Connecting with “The Other”

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my friend Kelly might just be a pro at it. She’s one of those people that everyone knows or wants to know. And she brings out the best in people, asking the right questions to help them discover more fully how to live into their best self. This post is just one more nudge in the right direction as Kelly leads the way…

Connect Guest Post: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

We are called to connect—to God, ourselves and others. This story is how God called me to connect with, for lack of a better term, “the other.” Those I knowingly or unknowingly separate myself from for reasons as simple or as difficult as culture, socioeconomic status, location, religion or gender. “The other” is anyone I see as different from me, regardless of why.

For several years I’ve been connecting in unexpected ways, out of my comfort zone, which pushes me more and more into the arms of Jesus. It started about three and a half years ago when our family moved to Northern California. Prior to having children, I moved a lot. I prided myself on moving efficiently, on not having a lot of baggage. I had worked out a loose system for quickly assimilating into a new community. We always started by joining a church.

But when we moved I felt strongly that I was to immerse myself into the community itself rather than a church community. It seemed counter-intuitive—it’s always easier to become a part of a community with like-minded people who possess similar values—but I couldn’t shake it. So I invested my time and energy into the people I met at my children’s school.

Around the same time, I saw a small add in a local paper advertising for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), an organization that trains you to become a CASA for a foster child in the court system. I can’t tell you why that ad leapt off the page. But it did, and just thinking about it filled me with the kind of joy I knew I needed to pursue.

I became a CASA to a one-year old girl in the foster care system. Due to confidentiality, I can’t share her story but I can tell you that I was in the right place at the right time. And I loved that CASA connected me to a family in crisis in the community I lived in. A family I may never have run into on my own. Despite different cultures, religions and socioeconomic levels, we forged a connection in working for the best interest of my CASA whom we all loved dearly.

They showed me their world and I helped them navigate mine. Survival, keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table, was their all-consuming job. Once Child Protective Services entered their world, they faced unfamiliar rules and confusing paperwork. Though the system tries to help, it often feels burdensome to the population it serves. Being a CASA made me a bridge to help them connect, communicate, and understand one another. Connecting with CASA, her family, and social services changed all of our lives for the better.

Way outside my “comfortable life bubble,” God has also called me to connect with the homeless community. I can’t tell you how many times my eyes have darted away from a homeless man or woman standing on the corner with a sign for help. When you’re just trying to get your errands done, it’s hard to know what to do when you encounter suffering, desperation, and most likely some degree of mental illness. Before children, I found effective and safe ways to engage with the homeless community. As a mother of three children who accompany me in my every day, I have been at a loss. Most times, it was just easier to pretend that I didn’t see them there.

But God would not leave me alone. He is determined “to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.” Anne Lamott once described God as a kitten “constantly nipping at her heels.” It felt just like that. Matthew 25:31-45 ran on an endless loop. Be warned: if you don’t want Jesus to speak to you, don’t click the link. Make no mistake, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”

Read God’s Word and you see how it became hard to ignore. I finally relented with an, “Okay, God, I get it. Those people on the street corner who make me want to turn away are You. You identify with the least of these. The helpless, the hopeless, the weak, those without a voice in our society, those whom we treat as invisible because it is more convenient, safe, and comfortable. Lord, they are You. When I choose to ignore them, I choose to ignore You. Please help me. With kids, I have no idea how to touch You in a culturally relevant and meaningful way. If you show me how, I will do it.”

“Help me, God” prayers are generally just what He’s been waiting for. He doesn’t show me the whole path, but without fail He illuminates the next step. “By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back.”

The next day, I walked into church a little early (a miracle in itself) and saw a huge screen advertising a training the next weekend for an organization called Wings. An organization which specializes in homeless advocacy. If I learned anything from my time as a CASA, it’s that I am made to be a voice for those who do not have one and to advocate on their behalf.

I’ve landed as one of Wings‘ dispatchers. I send out request emails to a small volunteer army to meet a need in our local homeless community. Needs vary: a ride to a doctor’s appointment, help getting a new pair of orthotic shoes, grocery shopping, or delivering a welcome basket of helpful goodies to someone who has just secured housing. And, the best part, I work from my living room while I help the kiddos with their homework. God made a way. I never would have dreamed that God would use my prior training as a paralegal to advocate for the homeless from the comfort and safety of my living room. He really can do anything.

