Through the years, community has meant different things to me. I live in the community in which I was raised. There’s safety and familiarity in knowing those around you, in others knowing where you’ve been and to whom you belong.

I experienced community when my child got ejected from a home basketball game. Instead of rumors flying and people maligning his name, texts of encouragement came while I sat on the bleachers. Commentators and athletic directors spoke up for his character to officials and listeners on the radio. Community is where there’s an understanding of who you are – where grace is given instead of condemnation.

During childhood and high school, my neighborhood friends were my community. They were my first friends, the ones I ran with from kindergarten through graduation. We were an eclectic and diverse group, with varying beliefs on morality, religion, and politics. Kind of like the group from The Breakfast Club, the 1980’s movie representing different high school stereotypes – the geek, the athlete, the princess, and the brain. Our group of friends had them all.

But we respected and loved each other in our own way.

We reunited about fifteen years after graduation. In our Chicago hotel room, we talked about the experiences we each had in high school. We saw the depth of each other with compassion and understanding as we shared the real high school experiences. We could better understand pain, jealousy, insecurities, and heartache at thirty-five than fifteen. We were a community of women allowing time to deepen love and mutual respect for each other.

When I was a stay-at-home mom, my community included other moms and their kids. We spent hours together at McDonald’s playgrounds and community parks. We shared community while making homemade applesauce that burned. We cried with each other over miscarriages and stayed out late so we could have a few minutes away from screaming kids. We sat exhausted on play dates while our kids made a mess around us, but were energized because we had each other.

Now we rarely see each other because of busy schedules, different churches, and jobs. But when there’s tragedy or celebration, we’re there for each other. A phone call when a child hurts, a hug when releasing our first graduate, and a shoulder to cry on when a parent dies – a community of women fused together by snotty noses, sports jerseys, and mothers’ tears.

Now, in mid-life, community includes people of different cultures and socioeconomic lines. Community is the school I work in where black, brown, and white children laugh and play together. It’s in the tears that fall from a parent’s cheek who isn’t condemned because of their drug use. It’s in moments when parents are frustrated by a rebellious child, and when I open up, sharing my own story of a rebellious child. Community is unlikely people sharing common human conditions.

Over my life, the definition of community has evolved to be spaces of peace, acceptance, safety and support. It’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s where people meet the needs of one other through listening, serving, laughing, and caring. It’s a place where rejection is absent and security is present.

It’s where you receive God’s love and grace; where your gifts, personality, and soul are received, encouraged and respected; where you’re not ashamed to say to each other, “You are loved. You have value just the way you are.” 

When you create a community like this, you are Jesus with skin on.

This article first appeared in the Purpose Magazine, October 15, published by Herald Press. This publication is no longer in print. 

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