I’m sitting in Liquid Planet this Valentine’s morning. Love is in the air. To my left is a family of four. To my right are three couples at various stages. Off to the left the man and woman hardly notice each other. They have two young girls and it seems like Dad is on a triple date. His enamor seems to be focused more on his 3 year-old than his lady. She smiles and coos at the other, younger daughter and tosses her gently in the air.

To my right is a young couple who haven’t stopped groping each other since I started writing this post. The couple straight in front of me look like they are on their first date – she’s all pimped out. They sit far from one another talking casually over croissants. He’s trying to get her to laugh. They might be on a business meeting for all I can tell. The third couple is older. They sit close. They say little. They are comfortable in one another’s silence.

The groping couple get up, give one another a playful hug and then walk out briskly only to return suddenly because she forgot her purse. He looks annoyed. The family of four heads out too – though much more slowly – cleaning up joyfully after the girls and smiling at one another. They are content to bask in each other’s company and enjoy the mess.

Four couples and four different phases of love. I can’t help but think about how all relationships (and community in general) morph over time and go through different stages. Love is organic – it eats, it sleeps, it gets excited, grows and changes. Love is patient for sure, but you also have to be patient with love. Love changes with time – most say it gets better as you get to know each other’s flaws and eccentricities. A married friend told me yesterday about her ex-boyfriend who called her up at age 43 wondering if he should settle down. “Is there still romance after you’ve been married for a while?” “What did he mean by ‘romance’?” I asked. “S-E-X” she said. “What did he mean by ‘sex’?” I inquired further. “Hot and sloppy or scheduled and real?” She laughs in understanding.

It seems to me that real relationships are the ones that stand the test of time – that can handle change. This is true community on the macro level. Can the community stand the tests of time? Can it handle change? Can it embrace and even appreciate the eccentricities and flaws of its members? This is what the Missoula Project is all about. We believe that real community only happens over time. Like a marriage, community needs commitment, hard work and sacrifice to be successful. It’s going to take time to learn one another’s flaws and eccentricities and even more time to learn to appreciate them.

Then I reflect on my own family life. I’m always in a hurry. I always have something else on my mind – something that needs my attention, something urgent. I realize how little I’m home. When I am home my mind is thinking about something else. I am easily annoyed by my wife and my kids. Is life passing me by? I rarely stop to appreciate the mess. I don’t stop to appreciate the flaws and eccentricities of those who tolerate mine. Instead I only get annoyed that these things keep me from comfort, my agenda and the “urgent” matter that is on my mind. I’m as much of a product of this fast-paced, instant gratification culture as anyone else. What is to become of my kids?

The older couple to my immediate right seems to have stood the test of time. As they get up to leave he helps her with his coat and then lets her pass in front of him gently touching the small of her back with his hand. There is a comfort between them as they stroll off together. A comfort that comes with years of sacrifice, hard work and commitment. In an instant gratification culture, they have learned that the true payoff comes with time.