Driving down the old roads of Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War era homes flanking the streets and battlefields in the distance, we passed an old, red brick church with a beautiful pair of arched wooden doors. One was partially open, drawing my eye and making me long to peek inside when a woman emerged.
Her dark skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight dappled by the large old trees overshadowing the lawn. Her hair was concealed by a colorful scarf, wrapped neatly and tucked perfectly above her brow.
But what struck me the most in the fleeting seconds that I saw her as we drove by was her smile. It was one of utter peace and contentment, revealing straight white teeth and parenthetically framed by lines very likely earned by years of living and, from what I could glean from her countenance, smiling.
I have no idea what she had been doing in that church. I don’t know who she had been with or why, but her smile was one directed down at the stone steps as she took them one-by-one, not necessarily intended to be noticed by anyone.
But notice, I did. I can’t quite put my finger on why her smile struck me so. I nudged my daughter, sitting next to me in the front seat, asking her to grab her phone and snap a photo of the church doors. She fumbled to bring her phone to life while I drove as slowly as possible (hoping not to irritate the driver of the car behind me but trying to buy time) finally managing to take a couple of shots. I was honestly surprised she captured the doors (because she had all of 2 1/2 seconds to do so!) but those doors are there, a reminder to me of a simple but important truth:
Community feeds contentment. Sharing life feeds a necessary joy-habit which sustains us when we walk through suffering.
Too often we leave gatherings with plastic faces well intact. We managed to keep our façade on to the end and no one, not even our “close” friends, are aware of the things we have determined to hide beneath well-rehearsed smiles. We walk out, away from the watching eyes, and let our weary faces resurface, the smiles falling off at last like a dead Autumn leaf past it’s prime.
But, friends, what if we are real we and allow the weariness to show? What if we smile through tears, allowing those who love us to love on us? That is how we connect at a deep, heart-level which renews our strength and causes us to leave the gathering unconscious of the beautiful, natural smile that turns up the corners of our mouths and draws our cheeks back in soft joy.
There is joy in true community.
There is joy in knowing and being known and allowing our tribe “in.”
There is joy in connection, even when the process involves vulnerability and tears.
And I believe this…with all my heart: God intends for us to develop smile lines as we grow old, the hallmark of a joy-filled and genuinely connected life. Nothing is more beautiful than a face graced with contentment, filled with the light of delighting in who we are in Christ and allowing that light to multiply and bring others in.
A life well-rooted produces bright and delicious fruit.
Choose your tribe carefully, sisters, but choose them. Let them in and become the hands and feet of Jesus in your life, just as they need you to become theirs.
Why? Because we are all weary, friends. We are all strangers in a land that is not our home and traveling alone is exhausting and disheartening. If you have ever journeyed abroad, you know the relief that comes when, after days of struggling to communicate through a language barrier, you run into someone who speaks your native tongue with ease. Your brain takes a much needed break and conversation flows easily because you have found familiarity!
This is the gift of community.
This is the heart of relationships.
Common ground, a common language, and common ideals.
Character-lines formed through years of conversation, confession, laughter and tears.
And lasting joy found in shared memories and celebrations under the approving eye of our good, good Father who brings us through and out of darkness into victory and glorious light…together.