My church community group staged a fake wedding once. We have been meeting together as a small group for nearly 8 years now and in 2010 we organized a fake wedding complete with wedding attire, photography, a cellist and a reception. It was fake because Brian and Nicole were already married. They had been married for several years in fact. But at some point they had expressed dissatisfaction with their wedding photography so we hatched a plan to throw them another wedding before they moved to Tanzania. You know, so they could have another shot at some of those photos. Really I think we just wanted an excuse to throw a big party.
There are 12 of us who have been part of the group from the very beginning. Over the years we’ve folded in new folks and said goodbye to others who either moved away or moved on. This year we’ve neared our all-time high with 21 people (second only to 2009 when we maxed out at 22). We’re much too large, really, as far as small groups go, and we’ve wrestled with whether or not to divide into two groups nearly every single year since the inception of our group. But we could no sooner divide our group than we could divide our own families. Because we are a family. A wild, all-up-in-your-business, pushing the boundaries, getting on your nerves kind of crew. An all-in, crazy supportive, drive 3 hours to watch you run an Ironman, come over at 3 in the morning to babysit when you go into labor, wait and hope and pray and weep for a baby through years of infertility, show up on moving day with donuts kind of a family.
We’re a group of artists and architects, a lawyer, a doctor and a doula, programmers, several teachers, project managers and a postal carrier. We’ve got realtors, students and a school counselor; nannies, designers, a dancer, some stay-at-home mamas, and even a mad scientist. With so many different people in the group somebody will step on your toes at some point. It’s guaranteed. When my husband and I had our first baby back in 2008 and our second just 18 months later, we were among the first ones in the group to have kids. We were exhausted and weary and we often felt like the rest of the group just didn’t “get it.” It would have been easy to bow out at that point and find a more “family friendly” group.
Then there’s Jack & La Verne who struggled with infertility for four long and painful years. They watched from the sidelines as so many others in the group announced pregnancies and showed off ultrasound images. With all those bellies and ankles swelling and the inevitable talk of swaddling blankets and bumbo seats, it would have been understandable if they had quietly slipped out the back door and went in search of a less family friendly group. Same too, for Shane and Kelly, who miscarried in the summer of 2011 followed by 2 years of their own infertility.
And what about those on the flip side? Ronda & Ben, Nicole & Brian, Donna & Jeffrie; all pregnant and eager to share their joy but tempering it out of a commingling of respect, love and sorrow for the others in the group who wanted babies of their own. Rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn sounds all fine and good until there is spontaneous joy and sorrow in one place and the rubber really meets the road. At least once over the last eight years I’m certain that every single one of us has wanted out. At some point we’ve all wanted to throw in the towel and call it quits.
Somehow though, we’ve all continued showing up for one another. Showing up on Tuesday nights. Showing up for baby showers and birthdays and art openings. Dance performances, playdates, dinners, walks, bike rides, caring for aging parents, losing jobs, planting gardens, renovating homes, and all the stuff that makes up life. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard but we’ve all kept at it. We’ve continued circling the wagons and showing up for each other week in and week out; when we’re happy, when we’re exhausted, when we’re hurt or angry or hopeful or fearful or sad. Because we’re family. And that’s what families do.
If Jason and I had opted out back in 2008 after Gryffin was born, think of all that we would have missed. We would have missed seeing Jon meet Adrienne, fall in love, and get married two years later. We would have missed the chance to cheer for Daniel when he went back to school to pursue his dream. We wouldn’t have been there when Brianna’s uncle died. We wouldn’t have been there when Jack collapsed at church from a bleeding ulcer and we wouldn’t have been there when Donna returned from her PET scans cancer-free. We wouldn’t have been there when La Verne and Jack discovered that they were pregnant at long last. Or three months after that when Shane and Kelly announced that they, too, were expecting. Or three months after that when Mark & Angela, who had also struggled with infertility (I know, it’s our thing), announced that they were expecting TWINS. We wouldn’t have been there last month when six babies from our group, all born in 2013, were dedicated up in front of our larger church, a testament to God’s enduring faithfulness.
If we had opted out all those years ago, we might have avoided a few awkward or painful moments but we also would have missed out on the immense joy of knowing and being known by other people. We would have missed Labor Day 2012 when we vacationed with the gang at the floating house outside Portland, diving off the second-story deck and planking on every open surface. We would have missed the Mad Men party, the annual Christmas Fondue parties, the post-Fondue-5Ks, the New Year’s sleepovers and all the Summer camping trips. We would have missed Hannah’s infectious laugh, Erica’s sense of humor, Emily’s amazing DIYs, Shane’s intentional questions and Adrienne schooling us all in Geografacts. We would have missed Ronda’s marshmallows, Josh’s beard and crazy socks, Brian’s boob stories, Jon’s witty banter, Jess’ joyful spirit and so, so much more.
We would have missed the fake wedding.
Living life in community isn’t perfect. Far from it. But these are my people. My tribe. My messy, beautiful, amazing tribe. And my abiding hope is that we will still be a family 30, 40, even 50 years from now. That we would still be meeting on Tuesday nights, pouring tea and breaking bread (err, dessert) together. That we will still be showing up for one another and relentlessly walking through all the varied ups and downs of life together.