I didn't get to go to the ACFW conference this weekend. I missed my friends, the wonderful community of writers.
But on this weekend, I was serving a different community: my church.
As I've mentioned before, our church has been through a tough year that has strained our community to the breaking point and beyond. We've lost almost fifty percent of our membership in six months. Anyone who has ever been through something similar will know what kind of pain this causes.
A few months back, some friends and I were brainstorming about what we could do to help our membership heal and move on. We decided to ask a guest speaker to come in and address us, someone who wasn't burdened by our recent troubles, someone who could remind us what it meant to take joy in our faith and our community. So after church leadership approved the event, I set about finding our speaker. Then a good friend and I proceeded to do what had to be done to make it happen, including fundraising.
He came in to speak to us this weekend. It was everything we could have hoped.
I imagined how we must look to him as he met us in small groups, over meals. Through his eyes, I gained a fresh appreciation for my fellow church members. There are so many good-hearted, gifted people in our conmmunity, and yet we have a tendency to forget the blessings that each person brings to our group, to take for granted their service to others, the things we already know they do. But when a newcomer arrives and sets about figuring out who we are as a group, it can open our eyes to the things we've forgotten.
This was one of our visitor's points, though in this post I can't do justice to his eloquence or humor. He reminded us that to love one another, we need to appreciate and affirm one another's unique gifts and commitment to service. It's not something we can stop because we've known each other for five years, or fifteen, or twenty. Just as the work of our community goes on, so must our appreciation and love for the workers. And it can mean much more to have that work affirmed, quietly and personally, one to another, than to have it acknowledged from a podium.
This Saturday, a bunch of us gathered together, sitting in a circle where we could see each other's faces, and sang. We sang for an hour, and for the first time in months, pure joy filled our gathering. Everyone was smiling. A dear friend came up to me afterward, threw her arms around me, and said something kind. We hugged each other for a long moment. It was one of the best moments of my weekend, the sweetness and joy after the pain.
Real love for one another doesn't just happen because we think we should. It happens because we remember why we love one another. And that is a deeply personal endeavor that calls us to bring our hearts into line with our words.
Do you find real love in one of your communities? What sustains it?