We Were Made for Community

My older brother, my best friend, and I fishing down at the camp’s pond.

Our family, for the past six months, has lived with my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law. They have a beautiful, bed and breakfast-style home with a cathedral ceiling and a wraparound porch that overlooks the layered land, a mix between mountains and hills.

Upstairs is a three-bedroom apartment with its own kitchen and outdoor entrance. Still, I feared living in such close quarters until my husband finished building our apartment in the warehouse on our property, across the road and field. But I have, in fact, cherished this time.

I have loved looking over the balcony and seeing my daughters reading on the couch with “Pawpaw,” and my eldest “helping” my mother-in-law or sister-in-law in the kitchen. I have loved the communal aspect of sharing the same washing and dryer (I do laundry on Monday and Fridays; they have it the rest of the week). I have loved the companionship of having someone to talk to throughout the day, even if it’s just while herding my children from the garage to upstairs for quiet time.

Living here, during this season, has made me aware that humans were meant for community. I grew up on a commune, of sorts, which is why most of my novels explore some aspect of community life. From the time I was six until I was fourteen, my parents were volunteer caretakers on a Christian camp, and I remember waking up in the tiny slave quarters where we lived–until my father finished building our home on the bluff overlooking the stream and pond–and hearing the voices of the staff all mingling together as they talked in front of the wood-stove that kept the tiny dwelling cozy on the cold winter day.

It was a magical season. I remember that most. I remember trampolines, camp songs, and bonfires; eating my fill of sour apples and pinching crawdads’ backs in the creek. I remember exploring caves and watching the catfish and sunnies, my older brother had caught, splash in the canoe that he had filled with water to keep the fish alive.

The camp disintegrated four years later, or at least my family and another family were no longer invited to take part. I was so young, no more than ten years old when everything happened, but for the next four years, I knew we were living somewhere we didn’t belong.

Right now, I am writing this on a futon, covered with a star quilt, in a massive cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It is the first time I’ve attended a women’s retreat as a woman (I used to attend with my mom when I was a little girl), and though I am mostly extroverted, I have had to force myself to embrace the fact that, this time, I really do belong.

It’s strange, because I love people. I love their stories. I love the backstories that they do not tell. And yet, a part of me still feels like that ten-year-old who stood on the porch in the summers and listened to kids my own age participating in camp activities down over the hill.

And this, more than any need to write a blog, is why I am sitting here. Because I am trying to process the struggle between guarding myself from pain and being real. Community is not perfect, regardless if it is formed through family or church, and to withdraw ourselves, simply because we fear being hurt, is to deny ourselves the privilege of true belonging.

The other night, our Life Group talked about starting a commune. We laughed about raising chickens and planting one massive garden in the spring. And though we weren’t serious, it was interesting how much we enjoyed the discussion, as if a pipe dream could indeed become real.

We were made for community, for fellowship, where we can know—without any doubt—that we do belong. So, I am going to close this laptop (my grownup security blanket) and go downstairs, where women of all ages and backstories are sitting around, drinking coffee, and becoming friends. You belong; you are loved; don’t withdraw but allow yourself to take part.

Have you ever experienced what it felt like to not belong? How did that change you? What is your definition of community now?

About jolina

Jolina is a wife, mama, daughter, friend, and oftentimes stubborn child of God who loves dramatic soundtracks, old books, new places, abandoned trails, people-watching, telling stories, pulling weeds, and petting chickens. She's glad you're here.

8 thoughts on “We Were Made for Community

  1. Dear Jolina,
    I have known that feeling more times than I can count!
    From my earliest memories within my own family to experiences as an adult, I have felt more like an observer than a participant in a variety of situations.
    Whether it was a conscious effort on the part of others or my need to step back and process something, it happened time and again.
    So…at nearly twice your age I have gleaned a few things.
    I always look for the one (or ones) in a group that look as uncomfortable as I have felt at times and offer a word of kindness, blessing or encouragement. I try very hard to be respectful of those who, like me, have a need to observe and process a bit before jumping in. And to remember that EVERYONE has a backstory… and if nothing else, I can pray for them.
    I am stronger now than I ever thought I would be and so thankful for the wonderful people God has placed in my life…from my family and friends, to my little church, to some very dear patrons who frequent the library where I work.
    As the seasons of life change for you, I pray that you will also continue to find ways to be a part of community and share that precious gift of writing that God has blessed you with.
    Enjoy your time away!

    1. Thank you for sharing your testimony, Trudy. I know it’s ministered to my heart, and it will minister to the hearts of those who read it. May we always reach out to others who appear as uncomfortable as we may feel. 🙂

  2. For 10 years I have tried to fit into a community that neither fit me nor ever made me feel it wanted me to fit in it. I finally realized that my community was not the people I thought I was supposed to be with. Instead, it turns out that they are the ones that no one else seems to want because they are “different”. My goodness, their open armed acceptance of me has changed me in so many ways. I have learned so many things from them, but the most life changing lessons were where I learned to accept myself for who I was, to be myself no matter what, and to not seek to change others but to love them for who they already are! I’m like a plant who has been denied water and was getting all withery, but the cool freshness of being surrounded by people who do not give you boundaries and demand you conduct yourself in their presence to their satisfaction has provided such a balm to this beaten down plant that she is ready to stretch back up and try again! Truly, we cannot be islands unto ourselves. We need each other. We give each other courage by our love and kindnesses to keep trying to reach and grow every day! Without that, life is truly a long,dark, and lonely road. Community is so much more than a keyboard and a screen presence. We need human interaction on a daily/weekly basis. How kind and gracious God has been to me to give me the cool drink of friendship and community once again!

    1. “My goodness, their open armed acceptance of me has changed me in so many ways. I have learned so many things from them, but the most life changing lessons were where I learned to accept myself for who I was, to be myself no matter what, and to not seek to change others but to love them for who they already are!” This is so incredibly beautiful, Lauren. I am grateful you’ve found your community. They are blessed to have you and your incredible knowledge!

  3. Amen, amen, and amen – to you, Jolina, to Trudy above, and to Lauren. I wonder how many of us read this with a wistful lump in our throats, wishing for what you describe.

    Maybe that loneliness sometimes is to share in the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Other times maybe it’s blindness to those who, as Trudy and Lauren pointed out, are all around and hungry for our companionship. Maybe even our own families. God bless each of you with real fellowship this year! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Rebekah! The night after I wrote this blog post, I was able to worship with some other women, and it was so beautiful and healing for all of us. True fellowship is available; sometimes we just have to lower our guard and pursue it. <3

  4. Barbara Streisand said it best, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the World”! While I’ve never considered myself to be extremely introverted I am very cautious about the “community” I enter. Sometimes I see people so desperate to belong, that they “join” a community that is unhealthy. Life should be lived and shared with others, caution is always a good choice.

    1. I agree with you, Aunt Ruthie. Before the fall, we would’ve been able to have perfect fellowship without any of the petty disagreements that assault many communities. I believe, one day, we will be able to experience that perfect community again. Until then, however, we must use grace and love to help us empathize with others…and, like you said, also proceed with caution. “Wise as serpents, gentle as doves.” 🙂

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