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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When a Community Becomes a Home

It's inexplicable.
I can't pinpoint a why or where or when.
Ok, maybe a where and when.

What I know is this:
  • that it's been five days since I've set foot in our little community house.
  • that it's the first time since we've moved here that we left for a little vacation away.
  • that it's the first time since I've moved in that I've really felt like I came home.

What a beautiful, pure, joyful feeling!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When Schedules Collide

Oh, there was fun in this house last week.
Oh, yes.

It came in the form of (brace yourself, here): a schedule!

But I guess it really started with a job offer. Two job offers, actually. For me.

I wasn't even on the lookout for a job. Being a mom, doing homey-type-things, and working in ministry seems to fill up my schedule rather nicely. I wasn't opposed to the idea of a job, but I wouldn't want just any job. In December, I will have my MEd., and it's been a couple years since I really got myself involved in anything theatre-related. For the last four months or so, I've offered up the simple prayer, "God, I would love to have some sort of teaching experience," and more recently the prayer, "God, I miss theatre. Please use my gifts in some way."

And BOOM. Job offers poured in.
Ok, not exactly. But there were two.

I'll spare you the nitty-gritty details about the whole week, but in the end, we decided to explore the idea of a 10-hour-per-week theatre education job. When the subject was first broached, I brushed off the idea.

Until Elliott showed me The Schedule.

There it was: a beautiful, detailed, hour-by-hour, day-by-day schedule.
And it turned out that I could take the job after all! But it didn't stop there!
I was excited. So excited, in fact, that I immediately went up and made my own schedule.

(You do realize that I was so excited about the schedule-making, right? The job too, sure, but really, it was about the schedule. I love organizing things. I just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page about my nerdiness. Are we all there? Ok. Continue.)

So that was, like, the best day last week.

Then the rest of my housemates brought their schedules to our house meeting, only to realize to our horror (dun dun DUNNNNNNN):

We don't have room in our combined schedules for house meetings this fall.

If you've been following the blog (or if you live in a house with more than... yourself), you're probably aware that communication is key for the survival and happiness of all. In order for the house to effectively communicate, we've found it important to have weekly house meetings. But with our schedules this fall, it's utterly impossible.

So what do we do?

1) Talk About It with Anyone: If something bothers us, we've promised to communicate it to the group. If there's no way that the four of us are together at one time, then the person will communicate to whomever is around (so if there are three of us at dinner instead of four, at least three people will be on the same page, and the fourth person will be filled in later).

2) Accept Responsibility: If something is communicated to a person, the person accepts responsibility and takes action. So for instance, if people in the house notice I never empty the dishwasher, Zack might say something to Elliott if he doesn't happen to see me very often. I'll take the note and will start doing my share of the dishwater-emptying.

3) Aim to See Each Other in Other Ways: Even if we don't have official time carved out of our schedules for the whole house to be together, we've planned "together-time" in other ways. Jocelyn and I always will do meal-planning and the grocery list on Fridays; Elliott and Zack will always go food shopping on Saturdays. These times are carved out of our schedules so we ensure that we are still operating as a community.

In addition, as individual families we have also made time for each other a priority. We think it's more important that each couple gets a date night/family night over a community time. So within each of our schedules, we have planned weekly date nights/family nights for our own families. If you are married and do not yet have a specific date night set aside each week, I would highly encourage you to do so. It's very easy to get so caught up in the every day that you forget to deliberately (dare I say, intentionally?) make time for your spouse/family.

We realize that we're not the only household that finds it hard to combine schedules. What do you do in your family to ensure that everyone communicates and relationships continue to thrive?

More Outside Reading

Here's another guest post I wrote on the Ruby Eyed Okapi modesty blog:

And my sister-in-law just started a blog, and you have to read her first post. Trust me on this.
She's the mother of twin (adorable-amazing-hysterical) boys. Hilarity ensues.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Check Out My Guest Post!

I've been quoting different posts from Introverted Church ad nauseum these days. It's just a really awesome blog that resonates with me. Anyways, I had the fabulous opportunity to do a guest post on his blog. It's up today! Go check it out and support me!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Double the Babies, Double the Fun

So what's it like raising two non-related babies in the same home?


Just kidding. We actually don't know yet since Gwen is just barely starting to recognize Zoey's existence. But contrary to the photo above, Zoey usually thinks it's pretty cool.

Stay tuned later on in the year for the happenings of these two little girls!

here I am holding Zoey on the left, and Jocelyn is holding Gwenny on the right.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Food Dilemma

"What are you guys doing for dinner?"

It's a simple question -- one that deserves a simple, unemotional answer. I'm used to it now, but when I first moved in, the question caught me off guard. "I don't know," I would think. "Why does it matter? Shouldn't you be worrying about your own dinner?"

"Why don't we do dinner together?"