I invite you to open yourself up to God’s way to connect in whatever arena He is nudging you toward. Maybe He’s calling you into the arena of forgiveness, or a sacrificial donation to some organization. You’ll know. He won’t quit “nipping at your heels.” Whatever it is, if you ask for help and surrender to doing things His way, He will connect you to the people you need to get there. I can’t promise it will be easy but I do know that God will always be faithful. Even “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

Also, if you partner with God in the work He calls you to, you will eventually find a kind of joy that only Jesus can give. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” So wherever you are and whatever it is, do it. God is calling you to connect. Someone is waiting for you.

Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.

Reading: May-June 2018

It’s the official first day of summer! My summer reading is about to commence in earnest, so I’m posting the recent round-up a little early. Two stand-outs: The Hate U Give and Educated. Completely different, both amazing.

Clara and Mr. TiffanyClara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book more than I did. Clara Driscoll, a woman working in the arts at the turn of the 20th century, is both a completely normal (in love with her work and struggling for recognition in a male-dominated profession) and unusual character. But the long descriptions of glass work were hard to follow (I wanted pictures) and sometimes tedious. Occasionally, the book became rapturously poetic, as one would expect from a woman so enamored with the natural world that she feels most alive as she turns the inspiration into something gloriously other. But in the end I wish there had been much tighter editing overall.

The Best Kind of PeopleThe Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF, but made it halfway before deciding life is too short for bad books (and my reading queue too long).

School shootings and sexual harassment are all too relevant, and I hoped this book might have more to add to the conversation. That, being story, it could give us access to the questions we don’t want to have to address personally: how well do I really know those I love? What secrets might anyone be hiding? How do we balance “innocence before proven guilty” with speculation, even practicality? What if…?

But I felt like I was losing my mind. How could this book have received such glowing reviews when the writing was so clunky, so poorly edited? Maybe my copy alone had all the mistakes? Seriously, a character says he’s going home for a day but will be back tomorrow at the beginning of a conversation, and at the end says he’ll see her in a few days. Elsewhere the accusers are 14yo girls, and then the alleged events took place on the “senior ski trip” where no 14yo’s would have been present. Redundant hard-to-follow dialogue kept me wondering why that (and then that one, and that one) character would spout that at this moment…? I kept thinking: This is not how mothers and daughters talk to each other. This is not how mothers of children the same age talk to each other. This is not how sisters talk to each other. And so on.

I flipped ahead enough to figure out some critical plot points and decided I’d had enough. Bad writing leading to a bad ending is just not going to work for me.

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Get your hands on this book and read it Right Now!

This book is an excellent example of the power of literature. Starr’s life is not mine; I have not, nor do I expect to, experience what she has been through. But having read her story, I have a better understanding of the world we share. My heart has grown bigger.

Passing the book to my 14yo son…

Bush (Kindle Single)Bush by Janice Y.K. Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loading up my Kindle with vacation reads, I was so excited to find a new book by an author I’ve enjoyed. I had no idea it was a short story, so imagine my shock when, on the plane, shortly into our flight, this riveting tale I’d hoped to carry me through the week just…ended. Dramatically, leaving me wanting So Much More! It was unsettling in the best way short stories can be and I imagine it will stick with me for some time to come.

The WoodcutterThe Woodcutter by Kate Danley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m picky about vacation reading and this one fit the bill. The writing was solid. The plot was fun–mash up a bunch of fairy tale characters with some odd characters from mythology and Shakespeare, and let them play together in new ways. It had nothing to do with everyday life and whisked me away to the Wood and the Twelve Kingdoms in which the Woodcutter maintains peaceful balance. It wasn’t life-changing, but I didn’t need that, just a good story to read by the pool.

The Wendy ProjectThe Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful book! This modern retelling of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is well-written and gorgeously illustrated. A quick read, this is worth your while.

Miranda and CalibanMiranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A creative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I wish the play were in production somewhere local right now so I could see it again through a different lens. It’s one of my favorite plays and this book did a good job filling out the characters. There were some repetitive paragraphs towards the beginning, but it gathered steam as it went.

