Real Community

But real community is more than people gathered together. Real community is held together by grace and friends who stick closer than brothers.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24 ESV

Two years ago, our family packed up all that we had (which was a lot!) and moved to a new place almost five hours away from the place we’d called home our entire lives to start over.

It took us more than one trip and a couple of packed U-Haul’s to begin again, but all our things would not be able to fill the emptiness we felt inside. Not only were we leaving the only community we’d known, but we were leaving under the worst of circumstances.

If you’ve read much of blog, you know that we left because after confessing to the leaders of my church about the inappropriate and abusive relationship I’d had with the former pastor, I was forced to confess to the entire church in a letter what happened. Then I learned the church leaders edited my letter and tried to cover it up. I was overwhelmed and crippled by shame after this happened. I didn’t want to leave the house to even pick up our kids from school. I was scared to death I’d see someone I knew at the grocery store. All I wanted to do was hide from everyone I knew. I cried out to God begging and pleading with Him to move us, and He did.

I believed it would be easier when we moved. I’d hoped that just putting that town and all that had occurred in our rearview mirror would bring great relief. But the truth is, what was to come was even more pain combined with more loneliness than I’d ever experienced before.

Our former church leaders had told us that the best way to heal was in community. They initially assured us that they’d help our family get through the hurt surrounded by nurturing friends, but that wasn’t possible anymore after the church meeting.

There were many times I thought of their words about the best way to heal was in community when I felt so very alone. I even wondered if we’d been wrong to leave.

The phone calls and emails from our former church family slowly dwindled down. After the initial shock that their former pastor and secretary had been lying to them went away, they, too, needed to lick their wounds. It took me a long time to understand this, but I think I do now, and I cannot express enough the sorrow I feel over the pain that my own actions caused my family, the former pastor’s family and the church body. Even though what happened to me was clergy abuse, I cannot deny my own sin in it.

Part of the healing process has been sorting through all emotions that have surfaced and digging deep into the reasons why I fell into such bondage. And what a rollercoaster ride it has been and continues to be. But all along this unstable ride, I’ve found puzzle pieces that have been putting together a larger picture for me. And the truth does indeed set one free.

Even though we lost our local church community and found it too difficult to start over in a new one, there have been a few friends outside of that church who’ve stuck closer than brothers. And as my friend Steve Brown likes to say have “tasted the salt of our tears.” These friends have been faithful, loving, kind and filled with grace. They haven’t been shocked by my sin, rather they’ve shared their own. They haven’t given up on me even when I’ve given up on myself. And their loving care and acceptance of me have helped me to discover a large missing piece of the puzzle…the piece that I was looking for when I sinned. The piece that was desperate for love in a real community. And love has begun to grow in the soil where sin once choked the life out of me.

Jesus said the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another.

Love that comes through those who stick closer than a brother.

Love that manifests itself through the sharing the stories of journeys in and out of the pig pen and washing one another’s feet.

Love that finds fellowship in suffering.

Love that doesn’t need to hide.

Love that encourages one another to look to Ultimate expression of love revealed through Jesus.

He is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother and laid down His life for us.

He is the One who calls us friends and covers all our sins.

Companions indeed come and go. But real community for me has popped up in places I didn’t expect to find it. And those friends who have stuck closer than brothers have helped us to survive.

Even though we still haven’t found a local church, I haven’t given up on God providing that kind of community for us. I believe that my former church leaders were right in saying people heal best in community.

But real community is more than people gathered together. Real community is held together by grace and friends who stick closer than brothers.

If you are a part of a local church, I encourage you to reach out to the stranger that visits your church on Sunday, to interrupt your Sunday routine and maybe even invite them to lunch. To share your story and invite them to share theirs. And not only the people who visit your church, but also those who might never visit. I’m where I am today because people who started out as strangers became my friends.

And I am exceedingly thankful to all of you who’ve stuck close through so much and have revealed the amazing grace of God to us…Nancy, Robin, Sharon and Steve, and the many others on this blog who’ve reached out in love and acceptance.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:16‭-‬21 NLT

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