"I don't know," my insides brewed. "Maybe because we budget our food and food money very carefully and if I start cooking for four people, it will ruin the well-oiled machine I've had going for the last two years."

That's what I thought. What I said was,


But it wasn't without some cranky, unloving (and not to mention ungodly) thoughts running through my head. They sounded something like this:

"...all the believers were together and had everything in common..."
Acts 2:44

I don't know why, but somewhere along the line, I think I became greedy. Or selfish.
...or both?
...or maybe I dieted too many times that my body is in constant survival-mode, and if there is food around, my body wants to pounce and hoard?
...or maybe it's because early on in my twenties I had too many close-calls with almost-bounced checks, and I take budgeting very seriously?

Food and budgets. These seem like private things, except when it comes to living in intentional community.

When we lived in un-intentional community, our food budget wasn't an issue. It was made fairly clear: each family in the house had their own shelves in the cupboard and the fridge. You just ate your own food. Sometimes, we would eat together, but we always made separate meals. My sister-in-law and I became very adept at what I like to call the "dinner-making dance." We just had some sort of unspoken rhythm when it came to what burners and pots were being used when and how.

When we moved in to our new home, I guess the creature-of-habit inside me thought we'd stick to the same model. I live and breathe by the motto, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

That motto might work well if we had never moved. But we did, and we are in a new situation -- new home, new housemates. These are completely different people with different personalities from our old housemates. Plus, our dynamics in the house are different -- not only because of our increased shared space, but also because of our unique personalities.

Our new housemates have always been entirely generous and hospitable. (Honestly, they have taught me a lot about hospitality and sharing but perhaps that's subject matter for another post.) They share their food (and everything they have) without a second thought. I found it hard to match their generosity and I didn't know why. "God," I prayed, "please change my heart, and help us find a way..."

When you live so closely with others, things like food become an issue that needs discussion. What is normally a private matter becomes public, because there is only one kitchen. And since those of us in this particular community are generally home at the same time for meals, it only makes sense for us to cook one meal for everyone.

making lunch, pre-Gwenny-era (but not by much!)

Some food-related questions you need to ask when living in community:
  • Will we share food? What type of food will we share? (In our other community, condiments and spices were shared; in our new community, we've decided everything is fair game.)
  • If we are sharing food, who will do the shopping? How often should we shop? (Elliott and I used to buy food every two weeks and just stock up. Now we buy every week.)
  • How will we budget for food? How much can each person spend?
  • What about special diets? Should we all adhere to dietary needs or should the one person be responsible for their needs? (See a previous post for a tip on how to spend less and still be gluten-free.)
  • How should we meal plan? When will we plan and who will do the cooking?
  • Should we buy a hamburger cake? (Sorry, it's an inside joke, but I couldn't resist.)
We've answered most of these questions and have found it makes the most sense for us to buy food together, as well as eat together as often as we can. And it's been an awesome, freeing experience. I know other communities have done things different ways. If you're in community, please let me know what you've been doing, and how you've addressed these questions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

It's an early morning ritual: I snap the leash on doggy, exit the front door, and look across the street, my hand ready in a wave. My neighbors across the street -- an elderly couple -- are often there, offering their smiles and waves. They sit underneath their fig tree, taking in the morning air. I skip down the steps and take off with the dog down the street.

From what I hear, they are from Greece. It's a little hard to understand them, and I'm not positive they understand me. But there seems to be a desire on both ends -- a desire to connect to neighbors, to be more than a mere "face" on the block -- to feel like we're a part of a neighborhood family.

But how do we do that, exactly?

Each of us in the house know random people here and there on the block. Some we know by first names, others we know by faces. They know us by the babies and the dog. But as much as we pray for opportunities to really connect, our conversations have remained five-second pleasantries -- a hello, a quick comment, and we're on our way.

What we want for this block is something we think everyone wants: a neighborhood family. But what does it take to get there? I think it takes a bit of a "putting yourself out there" attitude, and that can be a scary thing. It takes an effort that no one is willing to give. No one is willing to take the scary step of standing up, of taking initiative, of entering into relationships. And even though we want to, we're sort of at a loss as to how to do it.

Do we make goodies and go door-to-door to hand them out and introduce ourselves? Do we make a point to hang out on the front stoop every weekend night? How much conversation do we allow ourselves to get into with those on the block? How do we take initiative while remaining sensitive to boundaries? How do we venture out while allowing our neighbors to stay comfortable with us?

... um, seriously. Do you have any ideas?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why We Need Introverts In Communities

"Often, in Christian circles, we idealize those people that have a "passion" for community. Those people who constantly want to be around other people and who love organizing and mobilizing social events are often considered those people who have the most "love"... And, let's be clear, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community."