Educated: A MemoirEducated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish this book was a work of fiction. I shuddered throughout, imagining the violence wrought against a family because of a parent’s insanity under the guise of “faith.” Even though the story gripped me from the preface, I could only read a chapter or two at a time because of its intensity. I am so grateful that, as the author puts it, she found her way out of the junk heap, into school, and eventually into writing down her story.

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind.” (304)

On My Mind

This weekend as I deadheaded the roses going crazy in our front yard, a woman came to mind, an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in some time. I have no idea why she popped into my head.

As I do when someone comes to mind, I prayed for her.

Thinking of the one woman brought another woman to mind. I’m not sure if they’re friends, but I met them around the same time. So I prayed for her, too.

This week our church is holding a kids’ camp, 330+ kids and 150 volunteers swarming our campus with joy, laughter, crafts, song, skits, and other shenanigans. It’s a magnificent mess and one of the best weeks of the year.

Yesterday I saw both women who’d come to mind over the weekend. I told them each, separately, that I’d thought of and prayed for her over the weekend. One had a fluke encounter with a cow while hiking with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop and has a broken shoulder; she might be facing surgery.

The other looked at me skeptically: “Well, that’s odd. Did you hear what happened to me Friday?” On the way home from setting up her camp area, she noticed two dogs loose in the road. She pulled over to help them, and one seriously attacked her; she had to call 911 and required stitches in the back of both thighs.

We looked at each other. I said, “Well, I guess you really needed some prayer…”

She said, “I sure did! Thanks for praying.”

Random, but not random at all…

Last night I had a lonely, woe-is-me moment. Then I wondered: God had put two women on my mind seemingly without occasion. Who might have me on their mind? Who might be praying for me, unbeknownst to me?

 

Milestones

Annie burst into the bar exclaiming, “What IS this place?”

“It’s the best little wine bar you’ve ever stepped foot in, but tonight it’s also a karaoke bar!” came my response.

Without a glance at the menu, she ordered a sauvignon blanc and a song list. Her two friends, obviously indulging Annie’s whim, didn’t even want water.

Annie danced in the heart of the bar. And when she sang, she did so as badly as you might imagine—off-key and off-tempo—and with so much joy we all laughed along.

She told stories, and laughed at her “L.A. friends, who think they’re really something, but they’re missing out,” danced some more, and completely whooped it up. She brought the party.

Before she left she asked for one more song, a special song she sang to her kids as they grew up: Que Será, Será. I smiled, because my mom had sung it to me, too.

I couldn’t have told you Doris Day sang it originally, but I knew the words:

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty
Will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me

Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be

When Annie got to the third verse, tears filled my eyes:

Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome
Will I be rich
I tell them tenderly

Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be

While I haven’t sung this song to my own children, in my own way I encourage them to have faith, that God knows the plans we don’t. I regularly repeat to them another of my mother’s lessons: “You do your best and let God do the rest.”

What will be, will be…

C19 finished one year at the only college he ever wanted to attend, and it didn’t go the way any of us had hoped. He gave up what he had thought would be his dream major and came home. He’ll work and attend community college as he pursues whatever will be next for him.

Q14 graduated middle school last week. We are so proud of his tenacity, because this so-smart kid can’t seem to figure out how to “do school” well. And yet, he loves school. He enjoys his friends. He adores band. He has a curious intellect and genuinely wants to learn. And learn he does, he just doesn’t perform accordingly. Our frustration increases as no teacher or learning specialist we’ve met so far has been able to determine why, or how to help him.

And yet, these young men are all caught up in the fabulous work of becoming. C19 matured so much in his first year of college. He advocated on his own behalf in several situations. He sought healthy outlets for stress. He joined a sports club and made friends. He determined who he didn’t want to be as much as who he might like to be.

Q14 composed his first piece of music. He went on a nine-day trip to Europe with peers and teachers; and he endured a migraine in a foreign country with as much grace and peace as one could possibly have under the circumstances. And the weekend following graduation he was thrilled to go on his first backpacking trip.

So we sing: que será, será, whatever will be, will be. Because God only knows what will be. And still we trust that these kids, with their gifts and talents and challenges, with their twists and turns on life’s roads, will be just fine.

