Last month, 3 weeks after Kara’s Homecoming, I spoke on community at a women’s retreat. When I was first approached about this opportunity several months ago, I was unsure. While community is one of my favorite topics, I had never done anything to this scale with sharing my heart in person. I immediately texted Kara. She basically insisted I do it, and she was my cheerleader as I prepared.

Of course, I felt that with Kara’s love and support, I could do anything! I knew it was a long shot that she would be able to attend, but I imagined going over my notes with her, getting her input, and telling her all about it in every details afterward.

None of that happened. She declined too quickly in the end to even look at my notes. Her double vision prevented her from texting much, and when we did talk, it was about matters of her heart; I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

My preparation for the retreat was severely interrupted by Kara’s Homecoming. Even if I had been able to focus on my material, there wasn’t time with organizing her memorial service. And then once that was over, I still couldn’t focus. How could I talk about community without my Kara? Kara, who could cast a vision like no body’s business. Kara, who could initiate community on the fly. Kara, who built a relationship with her Safeway bagger. Kara, who had a constant influx of people in and out of her house, gathering to fellowship.

My family’s decision to join the Tippetts at Westside years ago was a difficult one; we were at a church that did community so well: we were loved deeply, cared for, nurtured. I never wanted to leave. Yet Jason was persistent in his pursuit of Aaron. So we began to pray and seek God’s direction. We finally decided that we were open to the change, but we wouldn’t make a final decision until we had attended the Tippetts’ Christmas party, which they had invited us to.

All we had to do was step in their door. My husband and I knew right away—here was a family who knew how to make their home a haven to others and create a safe place for people to gather. We had the best time at that party, and Aaron told Jason over bacon-wrapped artichokes that we wanted to be a part of his church plant. In the months to follow, Kara and I dreamed together about building community at Westside, planning and taking baby steps in pursuing others well.

So much of my understanding of community comes from Kara and her ability to bring people together. Mickey calls her a gatherer who created beautiful RTG (reasons to gather). Even when she was the sickest, she still gathered people together in her home to engage and pursue one another. Last Christmas is a perfect example; she had just gotten out of the hospital and was feeling quite puny, as she would say, but she still invited us and the Georges over for Christmas dinner. She sat in her place on her loveseat by the fire, enjoying the busyness and celebration from a short distance. She ate a bit for dinner and presented us all with gifts before retiring upstairs.

And even though her presence was not strong, we benefitted from her ability to gather others to create community—giving us an RTG. And I am sure we will all treasure that Christmas for the rest of our lives.

As I reflected on our stories and how they intertwined while preparing for the retreat, my heart hurt; it seemed a cruel twist that I was speaking on community without the friend who shared my passion and understanding of it. But then I realized that Grace would once again meet me—while Kara wasn’t here anymore, her influence is. Her heart impacted me to a depth that I am not the same person I was before being loved by her—her love changed me! And even though I couldn’t run my notes by her or share my experience with her, a piece of Kara will always be in my heart; I will carry her love with me until I am reunited with her in Heaven.

So I stumbled into that church on April 11. I clumsily shared my heart and my passion for community. I told Kara stories and laughed and cried. And I rejoiced in Grace meeting me in that hard place, giving me Hope for the community to come.

Whose love has changed you? Whose love has made such an impact on you that you will never be the same person? Have you deeply influenced others with your love? Do you feel that you have good community? Are you a gatherer or do you have good RTGs? How can you move toward more intimate, impactful community?