The Gift of Community

I am tired as I write this devotional, but it is a good tired. We just arrived home from a 2450 mile road trip over the past 7 days – from Denver to Palm Springs, California and back. Today was a beautiful drive of 550 miles from Beaver, Utah. Our purpose was a good one – to help my brother-in-law Jim as he starts in a new direction that will not allow him to bring along his much-loved dog Sunny for the next year. We agreed to serve as Sunny’s foster parents for the year, and to drive out to pick him up, as well as to help Jim with some of his packing. So Sunny is now beginning to explore and settle into his new home as I write.

This trip was like many other road trips, in that it included some beautiful scenery, especially in Utah, some relaxing meals in beautiful settings, especially there in the Palm Desert, and way too many stops at MacDonald’s and gas station convenience stores along the way. However, this trip was also unusual in that it gave us two wonderful, but different experiences of community.

First, on Friday evening, we arranged a meeting in Phoenix with good friends from our former neighborhood and church in Naperville, IL. Dick and Annette, the parents of our daughter Kaia’s best grade school friend, happened to be in Phoenix for a vacation watching Chicago Cubs spring training games. We had not seen them for 11 years, so were thrilled to sit in an outdoor café with them from 4:30 until 10:00 pm, sharing experiences with each other, both happy and painful. We all emerged from that restaurant with deep gratitude for friends who can support and carry each other, even at a great distance. We listened to, encouraged and thanked each other and agreed to make better use of the technology that now exists to allow us to more actively support each other.

Then on Saturday evening, we were privileged to come as guests to an unusual potluck gathering of people who were complete strangers to us, but who had gathered as friends of Jim to express their love and support to him as he begins his new chapter. This was a group comprised primarily of Palm Springs area retirees who had come together 5 years ago as volunteers at a local church sponsored resale shop that Jim had managed. Over the several years they worked together, Jim had recognized a desire on the part of the volunteers to build friendships as well as provide service, so had organized regular potluck dinners that all came to deeply appreciate. As a result, now, more than a year after Jim had left the organization, on three days notice, they organized a potluck to express to Jim not just their appreciation but their Love for him. It was a remarkable outpouring of love and a real demonstration of community that accepts and supports each other without reservation, culminating in laying on of hands and praying for Jim – this from a group that was anything but pious. The love was palpable.

Community often feels to be hit and miss for many of us. We go through periods where we experience it as real and present to us, and then other periods when we feel isolated and disconnected. Last weekend reminded me that sometimes our community can be separated by distance, and other times it may be dormant for awhile, but potentially reawakened. May we not hesitate to reach out to each other and to those God has placed in our lives, whether near or far.

Lord, thank you for the gift of community! Continue to surprise us with its strength and teach us to actively nurture it in whatever form it may take for us. Amen.

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