A Gift of Community

Three months ago–no kidding, just three months ago!–my daughter was facing a difficult decision brought on by circumstances out of her control. (Yes; it was mostly my fault, but that’s a story for a different time.)

Going into her Junior year, moving 43 miles away from the school where she had friends, and teammates, and theater family; and where she knew the teachers and coaches and directors; and with no guarantee we would be in the same location for more than a few months; and with her closest friend and big sister going off to college, my 16-year-old decided for an online charter school option that gave her a chance to earn an associate’s degree while finishing high school. Her thinking was this: if we move again, at least I won’t have to change schools again (as long as we still have internet access…)

Letting go of those known relationships was heart-wrenching. And our biggest concern in this new experiment was for community; I like my daughter a lot, and she usually likes me, but being at home all day with Dad is not socially ideal for an outgoing teenager. Transitioning away from her school, neighborhood, and church environments, and helping her big sister move into a dorm room at Wayne State, where would my Liz find a place to belong?

Right about that time, Liz was searching online for audition dates for a local theater department’s production of Anne; if she couldn’t do high school theater, maybe community theater could be an option. Through the magic and mystery of Google Analytics, she ended up instead at the home page of Fowlerville Community Theatre.

Although twice as far from home and in the opposite direction of everything else we do, FCT was auditioning for Frozen, Jr, and Liz’s dream role on stage has been Anna from Frozen ever since the show first came out. Not only did Liz audition, she was cast as Anna. That was the first in a series of surprises.

Picture from @FowlervilleCommunityTheatre

Fast-forward only 3 short months to tonight. The curtain came down for the fourth and final time this evening on the Fowlerville Community Theatre’s production of Disney’s Frozen Jr. Of course there were applause; of course there were tears. But there was something else; something palpable in the cast and crew and directors and parents and techies and theater moms. I can only call it community.

These people cared for each other and pulled for each other and called out the best in each other. They worked and laughed and struggled and planned together. They danced and sang and ate and prayed and imagined together.

The community we were so afraid of missing was swirling all around us. And as I sat in that theater row in the dark, I had a chance to think again of how our family’s community changed and grew in the last few months. Frozen brought my mom back north from Florida to see the show. Two of Liz’s life-long friends from Texas came up to support her. Caleb, her younger brother, decided by himself to audition with her, and played an outstanding Townsperson #3 (if I do say so myself) and the gaping hole that was left by their older sister going off to college was salved in a meaningful way by a deeper relationship between these two siblings, a treatment applied in heavy doses through constant car rides and late-night rehearsals.

Big sister was at the performance, as well; and she brought her best friend home from college so we could get to know her better. Our third and final daughter, and the biggest theater geek of them all, was too busy with sports to audition this time around; but she cheered louder than anyone in the audience and led the standing ovation.

Family and friends, new and old, joined by the magic and the music and the joy of being together.

At one point in the show, a destitute Anna says, “I don’t even know what love is.” “That’s OK,” the magical snowman Olaf replies, “I do! Love is putting someone else’s needs before your own.”

(I can’t believe I just cited a magical snowman…)

I saw that love this weekend in the people who gathered, often at great expense, to be there for my kids. I see that self-giving love in my wife as she willingly embraces new challenges for the sake of her family. I see that love in my mother-in-law who graciously abandoned her own house this weekend so we could use it as a Motel 6, and has never once asked when we plan on moving out for good. I see that love in the friends Liz found when she needed them most, and found completely by accident.

(Thank you Lord, for your gracious action, even when we have no clue how to pray.)

At the top of my Thanksgiving list this year is the gift of community. Community doesn’t always look like you thought it was going to. Community doesn’t always get there at the expected time. Community takes planning and hard work and attention, and sometimes happens almost by accident. But however you experience community this Thanksgiving, together or apart, on purpose or by accident–receive that blessing as a gift.

Of all of God’s gifts, community is one of the best; for community is both temporal and eternal.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Psalm 133 (NIV)

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