- Adam S. McHugh, A Matter of Motivation

This subject is something I have been wrestling with a lot while living in community. Perhaps it's something I've wrestled with for a while, since I have, at times, felt inadequate being an introvert. I've felt like a fish out of water in most churches and Christian circles -- shying away from games, hospitality hour, and longing for moments of silence in services. Growing up in and around churches geared towards extroverted people, I've often wondered...

"God, why did you make me this way?"

This is a question I've posed in the last couple weeks. "God, why did you make me such an introvert, while at the same time calling me to live in intentional community?" As I hide away in my bedroom for the hundredth hour, I wonder why God thought I was cut-out for this lifestyle at all. Even more than that -- what about my housemates? Isn't it unfair to them that I prefer to be alone most of the time?

There are times I truly wish I were an extrovert. But the fact is that I'm not. And it's sort of unfair of me to question the way God "fearfully and wonderfully" made me (Psalm 139). Just as I would not tell a friend that she was inadequate for being an introvert, it's also not right for me to tell myself that I'm inadequate. And it's totally uncool for me to accuse the Lord of not making me correctly.

But it still doesn't answer the question:
How does a community benefit from an introvert?
How does an introvert benefit from community?

I recently started browsing the websites of other intentional Christian communities. I really appreciated the thoroughness and articulate nature of the Church of the Sojourners' website. Here's what I found on the homepage:

"Here at Church of the Sojourners, we seek to respond to Christ's call by living together family-style, sharing our homes, resources, and friendship, our weaknesses as well as our strengths -- not because living together is a requirement of committed discipleships, but because it is one real way we have found to provide us with numerous daily opportunities for forgiveness, humility, service, gratitude, worship, prayer, and other practicalities of sainthood which help build us into 'the full measure of the stature of Christ.'"

Living together in such close community gives us more opportunities to grow into the likeness of Christ. We wouldn't be stretched if we all had the same personalities, expectations, and ideas. We are different and it is in these differences that we make up the full body of Christ (Romans 12).

As I've mentioned previously, living so closely with others calls me to action. It is impossible for me to let destructive behaviors take hold because how I live affects those around me. Although we shouldn't have to live in intentional community to confess our sins to one another and extol one another, our American lifestyles tend to lead to isolation. When you don't have an intentional community keeping you accountable, it's easier to let sinful things take hold -- both because you don't have to own up to anyone, and also because no one is bound to notice.

Living in intentional community helps me learn how to confess, have difficult conversations, love others better, and figure out what it means to care for others by caring for myself. And I pray that living with a severe introvert helps my housemates experience similar things. It is through our differences that we learn more about Christ and what it means to follow Him daily.

As Adam S. McHugh writes,
"Love for God's people does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others. Love, as we know from the scriptures, is self-sacrificial, in which we lay down our rights and place the good of others ahead of our own."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Best-Kept Secret to Gluten-Free Living

This is a little off-topic from the blog's focus, but I thought it was pretty cool enough to share. And since I know a lot more of the world is going gluten-free, I figured it would be worth divulging a secret.

A little bit of background first: I am gluten-free (and also corn- and shellfish-free). This is not by choice, but by necessity. Since high school, I started getting random hives and allergic reactions to some unknown thing. It steadily grew worse until college, when I started going into anaphylactic shock and took a number of trips to the ER.

Finally, my allergist zeroed in on the culprit: gluten, corn, shellfish, and ibuprofen. These were all things I had consumed my entire life, but for some reason my body developed an adverse reaction to them.

Luckily for me, gluten-free living is all the rage, and this means more access to all things gluten-free and delicious. However, access does not always equal cheap. A lot of gluten-free things (especially flour) are extremely pricey. My plan was to just subsist off of rice cakes and protein, until my housemates discovered the secret to living gluten-free on a budget:

Indian-Pakistani Grocers.

No lie. My housemates went out on an excursion to (one of) our local Indian Grocer(s) and brought back...


These flours would probably run about $6-$8 per bag at the regular grocery store, and you'd probably get a fraction of the amount you see above. These flours ran about $2-$4 a bag.

I am so. excited.
And you should be too!

So go support your local grocer and enjoy eating homemade gluten-free bread and other goodies! Huzzah!

Monday, July 11, 2011

An Attitude Ickiness Check

Everything has been irking me lately.

I mean, I get annoyed if I see someone. Or hear them breathing. Ok, that's extreme, but I'm really on edge these days. It's almost as if my current attitude is: "The only people that should exist in the world are me, Gwendolyn, and sometimes Elliott."

(Sorry, Elliott.)

And I'm not really sure what's going on. Is it my introversion? My sleepiness? Or am I just being self-indulgent and snobbish? Whatever it is, there is an ickiness inside my soul that I can't seem to shake. And the feeling is (unfortunately) familiar.

