Parched for Community

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By Katie Bergman

A_Katie-750Through bleary eyes I watched the beaten-up blue Tempo roll out of the parking lot and point southward. As two sets of hands waved their bittersweet goodbyes from rolled-down windows, there was only word on my mind: community.

I needed community.

Standing at a crossroads—both literally and metaphorically—I could feel my heart being pulled in a million contrasting directions. Part of me stubbornly wanted to continue pursuing the venturesome life of a humanitarian expatriate, working deep in the trenches of human trafficking prevention across international borders.  

But as I watched my friends merge into an engulfment of traffic and disappear into a blazing California sunrise, the other part of me couldn’t remember why I had uprooted myself to begin with. For the first time, my nomadic lifestyle and its series of six-month job contracts and non-permanent living situations, along with temporary friendships and an endless stream of goodbyes, all seemed more exhausting than appealing.

Mechanically, I found myself walking down the street to an orange brick café tucked away in a corner of Little Italy. During my short-term stay in San Diego, the café had compelled me daily into its inviting quarters.

Every time, the same barista would warmly greet me and ask if I wanted one or two additional shots of espresso today—as if it was non-optional to consume caffeine in regular quantities. But no matter how strong and robust the coffee was, or how beautiful the rise and fall of Italian opera played softly in the background, or how much the atmosphere of the café took me back to my travels in Italy, it wasn’t the espresso that kept drawing me back in.

Even before I’d stepped foot into the café, I heard the sing-song voice of the same brown-eyed, bubbly barista—her voice punctuated by a rich Italian accent—hollering, “Bonjourno, Katie!”

She knew my name.

After seven years, the draining nature of my humanitarian work and the anonymity of my travels had finally caught up with me. I was as desperate for consistent human connection as much as the city of San Diego was desperate for rain in its drought.

As grinding espresso machines and Pavarotti’s operatic tenor competed for attention in the background of the café, I wondered at what point my life became more about operating in survival mode rather than living joyously. 

Hopping from country to country, from one humanitarian crisis to the next had originally seemed to be the perfect blend of adventure and altruism. Over time, however, most of my immediate influencing factors—from my supervisors to my faith background, from my social justice training to my own stubborn unwillingness to be vulnerable—had construed a sick sort of nobility out of missional self-sacrifice.  

Did my worth come from trying to become a hero—or was my worth inherent as a human, created carefully and uniquely for the purpose to love and be loved? 

I wondered these things between sips of a cappuccino, alone and confused, as hazy streams of California sunshine filtered through the window and drew me closer towards a breakthrough. 

My embittering habit of prioritizing the cause of my work before the reality of my human needs had left me so depleted, so wilted. 

I was tired of forever farewells, tired of the ache of anonymity, tired of the weariness from wandering. So tired that the sight of hands waving goodbye from an old blue Tempo, or the simple moment of a familiar face greeting me by name in an urban café was enough to break me down into pieces.

All the fragmented memories of seasons I’d spent alone began haunting me at once: that summer I lived in a cabin nearly in total seclusion. Those two months I backpacked solo through Eastern Europe. The arduous days I spent tree planting, completely sequestered from human contact. The time I lived in an empty, cockroach-infested house during nearly a year of humanitarian work in Southeast Asia …

Such austere and isolated conditions surely served their own purpose, creating a platform for my character to be refined, my mind to be challenged, and my soul to learn how to persevere in spite of physical injury, emotional distress, and spiritual chaos.  But these eras of solitude were not moments of flourishing.  

The more I pondered, the more I realized my moments of wholeheartedly flourishing were always experienced in community.  

It was she and I sharing the secrets of our kindred souls while collecting sea glass along an abandoned beach.

It was the moment of bonding when he and I realized we shared more common gifts and burdens than we ever imagined at first glance.

It was the endless stream of laughter and tears as my best friend and I camped our way through Canada, and the wordless exchange of smiles as my sister and I stood in the middle of the snow-capped Alps.

Every communal meal, every porch swing conversation, every summer of strumming guitars while encircling campfires with friends who made imprints on our hearts—these were the moments I came alive. These were the moments where hurt could be converted into healing, loneliness replaced by communion, and disappointment transformed into hope.

That’s when it hit me: it’s possible to survive in isolation,  but it’s an even greater possibility to thrive in community.

I had traveled the world, wondering when community would finally find me. I’m now realizing it’s up to me to create community.

