Community is sometimes hard to describe, and it can mean different things. When I think of community, one word comes to mind: roots. To be in community means not only having friendships, but a home. Things that make you deeply connected to a place you live and work. When I think about being intentionally bold in community, a couple of specifics come to mind.
Be a Regular
When I lived in Waco, there were two restaurants where I was a regular. One was this Vietnamese place near campus called Clay Pot. I first learned about it when I was graduate intern and some of my students forced me to try it. I was in love. When I came back to visit after that summer, I always met those students there. My first year working full-time at Baylor a couple of fellow new RDs and I would have newbie dinner and go to Clay Pot on a regular basis. It also become my stressful-day-comfort-food-take-out joint. It was also my “lets go some where local tonight” choice when eating out with friends. While I tried lots of things on the menu, I settled, quickly, on the Curry Chicken Clay Pot with one or two extra spring rolls. I learned that I just love curry. Let me tell you, if you are sick and can’t breathe, or are stopped up from crying over something awful that happened that day, this entree will open you right up! I knew I arrived at regular status when the owner, who usually is the only server in the joint, came up to me and a friend after we arrived. He handed her a menu and looked at me and said “do you need to look at the menu, or will you have your usual”. This was a very proud moment.
The other joint was this breakfast place called Cafe Cappucino. A friend and I went every Sunday after church for two years. We’d act like we were open to other options. We’d have the same conversation every week (we’d trade off who said what line- you know what they say about great minds):
“Do you want to do lunch”
“Sure, where should we go?”
“I don’t really care, where do you want to go?”
“I don’t care either. You pick.”
“No, You know I hate making decisions, you pick.”
“Ugh, don’t do this.”
Somehow, the car always ended up at Cafe Cap. I tried other things on the menu here too, but usually ended with one of two things: French Toast with a side of bacon, or an egg white veggie omelet if I felt the need to be healthy. And Coffee. Lots of coffee. We usually had the same waitress every week. Her name was Tina (although we weren’t sure for a while… we thought it might be Louise for a bit. One day, my friend asked another server….). We loved Tina. We knew her story. And we were really sad when we walked in one day and had another server. We asked about Tina and learned she quit. We might have come close to shedding tears. Imagine the relief when she returned a few months later… That was a close one. We knew how much people hated working there. How the manager wasn’t the nicest. Which explained the horrible service anytime we had someone other than Tina as our server. I learned that if I want my staff to serve our students/university well, it starts with how I treat them. We knew that everything decorative in the store came from Ikea. And that the paint in the bathroom reminded one of our students of tootsie rolls. Our food always came so fast, I think Tina told them what we would have before we ordered.
I loved being a regular. I loved being known, and having a relationship with these folks. It was a symbol of roots. I need to find that here. A local, hole in the wall place, where I can put roots down. Where I can learn the stories of the individuals who work there, while contributing to the local economy.
I think it is so important to give back to the community you live in. One line of the Alpha Gamma Delta purpose (the women’s fraternity of which I am a member)says:
To welcome the opportunity of contributing to the world’s work in the community where I am placed because of the joy of service thereby bestowed and the talent of leadership multiplied.
I love our purpose statement, I like what it means, and it fits with what I hold valuable in my life. But this line just makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. It also inspires me to find a place in my community to get deeply connected and give my time. I already volunteer as a care team counselor at my church, but I want to find a place to get plugged in outside the church walls. I’m leaning towards job prep/career planning specifically with women. I have to find a place where this fits.
I think this important for a number of reasons. First of all, I believe that God created each of us with unique gifts that fit needs of those around us. To not use those gifts are wasteful and I believe makes God sad. When more than one person contributes their gifts, these things are multiplied spreading the impact it has out like ripples on water. Secondly, I want my students to learn to be engaged in the world around them. I know that working with those who come from different backgrounds widens your perspective and makes you appreciate your blessings. How can I encourage them to be civicly minded if I’m not practicing that regularly myself?
When I look back at 2012, I want to see signs of deepening roots. What do roots look like to you?