It comes in different forms, but it always finds a way to lodge itself into my core. I'm reminded of the passage in James that describes these small "ickinesses" as leading to conception and giving birth to sin. When the sin grows up, it becomes death (James 1:15).

Guys, I don't want death.
But I feel it festering inside me.

If I were a hermit, or even living day-to-day in my own secluded apartment, I might be able to ignore the icky. If it were up to me, that's probably what I'd do. Ignoring it is easier than acknowledging it and having to deal with it.

But, as we all know, I live in community. And what festers inside and me affects those around me. My attitude is something my housemates have to deal with on a daily basis. I'm not an island. And so I have to fight it.

In order to do battle and rid myself of a destructive attitude, I turn to the Bible.
In it, I read the reminders...

"There is no one who does good, not even one."
Psalm 14:3

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
James 1:17

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:13

The thing is that I honestly can't do good on my own. I can't just decide, "I'm going to have a better attitude," and click the switch. It doesn't happen that way. I can't do good apart from Christ, but I can do all things through Him. I can ask the Lord for an attitude change -- for the good that only comes from Him -- and watch Him change me. After all, He promises...

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you."
John 15:7

So, God, this is what I'm asking: that you change my attitude -- that you root out the ickiness, and fill me with love and grace and peace -- that you would allow me to bless those around me, and especially those closest to me -- that you would give me wisdom in knowing how to take care of myself so as to care for others -- and that all the glory will go to you, Father. I can do nothing good except through you.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It Takes a Village

She stirs. I stir. I hear her make some sort of squeaking sound. I turn over and peak with one eye. Is she okay? Is she breathing? Does she want to eat? I sit up and lean over the co-sleeper. Should I pick her up? Let her keep sleeping? Does she need me? My husband pleads with me to go back to sleep.

It's night number two home from the hospital (or is it night number one? or three? it's hard to keep track these days), and we're getting used to (not) sleeping with a newborn in the house. Somehow, it seemed easier at the hospital -- with the nurses coming in and out, with the doctors assuring us she was okay, and with meals and snacks being delivered on a tray. Also -- was it our imagination? -- she was sleeping better in the hospital.

"Everyone tells you that you won't get sleep with a newborn," my husband has started telling people. "I didn't realize that they were serious."

So here we are: sleep-deprived, desperate to console her cries, and finding it difficult to do normal people-things like take showers and eat.

That's where our rescuers come in.

I'll call them "The Village," calling reference upon the ol' adage. Without them, there's no way my husband and I would have survived this far (and our poor little baby, for that matter).

Over the last two and a half weeks, we have witnessed the rallying forces of community -- beyond the walls of our own home. Our parents have stayed to help us with the day-to-day chores and to hold the baby so we could catch up on much-needed sleep. Our housemates have taken the dog out on countless times and have been eager to help in any (and every) way. Our church family provided dinners for us for two weeks straight (and let me tell you - our church has some awesome cooks!). We even had one friend pick up my prescriptions AND get my husband some much-needed comfort food (aka chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream).

I can't imagine what the last two weeks would have been without the help of our community. I always wanted Gwendolyn to be surrounded by and raised by a "village" of sorts, but I never realized that we would need it just as much. It certainly does take a village to care for a child -- and to care for ourselves as well.

Let me encourage you to be aware of who is in your community and what they might need. Did someone just have a baby? Is someone sick? Stressed? Find ways to provide for their needs and make their lives easier. Offer to watch the baby for an hour and let the parents go out on a quick date. Bring over meals or pick up a favorite treat for them. Take something off their plate.

Become their Village.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A New Addition!

In case you hadn't heard the word on Facebook, I'll clue you in:
we had a baby!

Gwendolyn Shiloh was born on 6/21/11 at 12:44pm. She weighed 6 lbs 15 oz and arrived with a full head of brunette hair.

Her name means "Beautiful Peace."

It was quite a long ordeal and I'm still in recovery-mode. I think I have a couple posts in my head that I'll ruminate on, but if I'm somewhat quiet for a while, you can be sure I'm probably napping with my baby.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Apparently, Being a Hermit Doesn't Work in Intentional Community

"If given the chance, I would be a hermit."

So writes Shelley Batdorf at Introverted Church, in a guest post entitled Parenting as a Spiritual Discipline. Although her post is geared towards parenting as an introvert (and thus, I was thoroughly intrigued), I couldn't help but resonate with her and relate some thoughts to my current experience.

When we moved here a month ago, my husband and I couldn't help but immediately notice the difference between our first community-living experience and our current one. Within the first week, we reflected on the biggest difference: we went from living with two introverts to living with two extroverts.

I guess it also doesn't hurt to mention that Elliott and I are both introverts. Well, he is a high-functioning introvert who is sometimes mistaken for an extrovert, and I ... well, I'm almost a hermit.

