I’ve never had a dorm experience. When I decided to attend the American University of Paris, I also decided to forgo a typical college experience. From living with a family to cramming three of us into a one-bedroom to a small studio alone to finally finding a quintessentially Parisian one-bedroom shared with a best friend, I learned quickly the art of opening my home to my community.
Some of my favorite memories were hosting brunches and dinner parties and cocktail hours with other expat students and twenty-somethings. We would squeeze into small living rooms, eat off of borrowed plates, and share life together. No one cared how big or small or mismatched everything was. (Though we did love congregating at one friend’s massive two-bedroom flat in the heart of St. Michel.) We had all chosen, for various reasons, to come alone to a big, bustling city and we needed to create our own families and tight-knit community.
Looking back, over ten years later, I find myself thinking romantically of those days of picnics by the Seine, spontaneous day trips to Normandy, and weekends in San Sebastien. In reality, there were disagreements and misunderstandings and cliques and hurt feelings. Not many, but it was no idyllic community. For most of us, our commonality was being away from home. And yet, we chose to continue, to be vulnerable, to question and grapple and grow together.
When I moved back to Colorado, I was surprised at how quickly and easily it was to fall back into old habits. My first few years in Denver, I went from church to church, looking for that instant community. I slowly made friends, but those deep, shared experiences were hard to come by. As stressful as living abroad was, I longed for the instantaneous connection of needing a community.
I finally found a church and settled in. I made friends and joined book clubs that are still meeting. But, it was still easy (especially when the particular pastor I didn’t connect with was preaching) to find church in the mountains or with friends, rather than in the actual building. When Frank and I were first married, we tried to combine churches and communities and finally had to just choose one.
Now, five years later, we are still at the same church. We have, through bumps and questions, chosen to stay, to choose community. And, seven years later, I still meet weekly with the same book club. Through marriages and babies and misunderstandings and questions, our group has grown deeper because we have chosen community. I guess, that’s what I’ve learned: Community is a choice. Abroad, it was a choice that had to be made quickly, so seemed easier. Now, it’s a choice I make continuously but one that has given me deep and lifelong friendships.
When I think about the words in Nehemiah 8:10, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” I think of the choices we make to prepare food for each other, to choose joy over grief, and to allow those experiences to change and deepen us.
What is your community like? How do you make choices to create lasting relationships?
Linked with (in)courage’s Joy of the Lord is our Strength.