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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

Cold and Community But Not a Cold Community

As you can probably guess by now this week’ Blog Post Challenge theme is officially ‘Cold, Community, and Sue Bee Honey’ – or just ‘Community’ – so I opted for a nice blend of the two without the honey. Though depending on what comes out a spoonful of honey might make it taste a little better.

Not really. I don’t aim to offend in my blog writings, but since I don’t know the exact words that will come forth until I type them I may as well make that disclaimer. Who knows…..what I may say in all honesty may strike a nerve with you. And if so I may wish I left the Sue Bee Honey in the mix. Time will tell!

So to lay the foundation let’s consult good old Webster:

a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common:

“Rhode Island’s Japanese community”

a group of people living together in one place, especially one practicing common ownership:

“a community of nuns”

a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals:

“the sense of community that organized religion can provide”

And to HAVE community you must experience the root word – COMMUNE:

to communicate with someone or something in a very personal or spiritual way

So now that we’re all on the same page…..

We’re all pretty much the same. When you boil it all down…when you take off all the exteriors and goals and dreams and the like, it all boils down to one thing….we all just want to belong.

Think about it. Were you ever on a sports team? In a drama or theatre group? In a fraternity or sorority? In the band or choir? What was one big thing you got out of it? You felt like you belonged. You wanted – and found – community.

As I think back over the years I see a person starving for that sense of belonging at every turn. A place to feel important. Cared about. Listened to. Valued. Supported. An identity. And I found it because when you’re hungry you’ll find whatever it is you want, no matter how good or bad it may be for you. I found it in different ways. My two sorority years are probably some of my most fun memories of college. We’ll leave those stories out though I do laugh at myself when I think of them. But think about it – when I pledged hazing was common in the Greek system.

My identity name tag my last 2 years of college

My identity name tag my last 2 years of college

The things we put ourselves through just to belong. Yet those were some good times when I lived at the sorority house. We had a lot of fun and more freedom than the residence halls gave. In addition to being all sorority sisters most of us were either on the basketball, softball, or track team, so we had double community.

Then there was the small band of friends I ran with for a couple years of college before I pledged. We called ourselves The Misfits and even had shirts made up with our names on them. In high school it was band, chorus, drama, job and basketball – all in one year. In grade school it was sports – All Star Softball Team in 6th grade, volleyball and softball other years. But even through all that searching I was still lost, still lonely, still without a sense of belonging. I had things to which I belonged but I didn’t have community.

Sad to say that’s been the same for me in other arenas. In some of the churches in which I’ve been involved I felt little connection. I attended one where I was the only single in a family-oriented church. Though the pastor and his family was involved with me and even talked about involving me as family more – impromptu call to meet for dessert at the local ice cream stand, go to their house to spend the evening just to eat and hang out, play in the snow with the kids, even help tutor the kids – when the wife fell ill with cancer obviously things changed and unfortunately after she passed my relationship with them has since ended. That has been painful and wounding, especially after all that was said over the 15 years of knowing them. Makes it all seem like a farce to be honest and it’s taken quite a while to get past the hurt, forgive, and move on.

There are other churches where I have been involved but still don’t feel ‘connected.’ My identity and sense of belonging equate to the activities in which I am involved, and that becomes my identity. But to have folks who ‘do life’ with me – not a common experience. Although when Mom and I had our accident in 2001 my discipleship group was right there doing life with me. I split the first week between the two ladies’ houses where I was staying until I returned home. THAT was my first experience with REAL community. And it left an indelibile impact on my heart.

It hasn’t been until the last 2 years that this rocky past – this constant searching for true community – has finally begun to settle. I have found community. I have found people with whom we ‘do life.’ I have found my identity and my ‘home’ in a new community – the Ragamuffin Community.

And this is where it gets hard….trying to explain what I have found. I have longed to do that for a while but just wasn’t sure where I would find the words. I’m still not sure. But I will try.

If you’ve been following anything on this blog you know I have now been on 2 retreats with this same group of crazy, fun loving, laugh at ourselves, love each other and just BE people. There is an authenticity I have never before experienced. No pretenses. No acts. No ‘putting on a good show’. In short – no masks.