Ever since I can remember, I would happily hide away in my room as a kid -- writing and enacting stories, reading, playing, singing -- whatever it was, I could do it on my own and be perfectly content. Once I got to college and lived with various roommates, I would often steal away into my own room whenever I got home. When I was outside my apartment walls, the world forced me to interact with it. When I got home, I could embrace what I longed for: space and quiet.

Since coming to live in this new home, I noticed my hermit-habits popping up again. And quite honestly, I've indulged them. Nearly the only thing that draws me out of my room is the baby-in-my-belly requiring some sort of food. It takes a great deal of effort for me to think about going downstairs to simply "hang out." It's not that I don't love my housemates (I DO!) and it's not that I don't love spending time with them (I DO!) -- it's just not my natural instinct to be around people.

Yet, as Shelley Batdorf writes, "We all need other people, to be in community and to take our place within the Body."

So true, Shelley, so true. In fact, I wrote about this very idea only a few months ago. We are made in the image of a Triune God -- a God who is at the same time one and three -- who, from the very beginning, was in relationship with Himself. To fulfill our whole, created nature, we need to be in community with one another. We need relationships.

Unfortunately for some of us, that requires a little bit more work.

Through some awesome communication with one housemate in particular, I realized that in order to love my housemates better, I need to sacrifice some alone time to be with them. They have helped me understand how the extroverted mind thinks and how I can serve them. I have learned that I don't even have to do without my "down" time to be around them -- that even being in the same room helps them. I have learned that I need to be more deliberate about hanging out and being around, and that being a hermit all the time will do much more harm to this community than it will do good to myself.

And, in return, they respect my introverted character. Actually, I would even venture to say that they've done a better job serving me than I have done for them. Realizing that I need extra alone time and space, my housemates have provided it for me in abundance. It's definitely my turn to be aware, give back, and just be around.

"Community calls out into the world from behind our walls, to be with others even when we would rather be alone."
Thank you, Shelley!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

No Man (in Community) is an Island

Peeking around the corner of the kitchen doorway, I make sure no one is looking. I silently pick up the stool, move it closer to the cabinet, and stare up at the canvas bags that taunt me. I know I shouldn't, and yet I do. Because it's such a simple task, and asking for help would be silly.

My one hand grips the stool, and the other hand reaches toward the cabinet to steady myself as I step onto said stool. Suddenly, from the living room come the familiar, rebuking shouts of concerned comrades.

"Rachel, what are you doing?"
"Are you on the stool again?"
"Why don't you just ask us for help?"

Because I like doing things on my own.
Because I like being independent.
Add to this that I am an introvert, and my instinct tells me to shirk away from others -- from expecting help, from asking for help, from accepting help.

Learning to live in a new intentional community while being 8-9 months pregnant has been a stretch for me. It goes against my instincts. God has blessed me with three graciously patient and helpful housemates who are not only willing to do what I ask them, but also go out of their way to make sure I'm taken care of. When I'm having a rough day and can barely will myself out of bed or I am overwhelmed with homework, you can be sure that dinner will be on the table, the dishes will be clean, and my water bottle will be filled with cold water.

And yet, I still find myself shirking from such dependency. As long as I remain self-sufficient and separate, I feel a (false) sense of safety. I can keep myself at arm's length and things remain uncomplicated.

Think of your own relationships. When you are acquaintances with someone, you most likely don't ever fight with them. There's nothing beyond surface chatter, and so there's nothing to dig up and deal with. Your baggage remains your own, and things are safe. Things won't get said. Feelings won't be hurt. When you become close to someone, you can no longer hide the things you have so tried to cover up. Things that have been left untouched for years start bubbling to the surface. Your own actions affect the other person, and you are forced to deal with your own humanity.

"God reveals a thousand things in your heart which you swear are not there..."
Fenelon, The Seeking Heart

When we become dependent on one another, there is the risk that things will get messy. But things also get real, and we are able to grow into better people. We learn how to communicate, how to forgive, how to love. We stop living in our self-absorbed little worlds and begin to see the larger world through compassionate, self-sacrificing eyes.

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality."
Romans 12:9-13

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Waste Not, Part Two: Homemade Facial Cleanser

Homemade Facial Cleanser

Castor Oil
Extra-virgin Olive Oil

Normal skin: 1-to-1 ratio of castor oil and EVOO
Dry Skin: 1 part castor oil, 3 parts EVOO
Oily Skin: 3 parts castor, 1 part EVOO

Mix together, pour a quarter-sized amount into palm, massage onto dry skin (do not rub).
Wet a washcloth with hot water and place on face until cloth is room temp.
Rinse cloth and gently wipe off oil.

I have very weird skin. It's super dry but I still tend to break out. I really don't fall into any specific skin-type category, so I just went with the original recipe and figured I could easily tweak it later on.

Anyways, I got to try this out with my housemate, Jocelyn. It turned into quite the adventure!

