Disclaimer: I was blessed with the opportunity to speak about “Community” at my organization’s commissioning service for our new and recommitting volunteers. At first, it was a nerve-wrecking thought, but I knew that God had plans for me and He helped me pen this marvelous script. So sit back and enjoy a taste of what CAP community meant to me.
Community. Koinonia. The Greek word that the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “the Christian fellowship or body of believers, and an intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.” Intimate Spiritual Communion. Community.
CAP community is where I broke out of my shell and became my truest, best self. It took intentionality, communication, patience and love, vulnerability and investment, and it created memories that would last a lifetime.
When I originally came to CAP as a volunteer in August of 2011, I wasn’t quite sure of it yet. My first couple weeks, I tried to balance skyping with friends and family back home with getting to know my community. I wasn’t quite ready to leap out of my comfort zone and fully invest in community. Orientation was where everything clicked for me. I got to know some of my housemates better, as well as volunteers that lived in other houses. I realized that this place was full of really amazing people. And I really wanted to get to know as many of them as I could. At about this time four years ago, I decided I was “all in”.
I lived in about three different Jackson House communities, give or take a few short-termers throughout. Transitioning between communities took time and patience, as well as a willingness to start fresh. Learning how to balance the previous community adventure stories with creating completely new memories, was definitely a challenge at times. Each community experience was so awesome that sometimes I just wanted to share story after story after story! Though, through personal experience, I knew that hearing said stories could make the current community feel inadequate. Community takes intentionality.
There are several lessons I learned in my first community, that helped me in my second and third. Most importantly, to be open and vulnerable. Now this takes time. A few months in I started to notice that we connected well in small groups, but weren’t necessarily meshing well as a whole. I led a much-needed devotion that focused on each individual and how we were doing. It was an opportunity for each community member to share how their CAP and community experience was going so far. Some of us talked about how difficult it was, as others of us talked about how great it was. Either way, it was a chance for us meet each other where we were. Understanding that some were struggling allowed others to encourage them more, or simply listen. This was a great lesson for me in communication. It was a chance to be open and honest in an environment that would care for and respect it. Community takes good communication.
Communication leads me to think of conflict. Life in community comes with a side of simple annoyances, hurts and disagreements. Some things need to be graciously addressed, whereas others are an opportunity for personal growth. It takes discernment. But I must say, time in community goes by much too quickly to let a simple annoyance or hurt fester. Remember that community takes communication, but it also takes love. One trick that I used in community, as well as now in everyday life, was to find Jesus in each of my housemates. Each person that you live with lives out characteristics of Christ. Some of my housemates were boldness, faith, gentleness, passion and fellowship. Focus on them and learn from them. Looking back, this is what you’ll remember; and you might even miss the simple annoyances, because they are what made that person, that person. Community takes patience and love.
Another vital moment in community was sharing our testimonies. It was an opportunity to as vulnerable as we wanted. We each took a night to share our stories. I shared far more than I ever expected to. And the really cool part was that one of my housemates was able to completely relate to one portion of my story, a portion that prior to that night, I was pretty sure no one else would ever quite understand. Through this connection, I was able to find healing, that was so unexpected and so wonderful! Community takes vulnerability.
Because my community accepted me as I was and surrounded me with love, I was able to communicate how I was really doing and not hold anything back. This opened me up to continue to share in the future. Before community, for the most part, I avoided sharing my moments of sadness, loneliness or grumpiness with others. After years of seeing people’s reactions to my life story [starting with my father passing away when I was three to Leukemia] I taught myself to keep the mood light, for the sake of other people’s happiness. The moments when I felt out of place, sad, or simply having a bad day, I’d keep to myself hoping not to burden anyone else. In community, the verses found in Galatians 6:1-2 came alive for me. I think the Message words it nicely, “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.”
This ability to share my burdens really became helpful in my second year. It was probably one of the hardest, best years of my life. Hardest, because I lost two of my dear family members, one of being my aunt and the other my Grandma, who was my person in this world. Gma, as I called her, was the person I told all my life adventure stories to and she had a way of making my most mundane stories into epic life tales. She also had a way of making my embarrassing and awkward life moments into laughable stories. She was the one I knew that when I lost her, I would also lose a part of myself that I cherished deeply. Life is tough sometimes, but you know what makes it better? Community.
Random people who God threw me into a house with to serve Him and His people in Appalachia. People who I probably would have never met had I not come to CAP. These wonderful people, who surrounded me with hugs, hot cocoa, and prayers when I lost my aunt unexpectedly. People who surrounded me with more hugs, prayers, joy, notes of encouragement and so much love when I lost my Gma. When I think back on it, I know that God truly does have the best timing, because I don’t think I would have made it through that year, without those people.
God has each of you here living in community, or connected with a community for such a time as this. He has a plan and a purpose for each of your communities. Hopefully most of your memories will be great adventure tales, but for the moments when life hits a low point, I pray that you all will be there for each other and invest. That you will be open and honest and let each other into your lives, because it is so worth it.