In June, she sat on our couch and fought back the tears.
“I’ve been praying God would give me community. Instead, He gave me family.”
And we smiled, because we knew what she meant.
In every church I’ve ever been a part of, doing has been a central theme in belonging and acceptance.
Are you participating in the evangelism outreach this evening?
Have you signed up for choir?
Did you hear about the new Bible study for women?
Would you consider leading worship?
What missional community are you part of—and what’s your focus? What’s your mission?
All of these questions would be asked with a pointed stare, the person waiting for the immediate acceptance.
And on the tail-end of our last foray in church-as-we-know-it, I was so spent and exhausted and burnt out that even hearing about another possibility of ministry would bring tears to my eyes. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I still can’t.
She brings her kids over every Wednesday afternoon.
We rummage through our pantry looking for snacks, their post-school day bellies hungry. She leans against the counter and I pull out the gin.
“You’ll make me one too, right?”
I laugh. “That was the plan. Now tell me about what’s going on…”
And she plops on the couch swirling her glass while searching for words. We stay like this, her kids drawing on spare paper and eating apples at the table while we drink and process the week, until another one shows up—her hair frayed and messy from a car with no A/C.
“You guys…can we talk about how the shit hit the fan today?” She sits down in front of the nail station, three plastic containers resting in between our coffee table shelves and filled to the brim with every color imaginable. Finding the combination she wants, she sniffs. “Okay. You see, what had happened was, all of my daddy issues decided to rear their ugly heads all at once.”
We grimace. I reach for the alcohol.
She does, painting her nails with fluid strokes, stopping mid-sentence when one of the kids come running over to her side.
“Tia! Tia! Hello! Did you see my super hero cape?”
She looks them in the eyes. “I did. It’s so impressive.”
Content with her approval, they turn and run away, one pausing in front of my chair to grab a hug.
“You look beautiful today, Elora.”
We go on like this, talking and laughing and drinking and crying, others joining us and sharing their own can you believe its and so this happened…until supper is ready and we’re gathering around and whispering a blessing. Before the night is over, none of us ever leave before we quiet down just enough for us to share our hearts with each other and encourage one another in the Truth. Some times it’s heavy. Most times we’re just barely able to gather enough strength to shrug and let the tears fall. But we always leave full.
My community group is not part of one single local church.
We have no mission outside of loving each other well and being there for each other in the midst of curveballs and celebrations. We’ve dealt with abuse, suicide, sickness. bankruptcy, doubt, disillusionment, hope, anger, heartbreak, confusion, job-loss and stress…
We’ve leaned over and grabbed each other’s hands when we can’t reach out for help on our own.
We watch each other’s kids. We clean each other’s houses. We build chicken coops. We push each other toward marriage. We keep each other from drowning.
We are church, and we are family, and it is so much more than any doing I ever experienced in any organization.
In June, my husband and I went to church for the first time in six months.
We sat in the back row and I just took everything in—everything. I inhaled every piece like oxygen.
The large stringed bulbs cascading from the pier and beam roof.
The paper-mache (or maybe just cardboard?) octopus peeking out from the ceiling.
The word Resurrection emblazoned red on the wall with nails and woven thread.
The Praise be to Gods and Christ have mercies.
And somewhere in the middle of it all, as I breathed in the faint odor of dust and felt the coolness of the metal chair, I realized restoration was happening—right here, right now, in the midst of my contemplation, creation was happening before my eyes.
It began in the firm grip of my community, refusing to let me drift away.
I walked in sore and bruised and confused. I left refreshed and knowing that even though I’ve been living in a season of disillusionment, hope is coming. Healing is on its way. And every week as I walk the ramp leading into that room, I’m reminded that this—how I am right now—it isn’t the end. And it’s okay to sit. It’s okay to receive.
Because the real doing is in the dirt-beneath-the-nails-living of my community: in the late night texts and impromptu movie nights, in the learning and waiting and sitting and resting, in the nail-painting and gin-drinking and continuous healing of being together. This is how the pieces fall back into place.