Have you ever noticed that when God decides to teach you something, it comes up EVERYWHERE? Suddenly each Sunday school lesson and sermon comes back to that same “nagging” lesson you’ve been reading in your morning devotion. Then your friend across the street brings it up; even that movie you’re watching has some comment about it, and before long you throw up your hands and say, “Alright Lord I’m listening. This is you talking; I get it!” Maybe it’s just me and my stubbornness that keeps wondering if I’m hearing God or just my own thoughts, and so He has to use numerous methods before I wise up, but anyway, I thought I might share with you the couple of things He’s been teaching me over the past weeks.
First is community. What it is. What that means, and why I should stop being so selfish and embrace it. In all honesty (it is oh so disgusting to admit), I shy away from “community”. As soon as somebody starts talking about “showing love to our community” and “the fellowship of believers,” all I can think about is how many casseroles I need to make and who all has had babies that I STILL have not taken a meal to. Then, my mind jumps to the people who have loved me that I still have not written a thank you note to. There it is, in all its ugliness, I am selfish and have been thinking that I was not a big fan of “community”–because in some sense community was tied up in work and guilt.
No sooner had I admitted these ugly sentiments to my husband (who is always wanting to expand and embrace our community, and who looked at me like I was a monster that he didn’t even know when I admitted that stuff to him) than the Lord started land-blasting me. I have shed tears two Sundays in a row over the powerful ways God has used our church community to minister to me specifically. When all of that stuff was going on with Mom, the way my parents’ friends and church reached out and loved our family was nothing short of miraculous. It was (and still is) incomprehensible to me–the way there were always people bringing food and performing the little tasks that just needed to get done and even just standing in our front yard to pray…
So, I had been in Dothan, living with Mom through the hell that was her last weeks of life, and being sustained (literally) by the community there. Then, I had to make a trip back to Birmingham because both of the girls had doctors appointments. I was only going to be here a day, but I woke up that morning to the sound of raking in my yard. I looked out the window to see Cohen Ezelle, who had left his wife at home to care for their three small children, while he spent the day raking the leaves in our yard that had grown knee-deep. Now, Cohen and Amie are some friends from our Sunday school class (who are also now missionaries in Belize), who we had grown to love over the years, but we’d never even “hung out” outside of church activities. He just found out where we lived, drove over to our house and thought, “What can I do to serve this family and show them God’s care?” I suddenly understood why my Dad kept saying he “felt humbled” by all the things people were doing for us back home. Seeing Cohen out there with a rake in his hands, doing a thankless job that he (assuming we were still in Dothan) never even planned on us knowing he did, and knowing that my Creator had taken the time to prompt his heart to just DO something for us in the little sphere that we now called our own, touched me profoundly. I don’t know that I even felt all of that then, as overwhelmed as I was by Mom’s sickness, but last Sunday as I sat in church listening to a sermon on “community,” all of that was laid clearly before my eyes. What I realized was that community is not about feeling guilty about every person in your church or neighborhood who might need a casserole that you have not come through for. It’s about listening to the promptings that God lays on your heart for specific people, and ACTING on those burdens. It might be just to pray for them and love them from a distance, or it might be something that feels ridiculous, like showing up to rake their yard, but the fact is that God uses us as His ambassadors, to be tangible evidence of the love He’s pouring out from above. What an honor that is! And what a pity that I shy away from it, because I think I am too busy. (There are many other examples of ways that friends loved us–or me–specifically during that time, and God has been pouring each one back over my head lately. I just listed the first that came to mind.)
The second lesson (and I’ll try to keep it quick because this has already gotten really long) is a true thankfulness for my afflictions. This feels sort of weird to say, but my heart has realized that BECAUSE God loves me, He has allowed hardships into my life, in order that my relationship with him might take on a greater sweetness and sincerity. I’ve written about this before (shows you how long God has been teaching me this one), but it just keeps coming back. The writer of Hebrews (12:7) says, “Endure hardship as a discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”
After going through something really hard (which I know that losing your Mom is nothing compared to what MANY suffer), I find that all Scripture is tinged with more meaning, that God is more real in my life, and that I relate to others in a more intimate way than I did before. To know that God took the time to love me through a hardship, to discipline me even, is (again) humbling. And while I wouldn’t have chosen it, I grow increasingly thankful for the experience of it. Is that sick?
So, in a nutshell, community and hardship are good. Thank you Jesus that I’ve experienced the blessings of both.
Oh Abby, wonderfully said… I spent most of my life shying away from “community” – oh, I had my 3-5 GREAT friends, but I was fine with JUST that and didn’t want to complicate my life with any more. Over the last few years, I have seen God bless me (and my family) with so many wonderful Christian friends who are truly THERE for me whenever I need it. It is such a gift and one I want to be able to GIVE away – so while it’s not easy and a whole lot of work sometimes, the GIFT is so worth it!
You understand MUCH…I have been away from Dothan, my loving community…for 11 long yrs. OHHHHH how I miss the love I felt while living, there. I would go back any time! God taught me a lot when I left Dothan. I loved this post! You are so correct in your thinking! Thanks for sharing.
What a great post… Thanks for sharing you have blessed my heart.
Well said; I really needed to read this. Selfishness is something that I feel like I constantly battle, and I appreciate your honesty in the way that you put yourself “out there”. It’s a very brave thing to do.
You don’t give yourself credit for all you do for others and what you mean to many. The time you spend with Pace and Mary Aplin is so important. Your blog pictures of Valentine decorations, dress up and tents in the living room give me special admiration for you in your role as Mom.
You are precious and ALWAYS write such great truth!! Thanks for sharing…
Oddly, I have spent the whole weekend learning more about hardship. I hope to be able to share it with you soon. You are a blessing to so many! Especially your sweet family.
What a great post and “sermon” in itself. Awesome lesson that we can all learn more about every day. thanks!
God is using you in the “Blog Community” more than you realize! No matter the severity of our hardships, it is always amazing how God works. I, like you, have to be “hit in the head” over and over before I realize God is speaking to me. And once I realize, it’s a big ah-ha moment.
Thanks for your words!
Hey! I just noticed – that high chair that Mary Aplin is standing next to- we have that EXACT same one – was it an old one???? and we have the carriage to match!
abby – we met a few times at auburn, and i saw your blog on mallory wilsons. as i scrolled down to see your precious girls (i have a 2 year old girl) and laugh at your med school lamentations (my husband is a second year resident) i instantly felt like we needed to be friends! even more so when i read down to hear about what God has been teaching you about community and through your moms illness… thank you so much for sharing that – it brought tears to my eyes and was so refreshing after a long day with a toddler, and a husband on call! 🙂 i know you can relate… what church do you guys go to?
hope all is well!
katie (boyd) compton