In our rural community graduation season often means for the month of May each weekend will involve at least one open house on Saturday and Sunday. There are some Saturdays when the afternoon and evening are spent traveling from one location to the next, reminiscent of a traveling dinner as many of the same people are following the list you have in your hand.
These open houses are joyful events, made even more so because the people in attendance have known the graduate most, if not all, of their life. As a transplant to this community these parties are an excellent opportunity to determine family lines and lifelong friendships. They also provide an opportunity to eat someone’s famous recipe, that you had no idea they made or was famous, but everyone else seemed to know.
This year while sitting at a particular graduation party I looked around the tables and realized I knew most of the people. My eyes rested on each of them as I thought about the particular struggle they are facing. There were strained family relationships between siblings, exhausted parents wondering if their child will even make it to their high school graduation, couples filing for divorce, couples enduring life-altering medical conditions, individuals waiting to hear from the doctor about a test, and mourners who saw a tent with a glaring empty spot where last graduation season there was a person. I listened to the conversations around me, shared in the stomach-aching laughter, received joyful smiles from faces recently drawn tight in grief, and felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
This peace came from the understanding that life is being lived with joy and purpose. Amid all the pain of each of those individuals under the tent, they still came out to celebrate the joy of one child, a child they had prayed for before they were born, helped raise, and are getting ready to send out into the wider world. As a transplant who did not have the experience of a community such as this, I am amazed once again at the deep connections of this community full of people who throw a party because there is joy, even when they know most of the guests are enduring some trial. I am amazed at the people who come to the party to celebrate with joy, even as their heart is breaking.
This vulnerability and acceptance is what makes life in our community, not just our congregation, beautiful. It is not the kind of life that can be bottled or written up as a curriculum, it is the kind of life found through generations of shared sorrows and joys.