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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

Community at the Crossroads

This will probably end up being a big jumbled mess of random thoughts that somehow end up being woven together at the end. THAT…will be an act of God!

I am three days post-retreat at the time I start this post. Last week I escaped to the mountains of PA to go to Camp Christian for the 2016 Walking Stick Retreat “The Kingdom Is…” But what I experienced was deeper than I ever expected. I struggle for words as my brain starts to process. Part of me just wants to hole up in my room for a day or two and be left alone. And as peaceful as I feel in thinking about retreat I also find myself getting angry.

It’s now two weeks later and I have more coherent thoughts to pound out but the topic is the same: Community. I’m still in the ‘pounding out’ process and this is part of that process.

I said I was finding myself angry. I’m past the initial anger but the residual sense of something that needs to change remains. Let me see if I can explain this.

If there is one thing you will hear folks say about the Walking Stick retreats ( it is that the sense of community is very strong. The Facebook room that opens up about 2 weeks before retreat begins the community building process so when we finally get to the retreat we are at least

not total strangers. Folks share, encourage, challenge and discuss stuff in the room. It’s almost as if there is an implied trust. At this stage of things many of us know each other at least through FB interactions and usually through previous joint retreat experiences. What I love about the folks is an openness to new folks – and an anticipation of new folks joining. The family has to keep growing! And those new folks tend to take it in and shortly after things get started they, too, realize it’s a safe place. So by the time the retreat is in full swing things just start to happen…triads are formed and relationships start to build. And walls come down.

Experience that for 2.5 days and something happens inside. Something for which we all yearn. We have a place to rest – spiritually, emotionally and mentally (not necessarily physically because we enjoy the fellowship so much). We have a place to belong. We have a place to be ‘me’ – whatever part of ‘me’ is coming out at that moment. We have a

place where it is safe to question, feel, express emotions, doubt, discover, inquire, grow, ponder, love, give, share, serve. We are accepted, and we accept others. No strings attached. We just love each other. We might have been strangers two weeks prior but we are family and friends by the time we leave.

And leaving is the hard part. We are seeds being blown into the wind when we pull out of retreat and head home. We have had the Word imparted to us – planted in us – and when we leave we are to take it with us. And we want to. But therein lies the challenge.

We may not necessarily feel the same at home as we do at retreat. And it’s not even ‘feel’ that way as much as it is ‘experience’ the same thing…or even a close resemblance. For many of us brokenness is a common thread woven

through the tapestry of friends. And that brokenness yields a ‘realness’ and a desire to become ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable.’ And that brings a sense of community. And sometimes going home is like having a rock thrown through your glass window.

That was my struggle two weeks ago when I got home from retreat. That was the anger I was experiencing. I fell into a bad habit of comparing myself to others and fighting through some jealousy…depth of relationships, thinking someone is ‘better’ at something than I am when in actuality we just do it differently (ex: writing). There were so many things of which I could be envious and that started trying to eat up the seeds that were planted in me during retreat. Thankfully the retreat room is such a safe place that I could even confess those thoughts to the people of whom I was envious! Now THAT’S being comfortable with the uncomfortable! But see what I mean? THAT is community! While I was nervous about sharing – and a bit ashamed – my struggle was met with love and acceptance. Not ONE person said ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ or ‘you’re wrong for feeling that way.’ Instead it was ‘I get it. I do it too.’ That’s one of the differences

with this group of folks.

But ultimately at retreat we talked about taking the kingdom experience we had to our communities at home…to be the community. And that thought resonated with me and challenged me. And I had a choice to make: repeat the past or get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I have chosen the latter.

For the last 15 years I’ve been involved in churches but not really connected. My ‘identity’ became what I did….worship team, sound board, youth ministry, etc. I didn’t feel I was known for ‘me.’ I was involved in small groups but had no real connections and really little to no interaction

with group members outside of the group meetings, and some of those groups only met twice a month to start with! That was simply a ‘manageable level of tolerable existence’ and it is no longer acceptable to me. I want, need – and God expects and wants – more. Now I have some ownership in the past and I acknowledge that. And I also have some ownership in the present. And that is what I have power to change. Community is at a crossroads in my life and I have a choice to make, and I have made it.

I am a different person than I was. THANK GOD! I am in a totally different place than I once was. THANK GOD! And as a result I know when something isn’t right or isn’t what God wants. And though it may mean pushing myself out of an INSANE comfort zone, I know it’s the right thing. And here’s what I know is right and what now drives me: 1) I believe I am lovable and that God loves me.

2) I believe that God wants only the best for me and He reaches out to me in community and reaches out to others through me in community.

3) I am building a new foundation on the newly developing realization that I AM valuable to God, that He wants to use me, and I have responsibility to put myself in positions where He can use me.

I will no longer let myself be known for my activities and involvements rather than for who I am. That means pushing myself. A LOT! But I am willing. I have to. I am tired of being lonely in the crowd and learning how to ‘fake it til I make it.’ My masks came off two years ago. Sometimes I have felt like some people don’t know what to do with me….this ‘new’ me….the real me. And I am still discovering and uncovering parts of ‘me’ I didn’t know were there in the past. And that’s what makes it exciting….it’s a journey I am on and am eager for people to come alongside

me on it. Some reading this may be shocked. “This doesn’t sound like the Sue I knew.” Exactly the point. I have changed. I have grown and am growing. And I am in search of people who will come on the journey with me.

One way this plays out – in growing being ‘comfortable in the uncomfortable’ – is in the small group environment. Small groups revolve around intimacy and food…..openness in conversation, sharing of real life, and of course…food. Being vulnerable is newer to me. Just because I talk about it doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it, and in a small group setting it will be a HUGE challenge…after 15 years of attending but not connecting. But I am SO determined to be real that I have to push myself. And that even means I’m pushing myself in my eating disorder. I know what I want….what I need….what God is calling me to, and I will do whatever it takes to be totally committed to God…..and that usually means I need to get out of the way.

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