At first it was hard to transition being home. On one hand, I was glad to be back with my precious family. Reconnecting with people I work for was very rewarding as well. Looking forward to seeing Chris, my son, who has been a camp counselor at Camp War Eagle for the past two months, is a happy feeling also–along with anticipating connecting with my friends who I fellowship with at Living Springs on Sundays.
But at the same time, the excitement and unusual things that happened at every step of the way on my journey to visit intentional Christian communities was something that I had gotten used to. Even the bus rides connecting me to the next community were full of unexpected delights. Like when I had a 15 hour lay over in Atlanta that was packed to the brim with a variety of rich encounters with people that will take me hours to write about.
But now after being home for four days, I have finally adjusted to being home. In fact, I am over joyed to share that the Adventures just keep happening. The interesting, inspiring, uplifting interactions with people, including family, friends, and strangers just keep going. I am still traveling!
What is truly exciting is to let all that I have learned and experience become something that I practice in my daily life. I have realized that, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, what I was seeking was here all along. Although Cliff, Chris, Mahriyanna, Robert and I decided that we were community before I left on my trip, I didn’t know exactly how to go about helping make that happen. But I learned that all communities are continually evolving and growing. Just like we are. That gave me a lot of hope.
Every step of the way I was learning what makes successful community. Conversations, books, studying web sites, working together, attending a prayer retreat, a conference, and praying together all contributed to my heart and head knowledge about community. I am glad I am not easily overwhelmed, for the intensity of all that happened in one month was a bit over the top even for an extrovert like myself. But I had faith that even though I might not be digesting everything, that at some point clarity would emerge.
The best part of my experience was practicing seeing people through God’s eyes. Even though my habitual response to people is some kind of judgment–either positive or negative–I worked hard to rise above that habit and delight in each person I saw or met as God delights in them. Yes, I often failed. But just the intention to do this opened my heart and helped me to connect with love with the people I met.
My definition of love is “wanting God’s best for someone”. I want to reassure you and myself as I write this that my expression of love is not merely being nice. Although for the most part I focused on what was right rather than what was wrong, at times when it seemed appropriate I shared discomfort, confusion, or concern about someone’s actions which resulted in deeper connection for the most part.
Something about my trip which I will be contemplating as I write stories of specific incidents just drilled this theme of seeing people through God’s eyes into my heart and mind like no other experience ever has. It wasn’t like people were talking about this all the time or that I was even reading about this idea. It was more like a direct message from God. “I want you to really get this lesson–it is super important!” was what I kept hearing.
I remembered a book that my dear friend Jeannie Saul had recommended about a year ago called “Practicing the Presence of People.How we learn to love.” I googled the book and read what I could in the section that good old Amazon.com was willing to share. (You can get quite a lot from just searching inside a book.) I resonated greatly with what I read. Here is a description of the book:
” In the deepest part of our hearts and souls is the desire to love well. Yet in our struggle to do so, we learn that, as Mike Mason puts it, “We are not born with love; it is something we must learn.” Now, in Practicing the Presence of People, he helps us launch that learning process. Mason points the way to fresh knowledge and fresh experience, showing how we can discover new things about those we love, understand them from the inside out, tenderly identify with their weaknesses, and celebrate that they too were lovingly made by the hand of God.”
I take a risk in writing this because now you who know me might have high expectations of me. I know that in the past I have been prone to being critical and thinking that by helping people see what was wrong in their lives (being a know-it-all) I was doing them a great service. Over the years I have learned to use restraint greatly since this kind of approach was not winning me very many friends. In fact, I think many people regard me as a kind, loving people. But still, I have had more critical, thoughts than loving ones about people than I liked.
But all along, God has been encouraging me to learn to love greatly…and I hope with all my heart, and pray–that my one month trip has helped me form a new habit of seeing people through God’s eyes–seeing them as having unsurpassable worth. This has given me tremendous peace and joy because of the feelings this attitude generates, as well as the relationships that have been cultivated especially in the past month.
There is no place like home…and no place like home to practice the presence of people who I have known for many years. I intend to see them with new eyes with God’s help. To be more present. To be more kind. To be more open. To be more understanding. To have an intention of contributing to their well being. To pray for them. To cultivate friendships that will be deeper and more beautiful than I ever thought possible.
This is how to build community, I believe. And to help bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.