First is community. What it is. What that means, and why I should stop being so selfish and embrace it. In all honesty (it is oh so disgusting to admit), I shy away from "community". As soon as somebody starts talking about "showing love to our community" and "the fellowship of believers," all I can think about is how many casseroles I need to make and who all has had babies that I STILL have not taken a meal to. Then, my mind jumps to the people who have loved me that I still have not written a thank you note to. There it is, in all its ugliness, I am selfish and have been thinking that I was not a big fan of "community"--because in some sense community was tied up in work and guilt.
No sooner had I admitted these ugly sentiments to my husband (who is always wanting to expand and embrace our community, and who looked at me like I was a monster that he didn't even know when I admitted that stuff to him) than the Lord started land-blasting me. I have shed tears two Sundays in a row over the powerful ways God has used our church community to minister to me specifically. When all of that stuff was going on with Mom, the way my parents' friends and church reached out and loved our family was nothing short of miraculous. It was (and still is) incomprehensible to me--the way there were always people bringing food and performing the little tasks that just needed to get done and even just standing in our front yard to pray...
So, I had been in Dothan, living with Mom through the hell that was her last weeks of life, and being sustained (literally) by the community there. Then, I had to make a trip back to Birmingham because both of the girls had doctors appointments. I was only going to be here a day, but I woke up that morning to the sound of raking in my yard. I looked out the window to see Cohen Ezelle, who had left his wife at home to care for their three small children, while he spent the day raking the leaves in our yard that had grown knee-deep. Now, Cohen and Amie are some friends from our Sunday school class (who are also now missionaries in Belize), who we had grown to love over the years, but we'd never even "hung out" outside of church activities. He just found out where we lived, drove over to our house and thought, "What can I do to serve this family and show them God's care?" I suddenly understood why my Dad kept saying he "felt humbled" by all the things people were doing for us back home. Seeing Cohen out there with a rake in his hands, doing a thankless job that he (assuming we were still in Dothan) never even planned on us knowing he did, and knowing that my Creator had taken the time to prompt his heart to just DO something for us in the little sphere that we now called our own, touched me profoundly. I don't know that I even felt all of that then, as overwhelmed as I was by Mom's sickness, but last Sunday as I sat in church listening to a sermon on "community," all of that was laid clearly before my eyes. What I realized was that community is not about feeling guilty about every person in your church or neighborhood who might need a casserole that you have not come through for. It's about listening to the promptings that God lays on your heart for specific people, and ACTING on those burdens. It might be just to pray for them and love them from a distance, or it might be something that feels ridiculous, like showing up to rake their yard, but the fact is that God uses us as His ambassadors, to be tangible evidence of the love He's pouring out from above. What an honor that is! And what a pity that I shy away from it, because I think I am too busy. (There are many other examples of ways that friends loved us--or me--specifically during that time, and God has been pouring each one back over my head lately. I just listed the first that came to mind.)
The second lesson (and I'll try to keep it quick because this has already gotten really long) is a true thankfulness for my afflictions. This feels sort of weird to say, but my heart has realized that BECAUSE God loves me, He has allowed hardships into my life, in order that my relationship with him might take on a greater sweetness and sincerity. I've written about this before (shows you how long God has been teaching me this one), but it just keeps coming back. The writer of Hebrews (12:7) says, "Endure hardship as a discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons."
After going through something really hard (which I know that losing your Mom is nothing compared to what MANY suffer), I find that all Scripture is tinged with more meaning, that God is more real in my life, and that I relate to others in a more intimate way than I did before. To know that God took the time to love me through a hardship, to discipline me even, is (again) humbling. And while I wouldn't have chosen it, I grow increasingly thankful for the experience of it. Is that sick?
So, in a nutshell, community and hardship are good. Thank you Jesus that I've experienced the blessings of both.