This week’s guest post is by Olivia, one of my best friends since the fourth grade when we co-wrote and starred in the infamous “Silver Shoe Commercial.” We grew up in central Pennsylvania together, with a shared love of dill pickles, concerts in the Hershey arena, and Jesus. Olivia, like me, now lives in a land far away from the Susquehanna River Valley we called home.
I never gave the idea of community much thought until I moved away from them. Seven hundred fifty-three miles away from them, to be exact–not that I had counted every mile. My family and friends were my community when I lived there, but I never labeled them as such. Looking back over the last nine years, I have come to recognize that there have been a few reasons I have stayed so far away from where I spent the first twenty years of my life. The primary reason is God’s leading and direction. I felt the Lord lead me here, and would not have stayed if I sensed otherwise. And I do believe one of the main reasons God brought me here was to experience community in a way that I had never before. Because of that, I have found a home away from home. I have family here. I have friends here. I have community.
When you move to a new place, there is a period of adjustment and finding your “fit,” or rather, your community. Who do you connect with, grow with, or just even introduce yourself to? I have found, by experience, that it can take shape in many different ways. Looking back, a couple situations stand out in my mind from the first year I moved to my new home. I remember the first time the deli manager at our local grocery store nicknamed me ‘Penn State,’ when I was sporting my hoodie the day of our bowl game. We bonded over college football for a few minutes and every other time I went in there, he would greet me by the nickname. It was one of those ‘Southern hospitality’ moments I just was not used to.
Another connection was made with someone I never spoke a word to, but it seemed like almost our whole city had that connection with ‘Papa’. Papa was 90 when I moved to town. He would sit out on his porch each day, when weather permitted, and wave to everyone driving by on Main Street. He was featured in our local paper each year when it was his birthday, and they would always talk about the kind-hearted man who walked across the street each morning to visit the barber shop. (This story makes it sound like our city is this little town or village, but I guess that isn’t the point.) I enjoyed waving to him and beeping my horn every time he was out on his porch. I felt as though I had something in common with those who did the same. I remember seeing the newspaper article announcing his passing at 96, and feeling sorrow for his wife who sat in the rocking chair beside him, and yet I didn’t even know her.
Those are some basic, surface-level examples of community, but it is what I have experienced in deeper relationships of community that I will cherish forever. They are the mentors, friends, sisters, brothers, pastors, and leaders who have poured their life out for me. They have listened. They have cried with me. They have prayed with and for me. They have spoken wisdom when clarity was needed. They have challenged. They have coached. They have discipled. They have shared their life experiences with me. They ‘have my back.’ They accepted me for who I was, but always believed for better, even if I wasn’t able at the time. They continue to support, love, encourage, and desire to see me succeed. I am extremely grateful to God for each and every one of them. I would not be where I am or who I am without the Lord and the community where he has placed me.
Since being in Tennessee, I have experienced the ups and downs of living life out with people. People can surprise you, encourage you, disappoint you, strengthen you, and so much more when you open up and choose to share your life with them. I have found myself a part of many groups over the years, and because of it have experienced more emotion, sorrow, joy, pain, and love than I can express in words. I wouldn’t trade any of it, not even the difficult parts, because through it all, I have grown.
Through God’s grace, and in large part because of community, I am not the same person who left Pennsylvania. I am thankful for that. Through community, I have come to learn that change is a good thing–although not always easy.
If you’re interested in writing a post here at Texas Schmexas for a future “Guest Post Wednesday,” I’d love to hear from you. Click on guest post above for more information, or click on “Guest” below in the category cloud to read posts written by others.