I believe in community.
At thirty-five I had become far too secure in my routines. Resolving to step outside my box, I attended the church festival I had frequented throughout my youth: a weekend of polkas, beer, brats, craft sales, bingo, and deep fried cheese curds. I reminisced as I walked under the same tents and tripped on the same metal stakes. Pulling me out of memory, my little sister ran up, words jumping from her mouth, “Jane and I are going to sing karaoke – you should come, too. Come on, come on. Pleeeease?” I suddenly noticed that three-count polka music was not blaring through the speakers. It was karaoke hour. Like a rabbit caught in the garden, I stopped breathing; my eyes glazed over. I answered Lori with a firm, “No.”
Literally, my sisters pulled me out of my fear and onto the karaoke stage, where we recognized a childhood song. When we were little, our father had made microphones of wood blocks and dowels, using an old clothesline for a cord. Every Sunday afternoon, we sang into those microphones. Our repertoire was vast. The Carpenters, Carol King, Donny Osmond—we knew every word, every breath, every sha-la-la-la. Remembering those confident days, I doubted we would even need the lyric monitor.
Still apprehensive, I stepped in front of the crowd. Then I heard a melody that had been imprinted on my cells. I felt my sisters’ warmth encircling me. I time-traveled back to my parents’ living room and felt the earth move under my feet once again.
As we laughed back to our family, a truth floated forward: community is a miracle. It is a gift from God enabling me to become more than I could ever be alone. On that karaoke stage, I was strengthened by my sisters. I could be brave. No matter what happened, they would still be by my side. My sisters and I dared the unknown because of our bonds of love. It is the power of community.
Before I turned forty, my husband died. We had lived with his cancer for more than a year, and despite the storm clouds gathering in the west, I was woefully unprepared. I had neglected to read, “How to care for an ailing spouse, become a thirty-something widow, and comfort teenage children with style and grace.” I sank into loneliness, but never for long.
Throughout our married life, Earl and I nurtured friendships with diverse people. We rejoiced in their triumphs, laughed in their delights, and held them in their sorrow. We shared meals and faith. We contemplated God’s abundance over many cups of coffee. We grew community around us. When my heart was torn and my eyes a deluge, I just lifted my chin and noticed the love that surrounded me.
My community held me up when my knees were weak and held me near as I collapsed in grief. Like a sea of penguins, my family and friends stood so close to me and my children no arctic air could chill us. It is the grace of community.
I believe in community: it has stood the test of light, karaoke moments and difficult days dripping with sorrow. I have experienced the truth of God’s promise: I am not alone. And as I walk into an unknown future, I am certain of little: one, however, is community.
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