Thanksgiving on the homestead

The candles flicker on the table, while the fire crackles from the side room. The aroma of our feast awaiting permeates the kitchen, while kids storm in from all areas of our family homestead.

We gravitate around the table and naturally reach for the hands of those beside us. We’ve done this before, it’s life breath to most of us. My father, our patriarch, leads and prays words of truth and blessings over our marriages, friendships, occupational choices, ministries and our time together.

It’s the kind of evening that Norman Rockwell captured. The kind of evening in which everyone wishes they could be included.

Nearly two decades ago, my family choose to buy land together. With lots of acreages, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and a plethora of cousins, we chose to build houses sprinkled around 20 acres, and have our young families grow up in community with one another – a kids’ dream land.

My parents place a life long value on our generational legacy, and they continue to breathe and ignite that vision into us (their now adult children), but little did any of us know the cost involved in making community “work.”

Yes, just like the history behind some of Normal Rockwell paintings where tears, poverty, and injustice, were mixed side by side with celebration and joy, being in community, whether with friends or family, is never easy. Often, we don’t see those struggles plastered on any magazine covers.

Family tradition of free Christmas Day coffee at Sheetz after delivering meals to those in need/refugees

Statistically, the week following Christmas brings melancholic feelings to the surface for many. With expectation, we wait to capture that perfect Normal Rockwell scene, yet it never comes, and the post holiday let down now surfaces.

As I reflect on my varying relationships, my desire to approach this new year with a renewed sense of purpose towards building community reminds me just how intentional I need to be in this decision.

Yet to breathe life into authentic community, where my desire is to really be known and to know others, comes at great cost and sacrifice of time.

There are no fast forward buttons that come with friendships. It’s a decision to work hard in those relationships, and be willing to let go of the “little stuff” (which feels rather large and overwhelming at times). There’s a cost to stay committed, even when it’s inconvenient, and a cost of extending communication, or as I like to call it “care-frontation”, even when we’d rather stay silent. In some of my circles,  I’ve been coined the Queen of “Forced Bonding.” Often, someone needs to take that role, and I gladly acknowledge the title.

At (in)courage, all of the writers have focused on varying aspects of community this year, and there has been an out pouring from you, our readers, that this theme truly resonates.

I look at community in the body of Christ much the same way I do community within our family homestead. When people ask how our “Norman Rockwell” family is as close as we are, I chuckle.

“First, nothing is ever as it seems. Second, not everyone desires the same kind of community, and third, it takes commitment, prayer, grace from an All Mighty God, and hard, hard work.”

Often within the church, we view community as a “warm and fuzzy, let’s sip Starbucks around the fire and share life together,” kind of endeavor. There are blissful moments like that, but realistically, it’s a  “I choose to love and be in community, even when it’s painful,” kind of journey.

But when that happens, when true community ignites, and we choose to dive into the nitty gritty of life together, the cost is so worth it.  Some of you have experienced that, haven’t you?

It’s then that we sit at the feet of the master painter, and marvel at the real masterpiece He just created.

Romans 12:9-10

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

I want that, don’t you?

I’m willing to take the risk in 2013. Won’t you join me?

What’s one baby step that you can take to bring community closer in the new year, or if you already have a place you belong, can you share encouragement for those still on the journey?

Jen Schmidt: author behind Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and 10 Minute Dinners.

 Christmas caroling and sharing treats

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  1. 1

    i feel like building community is always uphill. sometimes a gentle, comfortable slope. sometimes a rocky, steep incline. but always uphill. always requiring effort and motion to keep moving towards it. it’s a good thing, but requires choice and purposefulness. something i want to get better at! thank you for sharing jennifer. –kris

  2. 3

    Good word Jennifer. I too have pondered and blogged a out community this year. I’m forwarding your words to a few.
    Thanks
    Sue
    Echoes of Grace.

  3. 4

    Jennifer, what a beautiful post! Thank-you for your honesty that gives the hope of true community but with a balanced picture of what that actually looks like! 2012 was certainly a year of community building, and I learnt so many lessons in it. Perhaps among the deepest was that you cannot protect yourself from pain by attempting to make all the right decisions and love perfectly. I thought I knew that love does not mean the absence of pain, and yet I expected just that. One of the small steps for me to take in 2013 is to have a renewed understanding of pain in relationships.

    • 5

      I share that as one of the things I learned the most about community as well. I had to ask myself the hard question of whether I was willing to be vulnerable, even if it meant that I could be hurt in the process.
      I am.

  4. 6

    Jean Vanier (Canadian theologian, writer, founder of L’Arche, and friend to Henri Nouwen) defines love this way:

    The willingness to “reveal the beauty of another person” to himself . . . . . or herself.

    That’s the kind of genuine affection I want to offer those God’s given me to love. I’m not always good at it, but I *so* want to develop an unwavering commitment to “hold tightly to what is good” in them, to communicate that I see them, that I treasure them.

