I’m not naturally a community person. Which is funny, because my job, which I love, is all about fostering, building and organizing community at Uptown Church. But left to myself I tend to keep to myself.
For the most part, that is. Having Mellie in my life is a notable exception. Whether it’s traveling across the country or walking around the block, there is no question that things go better with Mellie. I probably need to tell her this more. I think she believes that my favorite feel-good romantic comedy film is Into the Wild. Not true. Now, if that guy had an awesome cutie like Mellie with him in that bus in Alaska, just the two of them eating the correct herbs and saying “Hey Babe, let’s get this moose meat back to camp, pronto!” that would be different. That might be Oscar quality.
Or it might be Grizzly Man. I don’t know.
But the point is, I’m not naturally wired to want to “do” life with others. All this stuff that real community requires time, energy, listening, caring, trust, emotional bandwidth, permeable boundaries, sharing burdens, forgiveness. Not my forte. And it’s not just that I’m bad at those things. It’s the fact that in community those things are two-way, not just one-way. Therein lies my true incompetence. You don’t just give forgiveness, you have to receive it, too. You don’t just take someone else’s burden, you have to give them yours. It’s messy. It’s sticky. It’s cooked spaghetti, all tangled up. You try to fork out three noodles and you get fifty, so you twirl and twirl and only succeed in gathering more so that now it looks like you have stabbed a large ball of yarn with your fork and in rash despair you are driven to cram the entire wad into your mouth and hunch down over the plate clenching the edge of your chair to suppress gag reflexes as the ten-foot long knotted mass slides down your throat with the sauce scalding your neck.
I prefer my spaghetti dry and straight. See how happily the little spaghettis live in their plastic home? They are together, but separate. Not quite in community, but perhaps close enough. I can select a single noodle, if I so choose. I can examine it for quality and decide it I’d like to make it part of my meal. If it displeases me, behold, I can leave it to be pecked by crows.
I can tell you all about the riches of community. Heck, I can even believe in the riches of community. Nevertheless, the strange truth is, when left to myself I will keep my spaghetti dry. Weird and stunted, I know.
Into this small world comes a lump. Then a phone call from Mellie’s endocrinologist. Maybe cancer. Definitely surgery. Soon. She’ll need to take a pill and come in for checkups. For forever. She’ll have a scar on her beautiful neck. Ahh, how do you process this stuff?
Mellie actually seems to be doing well. She’s concerned, a little nervous about the surgery, aware of what it means. But she’s upbeat, positive. It’s cool to see.
I’m under a heavy blanket. It’s hard to move my mind around what’s happening, it’s hard to pray about it. I keep thinking about the scar that will appear on her neck. I think it’s just the most concrete thing my mind can latch on to. I need more than this scar.
We put the word out to some folks. And the response has been good, even amazing. Calls and emails and texts of good wishes and prayers. Good in and of themselves. But look, let me explore this. In an odd way, I think they have also provided for me a means to navigate this dense and unfamiliar terrain. Instead of relying on my own perspective—limited, down here in a ditch, hemmed in by circumstances—Instead of my own perspective, I’m getting reports from you. Different perspectives from higher ground. Ashley has been emailing us—she’s been through this very surgery and she’s letting us know what it looks like on the other side. Forrest sent a link to an article John Piper wrote on the eve of his prostate cancer surgery—perspective-shifting thoughts on not wasting your cancer. Chris prayed for us over IM—that’s a new one for me. Kiley is putting together a schedule of friends to bring us meals so we can take it easy next week—a reminder of how well we are provided for. Listen, without this community intertwined around us, I wouldn’t have these perspectives. I wouldn’t have the help I need to process this stuff. All I would have is that scar. Does that make sense?
So it’s true that I’m not naturally a community person. I can tell you about the riches of community. I even believe in the riches of community. But right now I am experiencing them for myself. It’s a change of perspective. Thank you. It’s a good lesson.