When I left San Diego, I returned to my home in Canada with a new plan. It wasn’t to push harder, move faster, or work longer—it was to love fearlessly, speak honestly, and bond more. It was to candidly ask for help and be receptive to other people’s care. It was to live out Caedmon’s words of forging connections with each person in sincere intention to “cradle a sense of wonder in their life, to honour the heard-earned wisdom of their sufferings, to waken their joy … [and say] ‘I know—I understand.’” 

For me, community started sharing the raw, unedited version of my story with those I had always tried to convince I was invincible. I spoke my loneliness and admitted my struggles—as a humanitarian, as a people-pleaser, as a lonely human being seeking belonging.  

And instead of being rejected for disclosing my imperfections, I was greeted by an outpouring of grace: from loving phone calls, prayers, and financial gifts to friends driving twenty hours round-trip to come visit me when I was too fatigued to string together a coherent sentence. Before I finally found a place to settle down, people warmly opened up their homes to me indefinitely. I asked for support, and I received it—abundantly. 

Most of all, reaching out to others in vulnerability allowed others to reach back, too. Finally being the one to initiate talking about my struggles meant other people began sharing their own harrowing stories.

Open dialogue created the grounds to cut straight to honest conversations of grief and loss, mental health and burnout, fear and disillusionment. More and more, I began experiencing those chill-giving, “me, too” moments of solidarity. 

When I admitted both to others and to myself that I could no longer sustain a life within a self-constructed vacuum, I could finally be freed from the expectation of perfection. I could strip away the façade of being “unshakeable.” I could stop trying to be a hero and simply be a human.

When I saw tears not as a sign of weakness but grounds for bonding, we could collectively find a restorative perspective on our experiences of suffering. 

When I allowed myself the luxury of lingering, I could make a long-term commitment to re-invest all I’d learned overseas into social justice issues in my own country. 

When I dipped into the humility of sharing my deepest musings and aspirations in the safe presence of friends, even my most fragmented thoughts could develop into innovative ideas and dreams put into motion by their support and mentorship.

Yes, adamantly abiding by absolute self-sufficiency helped to substantiate my tenacity. It took strength to live in resilient independence—yet it took courage to live abundantly in community with others.

______________


About Katie:

Katie Bergman Author PhotoMy name is Katie. I collect books and journals and memories of sunrises. I thrive on challenges, I love a good playlist, and I have a zeal for backpacking, road trips, and other travel adventures. I couldn’t live without trees and hiking, morning coffee, or an outlet for my offbeat sense of humour. Most of all, I believe I’m here to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

 

 

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  • Yes, you’re so right. It does take courage to jump feet first into community. It is scary to be real, and honest with both the highs and the lows. And it’s rubbish when the stream of goodbyes seems never ending. Thank you for your honesty here.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thanks, Becca – sounds like you understand those never-end stream of goodbyes, too!

      • Heh, yes, I’d come back from saying goodbye to another pair of friends the night before I read this! Those feelings you described, they were all there. The scariest thing for me is this: “sharing the raw, unedited version of my story with those I had always tried to convince I was invincible.” But it’s so encouraging to read stories like yours that offer hope, and a different way 🙂

        • Katie Bergman

          I’m glad you shared that, Becca! I know how difficult that transparency can be. All the best to you in your own journey.

  • Erin Wilson

    “or was my worth inherent as a human, created carefully and uniquely for the purpose to love and be loved?” I think this is the important question. I don’t think we can serve, be served, or contribute to community if we don’t see ourselves as inherently worthy…as well as the person across from us.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thanks, Erin, and I wholeheartedly agree. Such a simple concept, and yet so challenging to fully live out!

  • Marla

    AMEN!!! oh I could say that 1000 times. AMEN. Let’s revive the Red Tent of community…love everything that was spoken here.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thank you, Marla! Great to hear you connected with this.

  • Kevin Austin

    Great blog, Katie! Well written and the message resonates with me and with how we are trying to keep community in front of the work. You are a blessing!

    • Katie Bergman

      Thanks so much, Kevin – and right back at you! How much easier it may seem to forge ahead with our own agenda, and forget about the strength we truly have in numbers.

  • Love this, Katie. Community appears to be a gateway to the “life abundant” Jesus came to bring us. With Him, with others. May our desperation lead us to steams of abundance.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thanks, Kirsten, for your encouragement! 🙂

  • I loved reading through this Katie. What a great post. Thanks for sharing it with us here. I miss adventures sometimes, but this is a gentle reminder that community, and dwelling with those that know us, is such. a. gift.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thank you, Michaela! I’m trying to remember that every day is its own adventure, whether abroad or at home. Learning to abide in community is the new adventure!

