I Love Costco. But I Love Community, Too.

I love Costco.  I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help it.  It’s a feeling I get when I’m there.  I usually hate big box stores with their white-bright lights and endless shelves of cheap crap I mostly don’t need.  But sometimes I can’t help myself.  “But it’s only two dollars!” I say, as if twenty two dollar items didn’t add up to a respectable chunk of cash that fits so much more easily in my wallet than a bin of plastic trinkets fit into my already crammed house.

There’s just something about Costco.   Maybe it’s the rural girl in me.  My parents have three freezers.  The big one, that you could fit a body in, is full of chunks of cow and lamb from the farm up the road.  The others are for the odds and ends none of us can go without, like ice cream and frozen waffles.  When my stepmother goes to the grocery store thirty miles away, she shops for the week.  Especially when winter comes and the roads become treacherous, you just need to have food in the house.  I feel that same compunction, though I have five grocery stores within walking distance (as long as you have a stroller to load up, that is).

I don’t make it to Costco that often, but I always look forward to it.  When I walk (quickly – this is a grocery store, not the farmer’s market) through the looming aisles, filling up my cart with gallons of this and extra-wide boxes of that, I feel safe, at peace, as I think about the money I am saving, and the anxiety I am avoiding about what to cook for dinner when I have no plan.  The roads might not get treacherous around here very often, but sometimes getting two kids in the car to go the grocery store sounds as appealing as driving forty-five minutes on a snow-encrusted road.

I sometimes wonder about this privilege I have, and what it could be doing to my dependence on community and on God.  Obviously I have to feed myself, and in our family, I am the weekday cook because of my husband’s work schedule.  But the security of a house full of food cuts me off from the experience of those who regularly go without.  There are many, many people who hardly have the ability to go regularly to the grocery store, not to mention fill a pantry full of just-in-case extras.  And I believe it is my job and privilege to reach out to those  in need of help who I find in my path.  This presents all kinds of questions, though: Is it enough to acknowledge this, and to donate to the food pantry?  I don’t think so.  I am the anonymous giver, they are the recipient.  I feel good, they get what they need, but we are disconnected.  I know my life would be enriched by  giving of myself, too, but this is a conundrum for a mother of two kids with limited time, career aspirations and the desire to maintain some semblance of a social life.  Where is the balance?

For now, I will do what I can to remember how fortunate I am.  When I’m done nursing I’ll reinstate my practice of fasting.  (I will, though I have a love/hate relationship with fasting.)  I’ll try to find ways to sacrifice my squirrel tendencies.  I’ll be grateful everyday, and hope that spills over.  I know I may be materially rich, but I am poor in many other ways.  How can I open myself up to the richness all around me?

As you can see, I need ideas here.  You few readers of this blog, how do you stay present to the needs around you when you are fortunate to not be as materially needy?  And if you don’t have this good fortune, what is your experience of staying connected to the people around you?  How do we make this thing called community work when we have such full lives?  I welcome your thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “I Love Costco. But I Love Community, Too.”

  1. I think you and I have had the similar experience of gearing up for a life that would attempt to change the world, and then it has just ended up looking so…ordinary, and maybe you feel a little guilty about it? I did – I do? I’m mostly over it. I have come to realize a few things; first, that my main responsibility in life-right now anyway- is to raise my kids well and to teach them the faith well. While there are plenty of people God can use to change the world, there is only one person who can mother my kids, me. So that is what I do, and that is where nearly all my time goes, and that is okay! Second, (and this is connected to the first) your family IS community. My neighbors have lived in this neighborhood their entire lives, most of it on this very street and the next one over; and their brothers and sisters and nephew and who knows who else still live on these two streets. They have massive community, they know everyone that drives by (they all wave!), but I’ve noticed that this community is family based. Our society has changed and their lifestyle is rare now, so I think that everyone is still figuring out how to have community when the family based community that has been happening for centuries has been disrupted by people moving away and, now that I think about it, so much divorce.

    I also want to make sure that I am not only concerned with ‘my happy little life’, but I have noticed that God is pretty clear about where I should spend my time, because I get a specific and strong, not a vague ‘I-should-help-somebody’, feeling about what I feel I must do. And sometimes these things end up being dead-ends, and I don’t think God is leading me to continue in them, and then sometimes the opposite happens. Also, in terms of being mindful of the suffering of others, Catholics have a phrase we use a lot when we ourselves are experiencing suffering, however mild: “offer it up”. This means to offer up to God your own suffering for the sake of others through prayer. Last spring when my young daughter wasn’t sleeping well I was up a lot in the night and I would think about how much I was hating this phase of night life, but my thoughts would turn to a boy I know of who was suffering from brain cancer, and then I would end up being thankful that God made me get up with my daughter just so I could pray for him. And I would think that if my prayers alleviated any of his suffering even just a little, I would gladly get up the next night also. Not because I am some great prayer warrior, just because of God and his ingenious ways of working.

  2. Elissa, thank you for taking the time to respond. I know how hard it can be when you’ve got about ten minutes to do the dishes, start the laundry, get dinner ready, and oh, maybe take a deep breath (not complaining, I just know how hard it is; i regularly fall asleep at 8:30 while singing my four year old to sleep!) This issue of guilt and acceptance is one I’ve been working through for a long time. Definitely before Calcutta (or Kolkata, I suppose), but with so much more intensity after. It’s so hard not to compare my ordinary life to the amazing things that (it seems like) so many other people are doing. I’m learning to see that I have gifts and opportunities that were given to me (and choices I made, too, of course) and my job is to make the best use of those that I can. But sometimes it all feels so very insular and self-referential. Yes, I hang out with my mom once a week, but I’m her daughter, right? Of course I should do this – and besides, I enjoy it, too, most of the time.

    I like your thoughts on how God can use ordinary time to weave us more tightly into the fabric of community. What if prayer is the most that we can do at any given time? Well, you may be right, it may be the best thing we can do. Will you keep telling me that? I’m reading a book about developing a spiritual practice as a parent (Jossey-Bass, Practices of Faith series, if you’re interested). It basically entails seeing the things we are already doing as holy.

    All of that to say, thank you. Thank you for the reminder. I think we have these huge expectations of ourselves, and huge expectations of what we think God wants and requires of us, and it’s so easy to feel like I’ve sold out. So, keep reminding me, okay?

    Thanks again for responding.

  3. Penny, if you ever figure out the answer to that question, let me know! I have been trying for years to figure it out. I lived in this apartment building across from a couple of apartment buildings that housed section 8 tenants (around the time I met you, I think!) and I tried and tried to figure out a way to ‘build community’ with the people that lived there… but there were more than a few violent incidents and it was just too scary to try to reach out with a newborn. I still pray for the people in that building, but I never did manage to really do much in the way of building community there, and it makes me sad. But I guess I have to remember that there are always opportunities- my friends probably don’t think of themselves as being there for the needy, but oh, they were very much a ministry to me when I desperately needed friendship and comfort and connection. I think you do *so* much already… just be gentle with yourself and realize that God is using you. I was all worked up about how I wasn’t doing good enough building community with this group of people that I thought I *should* be doing things with/for, and instead, I think God was using me in the lives of coworkers and friends who are having significant health issues, and the whole time, I didn’t even realize I was helping them! 🙂 I suppose He might also have been using me in the lives of my children, too. Maybe 😉

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