So we applied it...

...and sat for a minute with the washcloth...

...and LOVED the results.

My skin felt soft, smooth, and this morning, it was clearer than the day before. I am so excited to find such a cheaper, simpler, less wasteful way to wash my face.

Obviously, I give this recipe 5 out of 5 stars.

I stocked up on borax and washing soda for laundry and dish detergent, but we're pretty much set for the time being. So it may be a couple more months before I make something again. I am interested, however, in the homemade shampoo and conditioner, albeit hesitant. Has anyone tried homemade shampoo/conditioner? I might end up trying it out just for kicks.

Credit where credit is due:
These recipes are from this lovely woman who published this lovely book.
I highly recommend purchasing it and supporting her!

Waste Not, Part One: Homemade Toothpaste

Well, I promised you that I would start making our own household supplies once the current supplies ran out. And so first up: toothpaste.

I really wanted to try out the toothpaste recipe because I have a huge jar of coconut oil taking up space in my kitchen cabinet. I got it one day because I heard that a little bit of coconut oil helps ease water retention, and then I decided that was an old wive's tale.

I wanted to try out the facial cleanser because I was fascinated by the LACK of ingredients. And I thought Tsh of had a good point: using so many chemicals on our skin will strip our skin of its natural oils.

So the other night, I took these common household items...

...and started mixing!

Homemade Toothpaste

2 tbsp. coconut oil
2-3 tbsp. baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Stevia powder

Mix all ingredient together thoroughly.

So I mixed...

...and rinsed...

...and the verdict:

Ok, I don't know what temperature YOUR bathroom is at, but OUR bathroom is definitely above the melting point of coconut oil (about 75 degrees). This means that the toothpaste is liquid. My housemates and husband recommended putting it in the fridge, but it's a bit of a hassle to go to the fridge every time I want to brush my teeth.

But hey, I'm not that stubborn. So into the fridge it went.
And out of the fridge it came.
Turns out freezing coconut oil makes it way too solid. So it appears there will be no happy medium until it's cooler aka October.

The other thing is that it's extremely salty. Once we get out to a natural food store, I'm going to get some essential peppermint oil. If you're not used to weird-o natural-type stuff (ahem- husband, I'm taking about you!), you'll definitely want some sort of essential oil in the toothpaste (Tsh recommends peppermint, lemon, clove, lime, cinnamon, eucalyptus, or licorice, as not all oils are safe to ingest internally). The Stevia powder does nothing to make it palpable.

But overall, my teeth got super clean and there was no awful aftertaste.
No, but seriously, we need peppermint oil for this one.

So I give this recipe 3 out of 5 stars.
(points taken off for taste)

Credit where credit is due:
These recipes are from this lovely woman who published this lovely book.
I highly recommend purchasing it and supporting her!

Read on!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Living In-Community Means LIVING IN Community

When we moved into South Philly two years ago, I thought we would never leave -- despite the fact that both of our jobs were located 40 minutes away from us in the suburbs.

"But it's so convenient to be able to walk everywhere; maybe we could even sell our car someday!" I reasoned. "And who wants to live in the suburbs anyways?"

Ok, maybe I had a bit of the hipster-snob-itude going on.

So for two years, we lived in South Philly in community with my brother, sister-in-law, and our two nephews. For two years, we commuted back and forth nearly every day, sitting for hours in traffic. It was difficult, but we thought it was worth it. And God definitely blessed us through living in that home. Yet it wasn't until we moved out to the suburbs that we realized how much living in the city was hurting our ministry.

Because of our long work days and the distance, we never had the time or energy to pour into the diverse neighborhood we claimed to love so well. Similarly, we never had the stamina to stay and visit with the students we ministered to and the members of our church. We were always exhausted, and even when we were with people, our minds were wearied by the thought of the long commute home.

Since moving to our new home, we've suddenly realized the community we've been missing out on. We've been able to have people over for games on a whim; we've been able to fellowship day-in-and-day-out with students who have since become our housemates; we feel freed up to linger after church or stop by a fellow church member's house on the way to and from other places. And we no longer feel exhausted out of our minds because of the drive.

In essence, we've actually become a part of our community.
Novel concept, eh?

What we've discovered is that living in intentional community needs to go beyond the walls of that community. If you remain insular and only focus inward, the community is stagnant. If you do not take time to live in the community where you go home to sleep -- to make conscious fellowship with others, to intercede in prayers for them, to share the love ofChrist -- then why do you live there at all?

"I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people."

1 Timothy 2:1-6

And so as we are able to spend more time with the people with whom we've already formed relationships, we also pray for new ones. We pray that God will use our home to give glory to Him -- that we will be able to reach out to our neighbors in significant ways, love them, and pray for them specifically.

