Life in Community

Christ the Connector

Friendships Across Many Miles

June 3, 2021 by

Recently I wrote about a visit my husband, Kevin, and I hosted some years ago for a family interested in our community. It was a wonderful (if intense!) and memorable four days for us, and our friendship with our visitors Tim and Liz was only beginning.

Of course, we’d promised to keep in touch. How long do those promises usually last? But days after they left the telephone rang. It was Liz. “I’ve got a question for you which you need to answer honestly,” she said. "Fire away," I replied. Liz asked if she could call once a week to talk over life questions, the hard stuff, and the struggles that life dishes out. And I wasn’t allowed to let her get away with, “Oh, my week’s been fine." Because life’s not like that. I told her I was in, but this had to be reciprocal.

Almost four years and several hundred phone calls have passed between us, two women living in two very different worlds. An open, honest friendship with someone outside of your own experience is invaluable. These relationships are gifts from God. Liz has given meaning to the phrase “sisters in Christ.” Sometimes I feel “deep fat fried” in communal living, but looking at our life through Liz’s eyes changes that, and vice versa. Undoubtedly she’s given me something I need on my journey here, even when I don’t have any wisdom to offer her in return.

EEmbedPhoto by Danny Burrows

These last years haven’t been a bed of roses for either of us. In both our worlds the things most precious to us have been attacked and tested: our marriages, relationships with those around us, unity, and indeed our trust in God. Over the course of the last four years Liz has given up her job to be more free for whatever God has in mind for them (imagine the conversations around that one!) and began home-schooling her kids, which pre-COVID was a huge decision and commitment to make. Then also the search for how community could look for them, where they are, has been long and difficult. And it can be so hard to be patient and trust that God will show you the way forward. One of their friends asked us if we think that anything less than full community is compromise. We countered that by asking why anyone would want to do something half way. But nothing changes the fact that we struggle hard to make it real. And we often need to recalibrate and re-evaluate our understanding of a genuine, living church community. And in so saying, there is absolutely no way we could feel superior to others.

So Liz and I cover a lot in our phone calls. While she confides in me their struggle and search for community with members of their church, I keep her abreast of all the issues we wrestle with to keep our heads above water. Since we don’t know the people in each other’s circles it’s so much easier to point each other unbiasedly toward what’s good and true.

I know for myself, there are times when all you can do is furiously tread water and hope someone sees the distress signals. Then – and this is a big one – you still have to be open to accept the help that comes if you don’t want to drown. Here’s a quick example: I’m someone who struggles a lot with self-accusations, so I went for help to my typically loving husband and got “Hon, can you stop thinking about yourself for thirty seconds?” Yeouch! But he hit a homer that time, for us both. Liz could actually relate to that! And we often end up laughing at ourselves, which I heard somewhere is good for us.

And how do I describe the times when I feel dry, empty, or just numb – and there’s no explanation or justification for it? Those times come more often than I wish. But hearing what Liz is dealing with, the challenges of raising kids out there, navigating situations so different from mine, somehow changes my perspective. I wonder in how many of those dry times the real drought is a lack of thankfulness. At those times Liz puts me to shame with her knowledge of the Bible. Somehow she always knows which verse or thought would best encourage me.

Being moms, we tend to discuss parenting more often than not. And our conversations always circle back to the big questions: what does God have in mind for us and our families? How long do we have to wait for an answer? Yesterday would be nice. And so the prayers, the laughter, the encouragements, the firm nudges in this or that direction zing back and forth crossing hundreds of miles and differences as if there were none. Things keep popping up: breakdown of relationships with loved ones, the courage and heartbreak required to be true to Christ above all; how difficult but critical it is to speak openly, out of love to someone you’re worried is going off the rails; vanity . . . gosh that seems to be a weakness that has no regard for vocation, age, or lifestyle! Like a little gnat it crawls under head coverings, flowing skirts, wimples, or tank tops. No discrimination. Feels good though, to give it a slap. So we’ve talked a lot about what has lasting value. Our looks hardly make the list!

Sometimes phone calls aren’t quite enough, and we’ve found ways to nurture our friendship even though we’re several hundred miles apart. We’ve met halfway for lunches, had a couple weekend getaways and Zoom calls, and we’re planning future camping trips with our kids! Long distance friendships like ours take effort and time but are worth more than gold.

I’ve mentioned that we’re two women living in very different worlds, but we do have something in common, and that is our love and trust in a living Christ, who doesn’t see those differences and who wants to bring people together. Christ, our connector. D. T. Niles nails it: “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” No one needs to walk alone!

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