community as is
Ella (my four year old) is drawing now, with the help of a "You Can Draw Tinkerbell" book that has the most complicated drawings and directions you've ever seen. Of course, she's elated. Being able to draw has unintentionally become a necessary skill in our house, given that the oldest draws for at least an hour each day. So when you can draw, you've arrived. You're grown now. Let me find you a car or something.
Due to this new drawing phase, there's a new form of relational tension developing: mainly, Ella's desire for everyone to stop what they are doing and immediately come to "help" her draw. We were in the midst of one such scene on Sunday morning. She had ended the day before with a declaration that she would draw the hardest fairy as a gift for a friend at church. And when she woke, there was nothing to do but get this picture done. Now. NOW. NOW!!!!
So after fighting with Drew, who did not want to leave his couch to help her, and throwing a big tantrum at breakfast about the struggles of unsupported artistry, I finally convinced her to draw in the kitchen where I could watch as I worked my way through the dishes. She sighed and agreed.
So Ella started her picture. First, she left out all the hard parts, the parts she really needed help with, and drew around those. Then she started to add them in here and there. Her chatting gained speed and her excitement returned and within ten minutes the picture was done! Ella leaned back, stretching and smiling as though she had completed the Sistine Chapel, and hopped off her stool to show her siblings. They announced their congratulations on a job well done (the boys really are champs when it comes to that part) and Ella returned, satisfied.
And I thought, for the millionth time, how like Ella I am. But this day the thought was about community, how, like Ella, I think I need something from those around me. When in truth, it's more about the fact that I don't want to try alone.
Alone. Isn't that a terrifying word?
I can grit my teeth through a lot of parenting, through the toddler who is wandering the house at night and the first grader who has fits of rage and the first born who tearfully declares homeschooling to be part of the systemic injustice in the world. I can live through the husband who works more than he doesn't. I can live through the Body that is not always what I think it could be. I can live through the novel that teases me on my laptop. And there's baby weight and dishes by the gallon and laundry, oh, how there's laundry.
But the simple admission, "I feel so alone," it can crush me faster than all of those combined, making any of those circumstances instantly impossible.
I don't believe we were made to live alone. I don't believe that loving Jesus is an individual endeavor. I don't like that our lives are so full, so brimming and busy and hectic, that it takes so much effort to just not be alone.
Last week we had friends over for dinner. I was busily cleaning the house, not so much out of vanity but out of the necessity that we needed a surface that we could eat on, when I looked around and thought, "Really? We're inviting people over to this?" There were thirty reasons why it was a terrible idea, but one reason why it wasn't: we love these people and we wanted to break bread with them. And in that moment, my messy house was like a 1600 square foot analogy of my own messy heart, and I thought that sometimes you have to invite people in as is.
Hi. Welcome. This is where I am and this is what I have. I know it isn't much, but I want to share it with you. I'm glad you could come. I'm sorry for the mess, and I hope you can handle it.
And then the friend laughs, because all they did was bring their mess into your mess. And above all else, they are just so thankful that you invited them in. Because guess what? Your friends don't want to be alone either.
And as you eat carnitas and fresh chips and salsa, you get over the fact that people are in your cluttered house and you are serving take out (gasp) and that you are all piled around the kitchen island because the dining room was too ambitious for the day that was served to you. And though in your mind it all might say "I have so little to offer you", in your friend's mind it says, "I have time for you even in this, and you are welcome to be here in this with me."
And in the end, none of you are alone.
Isn't that what we really want, not to be invited into museum-like homes or squeaky clean hearts? We want to be thought of, to be wanted, to be loved in the midst of this busy life.
We want to see the road ahead and know that someone will walk it with us.
That's what community is, the people who are pressing into each other, making room and space in their minds and schedules and affection and, yes, at the kitchen island.
Once you've tasted it, it becomes a bit easier to think of amidst the madness. But it's always a fight to keep it healthy, to treasure your people over your minutes, to live a life that shows your kids how to not walk alone.
That night ended. After hours in the kitchen, hours filled with conversations about church and life and the things that confuse us and stir us, we had to call it a night. Our kids stayed up too late and the dishes were still rounding over the sink as we walked our friends to the door and started up the stairs.
"That was good," my husband said.
"Sure was," I replied.
And I wondered why I don't do that more often, why I can't "find the time" to do something that is infinitely more meaningful and satisfying than so many other things I find time for. Who knows. Probably because it's work, and because I don't enjoy the thought of appearing to the world, even my dear friends, as is.
But here I am, knee deep in Saxon Math and dry erase markers and that rounded sink of dishes that instantly refills. And I want community here, not on the other side. So I'm trying to figure out how to do that. It's a risky and humbling venture, no doubt. But I hope you'll find it's worth the jump. And I hope you will know the strange lightness of a burden that is carried with someone walking next to you.
See ya Friday.