I spent some of my elementary years in a tiny mountain town. Everything was off the grid and our public school, homes, and grocery store ran on generators. We called our teachers by there first names and they weren’t just teachers, they were our mentors and friends. There were only 21 of us the first year I was there for grades K-8th.
We went kayaking sometimes for P.E. at the river that ran through our town. I’ll never forget the day we came walking back barefoot and soaking wet from the swimming hole to find men in suits waiting for us. My teacher came in after us dripping wet and hiding his surprise about having a meeting with insurance adjusters.
When there was a play or a graduation, it was a town-wide affair; everyone came. Eighth grade graduations were a huge deal. Everyone gave speeches and the whole community came and showered us with cards and money. It was followed up with the local band and dancing in our bare feet on the wood floor of the community building until midnight.
I learned everything I know about community at that school and from those people. The first day I came as the “new kid” I brought my own lunch and the cook, said, “Oh honey, you don’t need to bring that, I’ll cook for you.” And she did. She made the best lasagna and I lived for her homemade bread and butter.
When I was eleven a boy at our school got sick with Leukemia.
I don’t remember when he got sick. I only remember one day he was there on the soccer field, and the next day he was gone to U.C. Davis in Sacramento.
My dad had moved us there to plant a church, but he saw pastoring as just loving people not something that happened on Sunday mornings. They were our friends, our neighbors, and he was my best friend’s cousin. He didn’t wait to be invited, he loaded all of us in our 1982 Dodge Challenger and drove the seven hours it took to get to Sacramento. We stayed in a dive motel with dog hair on the sheets and my dad went to see the family in ICU even though it was the middle of the night.
My dad went back and forth many more times after that. Sometimes it was just him, sometimes I went with him. Soon, the boy started to lose his battle.
The cook from school packed a cooler of homemade buns filled with pork (all of our favorite) and my best friend’s family and dad and I made the trip one last time. I’ll never forget sitting in the florescent waiting room with my best friend. We paced, we laid down on the hard benches. Our eyes burned red as the hours ticked by. She cried and we waited. My dad never left their side.
That night we were all invited in to say goodbye one last time. Even though I was only eleven, the honor was not lost on me to stand in a room full of brothers and sisters and cousins and one mother and father as they said goodbye to their baby boy. My throat and eyes were raw and the weight of the tragedy and heartbreak was tangible. I could feel it crushing my down on me so heavily I could barely breathe.
At two or three in the morning we drove silently back to my friend’s aunt’s house where my friend and I would sleep feet to feet on a couch in the living room. My dad didn’t leave and he didn’t sleep. The next day we drove quietly home, we both were sick from exhaustion and I’m sure I had no idea what he was going through. Soon after that, he performed the funeral. Absolutely everyone was there, because that’s what community does and that’s what community is.
I’ll never forget that night.
I’ll never forget those people.
I’ll never forget the first time I was brushed by Heaven in the hospital room.
I’ll never forget the way the community came together.
I’ll never forget those pork buns made with love and sleeping feet to feet on that couch.
I’ll never forget what I learned from the people of that tiny mountain town.
I’ll never forget what I learned about loving from my Dad.
It is the greatest honor to be welcomed into someone else’s pain and it’s the greatest responsibility to be there.
Friendship, family, community, it’s all about walking through life together. It’s all about showing up. It’s about showing up in the good times and the terrible times and everything in between.
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