Also, when is food not your friend?)

Unless you're submerged in a group of people that are always intentional about community and inclusion, (and if you have, please tell me where this land of wonder lies), the chances are good that you will need to stretch your legs a little and do some building yourself. 

Here's what we found works, most of the time, for our family.

First, we have to make a decision with ourselves and our spouse that we're going to be real together, and then invite people into that realness. (Realness, it's a word.) Things do not have to be perfect in order to add new people into your life. That's really hard to do. Trust me, I know that. In my ideal world, I'd have my home spotless and my kids well behaved and my dog properly trained and my hair and makeup finished with a good meal on the stove before I allowed someone into my home... but the reality is that if I wait for all of those things to line up, I might have someone over at my house once every six years.

So, when you come to our house, the chances are good that you'll be greeted with a toddler opening the door and a dog with a 7 inch tongue (our neighbour measured it) either jumping all over you or making a break for it. Food will probably be on the stove because we love a good meal, but if you dare enter the main floor bathroom, keep your expectations in order because it has not been cleaned in far too long (which is about three days with our family). Your feet might crunch some Lego, but it's cool, you'll get used to it. And you'll be asked by my girls to read them a story before you can even begin an adult conversation, or, you know, take your coat off. There might be dishes in the sink from earlier in the day and a half written email open on the computer. But this is our life, and we want to welcome you into it, and if you feel for a second that we've been real with you, you might begin to be real with us also. We don't plan to air out our dirty laundry for the world to see but we want you to know that we trust you enough to show you our life as it really is. The chances are good that your home looks similar on any given day and maybe it'll open the door for some conversation, or at least make you feel like you can judge us, which is fine by me. You're so welcome.

But the door is opened. Our hangout might not be great, maybe we're not a good match. That's always possible and better luck next time. But the chances are good that we'll find something to talk about and bond over and get real about and that's when the door to community begins to crack open.

So how do we swing the door wide open? It might not, and probably won't, happen right away... but you share a need. Anyone shares a need. Right across the board, needs are everywhere. Maybe a hand with cleaning up the kitchen from dinner, or some prayer about a decision you have to make. You might be looking for advice on a topic that your guest/new possible friend is an expert on, or have something a little more concrete that you are dealing with. Again, you don't have to air all of your dirty laundry in order to communicate that the other person is needed - the idea is to learn from each other and understand that together we can do, talk about, teach and learn so much more than without the other.

Community reciprocates. This isn't a debit / credit situation where I owe you and you owe me, because you might need me in seasons much more than I need you and vice versa. In the summer months, my community has my back in ways I can't describe when it comes to childcare so that John and I can just focus on keeping our business on track. When we were in Nicaragua, our community back home was maintained through intentional (with 1 set of friends it was weekly) Skype sessions, checking in with each other about the mundane stuff that real days are made of. They were there for us, and there are ways we have been there for them, but we don't keep a tally of it.

So how to build it? Get real and authentic, humble yourself and understand your need for other people, and hope that when you open yourself up to them, they'll open themselves up to you as well. It's simple and it's complicated; it's magical and powerful and I can't wait for you to try it.

Do life together; take all the kids grocery shopping, or plan a hike, somewhere that you don't have a specific timeline and you can just wander together.

The most obvious place you should be able to find people to build Community with is church, but this is not as common as I'd like it to be, and we don't all go to church. Many people are comfortable keeping their daily life and their church life distinct. But can we agree together, please, to break that wall down until the pieces are crumbled into dust?

Church is not a Sunday meeting, Church is family, and it's our responsibility to make it that way. We don't have to be in the same age group to build community with people, although it certainly is easier when there's a pile of each other's kids running around. Those that are older than us are eager to impart their wisdom and those that are younger than us are eager to learn - they may not know it yet, but it's built into all of us.

Community can be found in book clubs, in self employed groups, in children's playgrounds, in your neighbourhood. It's quite possible that it doesn't look like Community yet, but the roots are there because we all need each other, we just need to own it.

We need to be leaders in this way, all of us. We need to lead each other into community, because we need each other. If your church isn't living like this, that's all the more reason for you to be the one to start. It will be strange and uncomfortable. You'll get over it. Others will come on board.

Your community might not exist yet. It's up to all of us to lay the foundation, to build the walls. We are all a potential community waiting to happen. We are all in need in some way and we all have the tools it takes to build into each other's lives.

Search for a community around you and you will find it. Have fun building. This is going to be one of the best, hardest, and most fulfilling choices you've made.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What Is Community?

I was out for coffee the other day with a friend and we were discussing what the next season looked like in life for us as we are both in somewhat of a transitional phase and feel that new (exciting? scary? wonderful?) things might be coming, whatever that might mean. And of course, me being a mom of three, children came up and I started sharing my must-have list of things I personally believe you need to have in line before kids start to come along. Or while they come along. Or whenever you can.

The list is short and comprises one thing: Community.

No number of baby registry items or rooms in a house or square footage in a backyard can help you navigate having a family like community can. Having people around us to ease the burden, pat you on the back and recite the old faithful "I've been there, sister/brother" has been the key to our surviving and (usually, not always) thriving while having three kids in four years and running a business and facing the challenges life has thrown our way in the last few years. I mean, look at the posts that go viral on the internet: They're the ones that say "hey mom, you're doing great" / "don't worry, you're not alone" / "did you know that dads are totally capable human beings?". We need support and we don't know where to get it from.

But it was then that I realized that the word "Community" is sort of elusive. When I said "Community", she said "by that, what do you mean?" and it was a fair question, because we all have our own definitions and versions of what community looks and feels like to us.

To many I think that Community can mean a group of support people in line to help, and it can mean paid. It can mean daycare, it can mean a housecleaner, it can mean a bookkeeper, it can mean a life coach. Those things definitely can help build a support network and they are wonderful additions to life if you need them to help ease burdens... but they aren't really community. They are a support network, and a safety net and they're great things - but they're not community.

Community is an authentic coming together of people from a variety of backgrounds, lifestyles and socioeconomic statuses that agree to hold one another up during the ins and outs of daily life. Community is built around backyard campfires. Or dinner around a table. It's created when there is a mutual (probably unspoken) decision to get real with each other. Community was me having coffee with that friend over a table talking about our fears, struggles and passions in our career and life choices.

Community is based on a sense of vulnerability and an understanding that we are all being real together, which means that when my husband and I are in financial straits, we tell our friends to pray. It means that we watch each other's kids and go apple picking together. It means that we follow up with how job interviews went and how sleep training is going and it means building fences together or helping one another move. Community is living the in and out rhythm of life together, whether things are good or bad or hard or busy or boring. It's a you-know-I'm-there-for-you-no-matter-what kind of life and it extends beyond family.

Sounds a little mystical, am I right? It's not. Next post I'll be sharing about how to find community, and finally I'll share how to build it. These are just brief thoughts from our own experiences, but if you want to hear some excellent opinions from actual grownups that know what they're talking about, I'd recommend this book and this one and also this one.

'Till next time.