It is the day before I head into my ninth surgery within the past three years. I am in serious “nesting mode” as I try to get the house, the bills, the dogs, and the kid all situated before I am in the hospital for the next 3-4 days. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of medical appointments and yet another visit to the ER for 12 hours on Saturday dealing with this fluid that will not drain from my abdomen. I continue to hover on the edge of tears much of the time—either from emotional exhaustion, physical pain, lack of sleep, or joy and gratitude from the love and support poured out for me and my family.
I listened to the TED Talks podcast this week with a speaker named Susan Pinker who has done years of research on people who live long and happy lives. In a list of the top things that lead to longevity, health, and contentment--the number one items weren’t eating well or exercising or not smoking/drinking—the top items were relational. The number one and number two items were: having a supportive community and having a few deep relationships. If those are the determiners, then I should be alive until I am 205!
This gave me pause to reflect upon the people in my life through the years who have helped me keep going through these long and difficult trials. God created us to be in community and to be in deep interpersonal relationships. He doesn’t want us to be alone. He wants us to be in relationship with Him first, and then to be in rich and authentic relationships with others. As I look back on my life, I realize how incredibly blessed I have been to have real and enduring relationships.
Growing up in a tight knit neighborhood where all the parents were “second” moms and dads, and where all the kids played in the streets until dark, these people are not simply friends, they are family.
Being a resident advisor at UCSB in the 80’s gave me the closest group of friends I have ever had. These friends know me to the core. We have shared triumph and tragedy with each other, and always have humor, hugs, and wine or whisky to get us through.
My first set of friends when I moved to San Diego were my teaching friends. We were all new to teaching—young and single and have shared so many adventures and travels as well as the joys and frustrations of trying to make an impact on kids in the ever changing education world. It’s crazy to face the fact that many of these friends are now retiring or close to it—there is no way we could be that OLD!
Raising my children in this Poway community has given us the dearest friends. Whether we met people through sports or school, we have made lasting relationships. As our kids have grown, many of our sweetest friends are the ones with whom we share supper clubs, lunch dates, backyard barbeques, and game nights. And of course the continuation of Poway Pride at football or soccer or LAX games whether you have a kid on the field or not!
We have been so enriched by the friends we have met through the churches we have attended. These relationships are deep and intense. We worship together, serve together, go on mission trips together. We pray together, study the Word together, cry, mourn, and laugh together. We share burdens and encourage and build each other up. When I hear people lambast the church or call Christians hypocrites, I get why they might feel this way, given some of the horrible things said and done in the “name of God.” But I always go back to the first churches—the ones where people gathered after Jesus left earth and ascended to heaven. In Acts 2: 42, the early churches “devoted themselves to the teachings and to fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayer.” It is that simple: church is a community who gathers together to share their lives—to study God’s Word, hang out, eat, and pray. That seems pretty cool to me. Throw out the legalism and throw in love, support, and encouragement because Jesus offered us grace and transformation when He died on the cross to forgive us and make us new.
Going through these extreme trials—physical and emotional—has revealed to me how important deep community is for me and my family. I used to be someone who didn’t ask for help, didn’t want to accept it. I love giving others support and encouragement—it gives me joy. The care taker, nurturer in me wants to jump in and help when someone in my community is in need. But taking it for myself is another thing. Yet I have found the richest experiences of my life have been those when friends have sat by my side during eight hours of chemo, when friends have visited during my hospital stays or brought meals for months at a time. Some of my best memories in life are when I was at my worst and weakest and my friends listened when I screamed and cried. My most precious moments have been when friends have stopped mid sentence and simply started to pray, or when people have shown up to clean our house or tend to my yard. Many sweet memories have been arriving home after a stress filled day to find baskets of food or notes of encouragement or flowers or lanterns filled with candles all sitting on my front porch—waiting for me.
I don’t want to go through surgery number nine, or deal with this drain anymore. But I know that I can because I have a community—a group of people who God has placed in my life at certain times for specific reasons. I know that I can because God uses His people to intercede for me. I know that I can because I have people across the nation and the globe who are circling me in prayer. I know that I can because I have a God who has blessed me with a real and authentic group of friends who love me as I am.
Whether you are my friend from childhood, high school, college, teaching, church, neighborhood, Young Life or Uganda—I thank you for the role you have played or continue to play in my life. You raise me up. You change me. You challenge me.
God’s community, as He meant it to be. I wish more people in this world could know this kind of love. It is priceless.