As you can imagine, living in the suburbs is a challenging place to foster community. Many people keep themselves isolated by remaining in their air-conditioned homes or staying behind the bushes of their front yards. Even though our neighborhood is still more urban than suburban, it's easy to fall into the temptation of remaining isolated from others.

Here's how we plan to reach out:

1) Prayer - We are praying that God gives us the opportunity to truly connect with at least five other homes on this block by the end of the summer.

2) Community Events - We are praying that God will give us the time and motivation to plan a block party, and invite others on the block to participate in its planning.

3) Food - We want to make food and invite our neighbors to eat with us! The only thing is that we need to get to at least know some first names before inviting people over. Although I suppose another option is to start grilling outside.

4) Lingering Outside - We all have porches on this block, and it's almost summer. It's nicer to sit outside after dinner anyways, and we should be making a conscientious effort to do so. Elliott and I have already met one neighbor (thanks to our dog's outgoing nature) by sitting on the stoop.

Please join with us in prayer for our own community, as well as your own. Ask God to reveal ways in which you may reach out more every day, and pray for opportunities.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Intentional Community 101: Communication

Communication is key.

Ok, that's a fairly elementary statement, but sometimes we need to get back to the basics.

The reality is that we spend a whole lot of time practicing "at-an-arm's-length" communication techniques. Instead of addressing issues (or even non-issues) face-to-face, we text. Or Facebook. Or e-mail. We barely even use the phone any more.

But when your goal is community, you need real communication.

Your own community needs its own definition. It could be the community between you and your spouse, among your coworkers, your friends, your neighborhood, your own makeshift household. Whatever your community is, my guess is you want it to thrive. And in order to thrive -- in order to commune together -- you need to start re-learning communication.

Here are some ways to start:

1) Set Aside a Time and Place

The best way to ensure that things will be addressed and heard is to have a space for it already worked into the lives of all involved. In our own little community household, we have set aside a weekly meeting time to gather. We set aside this time not only to talk about household matters, but also to genuinely commune through prayer, worship, and Bible study. It's important to give yourselves ample time to address possible issues, as well as just be together. The earlier you can set this in stone, the better.

2) Posture Your Heart

If I ever find myself getting annoyed or frustrated with someone or a situation, the first thing I do (or maybe the second thing, after I complain in my head a bit) is go to the Lord. I ask Him to soften my heart and open my eyes in order to see things clearly. Am I the one in the wrong? How should I be reacting? Without going to God with my emotions, I find that I just tend to brew and boil over minor things. Or I just keep my eyes focused on the speck in someone else's eye while ignoring the plank in my own (Matthew 7:4-5). This stop-and-pray mentality has sustained me in marriage, and I believe it will sustain me in friendships and within this intentional community. Honestly, I don't know any other way to fight through my feelings.

I think another way to stay in a correct posture of heart is to be willing to take correction. Even if you think you're in the right, if someone brings to you a concern or correction, take it in silence. Sit with it; pray over it. I know that my first reaction is to fight against corrections, but many times, others see things I cannot see about myself.

3) Be Willing to Have the Hard Conversations

My husband once told me that people generally respond to difficult circumstances in one of two ways: fight or flight. I tend to be in the "flight" category, while Elliott dwells more in the "fight" realm. Although this has made for some difficult scenarios, ultimately our opposite natures have benefitted our marriage. There are definitely times to walk away from the fight and let things cool down; however, there are other times when it's necessary to fight in order to resolve the situation. Ultimately, things will need to be addressed -- and sometimes these things will be hard to bring up and push through to resolution. It's important that everyone within the community be committed to having these hard conversations.

4) Find Your Foundation and Commit

Every community needs a firm foundation -- something they can return to when it's hard and it would be easier to part ways. Some communities may want to draw up a covenant of sorts, a way to clearly state goals and beliefs. Others may have a verse or larger-picture-idea. Whatever the foundation is, articulate it early on and commit to it and to each other. You'll need this when the harder conversations happen.

In your own life, how have you kept your community thriving through communication? Is there something you would add to this list?

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sister, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone [i.e. have those difficult, vulnerable conversations, friends!]. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. [and finally, keep yourself in good posture:] Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

1 Thessalonians 5:11-18

So *yay!* - it's my 100th post!! Help me celebrate by following my blog and linking to it, or to a favorite post.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Waste Not, Intro: What I Can't Wait to Try

Sparked by my minimalist/moving post, my friend Samantha from Sam Still Seeking recommended the book Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider of SimpleMom.Net. It seemed right up my alley, so when my husband informed me I could pick out a few books for my birthday, it was on the top of my list.

The subtitle is "The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living." Oh, man - this subtitle makes the dorky-homemaker bottled up inside me all sorts of giddy. Could there BE a more perfect book out there for this stage in life? Here I am - living intentionally in community with three other adults. And, as you can imagine, we certainly have enough stuff between the three of us to fill up our three-bedroom home. Clutter-free is definitely the magic word!

