Trying on community for size

I can hear the fridge humming now, and my 6-year-old sniffling while she turns the pages of a library book. I hear these things anew, and cardinal outside, because for the last two weeks, the house has been alive with the noises made by one extra adult and two energetic boys under 5.

And it’s quiet this afternoon. They’re making the trip back to Wisconsin, and I’m watching sheets blow on the clothes line and offering up a sacred thanks for the dreams, hugs, food, conversations and life we’ve just shared.

I’m human: it’s nice to move the spare chair out from the dining room; it’s really nice to dismantle the Pack’n Play from our bedroom. But nice doesn’t fill a very satisfying life for us. Nice doesn’t shape character. Nice doesn’t move us into new chapters in our lives.

We need Sabbaths. This afternoon, this blowing of sheets in the wind, this is holy, God-given time to refresh. We spent a lazy morning at the neighbor’s house and in the sandbox, and my affection for our happy home, my husband, and my three kids overwhelms me. Thinking about my full life here, likewise.

But it is quiet.

Community’s louder.

Winter was too quiet: I spent most of my loneliest nights reading about the kind of “life sharing” that gives, takes, adds joy and subtracts it; shares and bares open all our stuff, but it wasn’t until the last two weeks that I’ve had a chance to test us, our family, in our beliefs that everything we have is meant to be shared. Everything.

Do you know how hard that is for a child to grasp? Let me tell you.

Do you know how hard it is for an adult?  Let me tell you.

We’re meant to have our lives overlap with others’ lives. I know this, but the last two weeks have gifted us the chance to live it.

I keep coming back to this: Life, stuff and space are gifts, meant to be shared. And inconveniences are ways God reveals to us how unholy we are at this. Nostalgia for the idea’s been replaced with a bit of practice, but the practice hasn’t diminished the belief.  We should be sharing food with someone who can’t repay us. We should be listening to someone whom we can’t help. And, yeah, we should be watching each other’s kids so we can go on a run.

And in all these ways, God can use the opportunities to build love and teach us something about other people and ourselves — and, mostly, Him. It’s holy business, hospitality, even when it’s just for an extended visit from one of my dearest, dearest friends and her two sons. Making room is making room.

As Henri Nouwen warned me in “Spiritual Direction,” sometimes, it’s messy business. Children always outnumbered bikes. Bedtimes always came and went long before sleep actually took over. There were, if I had to reflect, opportunities where I should’ve kept out or stepped in; and meals I chose a frozen pizza over something nutritious because, well, I was tired.

Later in our second week together, my friend started to dream into this, too. “I can totally see how we could do this.” We’d taken a picnic and the five kids to the zoo. She was talking about living intentionally in community. It’s my commune joke/dream, of course, and it’s especially catching on a sunny day. It’s a mountaintop dream. But as we’re not made to live on the mountaintop, we must find ways to start right where we are. That’s what we’re working on, Dave and I.

In our real lives, as followers of Christ, we should see the loaves-and-fishes miracle all over the place and build a life around creating situations where they’re noticed more often, celebrated more loudly. Counting peaches in front of grabby children in my kitchen is just one variation on a life’s work; that theme’s alive all around us. I can think of a million ways this played out over the last two weeks: one tiny room for three people; dinners of leftovers where no one went hungry. And, in our hearts, a tiny amount of patience turned into just enough to last til bedtime.

And, also in our hearts, Dave and I started to watch gratitude build over Michigan, and everything God’s let us find here. Sharing our home made us think about what pieces of our lives were cemented in — reading the Child’s Story Bible at breakfast; laundry days; church stuff and volunteering — and which could go. (And, which shouldn’t go, but did because even the longest nights of the summer are too short for everything.)

What’s more beautiful: we watched this spirit of intentional community spread to our neighbors and our church and come back to us. None of us were running on empty tanks. Ahhh. Abundance.

Thank you, Lord, for creating this space and time in our lives, to just be, and to share it with others.

But let me tell you about the ugly parts:  I wanted to hoard a peach last week. My peach. But I shared it anyway. (And then she bought more.) When the kids would argue over a toy, my impulse was high-level irritation. My peach. When bedtimes were louder than we’re used to, fatigue. My peach. 

Please, Lord, take my peach. Take this space. Take my house. Take my free time. 

Today, as my friend backed out of the driveway, I know there’s something holy at work in all that peach-hoarding impulse-turned-sharing. God’s given us this family, this space, these neighbors, this church; our joy, our talents — even a box of acrylics in the basement from my grandma — to share.

In what ways do we share every day? I found one peach left in the bowl today. I cut it up into four pieces for the girls and I. That’s a start.

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