Saturday, September 24, 2011

An Unexpected Twist: We're Moving

So.  We're moving.

Or, as I'd like to say (as if I were narrating a story of our lives),

"And in an strange twist of providence, 
God swooped in unexpectedly and gave the Simko family a house."

That's not hyperbole, either.  The situation from the last week has seriously been nothing short of an act of God.  To be completely honest, Elliott and I were not looking to move.  We have seen a lot of growth in our own community here, and we were in it for at least the next year (if not two).  Then on Monday, in the midst of figuring out our car stuff (and yes, we finally got our car back!), someone from our church called, offering us a house to rent for a price we can afford.

The house is two stories, has a nursery connected to the master bedroom, a wood-burning fireplace, a washer/dryer, and is surrounded by woods.  It is honestly a dream home for us -- something I have prayed for, thinking that maybe someday -- five, ten years down the road -- we might have something like it.  It's not big, and it's not perfect, but it's very much us.

When we found out about it, and especially after visiting, we sought counsel from family and friends, and especially church members.  We also met as a community house and came to a decision together.

The bottom line is that we could have continued to live here, with its difficulties (and joys!) and all, but we had to ask ourselves:  What is best for our babies?  Even though people warned us about the trouble we might face having two non-related babies (3 months apart in age) share the same room, perhaps we were a bit pie-in-the-sky in our expectations.  The reality is that it is hard, and though it's workable (sort of), if there was a better solution for our babies, we needed to take it.

And so we are moving... exactly one week.
Man, our life is crazy sometimes.

The community was by no means a failure, nor are we running out of here with full force.  God used the last five months to really grow each of us -- as individuals and as siblings in Christ.  It will be sad to leave this home -- and the adjustment will probably be a lot harder than anticipated. The fact is that Elliott and I have never had our own home.  And although it's something we have craved, the beauty of living in community will be lost.  And that... is very sad.  It is a loss, and I'm sure there will be some mourning.

Before I end this post, I would just like to reflect on how sweet our God really is, and how speechless I am before a Father who does not give us stones when we ask for bread.  I have asked for this house for a very long time -- in small ways, in big ways, in humble ways, in bold ways -- at various stages in our life.  I did not expect it to come so soon.  I did not expect it to be so much what I asked for.

In the end, I am just made speechless.  I feel so close to the Lord in a way that I cannot articulate, no matter how hard I ask the Lord for the words.  I stand in awe before this God who loves us enough to wrestle with us, to give us hope, to give us good things on top of the greatest Gift of all.  The more I grow in the Lord -- the more I learn about Him and get to know Him -- the more in love I become.

I really feel like God has swept me off my feet.

Friday, September 9, 2011

reaching in or reaching out: who, exactly, are we serving?

Alright, so I've been living in intentional community for the last four months, and here's the big realization I've come to:  intentional community is not so much about the community outside as it is about the community inside.

Let me unpack that statement a bit.  I don't know if you know anyone (besides me) who lives in intentional community (or who wants to live in intentional community), but if you ask them why, they usually say something along the lines of, "I want to live intentionally with others while reaching out to and serving our neighborhood."  Sure, there's something about building relationships inside the home, but there's always the intended focus of serving the neighborhood.

There are two problems with that expectation.  One:  it's too vague.  Reach out how?  Serve how?  What does that even mean?  Two:  if you spend so much energy focusing on "what we can do for the neighborhood," you lose focus on how much work (ie. serving) needs to be done inside your own home.  It seems to me to be a mistake to jump outside too soon.  Work on your own home first.

And the reality is, it's probably unavoidable.  Because if you're living intentionally, you have to spend a lot of energy communicating and working through different issues.  Sometimes they're mundane ("Who's doing the dishes?") and sometimes they're fairly serious ("Why did she leave that conversation crying?").  If you're just living in the same house with people (ie. roommates), you can sort of ignore these issues, let them boil over time, and hold grudges.  But not in intentional community.  That's the whole point.  We're intentionally living together -- growing each other and growing ourselves.

And let me tell you something: growth spurts are not easy.  Take my two-month-old-daughter, for instance.  Wait, wait -- let's get a good picture in our minds...

(That's right.  I get to wake up to this smile every. single. morning.  Jealous?)

Babies go through growth spurts around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and so on.  If you've never had a baby, growth spurts look something like this:  all of a sudden, baby is ravenous and cranky and wants to eat every hour. Baby doesn't sleep well and fusses and is working around the clock to get your attention (WHY ARE YOU GETTING DRESSED?  WHY ARE YOU LEAVING MY SIGHT??  WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING???  YOU SHOULD BE FEEDING ME!).  It's frantic.  And it's exhausting.  At the end of a growth spurt, baby (and mommy, probably) ends up sleeping and sleeping and sleeping.

Moral:  it takes a lot of energy to grow.

So, if you're growing inside the community, you might not (initially) have a lot of energy to give outside.  And that's okay.  Maybe it takes a good year (or two or three) to grow as a little makeshift family unit before you're ready to move out into the neighborhood.  That doesn't mean you have to avoid neighbors, it just means you'll have to ease up on your expectations.  Just get to know them the way everyone else does -- by stooping, by saying hello, by asking what's wrong with their car or how they fared the recent earthquake/hurricane/insert-your-own-natural-disaster-here.  And you know what?  That's more genuine anyways.  If you're so busy looking to serve, people may get suspicious (and maybe they should).  Get to know your neighbors bit by bit, and focus inside.

