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Fighting for Community (or Fading Away)

I know what it must feel like to be a ghost.

I am haunting the life I used to live but haven’t moved on yet, hanging out on the fringes of what I once called mine. I watch everyone around me go about their days, yet I am on the outside looking in. I ache to be seen but I also know my presence brings up hurt they cannot name, so I often remain in the wings. Yes, I know what it must feel like to be but a ghost, haunting your own life. This is life in transition.

Have you ever felt it before? Maybe you moved from the place you long called home or left your church, had an illness that separated you from others, or lost your job while others went on with life as usual.

We are moving to South Asia in less than two months. Our house has sold, and our belongings are stored. I watched someone take over my job as I stepped aside.

I am daily preparing the kids to uproot their lives while they go to classes they will no longer attend in two months. Their little hearts are unfazed, it seems, as they adjust well while I feel more invisible every day. Next week we sell our car, the last remaining link to our life in the United States. We will drive in a borrowed car as we live in a borrowed house, feeling like we are borrowing a life that isn’t ours anymore.

I am glad I have this “in-between” time in our move to prepare me for the loneliness I know is coming living 8,000 miles from what has been home for most of my life. I feel like I am building up callouses now for the big hurt that is to come. But I also am wounded in another way, the conviction in my heart that is God saying “Who else have you made to feel this way in the past? Who are you shutting out even now?”

Faces float to the surface of my memory as I try to push them back under. There’s the friend who encouraged me when my whole life was changing with a move, a new job, and a second baby. I sat daily on her couch and we laughed and cried together. We had a fellowship I was sure would withstand the miles when she moved away. We haven’t talked in years.

There’s the church small group I was a part of when all that transition occurred, and we were so busy we couldn’t make it to gatherings but a couple of times in a year and we just drifted away from budding relationships. I miss them and wonder how they are doing but it feels like it’s been too long to reach out now.

Relationships ebb and flow. Few last forever, I know that. Remaining from my school days is only one friendship that stood the test of time and two from college became lifelong friends. I read the findings of a psychological study recently that concluded most friendships last no longer than seven years as people change and move on with their lives.

But what do we do in those moments when it feels like every relationship we have has fallen away? Only loneliness remains and it leaves us thinking about how we were designed for real intimacy and how empty we are without it.

From the beginning of time, God knew it wasn’t good for us to be alone. He walked with us in the garden, in the wilderness, and through the sea. He created us for each other. He created us all as a Body and prayed for us to be one.

The church is the one place you’d expect relationships to be sustaining, to last, and to withstand distance. But people in the church are just people, after all. Busy and hurting, messed up and trying. I have been at the same church (minus my years away at school and living abroad) since I was fourteen. I have been on staff there for six years.

Yet, a few months after leaving that job and being away a lot of weekends as we travel, I already feel like I am living thousands of miles away. Except for the few small group members who stay in touch more regularly, I am not in the presence of the people I have known for decades. Our connection may now be a social media comment every now and again, a text if I’m lucky.

I know that being in transition isn’t the only cause for feeling disconnected. I listen to a friend who lives in an intentional community, literally next door to those she worships with. Yet she is lonely and feels disengaged. She tells me she feels unseen. I watch my longest friend struggle with an illness that keeps her isolated, bound to her home, and unable to keep commitments because she never knows how she is going to feel from one day to the next.

In this world that pretends connection is easier than ever, it feels like real relationships are harder to build, and even more difficult to maintain. The steps I make are small. Are they enough?

I text that friend I promised to stay in touch with and I ask her to lunch. I put pen to stationary and write thank you notes to the neighbors who helped us move out of our house and promise to deliver them tomorrow.

They feel like tiny moves toward connection, but I know if someone made one of those moves right now toward me, it would change everything in my aching heart. I send out an email to another friend like a whisper in the dark, hoping it finds its way through the distance between us. Often there is only static on the line.

Sometimes I get a response, the tiniest glimmer of staying in community across the miles, a reminder that this—love, connection, community—is what we were created for. And it is worth fighting for.

Some days I feel like my light is flickering, as if I am slowly fading out of existence. But every now and then another tiny flame, refusing to be snuffed out, echoes in response.

Every now and then I feel like I am coming back to life.

*Originally published September 13, 2017 at The Mudroom. Republished with slight edits on June 11, 2024.

Revisiting this one was painful. For 7 years I have been fighting this same fight, often losing. I think I am not unique in this. Covid, our ever-advancing technology that drives us to greater distraction, and deeper divisions in our nation and world—these things are driving wedges between us and making it easier than ever to fade away.

I find myself living in between many worlds, never fully settled in one since the day I wrote this piece. I left the life I knew in 2017, then left the budding life we were building in Bangladesh in 2019. I came "home" to haunt life in Georgia all over again. My family was forever changed by horrific illness and the fallout from that remains five years later. I am still grappling with waves of grief for those losses that are still robbing my family to this day.

I left my church of many years. It was my choice, yes. But not one without pain, grief, and losing most of the friends I had in that tradition I inhabited for my entire adult life. Now I live with one foot in many worlds, most of them virtual or remote. Most of my friends live in the world of Voxer and text for me. There is no one to show up at my door and just sit with me these days. And I've been letting that be an excuse to live as a ghost, not fully present in my own life.

To those whose lives I have faded out of when you wish I would have reached out, forgive me. I wish I knew better and had done better.

To those who have grappled with their own pain these seven years and have been unable to accompany mine, I'm sorry I expected too much of you and let it turn into hurt.

To those I walk with day in and day out, largely from a distance—sometimes all I want is to sit down with a cup of coffee and wrap you in a hug and it hurts that I can't. But the way you accompany me as you can is not lost on me. It has been the way God has shown up for me again and again these hard years. Thank you. You are a gift I don't give thanks for enough.



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