Today’s post comes from my friend Jennifer Allen. I first met Jennifer when I was a newlywed, when she and her husband Chris had just started dating. Jennifer adores being a mom of two, beautiful girls and has been married to her husband, Chris, for 10 adventurous years. In addition to writing human interest stories and articles, Jennifer is also working on completing her first junior fiction novel for young readers. When she isn’t taking care of her family, or working on her latest writing project, Jennifer loves to read and enjoys sneaking off to Barnes & Noble any chance she gets.
Jennifer’s story hits home with me, because like us, she has moved across the country a few times. She understands what it’s like to arrive in a new city not knowing a single person.
When Community Doesn’t Come Easy
Ten years ago, and only four days after getting married, my husband, Chris, and I moved from our native state of Michigan to Charlotte, NC. In search of friends and a church home, it didn’t take long for us to notice the massive pink (yes, pink) church that sat on an expansive lawn just up the road from our new apartment. Eager to meet people our own age, we quickly discovered “Banyan,” a young adult group that met on Sunday evenings.
Upon arrival we were greeted by friendly faces and assuring handshakes. We took our seats and watched as 75-100 young adults mingled with enthusiasm and genuine interest in one another. Before a single word was spoken, we knew we had wandered into something different and special.
Named after the Banyan tree, which has branches that grow out and then down to form its own root system, this community of people, from different walks of life, soon became our home and family.
I once heard Maya Angelou describe community as a place in which “you belong to everybody and everybody belongs to you.” For the first time in our lives, we were a part of an authentic community, and we couldn’t get enough.
After almost five years of living in this community of Banyan, my husband and I were relocated to Fairfax, VA. Chris and I both knew that we were exactly where God wanted us to be, but it was hard to be away from our friends and a community that had been a central part of our daily lives.
We knew that it was extremely important for us to find a new church body to plug into. We looked and looked, but nothing seemed to fit. We both started new jobs, we met our neighbors and made new friends, but the ache and the void remained.
I would be lying if I said that we were never tempted to give up. As time went on, church and even community became less and less enticing.
“We’ll never find community here,” I remember thinking at times.
“I don’t want to find community here. I want the one I had.”
“We don’t need community anyway. Maybe it would be nice to just go to church for a while and not get involved. Why get attached and risk going through this heartache again?”
Despite these lies and temptations, Chris and I continued to search and actively wait for whatever God had in store. In our hearts we knew that God would not leave us to wander in a relational desert, so we continued to trust in Him.
One year passed. Another Saturday night rolled around. Chris got his laptop and I got the phonebook. We leafed through the Yellow Pages and highlighted any church listing with a local address. To say the least, we were on a mission.
Evergreen Community Church. “Honey,” I said, “this one has a website.”
We Googled the listing and ran through a mental checklist:
“Men’s X-Box night…check.”
“Ladies’ book club…check.”
“The pastor says he likes watching 24 and runs marathons…double check.”
“Experience God, not religion,” we read. “It sounds like our kind of place.”
I don’t think I can express what our first visit to Evergreen felt like. It wasn’t exactly like Banyan, but we knew that was okay. What mattered most is that it felt like community, and somewhere in our hearts we knew we’d found our home.
Only two years after finding the community of Evergreen and the precious friends and relationships that were formed within this church, my husband and I relocated back to our home state of Michigan and began, once again, to search for community. Fortunately, as we have moved from place to place we have taken the friends, the community we’ve made with us. Many of the bonds we made in North Carolina and Virginia are just as strong today, maybe even stronger, as they were when we lived close by.
Chris and I have experienced the joy of abundant community, the heartache of saying goodbye, and the wondering and waiting of starting over in new and lonely places. Finding community can be hard. It takes time, it takes effort. It takes risk and a willingness to be inconvenienced, but it is always, always worth it.
I’m learning, time and again, that when community doesn’t come easy, that is the time to lean into God, to remember that His heart is for relationships, and to trust that community is out there, ready and waiting to fill our lives with family, love, and the very heart of Christ. After all, true community never fails and neither does our God.