The Blessing of Community

I was 19 years old and still living at my parents’ home, attending college in that same town. I had no idea on that Friday afternoon what I would discover to my horror. Barbara, the oldest of my three younger sisters, stayed home from school that day.

Our sister Kathy, the middle of the three younger sisters had come home and was playing in the basement. According to Barbara. Only she wasn’t playing when I discovered her body at the bottom of the stairs. No need for details here, but it is apparent to me – these many years later – that she had been playing on the banister with a belt around her neck and had fallen off, strangling herself. It takes my breath away to say that even these 57 years later.

“Kathy!” I was yelling as I ran down the stairs into the dark basement of the home my dad’s family had built when he was 18 months old. “Kathy!”

“Barbara! Call the police! Call the ambulance!” I took Kathy’s body upstairs and laid her on the floor of our entry hall. I gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Barbara was in a panic and didn’t know what to say, so I got on the phone to direct the ambulance to our house. It seemed like they were there in seconds. That was a most memorable day. Stunning. Shocking. Devastating. Sad.

There were also memorable days that followed. Family and friends descended upon our house and family. People cried with our parents. They brought food. They visited. They shared stories. Most of all they came and walked with us through those dark hours and days. My image, even today, was that these people with whom my parents had built years of relationships, from church to local motel owners, to bridge club members, to supper club friends, to Sunday school class members, together with our extended family as well as my friends, and friends of my sister Barbara – these people en masse picked us up and carried us through those grief-stricken days.

My mom, much like the mom of the 18-month-old who drowned, was nearly inconsolable. Decades later, whenever we would mention Kathy, she would tear up. Much like Rachel of the Old Testament, there was a hole that no one could fill.

Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” – Jeremiah 31:15

This was a time to feel bad. This was a true, tragic, and terrible loss. There is no sugar-coating it. A child, not quite 7 years old was taken from us.

Forty years later Diane and I were on our way home from a meeting at our church. As we turned a corner near our home, we saw a woman, who looked to be 40 or 50 years old. She was on the street half-heartedly begging for money. I had already driven past her, but I couldn’t just keep going. It was starting to rain. I turned the car around and went back to see how we could help.

When we drove up to her, we asked. She said, “I need some money for food for my dog.” Not what we expected by a long shot. I asked her name. “Kathy.” That’s when it hit me hard: that could have been my sister! We gave her $5.00 – not much for a woman braving the elements with only her dog. But she insisted. She did not need anything else.

There is a strong parallel between my sister on the Friday and this 50-year-old Kathy on that rainy night. They were both alone. Kathy in the basement. Kathy on the street with her dog.

This is no blame game. That is only an exercise in futility. Blame never heals wounds. I never charts a new course. It never provides hope. Think of it, though. If Kathy had been playing with friends. If Kathy had a community of people around her to help her make her way in a better way. What different outcomes might there have been. We’ll never know.

Last week Diane and I were in Chicago where we led a group of church leaders through a leadership training process that centered in discovering one’s core (identity), capabilities, and context, then seeking to leverage those for the cause of Christ’s kingdom: Leadership from Within. We made one vital point in the process: We most often see leaders fail when they go it alone. Another way of saying that is community can keep us on the rails of leadership and of life itself.

We experienced a vital corollary to the danger of lone-ranger leadership or living. During the beginning moments of the experience several participants were very timid in claiming their space, embracing their identity, admitting to their competencies, and looking for the intersection of those with their context. They were not courageous.

During the days that followed, they forged some new relationships. They began to share with one another. Bit by bit at first, but then more and more. Soon the time came for people to share with the whole group. One by one, even the most timid and tentative ones began to share. Soon new courage emerged. New courage grew stronger. People began to show up. They began to tell their stories. The community was strengthened in the process.

Courage is cultivated in community. It may be forged in the heat of battle, but it is the confidence that one is not alone that allows courage to raise its head.

Don’t feel bad about feeling bad.Lean into that group of women who will walk with you to higher ground and help you see new horizons of hope. Get connected with others who will be your band of merry men who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in the battle for your souls and the rule and reign of Jesus.

You don’t get over feeling bad by denying the reality that is causing the pain. But you don’t have to go it alone. There is one preemptive thing you can do that can help you rise above depression and dark moments of trouble, tragedy, and terror when those days come: you can begin now to live in community. Build relationships. Deepen connections. Embrace sisters and brothers in grace and truth.

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The ministry team at the community center we visited in Antiqua, Guatemala. September 2018

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