 

[photo credit: Steve Bartis]

Back Up

I’ve been unintentionally off the blog for two weeks. Unintentionally, because my computer was hacked three times in three months.

The first time, in April, we didn’t know my computer was the hacker’s way in. Hacked again exactly one month later, I happened to be on my computer and watched as I was locked out, Amazon and email opened, before I did a hard shut down. A work-issue computer that I also use personally, our IT department felt certain that they’d found the equivalent of “dust on my tires,” and that the malware program they installed would keep me safe.

They were wrong. I’d planned to keep my computer turned off on June 3, but those pesky hackers caught me off-guard by jumping in on June 2. Again, I happened to be sitting at my computer. They tried again to get to my Amazon account, but I no longer had my password stored, and my husband had set up two-factor authentication. Determined, I watched them search my computer for passwords before the shock wore off and I did another hard shut down.

Yesterday I got good news and bad news: I got a brand new computer (hooray!) and all my personal files were infected and have been wiped (wait, what? BOO!).

It seems that, because I didn’t want our staff to have access to my personal files, the way IT set up my files was not ideal. Not a techy, I didn’t know the desktop icon I clicked to access my files was any different than any of the other files on my desktop which are a) inaccessible to the staff and b) backed up on our server which means c) safe. In other words, I didn’t know that no back up was being done, that I should have been doing my own back up.

For nine years.

Nine years of writing, research, reading notes, correspondence, school files (including IEPs for those who know what that means), recipes, and God knows what else, all wiped out. And a draft of a book that, save for some footnotes yet to be added, was just about ready to send to a prospective publisher. A book I’ve been working on (ridiculously slowly) for three years. Gone.

I feel sick. Honestly, I waver between numb, sick, and angry.

There may yet be hope. The drive will be sent to a data recovery company who will charge a pretty penny to see what they can retrieve. Hope is the lifeline dragging me through the too-fast water slapping me in the face, choking me as I try not to drown…

Moral of the story: back up your work. If you don’t know if you need to, ask. Save yourself from this heartache.

Holiday Sales

Today is Memorial Day, set aside for the good citizens of the United States of America to remember those who have died while protecting and serving our country. Our remembrance might also extend to anyone who has served in the Armed Forces and, even further, to those who have gone on before us.

Like most holidays, retailers have made it a shopping holiday. All weekend my inbox has overflowed with emails promising huge holiday price reductions.

Mostly, I hit “delete, delete, delete…” I click on a few, just in case this or that company from which I actually shop has a deal on something I regularly purchase. So far, that’s meant one online purchase. To how many deleted emails?

Last week on holiday in Puerto Vallarta celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, we got sucked into the worst holiday sales pitch: the time share.

I’ve sat through a few time share pitches and, while I hate the hard sell, the experience came and went with little to-do. This one, though, made an impression I’m still pondering.

First, let’s be clear: we didn’t buy. We’re in no position to drop a chunk of change on a vacation property, especially with two kids facing down college. Family is our priority. You could say family benefits from awesome resort vacations (they did say that), but our family priorities look a little different.

We got snagged in the airport. A guy directed us to a counter to arrange hotel transportation. This, friends, was something of a ruse: we did get hotel transportation after we agreed to the time share presentation the next morning. We also got transportation to and from the resort (subject of the sales pitch), and (super expensive and amazingly cool) excursion tickets including drinks, sunset boat cruise, Cirque de Soleil show, delicious buffet dinner which we ate on a beach while being serenaded, and an entertaining lip synch ‘concert’ on the return boat ride. The perks outweighed the pain.

Still…

As the cab driver entered the gated resort property—and drove and drove through lush foliage that precluded our ability to see anything but road and plants—I was reminded of Jurassic Park. Had we been kidnapped, or otherwise lured into something that looked incredible but posed danger?

One smiling face after another directed us to Jeff, our guide, who took us to a pool-side breakfast. A young, good-looking American straight out of military service, he’d been on the job only three weeks. He’d travelled to Puerto Vallarta on a whim and found a job because he’d fallen in love with Mexico. He showed us around the resort—more accurately seven resorts which will be nine plus a Disney-style theme-park—including several ‘model’ rooms/suites at various price points.

