Today brought about a hard truth. Feeling the itch to throw a football around and maybe even get caught up in a game, my roommate and I went to a nearby park and tossed a ball around. I originally wanted to head over to a turf field in Newberg on George Fox University’s campus to hopefully increase the odds of playing in a game, but my roommate – who went to George Fox – said it’d be highly unlikely since not too many students play football for fun. During that conversation, I repeated two words I don’t know how many times: “In Eugene…”
I’m not in Eugene anymore. That’s the hard truth I’ve been avoiding for a while, but can’t anymore. I’m not there. I can’t go to the turf fields on any given night and find a couple small pick-up games that need an extra guy. I can’t meet up with friends in under ten minutes for a movie, Suits marathon, or something else on TV; it is at least a twenty-minute drive anywhere to meet up with friends. And I can’t even hang out at my favorite coffee shop and randomly run into friends because I’m not there anymore. Suffice it to say, community – authentic, intentional community – has been tough to come by since I’ve been in the Portland area.
Don’t get me wrong; I have plenty of friends up here. But our schedules are so different and busy that finding a time where everyone can meet is not easy. And even if we do, it’s not a guarantee that something won’t pop up last minute forcing either of us to cancel. I’m still used to Eugene where I knew a lot more people and if I hung out at the right place at the right time, I’d eventually run into someone I’d know (like Starbucks at the Oakway Center – seriously, everyone goes there). I miss that.
I am trying not to sound as though I’m whining and complaining about my new location. My roommate’s awesome, I love my school, and it oftentimes feels pretty nice not to work as much as I used to. But that doesn’t mean there are incredibly difficult aspects – namely, having a genuine community. What I mean by “genuine community” isn’t merely a group of friends, although that is part of it. And I definitely don’t mean “a new church to go to,” either. Merely attending church isn’t community; being a church family is.
This is precisely what I’m after – what I think we all long for. Family. Unconditional acceptance. Church oftentimes creates an environment where everyone is more concerned about their appearance rather than their actual, honest condition. Obviously, I haven’t been to every church; I’m simply pointing out a common vibe I’ve felt nearly every where I’ve gone. What’s wrong with this vibe is that it doesn’t allow for family to happen.
Pardon the bad word, but in family, people know your shit, whether you tell it to them or not. They see how you act, know your ticks, and know when something’s up. And when the time’s right – or even when it’s not – they ask about it. Family provides an opportunity for people to be brutally honest with one another. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing, but it works. It’s emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually cleansing when someone knows about the things that are bothering you – or the things that are bringing you joy and for some reason you haven’t been able to celebrate them with others. Family works in both directions; acknowledging the bad and celebrating the good.
As I write this post, I keep running into another hard truth – the only thing way for authentic community to happen: I have to work at it. Granted, others have to be a part of it and as I said above, it’s been difficult simply to meet with others (not anyone’s fault; just how it is). But when those times happen, I have to take advantage and, once again, make myself vulnerable. I have to make the strenuous effort to let others into my life, so that they can know my shit and be the family I need.
In Eugene, I had all that. If I were to move back tomorrow, I know that I could very easily get it all back. But renting a U-Haul is expensive and commuting back and forth from there to Tigard (for class) would not be fun. Plus, my current roommate would not appreciate the sudden departure – despite him getting the bigger room. So for better or worse, I’m here in Portland. I’ve gotten settled into my apartment, school, and new work location; now it’s time to get settled into a new family. And if I’m honest with myself, I can see certain pieces moving together that just might produce what I long to have. Yet I have to be ready – ready to be vulnerable, open, and willing to let others in.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
I can’t do this alone. No one can. We’re not meant to.