  5. 8
    Jennifer says:

    This whole idea of community has me a little confused. Can I have a definition of what this trendy new concept is?
    I and my husband strive hard at the holidays to spend time with our families, to keep those bonds intact. We strive to spend more time with our church family and bond with them. It is amazing to me that God uses illness and pain to bring us together when we are drifting solo.

    • 9

      When I speak in terms of community, I mean the biblical community that is modeled throughout scripture, particularly in the early church, so in no way do I want to confuse you into thinking it’s a trendy new topic. My apologies if I did.

      We just used it as an (in)courage theme for some of our writing this year.
      For me, I am trying to deepen my relationships within the body of Christ and do more than socialize or have “dinner groups.” IT’s more than just throwing out a prayer request and then never following up. It’s truly sharing life together, like the disciples did with deep accountability, vulnerability, authenticity and exhortation. When believers are willing to be real and encourage each other in the process (both with the good and bad), the impact we can have on others will hopefully be contagious.

      When I use the word “pain,” I don’t mean in terms of illness, I meant in terms of choosing to love even when relational pain or betrayal may be involved.
      I have an amazing church family and have done lots to establish bonds with them, but I can honestly say that there are few within my church that I really truly share community with by going beyond the semi superficial.
      We share prayer requests and I know they are their for me, but we just haven’t gone as deep to establish deep community. That is my desire this year.

      Hope that clarifies just a bit. :)
      Have a blessed day.

      • 10

        My husband and I struggle with the same ‘Community’ concept. We have a daughter who walked out 2 decades ago 3 grandchildren we have never seen. Yes we also worship in a small a church and retired are alone and no family left. We life off of the food band every week. This is community? This is retirement? We had 5 friends over for Christmas, but only got complaints with the menu. I didn’t have a stuffing with Ham or two types of Potatoes. It left us down on Christmas after reaching out! Ba-humbug! Barbs

      • 11
        Rev. Deborah A. Burney says:

        You know the old saying, “you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.” I grew up during a time & in a neighborhood that was a real community & my mother was one of its “leaders”. We were taught to speak to our neighbors & treat older people with respect. If my mother had an abundance of some kind of fruit of vegetable, some our neighbors had some of those fruits & vegetables. Even if we never visited each other’s houses, we looked out for each other.

        Our church in the neighborhood functioned like a family. Every Sunday we had dinner over to someone else’s house or a family came to ours. Also, at my High School, we had a principal that focused on unity & “community”. Rugged individualism was not encouraged at the expense of the whole. While our uniqueness was affirmed we were taught to remember others; to respect, care, & help.

        Well, I moved back to my hometown, even my childhood home about 6 years ago to care for my mother. She passed away in July. I am still in the neighborhood & house which is no longer the place I grew up in. There is I
        a work to be done here to heal,
        develop, improve this community so that children here know what it looks like. God brought me back for such a time as this. The Lord has gifted me with people skills & the ability to bring people together. Already, I have met some of the neighbors of different cultures while walking my dog. It is not totally clear how I will be used as a vessel to restore the sense of community we used to have here, but I am available.

      • 12
        Rev. Deborah A. Burney says:

        You know the old saying, “you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.” I grew up during a time & in a neighborhood that was a real community & my mother was one of its “leaders”. We were taught to speak to our neighbors & treat older people with respect. If my mother had an abundance of some kind of fruit of vegetable, some our neighbors had some of those fruits & vegetables. Even if we never visited each other’s houses, we looked out for each other.

        Our church in the neighborhood functioned like a family. Every Sunday we had dinner over to someone else’s house or a family came to ours. Also, at my High School, we had a principal that focused on unity & “community”. Rugged individualism was not encouraged at the expense of the whole. While our uniqueness was affirmed we were taught to remember others; to respect, care, & help.

        Well, I moved back to my hometown, even my childhood home about 6 years ago to care for my mother. She passed away in July. I am still in the neighborhood & house which is no longer the place I grew up in. There is I
        a work to be done here to heal,
        develop, improve this community so that children here know what it looks like. God brought me back for such a time as this. The Lord has gifted me with people skills & the ability to bring people together. Already, I have met some of the neighbors of different cultures while walking my dog. It is not totally clear how I will be used as a vessel to restore the sense of community we used to have here, buQt I am available.

      • 13
        Rev. Deborah A. Burney says:

        You know the old saying, “you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.” I grew up during a time & in a neighborhood that was a real community & my mother was one of its “leaders”. We were taught to speak to our neighbors & treat older people with respect. If my mother had an abundance of some kind of fruit of vegetable, some our neighbors had some of those fruits & vegetables. Even if we never visited each other’s houses, we looked out for each other.

        Our church in the neighborhood functioned like a family. Every Sunday we had dinner over to someone else’s house or a family came to ours. Also, at my High School, we had a principal that focused on unity & “community”. Rugged individualism was not encouraged at the expense of the whole. While our uniqueness was affirmed we were taught to remember others; to respect, care, & help.