My new - and true - identity...a ragamuffin fiercely loved by God

My new – and true – identity…a ragamuffin fiercely loved by God

We each come because we’re in search of the same thing – a place to belong and be accepted. A refuge from the war of life. An oasis to recharge our batteries, get a fresh perspective, hear from God without all the daily clutter. We come searching for community. REAL community. Where we are loved just for WHO we are – not what we do or don’t do, not for who we know or don’t know. We come because we want to be loved and to love others with that same love. A pure love. A God-centered love. An accepting love with no hidden ulterior motives. The way God loves us.

And while the retreat community develops quickly, it’s what happens and grows as a result that lasts. The retreat community starts in a private FB room about 2 weeks before the retreat. Only the participants and staff have access to it and it is quickly established that it is a safe place. For some it’s the first safe place they have had in TOO long. We can share our stories – and not cringe waiting for the reaction (well, we may still do that since we are human but those fears are QUICKLY put to rest). We can encourage others and cheer them on. We can accept and be accepted. We can share nuances (this last time someone shared she goes by her full name and not a shortened version of it so we all knew right away how to love her and show respect by calling her by her desired name). We can have fun as we get to know each other and get excited for the retreat. And what is REALLY cool is the anticipation that builds for registration when we finally get to meet face to face.

This past retreat – October 2015 – it was so cool. Leisa and I took the scenic route. We liked driving Amish country in Nowhere, Ohio in the pre-dawn hours SO much that we added 32 miles round trip. We were an hour later than previously stated and our friends – some of whom we had yet to meet – were contacting us on FB to check on our safety, etc. AND WE HADN’T EVEN MET YET! THAT will make you feel loved! And when we got there, tired and frustrated as we were, we were greeted with hugs and smiles and everything under the sun….just because of the community that had already been built. And it was fun to say ‘YOU’RE ____’ or ‘you must be ____’ or ‘I’m glad I FINALLY get to meet you’ and other such anticipatory comments. In two weeks time! Before the first session of the retreat even started!

triad 2014

Triad – Ragamuffin Retreat October 2014

quad 2015

Quad – Disappointing Messiah Retreat October 2015

Now of course the nature of the retreat just builds on that community all the more. Anyone who has been on one is quick to say – even in the FB room beforehand – that if they sense something might be an ‘inside joke’ to ask because there are no inside jokes and we don’t mean to leave anyone out. Some of us know each other from previous retreats and we talk amongst ourselves to be sure we all make sure we don’t make ‘inside joke’ comments so as to not make anyone feel excluded. And quickly – within the first half of the first day – any ‘newbie’ vs ‘alumni’ classifications or feelings have gone out the window and we just ‘are’. We all just belong. Period.

I have been blessed with the after retreat community – not just on FB but much more so in person. Through the Ragamuffin movie in 2014 I connected with someone locally on Twitter. We both went on the 2014 retreat. While we interacted on Twitter we didn’t meet face to face until the morning we drove to PA – in the pre-dawn hours. And we met at a truck stop. She has verified my safety factor and I will verify hers! It was fun and funny but neither of us knew what God has in store. Though I was fearful of the post-retreat let down when there would be no one at home who would ‘get it’ she quickly reminded me in the FB room that we only live 15 miles apart and we would be seeing each other again. That helped.

From 2014-2015 my friendship with Jenn has grown. We made a point to help keep each other going by getting together personally at least once a month after the retreat, and we did pretty well with that. We linked arms last March to host a screening of Ragamuffin at Mom’s church and had two speakers from the retreat come up from Cincy and had a retreat buddy from Indiana drive over for the weekend as well.

There is just something about this group of crazies that will travel to show love, to just be together. Oh how I wish that were common in the local communities. In May she coordinated a Mitch McVicker concert at her church 20 minutes from me and I got to help with the PR end of it. We get to ‘do ministry’ and ‘do life’ together.

Fast forward to 2015. The next retreat was in October and God made a way to reconnect with a local friend from over 10 years ago. We had pretty much lost touch except for a short interaction here or there. Leisa got to go to the retreat and we drove together. What has blossomed in the last 3 months can only be described as ‘BUT GOD!’! The three of us – Jenn, Leisa and myself – now have regular contact. We get together for a couple hours at a time at least once a month and are in regular contact outside of that time. We can just BE…and what is extra cool is Leisa’s daughter Megan has been adopted in and joins us each time. Just last weekend we met and learned of a ministry in Columbus where Leisa and Megan had volunteered that day and heard stories. We share struggles, frustrations, joys, heartaches…we share life. We have community!

