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.