I've been meaning to write about this for a few weeks now. Time didn't allow but I'm thankful that it took this long because the message has been marinating. On April 26th and 27th, the blog (in)courage hosted inRL (in real life), a two-day webcast connecting (in)courage blog readers. It started with an intro on Friday night and then on Saturday over 6000 women stepped outside of the comforts of the blogosphere and into the homes of other (in)couragers to watch, discuss, and connect - in real life. I read amazing things online about last year's experience and thought how much I'd like to be a part of a local group this time around. Unfortunately, there was no host for the NYC/Long Island area. I was sad about that but rather than shrugging it all off, even though it was just me, I made a point to watch the webcast that Saturday. And I'm so glad I did...
The topic was community ... staying in community ... and it was way beyond what I expected it to be. I was amazed by the nuggets of wisdom shared so transparently. Many of the names were familiar, (in)courage bloggers whose posts I'd read before. But hearing them discuss this topic with others rather than just write about it was so powerful. The authenticity in this webcast ministered to me (one in particular sparked something that I will be sharing in the near future) and I've been contemplating so much of what I learned.
Though I didn’t watch inRL with a community, I was reminded just how important community is and the blessings that come when you choose, by faith, to stay.
I recently went back to Chicago for a few days to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I was blessed with an abundance of special friendships while I lived there. Chicago is my second home and when I get ready for a visit, it’s not uncommon for a person out here to ask if I’d ever move back. I’ve learned to never say never, however, truth be told, as much as I seriously miss my Chi-town friends, I do not miss my life there. It was ROUGH. But here’s what’s interesting. I don’t think I realized how rough it was until after the fact. And I know I didn't realize the magnitude until this past trip.
The hardships varied over the years. There were many opportunities to leave Chicago during the challenging seasons. I could have easily packed up and hopped on a plane and it be justified as a wise decision. Though it could've been perceived as the right choice, I knew deep down that God wanted me to stay. Even when I didn't want to stay (which was often). Because I had community there.
Sometimes we have to look back before we can move forward... look back and acknowledge the faithfulness of our God. As I've done just that these past couple of days, I see how God poured out His staying power upon me when I chose, by faith, to stay in community. The "strength" that people would say I had in those times was certainly not my own. God's strength was made perfect in my weakness. And the Body of Christ was there for me to support, encourage, challenge. And sometimes just simply being with me.
"It is an honor to have people who want to walk through life with you." - Angie Smith
Years later, the time obviously did come for me to return to New York. When God first laid it on my heart to come home (after I freaked out), the first thing I did was ask Him to lead me to a church. I trusted that He would make that real to me if I was really to return. Knowing a lot of people because I was raised here wasn't enough. Living with wonderful, caring parents would not be enough. Sitting on a pew of one of the many great churches I knew of would not be enough either. I knew I needed a church home and God knew that, too, and answered quickly. He showed me three times in one day where I was to go. A place that wasn't on my radar. AT ALL. A place that was inconvenient. A place that made no sense. But though I didn't understand it, I knew I needed to trust God and follow His leading. I am grateful that, by His grace, I was obedient. God answered my specific prayer almost three years ago and led me to the place that is now my church home, The Lighthouse Church.
"The choice to stay has been the choice to pursue even when it’s hard." - Annie Downs
Was it hard to uproot my life? Yes. Yes, indeed. I knew like I knew my name that God was leading me. No doubt about that. But let's be real, change is hard, even when it's good change. In the first couple of months back in New York, I would cry at least every other Sunday on the drive home from Brooklyn to Long Island because of how much I missed my friends back in Chicago. It was hard. In fact, it's still hard sometimes. Particularly as a single woman living in Long Island going to a church in Brooklyn that is predominantly made up of young families. It's not bad, just different. So establishing relationships and trust takes time and intentionality.
"The path of least resistance is to retreat…but that’s the worst choice I can make."- Robin Dance
It's a gift to still have wonderful friends in Chicago who I know will listen and pray for me in an instant when I reach out to them but, the reality is, my only go-to people can't be 800+ miles away. If that was the case, I wouldn't be here. So I've had to make a choice in my heart to find community here. It takes a resolve to stay put even when things are not what you thought it would be. It's honestly easier to not bother but I knew deep down that if God called me to New York, He would eventually provide new community in New York. And I am so grateful He has. God is faithful and He's blown me away with what He's done in my life these past two years and eight months. He's revealed Himself to me, healed me, stretched me, and He's opened new doors of friendship which have blessed, encouraged and challenged me greatly in this season. And I cannot imagine my life now without some of these wonderful people.
"The thing that wounds us is often the thing God will walk us through again to heal us" - Mary DeMuth
Never in a gazillion years did I ever think I'd come back to New York. (In fact, I said I never would... you know how that goes). It certainly was not my choice but I know that God has called me here for this season and the peace Christ gives when remaining in His will far outweighs even the best of "what-if" scenarios I could conjure up elsewhere. (Though a house with a porch in the south still seems pretty awesome...) It took awhile to digest but when I finally stopped wrestling with God, started trusting Him, and began allowing my roots to go a little deeper, His love, peace, grace, blessing... all was made real to me... through His community.
"Sometimes when we stay it's because our testimony isn't about us at all. It's entirely about God." - TeriLynne Underwood
Opening our hearts up to others and sharing our hearts is not always easy. It's work. I know it is for me - an internal processor who specializes in delayed reactions. But I'm learning to reach out and just keep it real. Some people have been wounded deeply and taken advantage of. I've been there before. Trust me. Stickiness is inevitable when a bunch of imperfect people are thrown together and it's sometimes messy (I know that by just looking at my own life). But God is perfect and is more than able to mend those broken places in our lives. And when we choose to stay and rely on The Lord and the people He's placed in our lives, the reward is great and it's worth it. He is worth it.
I am so grateful for the relationships He's given me in the place He's planted me. And for the extended community he is providing through (in)courage.
I certainly haven't arrived. I am still learning. But I am staying.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
- Romans 12:9-18
I'll be taking the community conversation a step further in my next post...
Where do you find yourself today?
Do you find community or does community find you?