  • Katie Richardson

    I can totally relate to your words and thankful that you shared them with us today.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thanks, Katie, I appreciate your encouragement!

  • pastordt

    Beautifully written, Katie. This right here? “When I saw tears not as a sign of weakness but grounds for bonding, we could collectively find a restorative perspective on our experiences of suffering.” YES. When we allow ourselves to get real with one another, that’s when community happens, that’s where we find restoration. Really well done – thanks so much.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thank you! It doesn’t only feel good to be in community, but it’s more productive, too, isn’t it?

  • cjdeboer

    Such a beautiful post, Katie. I love how when you were most parched you were able to reach out and find others gathered around you in love. THIS is community.

    • Katie Bergman

      Thank you, Claire!

  • being human not a hero – yes!

  • Helen Barrett

    Hi katie. What an inspiring piece of writing. If you ever need some R and R … come visit to relax, walk, talk eat and have fun. Love Laurie and Helen

    • Katie Bergman

      You’re the greatest! Thanks for your feedback 🙂

  • Bev Murrill

    Katie, what a strong and impacting article. I love that you’re honest, and free in your honesty. It seems, doesn’t it, that we get to a place where being the hero just doesn’t cut it anymore. And yet, the bravery, courage and faithfulness you have attained is still there, next to the vulnerability and the transparency.

    Awesome.

    • Katie Bergman

      Wow, thanks for that insight, Bev! You’re right – maybe surrendering the role of trying to be the “hero” doesn’t have to compromise everything else with it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Janice Meeks

    Bravo, Katie!! 🙂 SOOO happy for you to have come full-circle! Thank you so much for your honesty here – I always wondered how you were REALLY doing – for yourself! – in the midst of all your travels and ventures. And for discovering that self-care is the most important aspect of giving and caring for others. It appears that you’ve found some peace. Continued good journeys, my friend, and you are always welcome out here on the west coast! Hugs!

    • Katie Bergman

      Thank you, Janice! I’m glad to have come full-circle, too! Self-care is such a difficult but integral life lesson … something I’m working on every day.

  • “Bonjourno, Katie!”

    Ahh. I know the feeling well. For years, I felt like Canada wasn’t home because no one knew my name. The opposite of the “Cheers” theme song.

    And the transition of meeting kindred spirits and finding myself enveloped by community has been such a beautiful time of healing and flourishing.

    Thank you for the reminder to actively avail of the community I’m surrounded with. It’s so easy to isolate.

    ALSO, welcome. LOVE having your voice here, Katie. Thank you for trusting us with your words and your story.

    xoxo,
    Teen

    • Katie Bergman

      Thank you, Tina, for the warm welcome – and for sharing a glimpse of your story, too! I’m glad you can relate … that you know both the strain of isolation and the blessing of community. I suppose we appreciate the latter even more when we’ve experienced the former, don’t we? I appreciate your feedback, Tina! Where was home for you before Canada?

  • AND THIS:

    “the luxury of lingering”

    YES. YES. YES. And Amen.

    • Katie Bergman

      It IS a luxury, isn’t it? That thought reminds me by a piece written by Wayne Muller – he summarizes the NEED to linger and rest so articulately:

      “The invitation to rest is rooted in an undeniable spiritual gravity that allows all things at rest to settle, to find their place. There comes a moment in our striving when more effort actually becomes counterproductive, when our frantic busyness only muddies the waters of our wisdom and understanding. When we become still and allow our life to rest, we feel a renewal of energy and gradual clarity of perception.”

      I love it!

  • Amy Tol

    “Did my worth come from trying to become a hero—or was my worth inherent as a human, created carefully and uniquely for the purpose to love and be loved?” Struck to the heart of my own struggle in recent years. God’s been challenging me to recognize the value in being, not just doing. It’s been refreshing to bask in the rays of his unconditional love and to recognize that “Kingdom work” can be just as much about the kind of person I strive to be as about the particular tasks I aim to accomplish. Still… the cultural pressure to perform, to achieve, to measure value based on accomplishment–it often casts shadows around the light of God’s grace. Unfortunately, so few seem to truly value or affirm people simply for who they are. I need to remind myself, daily it seems, that it’s God’s love and grace I truly thirst for, not the vain admiration of others. Thanks for being that reminder today.

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