“Will you be my boyfriend? Check Yes or No,” I wrote at the young age of 12 on my wide ruled piece of notebook paper. I ripped it out as delicately as I could, folded it up true write-and-tuck style, and slid it into his locker. Pre-cell phones, this was how we chatted with our friends. We took a pen to paper and folded our notes up in all kinds of cool ways (the “pull here” tab was another favorite). We felt like origami masters when we slid them into the recipient’s locker. This is how we built community.
There’s nothing like nervous anticipation in that awkward pre-adolescence phase when it comes to waiting for the “Yes or No” response.
After my last class of the day, I opened my locker to grab the books that I needed that night. And there, like a glimmering beacon of hope or rejection, sat the note at the bottom of my locker. I couldn’t risk opening it in front of everyone. I packed my backpack, slid the note in one of the pockets, and walked into the locker room to get ready for cross country practice.
The fear of others seeing our rejection forces us all into becoming timid recluses.
After I sat down on the bench, I slid my hands into the pocket and pulled out the note while squinting my eyes, afraid of the answer. I slowly opened it. He had checked the “Yes” box. I immediately showed it to my friends on the team and bragged. I was, exactly like you would expect, a giddy little middle-schooler. With that simple origami note, with that simple checked box, we began a relationship.
Several decades later, extending invitations hasn’t gotten any easier.
Searching for Community
This summer, my husband and I were missing our old neighborhood and lamenting the fact that we didn’t know people living in the houses all around us. We were sad that our kids didn’t have anyone to play with on our street. After over a year of wallowing in my timid ways, I decided to do something about it. I decided to extend a “Check Yes or No” note to our neighbors.
We taped invitations on doors inviting our block over for drinks in our driveway one night. I tried to not get too worked up about what it would look like if no one showed up; but thinking about what a thirty-year-old sitting in her driveway at her failed lemonade stand would look like was not a pretty picture.
Then, people showed up. People checked Yes. Our kids played for three hours straight with new friends, invitations were extended for future front yard hangouts, and I even got a new babysitter’s phone number. Everyone agreed that the lack of knowing the people who lived across the street was a tad ridiculous.
Building a community is hard work and extending the first invitation sometimes feels just as awkward as it did in middle school. Even Jesus, the Son of God, got checked No. When he tried to speak in his hometown, old neighbors doubted His credibility, wisdom, and power because He was just a carpenter (Mark 6:1-6).
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Ways to Build Your Community
As a Resident Assistant and FOCUS campus missionary, I found three ways to more easily build the community we all desire.
1. Find Common Ground
Pope Francis always tries to find “doors that are at least a little bit open” where common ground can be found. Our neighbors all wanted to enjoy beverages on a warm day and meet each other. To alleviate any stranger-danger fears, I used that open door to organize the event. Plus, the wine didn’t hurt.
You can’t have the cool house on the block if you don’t invite people to it. I love being invited to fun parties or on trips with friends, and I need to think outside of myself and return the favor. Rather than stressing about how pretty our invitation looks, how clever our text comes off, or how Pinterest-y our house is, let’s just live the golden rule and invite.
3. Be Intentional
Finally, to enjoy the second hangout you have to trade digits or schedule it. Not in a formulaic way, but in an organic, “You run? Let’s go the gym together!” kind of way. Even if you have the swankiest party, if you don’t follow-up, the relationships won’t last. The community you are trying to build will fizzle.
I got together with an old co-worker and friend a few weeks ago. I hadn’t seen her in 10 years. She saw a picture we posted on Facebook in her town and had the courage to send a Facebook message asking, “How long are you in town”. We got together and caught up on the past 10 years the next morning over a Starbucks in my hotel lobby. It was amazing. It was worth it.
It takes courage to extend an invitation. Still, no friendship or community can be built (or rebuilt), until we lay down our pride and try.
What are some ways you intentional try to build your community? What are your greatest struggles in doing so?
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Ashley Stevens is a Catholic convert, collegiate athlete, wife, and mother of three beautiful girls. While serving as a FOCUS Missionary shortly after getting engaged, she was T-boned by a Mack truck and nearly lost her life. She lived to tell the tale and her ministry encourages those whose life isn’t going according to plan. Find out more about her here.