And that's my two cents for the day.
G'night, Gracie.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

what my sister-in-law taught me about living in community

My sister-in-law taught me to think long-term while living in community.

It's easy -- I think we are conditioned -- to think short-term.  If something is uncomfortable or difficult, we want to bolt.  We want to hide.  We hope that it will just go away.

And maybe this is more of my own personality, but I tend to despair.  I will never be able to make things work.  I don't have enough grace.  Never.  Won't.  Can't.

But my relationship with my sister-in-law has taught me something different.  It has taught me to hope.  It reminds me of the long-term plans of God.

The thing is, I've known Evie since I was about 15 years old.  And we always loved each other and enjoyed each other's company, but I think both of our introversions kept us from being truly close.  Like, sister-close.  But for two years, as Elliott and I lived with her and my brother -- in unintentional community -- we slowly became closer bit by bit.  And the funny thing is, I didn't even notice how close we were until Elliott and I moved out.  I can say now that Evie is one of my closest friends.

And the most beautiful (and surprising?) thing about it is that our interactions were very unintentional.  A conversation here, a prayer request there, a giggle at the twins' antics.  Now that I am living in intentional community -- where conversations need to be had left and right (both easy and difficult) -- I cling to the beauty of my relationship with my sister-in-law.  If we could get so close living side-by-side unintentionally, how close will I become to those with whom I live very intentionally?

So I pray -- along with grace upon grace -- for the wisdom to remember there are long-term blessings to be had, and that the Lord will remind me that I would never experience such blessings if we did not live in community.  I never would have the closeness I have with Evie if we had followed everyone's advice about living in our own apartment.

And I'd never trade it in for anything.
So I refuse to trade in this current experience as well.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

on survival

I honestly don't know how we would have survived this week if we didn't live in community.

It all starts with a car (doesn't it always?).
Our car breaks down at the most inconvenient time (doesn't it always?).
But, luckily for us, it breaks down in a semi-convenient place.

When I lived with my parents and my car broke down (or something else similarly-inconvenient occurred), it was easy to call daddy to come pick me up.  Because when you're a family, you do those kinds of things for each other.  It's part of being in a family.

When I lived on my own, these types of inconveniences became more harried.  I would often call my brother (family) to come help me (even though he always lived about 40 minutes away).

Now that we live in community, we have a new family to call.
And so we survived one more day.

But it doesn't stop there.  Because we live so close to our larger church community, we have been able to survive even longer because a friend, while just hanging out at our house, offered to give us his one of his cars -- his nicer car -- to use for the whole week.

And there were some other things too to help us survive this week.  A friend that came over to watch our housemate's baby (which is my responsibility on Wednesdays) so we could attend to some urgent matters.  Or a housemate going out grocery shopping really late on a Friday night to ensure we would have dinner on Saturday.  Or the countless people who have listened and prayed and just offered to be there for us, whenever we needed.

Nope.  We certainly could not have done this week on our own.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What You Don't Know (but need to) About Living in Community

What you may not know about living in community is that it's hard.
I say you may not know it because I rarely write about it.
I tend to stay on the surface -- to discuss the little issues -- because it's hard to write about the hardship.

Living in community -- in such close relationships with others who are not blood relatives (but ARE spiritual relatives) -- is vulnerable.  But it's so much more vulnerable to write out the hardships on the internet.

But what you should know is that it IS hard -- just as any true, deep relationship is hard.  And that means that it is through the hardship that beauty will eventually come, but it doesn't take away from the fact that in the meantime, it is hard.

We hurt each other.
We react.
We get offended too easily.
We retreat.
We confront.
We cry.
We want to run away.
We force ourselves to stay.
And ultimately,
we learn to love.

For some reason, it is hard for me to communicate in person about things that are difficult -- even when the difficult things are good things to say.  I hope my housemates know how much I love them, and how much I know I have growing to do -- that my deep introversion has kept me from real community for so long.  I am feeling the growing pains.  And I know they are feeling them too.

And I also know that these issues are not unique to this community -- that any emotionally- and spiritually-invested community has to face these hardships -- be it a community of a small family, a church, a workplace, a group of friends, roommates, a husband and wife -- we all experience these things if we let ourselves.

And that's the key, friends:  IF WE LET OURSELVES.

I think my problem is I've never let myself experience this type of community.  And now here I am -- 27 years old and with a baby -- experiencing this type of community for the first time.  Maybe that's why it's so hard -- because I have run before and have been able to run.  Now I am not able to run because my husband and housemates love me too much to let me.

Thank you, friends.  I do love you.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ordinary or Radical Living?

My friend Sarah wrote a beautiful post reflecting on her life as it is now, especially in light of once belonging to an intentional community in Camden, NJ.  She's a really great writer and it's a very poignant post.  Please read:

this is why we do it.

Living in community means 

nowhere to hide
grace and forgiveness

a daily living-out of the Gospel of Christ.