        Well, I moved back to my hometown, even my childhood home about 6 years ago to care for my mother. She passed away in July. I am still in the neighborhood & house which is no longer the place I grew up in. There is
        a work to be done here to heal,
        develop, improve this community so that children here know what it looks like. God brought me back for such a time as this. The Lord has gifted me with people skills & the ability to bring people together. Already, I have met some of the neighbors of different cultures while walking my dog. It is not totally clear how I will be used as a vessel to restore the sense of community we used to have here, buQt I am available.

  6. 14

    Jennifer re illness and pain drawing folks together
    Have you noticed the opposite in something that is lingering llness that puts one out of the public part of being able to show up ?? Part of that business with short term awareness and wanting to move on

  7. 15
    Beth Williams says:

    It is just wonderful that your whole family can live in closeness with each other. My family is so fastly different plus we moved so much that our family is sooo spread out from Harrisonburg, VA; Johnson City, TN; Dalton, GA; Atlanta GA; Houston, TX and finally China. I really miss being around and seeing my family.

    Community is more than just blood relatives. It is a group of like-minded people who have something in common and get together to pray for each other. I consider my church, women’s Bible study each a community that truly cares for everyone. While community isn’t easy it takes work and putting aside differences!

  8. 16
    Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for this post! This was my first year as a divorced single mom and I had the Normal Rockwell picture planted firmly in my mind in terms of Christmas. As luck would have it, the holiday ended up being far from that picture but it made me realize that although I no longer have the “traditional” family those I choose to surround myself with really do make the picture complete. I also came to the realization that I’ve got to be more open to the changes and that family is what you make it, not necessarily who you’re related/married to. Your post and my revelations give me hope for the future!

  9. 17

    My heart goes out to you, Barbs. I urge you to wipe the dust off your feet and continue on. I know it’s hard. But don’t stop trying. May God bless you with new relationships.

  10. 18

    Barbs, I read your post and felt so sad for you. I’m in Australia so guess a long way from you in geographical distance, but please know I’ll be praying for you.

    It must be so hard to have a daughter and grandchildren you are unable to see.

    As to the Chrismas guests – I am gobsmacked!!!

    Please accept my love and prayers in the spirit they are offered to you.

  11. 19
    Chuck allen says:

    Bonnie thank you for sharing your journey. I am so sorry for the pain you experienced as a young girl. My heart hurts for what you went through longing to see your journey end in peace joy love contentment and most of all fullfillment in your life. Bonnie you are a great inspiration. The Holy Trinity has gifted you with a precious way of sharing. Where my journey is at this moment in time is in experiencing being loved, and a greater peace then ever before with Our Lord, Jesus Our Savior, and The Holy Spirit Our Comforter. I received a healing that has allowed me to feel truely loved beyond doubt for the first time in my life by Our Holy Trinity. Feeling loved this way has enabled me to really love myself for the first time in my entire life. I was raised with an abusive mother and learned in a professional way to devalue myself diminishing every accomplishment wanting only death rather than life. The advasary almost succeeded with my four serious sucide attempts over my lifetime in four different ways. Our God Is So Good, he saved me each time, there was nothing I could do to save myself. I have never felt this peaceful, this loved, ever before in my life, never experienced Their Love like I am experiencing it right now. Thank You Heavenly Father, Thank YOU Lord Jesus, in Your Precious Name Lord Jesus.

  12. 20

    Jen,

    I tried hard this Christmas to create that Norman Rockwell feeling. Trouble is my immediate family visited for two days and everyone arrived grumpy and left grumpy. My husband and I thought we were providing the gift of goodness to our loved ones all the way around and ended up taking our frustrations with them out on each other… Dec. 26 rolls around…we enjoy the stillness. The following days, after were sprinkled by time with our lovely friends. All the while, leading up to church, today…the theme being God’s Grace, HE wasted no time to meet our needs and to answer that question burning in our hearts, “What do we do with everybody?”. It was so frustrating for me as a believer to feel the joy of the season and want that so badly for the people I love. I feel a huge sense of responsibility to disciple, but have no Idea what to do with a handful of these “blind” loved-ones I am aligned with. All emotions and disappointments have to be set aside. Christ had a little talk with the Christ in me and this wake-up call has me servicing up Super-sized portions of Grace. It’s all I can do in my life, I’ve realized to navigate many of my close relationships. My beautiful friendships have all stood the test of time, because of Grace. The fruit is juicy…wonderful. I plan to follow HIS plan and extend the Grace to my troubled family, that HE so generously gifted me. I plan to be the Jesus I so desire them to know…

    Thank you, Lord for Romans 12:9-10. Every year you inspire me with a Memory Verse for the New Year…Thank you, Thank you, Thank
    You! In Jesus Name…Amen!

    Jen

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