The promised “breakfast plus an hour” stretched over four hours. Jeff gave an extended sales pitch. His boss presented us with four or five offers. Two other guys followed up: “The sales pitch is over. But have you looked at these numbers…?” By the end, it almost seemed if we could put down a credit card for a reasonable charge today, the resort would pay for itself within a few years. Math must work differently in Mexico.

Of course it would be lovely to vacation in PV every year, by ourselves or with the kids. But our vacations are so low-key. We don’t typically fly. We camp, or borrow a vacation house, or VRBO. We cook for ourselves. We get out into the wilderness and out with the locals. Those who stay at this place would never leave. It’s pristine. It has its own grocery store, nineteen pools, and obviously beach access. It also has the corner on excursions, which means that even if you get out, you’d do so with people working for or staying at the resort.

Toward the end, I gently challenged Jeff. The guy who admitted he lives with locals and speaks only Spanish after work, the guy newly committed to living an authentic Mexican lifestyle. I asked how he justified selling such an inauthentic version of Mexico to people who might never interact with Mexico because of their experience at this resort. He wouldn’t go there with me.

We don’t live in a perfect world. On-site, this resort employs 7,000 people. How many more off-site, at the airport or as excursion operators? And what about all the others, the landscapers, builders, taxi drivers, who benefit from increased tourism? All good.

Except it’s a manufactured experience. They literally took one landscape and created a new ecosystem. The resort may be in Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it’s Mexican.

I’m not one to judge, not at all. For those who have money and leisure to travel, this is a gorgeous option. And obviously the resort has created countless jobs benefitting the economy and the families of Puerto Vallarta. The parent company has done good, but I still wonder: at what cost?

Guest Post: A.J. Brown

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my dear A.J. Brown wrote about “Community,” which seems just right: we live in community, we invest in community, we create community as we knit our heartstrings together. Please note: if you would like to guest post on this blog, please see the link above.

Community.

When someone asks me to write an article or blog post about a certain word, I usually try to start with my knee jerk emotional reaction to that word. For example, when the owner of this blog asked me to write a post about creativity a couple of years ago, that was simple. My beautiful, unicorn and rainbow loving little boy exemplified the word and still does now.

Community.

What does that mean to me? I think the reason this post was hard to write is that community means so many different things to me. The town I grew up in represented a community I couldn’t wait to get out of. Then, when I grew up and became a parent, I couldn’t wait to move back. I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else.

Community.

It doesn’t just refer to a geographical area in which we live, does it? Not for me, anyway. Yes, I live in this community. I am part of this community. But, I am also part of many communities within this community, and that’s what I love about this community.

In junior high and high school in this same community, I often felt like the odd girl out. I didn’t have just one posse of friends with whom I did everything and shared everything…I never felt like I belonged to any one group. I was more of a floater. Some months I gravitated towards the popular crowd and the other cheerleaders, other times I’d get fed up with the cattiness and take refuge with the quiet academics. Or, if there was a boy I was interested in (wasn’t there always?), I’d hang around with the athletes. I got really good at being “one of the guys.” I could occasionally be found breathing second hand smoke in a van behind the school listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” or flaunting my impressively flipped bangs and perm at college parties when I was just sixteen. Some lunchtimes, I felt too insecure to join any group at all, and you’d find me in the library, or assisting a teacher. Looking back, I realize that what was so hard about those years for me was that I felt that I didn’t HAVE a community. I was just an occasional honorary member. I didn’t have the self-confidence to just…be. I could not wait to graduate, get the heck out, and finally discover who I really was.

Fast forward several decades, and here I am, living in this same community, with a lot of the same folks who grew up here just like I did. Apparently this town breeds homing pigeons. The difference? Now this finally feels like MY community. This time around, I know exactly who I am and who I want to be. Furthermore, I truly don’t care who likes it and who doesn’t. Interestingly, while I’m a completely different person as an adult than I was as that corner hugging, cringing teenager, I’m still a floater. But this time, it’s not because I feel like I don’t fit in, it’s because I am blessed to feel like I fit in everywhere. Everything about this town makes me happy, and I adore all of the smaller communities that, together, make up this beautiful flower of a larger community. 

