Four years ago, our family moved from our dream farmhouse on six acres to a shabby little neighborhood in a nearby city. The change of address had been brewing for a year or two, plenty of time to imagine idealistic ideas of what our “new” life would look like.
Our hope was that we would begin to experience community in a richer, more meaningful way.
We thought it would be so much easier to meet people in the city, particularly those with whom, on paper, we would appear have little in common. After a lifetime of living a relatively peaceful life, surrounded by people who looked and lived exactly like us, the alternative was enticing.
What we craved was depth. Authenticity.
People willing to bear life with us at its most mundane, to be a steady presence as the maples lost their leaves, frosted over, sprouted buds, and cooled us with their shade.
We wanted long-haul neighbors, a true community.
Our first year was a blur, yet over time, we gained familiarity. We learned the names of a few locals.
The differences we faced no longer felt intimidating and even our curiosity about the goings-on of our neighborhood had faded. But as life became more predictable, we were faced with the reality that simply living near people did not automatically translate into the sort of community we had set out to find.
On top of that, we were still our regular selves, prone to the inconvenient urge to isolate and still carting around the bulky weight of our own independence. In short, we remained both shy and proud. (Not popular prerequisites for fostering community.)
If we wanted anything to change, we were going to have to become the community we longed for.
We would have to prize vulnerability over reputation, become more generous and less territorial.
If we believed beauty is found in being needed, we would have to out ourselves as needy.
If authentic relationships begin when the mask is removed, we would simply have to pull ours off first.
I met two of my favorite neighbors when they showed up at our little church two blocks down the street.
I’m not sure exactly what came over me. What some might describe as “stalking behavior”, I prefer to see as “focused” and “intentional”. Basically, I chased them down when they politely tried to sneak out during the last bars of the closing hymn.
When they showed up again the following week, I took it as a sign of their sturdy constitution and upped my game, inviting them over for dinner that same evening.
And then things got even weirder.
Rather than spending my Sunday afternoon stressed about what meal to serve or scrubbing my kitchen until it gleamed in an attempt to present my best version of myself, I decided instead to show up as the truest version.
If it’s good enough for my family, it would be good enough for them. And, just maybe, we’d walk away further along the road toward an authentic relationship.
We ate spaghetti and burned garlic bread on paper plates, piecing together the messy history each of us brought to the table.
I wore woebegone yoga pants. He wore a sleeve of gang-affiliated tattoos with one more conspicuously scrawled across his throat. There were a few awkward silences and our kids were their usual blend of charming and fussy.
The whole thing was over in less than two hours, but it would be the important start of an enduring friendship, one built on the bricks of believing we are never closer to each other than when we are willing to expose our flaws.
Of course there’s risk involved each time we choose to turn away from ourselves and toward another, particularly when this happens in our own homes.
But as our fences come down, we might find ourselves actually known.
Not once have I regretted this rogue, wonky take on creating community, but I cannot say the same for the times I’ve fallen back on my old self-pride and preservation.
Maybe community was never meant to be comfortable. And perhaps one of the bravest things we’ll ever do is answer the door on laundry day and welcome a future friend into our everyday mess.
A note from Tsh: My friend Shannan here has her first book releasing soon, and it’s a gem. A heartfelt, grace-filled, convicting gem. I highly recommend pre-ordering Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted, and you’ll have a fun surprise when it arrives in your mailbox.