My parents have given me too many gifts to count or name. But looking back on my life, I can say with great confidence that one of the most beautiful, life-changing gifts they have given me is simply this: community.
When my mom was in her third trimester with me, she and my dad met another couple who had just given birth to their firstborn daughter, Emily. This couple invited them to join the now legendary “Friday night Bible study”, consisting of several other young couples, most of whom did not yet have children. From that moment on, their lives would never be the same.
Every Friday night, this group of friends would get together. As they began to have babies, they brought portable cribs to the gatherings, then hired babysitters. They started traditions within this friend group, like New Year’s Eve get-togethers, alternative Halloween parties*, and summer camping trips. We did life together, started a church together, and basically grew up together like one, big, happy family. That little baby, Emily? Well, it worked out. She and I are the rare version of best friends who regularly show up in each other’s baby pictures. Truly, all the kids in that group are sort of like cousins to me. We may not see each other regularly (though our parents still do), but when we do, it’s like a really huge, insanely chaotic family reunion. I think we always have a special connection with the people who knew us when we were tinies. Now, many of us raise our tinies together. My parents’ friends are like second parents to me, and second grandparents to my babies. My kids call the friends I grew up with their uncles and aunts.
I’ve watched my parents’ friendships with these people remain one of the steadiest, truest things I’ve ever known. They’ve walked with each other through thick and thin: the highs and lows of parenting, the aging and loss of parents, even cancer. When I have a new baby, my “second moms” come knocking on my door, bringing me dinner, cute baby clothes, and lots of love. My parents’ generation truly champions my generation, bragging about our accomplishments, praying for us when we go through big things, and cheering us on from the sidelines. This community is one of the most beautiful things in my life, and I have my parents to thank. It’s something none of us “second generationers” take for granted, and many of us are trying to build the same kind of thing in the lives of our children.
Here are some ways our parents showed us how to do it.
Choose your friends. And by this, I don’t mean hand-pick them out of a crowd. I mean, in a world that keeps getting busier and more frantic, with a million responsibilities pulling us in a million directions – choose your friends. Meet for coffee anyway. Go to the wedding, shower, or funeral anyway. Take up consistent space in each other’s already crowded lives, because that’s what community does. Community takes commitment, and commitment takes sacrifice. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. If you choose your friends over and over, even when you feel like staying home, something incredibly beautiful is going to shoot up and bloom from that seed! But first, it needs consistent nurturing. Keep showing up.
Stay put. Of course, this one isn’t in everyone’s control. But part of what made our community work is that we stayed local. Most of our parents were (at least) second generation Kansans, and, in a world that became increasingly connected, global and transient, our parents stayed put. Today, this is even harder, but for those of us who have managed to stay connected to “the big tree”, we are really reaping something precious, beautiful, and rare. There’s never anything wrong with moving away and chasing a dream – but I often think we overlook staying in one place and letting roots grow deep as a worthy, commendable endeavor all on its own.
Persevere. Our community has gone through highs and lows over the years, and I’ve watched my parents and their generation weather them all. It’s not been without some difficulties. Even the closest relationships can be messy. But, when faced with the choice of whether to take the easy way out, or keep showing up even in the pain, our parents chose the latter. They didn’t let shame or disagreements keep them away from rising above and loving anyway. In this day and age, that is almost super-human. But the good that comes from that kind of love is hard to describe in words.
I can’t imagine life without this group of people. We celebrate together, we mourn together, and everything in between. I’m so thankful my parents took the time and put in the effort to build something so beautiful, because community is worth the time and effort. I will do everything in my power to follow their example, so that I can pass down this rare and precious gift to my children.