When I go to Starbucks in the morning, I love that I see the same faces, day after day. I don’t know many of their names, but they know my face and I know theirs and we greet each other with smiles that are genuine. I love the groups of older (than me, which is all relative) folks who commune there every single morning. They have an amazing community. I love that when I’m working out of Starbucks, as I often am because my home and office get lonely during the day, never a day goes by where I don’t see several people I know and whom I am genuinely happy to see. This silly little chain store coffee shop is a community all its own. Just as I’ve been sitting here writing this, I’ve been greeted by a teenager, several moms, a dear friend of a dad who happens to be working at “home” today, a newspaper reporter I adore for whom this is home base, a friend I went to high school with, and one of my favorite neighbors who’s treating her kindergarten son to a treat after a traumatic dentist visit. And that’s just in the space of an hour.

I love that I can’t ever go to the gym without seeing at least one friendly face I know. I’ve been taking the same Friday morning spin class for several years now, and the group of people that show up with me, week after week, through good times and bad, is a community all its own. I love these people, and I love the pixie sized, tattooed sprite who inspires us and pushes us to the point where I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out, and yet afterwards I feel amazing for two days. I love that when I’m having a really bad week I can cry my way through class and no one blinks an eye, they just hug me when we’re done. I’m literally tearing up writing this just thinking about that group of people and how much they mean to me even though I really only see them once a week for an hour. That’s community.

Our kids’ schools, of course, create their own communities. We’re so fortunate to live in a place where the parents work really hard to help make the schools great, and we are blessed with teachers and administrators who have passion about kids and education. It tends to be the same group of parents year over year who volunteer for everything, but instead of that feeling like a burden, to me it feels like a gift. It makes me part of THAT community, and that is an amazing group of selfless parents and school staff that I’m blessed to be a part of.

If you know me, you know that I could, of course, write chapters and chapters about this community and how it rallied around my family when our daughter got diagnosed with cancer (almost three years ago, WHAT?!?). I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, I truly learned the meaning of the word community when the $4i% hit the fan, as people I didn’t even know in this community banded together and raised us up when we were in danger of sinking. During that time, this community felt more like a TRIBE. It still does. At unexpected moments, I will be approached by a complete stranger who will tell me that she has followed my (prolific) Facebook posts about our journey with cancer and that she was inspired by our story.

I could go on and on about all the other communities within this community that add joy to my life…from the moms who became friends when our kids were in preschool and even though the kids are now spread out across different elementary schools, seeing them still makes me feel like part of a special family. There are the “dance moms,” moms whose children share a passion for dance at the academy where I am lucky enough to work, and who make me feel blessed every time I go to work to be a part of that community, one that brings the gift of joy and grace and strength to kids through the art of dance. There are the sporty moms, the philanthropic moms, the working moms, the mindful moms, the activist moms…and now as then, I float. I love ALL these groups of moms. I AM these moms. All of them. Why should I pigeonhole myself?

I can’t close any discussion about community, though, without mentioning the one community-within-my-community that feeds my soul the most. On Thursday mornings, I skip the gym in favor of strengthening my spirit instead of my body. I go to a group called Moms’ Council, which is held at my church and is a group of about 150 mothers of all ages and generations who come together each week to…commune. Each session has a theme and there are always wonderful speakers to engage the mind, but for me, it’s the community of women that truly feeds my soul. I’ve sat at the same table with the same group of women for three years now, and I can’t describe the feeling of sitting down with them any better than I feel like I can just…breathe. Breathe in a way I can’t anywhere else. These women are my safest of safest places. We can rage, cry, fall apart and emotionally vomit all over each other without judgment and without ever worrying that what we say won’t remain just between us.

Because, as outwardly perfect as many of our lives may seem, we’re all dealing with our own burdens, fears and pain. Sometimes, you just can’t carry it alone. Sometimes you need more than your family and faith in God to help with the weight. Sometimes you need…community. And no matter how messy or difficult my life may get, that is one area in which I am incredibly blessed. I am rich in community, and for that I am very, very grateful.

 

 

A.J. Brown is a mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, employee, volunteer, taxi driver, gym rat, health nut, lover of wine, travel, books, dessert, cooking, meditation, Buddha statues, and a compulsive throw pillow purchaser.