It's not that "community" is such a strange thing. It's just that I've noticed something strange happening in my heart.
I grew up on a farm, out in Midwest farm land, where the countryside is dotted with small towns. Or nearest town had 1200 people living in it. My high school class graduated 64 (I think, but don't quote me!). In that small community, everyone knew everyone and often, there was generational knowledge, too, because many of my classmates' parents had also grown up in this community.
We went to one of the five churches in town, a church my grandparents had been heavily involved in. My parent's friends were my youth leaders and choir director. The prayer chain was a quick series of phone calls to neighbors when a need arose. News got around quickly, and folks weren't slow to bring casseroles, watch children, pray, or offer support.
People there have known me since I was born. When I go back to visit the farm, they ooh and ahh over our children and exclaim that they look "just like" me or my siblings. They reminisce about days when we were young.
That's how I grew up. It was special and unique, and yet I barely recognized it. Then, came years of anonymity. Well, not really years, but seasons. We would move to a new town and I would go to the grocery store and not know anyone there. I would take the kids to the park and we would make all new friends. We would visit churches and miss Sundays and I don't think anyone noticed.
Then, we stayed awhile. Living in Lynchburg was our longest time in one place. It started to surprise me if I didn't know anyone when I went out on errands. We were more involved in church (helping with children and playing music) and had friends for years. That was a sweet surprise. We watched our children and their friends growing up, which was sweet. I had friends who knew me, who saw me through pregnancy sickness and the overwhelming season of littles and through law school. They celebrated with us as babies were born and the law degree was conferred... and then our house was rented and we moved again and started over again.
This time, I grieved the loss of what was just beginning to happen for us- that sense of being known, of being part of a community, of feeling that we were going long with some people. It was hard to start over again, especially because we were renting our house and were unclear about how long we would be staying in it, or even in the area. We wondered if it was time to return to IL, or if we could finally put down roots. We started attending a church, but never joined. The kids were involved in activities, but we never really committed ourselves to anything. I still felt anonymous. But that has changed.
We've now been in Midlothian for almost 4 years. I'm shocked that I seem to know someone every time we go to Costco or into the library. I know which checkout ladies are my favorites at Kroger and the family that runs the neighborhood post office knows me by name. Sometimes, I even see people I know driving beside me when I'm on the way somewhere in our big van with the kids. And for the very first time, I drove north on 288 through the scrubby trees and red earth of Richmond that I've never liked and I thought, "this isn't SO bad." Though I thought the city of Richmond was so large, I've realized it's a relatively small metropolitan area and Midlothian is just a little piece of that. And, apparently, it's growing on me.
The neatest thing that has happened this past year is a new sense of community we have through the fellowship of believers. I'd like to tell you about this, but it deserves it's own post. Suffice to say, for now, that we are feeling part of a community- an unfamiliar, if not "strange", sensation for this family.