THE STORY OF US: THE MAKING OF COMMUNITY

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. – Mother Teresa

I have been travelling for the last three (3) weeks along the Eastern coast of the United States.  Anyone who knows this area, knows that the I-95 highway will take you anywhere you want to go, from New York in the North to Florida in the South.  We were on it.  We started the journey in Maryland, stopped in Delaware, had to care for a sick child, developed engine trouble as we approached the Maryland-Virginia border, experienced a blow-out tire in South Carolina, and saw signs of transmission trouble as we got into Florida.  But we made it!  In Florida, I moved around a little bit and changed addresses five (5) times.  I always stayed in homes with families where I had been invited by my hosts.

Jean Vanier, author of Community and Growth, said, “Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other.  It is a sign that we don’t need a lot of money to be happy – in fact, the opposite.”  This vacation illustrated this concept for me once again.  Sometimes I shared beds, at other times I had an entire wing of a house, or an entire suite, to myself.  I took the children of one family to the neighbourhood park once.  There, I watched them excitedly play on the jungle gym, slides, simulated cars, and more.  I even became an astronaut for a day at the Kennedy Space Centre (If you doubt me, I have the photo to prove it!).  But, for me, the highlights were always around water.  I went to the beach twice and walked in the waters of Cocoa Beach.  On other occasions, I swam and kicked in a pool every chance I got.  I even got to walk the trails in a wildlife reserve, walking over a bridge where the water lilies were beginning to burst to life underneath our feet.  I also picked a pond apple, and after it ripened in a few days, realized that not everything that smells like honey dew melon, looks like a sweet sop, has the chalkiness of a red apple or custard apple, and the heart of a sour sop is good to eat.  As I shared in the love of each community, I was being refreshed in my soul.  After all, there is a spiritual promise given to us of this.  “For I have satiated the weary soul, and every sorrowful soul have I replenished” (Jeremiah 31:25; ASV).

No matter where we go, travelling with a group, or travelling alone, we are received in someone else’s community.  We are introduced to people who want to show off a little bit of their best experiences in the places where they live.  As I travelled around, I enjoyed the changing scenery.  However, the best of all were the stories that people shared with me and the strangers who not only helped us with fixing our car troubles and finding medication for a sick child, but who also encouraged us to be careful and to travel safely.  Everywhere I stayed, I felt the love of small towns in the midst of the demands of the city.  I was treated to the old-style community where people still brought bags of fruit (e.g., sorrel, mangoes, avocado pears and bananas) and cooked meals (e.g., curried goat and white rice, baked chicken and rice and peas) over to their neighbours.  I was also introduced to neighbours who called up their neighbours to find out if they could help with caring for their animals while the owners would be out of town.  I shopped regularly in every place with my hosts for everything from basic food and clothing, to specialty items like sporting goods.  I shared with my friends and family about the satisfaction they get from a job well done and how much people appreciate what they do.  I sat  with the elderly and heard their stories of how they started out, why they came to America, how they settled in their communities, and which neighbour(s) welcomed them first.  I heard encouragement for my own journey as I walk my own path and discover the “simple treasures” that have been hidden by God for me until I was ready to find them.

Caring for your soul, as advocated by Thomas Moore, is the most precious gift that you can give to yourself.  As you take the opportunity to refresh yourself in moments of solitude and spending time with who or what inspires you, you can discover greater value in yourself.  It happened quite unexpectedly for me on this trip.  I was busy enjoying the water as much as possible every morning as I sipped my tea and ate my fruit.  I had no idea that I was being prepared to share my story again with a family that was coping with the chronic illness of a loved one.  When I met this couple, I was struck by their obvious differences, she with her small and fragile looking Asian features, while he seemed to be a towering giant from solid European stock.  But his bandages revealed that all was not well.  The moment presented itself when this gentle lady invited me to sit with them at the table.  My hosts asked me to share about my work and I said that it would be easier to show them.  So, I showed my two (2) published books, Simple Treasures and Black Gold, and allowed them to ask questions as they wished.  As we talked about everything from comparing the cultures of our blended families, shared joys and sorrows, to weddings, marriage, and family, I found myself wanting to give more of Simple Treasures to this lady who felt an angelic presence with her in her home as she faced this challenging time.   She asked to borrow the book, and kept it for three (3) days.  She had to finish reading it because the stories that I shared of the communities that inspired them did for her what the water did for me every morning – refreshed my soul.

Every act of kindness has exponential benefits!  Not only has my wealth increased because I discovered on this vacation that Simple Treasures that was released at $10 is now valued at $599+ shipping on Amazon; but, I touched another soul deeply.  A gift that I gave freely to one community is bringing wealth into my life in another country, and is demonstrating to me that love in community sees no colour, no geographic boundaries, and has no limits.  May this day be a reminder to us of the value of the people in our communities that we hold so dear.  It has been noted that “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.  When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing” (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth).  As I close, please allow me to share a portion of the greatest gift that I received on my vacation.  It is a few lines from a hand-written note in a card showcasing the author’s artwork.  My new friend simply says, “I am very grateful that we share the same feeling of gratitude in appreciating our everyday lives, love for our family and friends.  Every moment is a blessing.  I am so very grateful.”  My message to you in The Story Of Us is: Be grateful.

 

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