This book is great for anyone who wants to live more simply and intentionally. You don't have to be in tight quarters or in community to garner a wealth of inspiration (and practical advice) from this book.

But hey, I'm not really a book reviewer. I'm all about practical implementation.

So Tsh gives a whole slew of recipes for making household items, such as laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. Sure, you can probably find a whole bunch of these on the internet, but I love how she splits it up in a shopping list (what you'll need) and simple recipes (what you'll do).

I'm super excited about trying some of these out. As we fill up trash bag after trash bag in our home, I've been scratching my head trying to think of ways to cut down on our contribution to the local landfill. So as we run out of important items (such as toothpaste and facial cleanser), instead of running to the store to buy yet another plastic tube of convenience, I'm going to try out some of her recipes and give you some feedback on the results. Once I post these results, I'd love to get your own recipes/input! Excited yet?? If you aren't, then you aren't in touch with your inner dorky-homemaker and I just feel sorry for you. :-p

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Part 2: From Ice Cream to Chicken

Continued from Part 1.

And so now we officially begin our lives in a new community -- this one a little more intentional than un-intentional.

We have begun full-steam-ahead: breakfasts together, dinners together, dog-walks together, more shared space, even less privacy, talks of intentional prayer and Bible study and baby-watching and clothes-sharing.

It didn't take us more than a few hours for my husband and I realize that this community will be extremely different than the last community, but this does not make one community better or worse than the other. Just like people and relationships, they are different. Each has their season, and this is a new season.

We are all looking forward to this new season. We want our home to be God-centered and we want to be intentional -- first about each other, and then about the neighborhood. We want to impact each other in the name of the Lord, and we want to love our neighbors with the love of Jesus. We want the Lord to use this home -- our new family -- to His glory.

And so as we break bread cook chicken and sing hymns play games (although I'm sure the hymn-singing is on its way), we lift our eyes to the Lord and say:

Thank you for providing.
Thank you for stretching us.
Thank you for this new family.

Here we are.
Please use us.

Part 1: From Ice Cream to Chicken

"Ya-Ya want to get ice creeeeeeeeam?" My nephew's two-year-old plea is too joyful to refuse, and so we go -- the four adults, the two twin toddlers, and one baby in utero -- to get, as Micah calls it, "ice creeeeeeeeam."

We have lived together for two years and two weeks exactly, in a row house in South Philadelphia. Our family life has settled into an easy, knowable, and comfortable rhythm.

We call ourselves an "Un-Intentional Community." Yes, we live in community -- sharing common space and lives. But we have no shared structured discipleship or vision for the surrounding neighborhood. We just live and see God working out the discipleship on His own: the Sunday night debriefs about life and ministry, the hymns sung after dinner with the baby boys, the prayers together and requests for intercession, the bearing of one another's burdens.

But on this one night, out for ice cream, we realize it is the last night. We don't really dwell on it, but instead blissfully laugh together as the twins dip their faces into the cups of ice cream, white beards forming on their small faces.

The next day -- after the packing is over, after the moving is complete -- it hits us all, one by one. And suddenly, it is very hard to process.

There is no book of rules for living in community. Well, ok. Actually, there are plenty, but what I mean is that living in community (un-intentional or intentional) is like any other relationship. Each has its own quirks, its own joys, its own idiosyncrasies. I can't tell you what should be done for every single community. But what I can tell you is that leave-taking should have its place. It is very different to move out of a private apartment after a two-year lease and leaving a two-year community. I was treating the latter like the former, and the result was nearly devastating. If I were to do it all over again, I would have made it a priority to articulate the blessings that came from the last two years to each person. I would have made a point to say goodbye -- not in the craziness of the move, but in the stillness of an ice cream outing.

This is (part of) what should have been said:

Sometimes, God's ways don't make logical sense. There were many that told us we were foolish to move in with a family as newlyweds. There were many that warned us and had concerns. But we sensed the Lord's leading, and we couldn't imagine what we would have lost had we had moved out on our own. The blessings God gave us through the last two years in your home have been insurmountable. We wouldn't trade the last two years for all the privacy or quiet nights or extra space in the world.

What we gained through the "sacrifice" of space was far more precious. Thank you for letting us in. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of watching and partaking in the lives of two little 4-month-old babies as they transformed day-by-day into two still-little-but-slightly-larger 2-year-old toddlers -- with their songs and hellos and questions and games and abundant love. Thank you for the ministry of your marriage and lives and for being so influential as brother and sister to both of us -- both through flesh and blood and through Christ. Thank you for walking with us through life.

And although I am the only one writing, I can say this with confidence:

we love you immensely, and will never forget the last two years.

Continue reading about From Ice Cream to Chicken in Part 2.