What I love is that this group of crazies called Ragamuffins will travel – to visit, encourage, serve – whatever. We are a family. We may live across the states (this last retreat had someone from Oregon, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee…and probably some other states I’ve forgotten – all converge for 3 days in the woods in the middle of nowhere, Ohio…and the interstate travel remains. A couple have driven to Tennessee to visit folks.

Others are traveling out to the Brennan world premiere party next weekend to meet old friends as well as meet for the first time others in this crazy community we may have only interacted with on FB. Distance is NOT an issue.

Locally we also travel for each other. In November I had my first routine colonoscopy and try as I may I could NOT find a for sure ride. I was feeling sorry for myself and feeling like a burden and was ready to cancel it for the 2nd time for the same reason when I shared my frustrations in the retreat room (the FB rooms stay active LONG after the retreat…the 2014 room is still going!) and before I could blink my two local friends said they would cover me. Now mind you it meant picking me up at 6:30a the week of Thanksgiving. And it was done without question or hesitation. And THEN after I had taken a good nap that day we all got together at our favorite hang out for a couple hours. This was one of our first get togethers post retreat.

Then in December we learned that one of our retreat friends had the lead in her church Christmas play so a new retreat friend from an hour away in Wooster initiated a road trip to surprise her in Wilmington. That’s all it took. We were in!

Through heavy fog and ugly weather four of us drove anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2 hours just to surprise her. Oh you should have seen her face!

The moment after the play when she saw us!

The moment after the play when she saw us!

We had the BEST time….except for the fog that is. But even then Jenn was a master driver and safely delivered all of us home.

Here’s a picture of the gang after the show that night. We just had fun!

I could go on and on and on…..of Skype visits, phone calls, texts, FB messages….you get the idea. We LOVE being involved with each other. We can ask the hard questions without fear of being out of line. We can share truth in safety when other venues do not afford that. We can cry and not have to explain ourselves or feel awkward. We speak a common language. We understand each others’ struggles. We laugh and love and cry and serve and dream and encourage. Because that’s what you do when you live in community.

I wish I had this sense in other areas of my life. There are areas of disconnect with old friends or current ones. I understand things change. But what I have experienced the last 15 months of my life has been nothing short of welcome and well beyond every imagination and secret hope. My retreat family IS my family. They are the ones I turn to. They are the ones with whom I know I am safe – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They are the ones who ‘get it’ when I have ragamuffy moments. And they are the ones with whom I can be free. I have laughed more and heartier and been more energetic and spontaneous since these folks entered my life than I have in many years.

And what’s cool is that the ‘real’ Sue is coming back to life. The fun-loving Sue. This pic….taken before the first session of the 2015 retreat….is more like the ‘real’ me. Relaxed. Smiling. Joking. Instigating (no…not ME…I’m an ANGEL!). And with any one of them we can have a late night after hours deep conversation about God and the things He is doing in our lives. There were a few of those on retreat. As Shelley put it, “God is irritatingly faithful.” Quotable quote after midnight after day 1.

So neither cold nor snow nor fog or distance shall keep us from each other. Just last week through the snow Jenn, Leisa, Megan and I connected again for the first time since early December. And had I not been about to fall asleep in my ice cream we may have stayed longer (though with the roads it was probably good we cut it short after 2 hours).

Next time we’ll have to bring ice cream to retreat to go with the pies Leisa brought Leisa was just going on her first retreat and didn’t know anyone but Jenn and I. She just belonged from the start. And our lives have been enriched as a result. This pic was of our game night after our worship and communion service Saturday night. We ate. WELL! Kathy Sprinkle’s sisters brought a bunch of homemade goodies and Leisa’s pies were…well…..well taken care of! I have a picture of Shelley eating pie in a creative fashion but I’ve been forbidden from posting it. Oops…there I go again….instigating! See how much these guys are rubbing off on me?! Ah….it’s good to have a heartbeat again.

Here are a few more pics of some very special folks. I have found community. I have found more than friends. I have found family. And I am SO very blessed. You are more than welcome to join the family. Just go to and check out the retreat info. I promise… won’t regret it and we’d LOVE to welcome you into our community.

retreat 2015

You can find more thoughts on Community by Jennifer at and by Leisa at

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