The oil sizzled on the pan as my friend Janell made naan and garam masala chicken. Her little ones (Hazel is 4 and Levi is 1) raced back and forth through the kitchen. I held Lucy while she leaned around me to watch the kids run around. She squealed in delight.
Janell and I tried to carry on a conversation.
“Do you use essential oils? How do you use them?”
“Did you read that article on Facebook?”
“What did you think about this week’s sermon?”
About halfway through each conversation we were interrupted by a kid who was crying, hungry, or asking for help.
Our husbands were out for the night so we thought it’d be fun to get together for dinner with the kids—to combine efforts, if you will. Our good intentions, though, led to a lot of joyful chaos. Well, mostly joyful.
We never did finish a single conversation that night. And yet I drove home feeling incredibly known and loved. How many people have friends where you can just stop by their house, bring chicken, make dinner together, and help wrangle the kids—all last minute?
How many people have a close friend who lets you just pop over without tidying up or washing the dishes in the sink?
How many people have a friend who you feel comfortable being yourself around after a long, stressful day at work?
I’ll be honest. Later that night, after the kids were in bed, we texted back and forth to plan a kids-free night to go out to dinner. We both want to be able to finish at least a few sentences.
But thinking about that night—even in its chaos—I feel incredibly thankful. That night was full of rich, authentic community. My daughter will grow up with Janell’s amazing kids. She’ll have memories of just hanging out at their house. We’ll sit together one day and talk about all the times Lucy and Levi danced to the Hot Dog Dance together.
Janell and I are close enough to spend that kind of time together—time spent in the middle of real life—even weeknight busyness. And our relationship is closer as a result of those real moments spent together. We understand each other. We’re there for each other. Even in the everyday-ness of parenting. Perhaps especially then.
So often when we think about community and real relationships, we get visions of Pinterest-inspired tables, beautiful décor, clean houses, and authentic conversations full of laughter. That is community—no doubt.
But so is last minute meals with kids running through the kitchen.
So is texting in the middle of the night when the kids won’t stay asleep.
So is bringing dinner in throwaway containers when someone’s recovering from surgery.
But that kind of community takes vulnerability, and it’s pretty scary. It’s a lot easier to have people over only when our house looks Pinterest-ready.
I like to do things on my own. I value efficiency. I like to keep a lot private. And I’m an introvert who needs quite a bit of alone time to recharge. And yet I’m learning that pushing myself to embrace real community where I’m known and loved despite all my flaws—and where I know and love others—is the key to abundant life.
More than that, it’s what God calls his followers to do: Get together! Eat together! Encourage one another! In good times in bad, stick with your people. Because we need each other. We really need each other.
Sometimes it’s nice to throw beautiful garden parties and wear nice clothes and not have to chase children around. And sometimes it’s nice to say, “This is our reality: kids running, food burning, and dishes soaking. Will you join me?” Both are beautiful visions of life lived in community.