Life in Community

A Stranger. A Visit. A Soul-sister.

A taste of community life

April 19, 2021 by

Entertaining is in my blood. Call me a people person, with a passion for hosting.

I mean, almost always. Four years ago when Kevin and I were tapped to host a young pastor with his wife and two little kids, my smile was tight. We’d moved to the Beech Grove community barely a year earlier with our five kids and were still finding our feet. It was our fifth move since our wedding, but this one had been more difficult – if only because the flat fields and hedges of Kent made me feel claustrophobic and, well, flat! Of course, I know what I’ve signed up for, and I’ll gladly help out where I’m needed. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to put down roots.

I also agreed to host this family in atonement for a recent hosting-related humiliation. In a burst of spontaneity, I’d invited a family visiting our community from Germany to come to breakfast, failed to inform my family, and promptly forgot about it. You cannot fathom my horror! Imagine my won’t-the-earth-just-swallow-me-up embarrassment when, as we were munching toast, the family appeared at our door. “Is zis za house? Haf we not understood za day?”

painting of dish sinkStill life of kitchen sink. Artwork by Laura Robertshaw.

I don’t even want to remember my frantic, stuttered apologies, nor the looks shot in my direction by my husband Kevin and our kids and the one guest we already had at our table. Nor the mad scramble to add places and make omelettes while pretending all is well. Thank God they didn’t understand English very well! I’m still smarting. Gregariousness mixed with impulsiveness plus a leaky memory can breed disaster – or at best, a funny story!

So, yes! We’d love to host this young family.

The moment Tim and Liz pulled up with their two little boys, we connected. And the days flew by. Cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids – all the while talking about our lives, our struggles, and our goals. Four days of full engagement gives ample time to taste life in community. The work in the factory where there’s something for everyone – even Tim, a musician! – thanks to a foreman who is mercifully forgiving when you screw straight through the back of an item.

The joy of picking up clean, folded clothes from our laundry department; great food coming from a kitchen buzzing with chatter and laughter (mostly!); a school where the trust between teachers and parents is mutual and kids are in a happy, safe environment. And everyone looks so happy and peaceful. HA! (Sorry, that just shot off my fingers while typing.)

After the second day, Liz hesitantly asked when just the two of us were together, “Gosh, Emma, are you guys escapists?”

Well, actually not. Any clue how much prayer and forgiveness, how many new beginnings it takes to make this all work? A four-day “taste” of community life is long enough to get a sense of the good stuff, and just short enough to miss out on the hot sauce and extra salt that you didn’t ask for, but someone thought you needed.

Yes, I’m here because I want to be here. For me, it’s all or nothing. I subscribe to Acts 2 and 4, and it is possible to live it out, and we’re doing it as best as we understand. Behind the look of escapism – the idyllic, pastoral backdrop of long skirts and outward “securities” – there’s a whole bunch of ordinary people working hard to live in peace, to get along with people who have very (typed loudly) different tastes, and to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.

In community, you sometimes feel like a gerbil stuck on the wheel going too fast. This is usually enough to shatter the “escapist” feeling, by the way. On day three of their visit, a very exhausted Tim was sitting at our table downing copious amounts of food, saying, “How do you guys do this?” By this, of course, he means this crazy pace of life – getting up at “stupid o’clock-clock," done with breakfast before sunrise, off to the factory for four hours of sometimes dizzyingly repetitive work, an hours break for lunch; then back to work for another four hours before picking up your kids for a merciful two hours during which you have time to bathe, play and read to them through eyes half closed! (I can hardly breathe just typing this.) Oh wait! There’s a meeting at 7:00 p.m.! Seriously? Ok Tim, it’s not always like this! There’s hardly a week that goes by without the workday interrupted by an event sponsored by a school class, a surprise softball game midway through a sunny July afternoon, or a birthday party thrown for a co-worker. And long weeks are punctuated by weekends where there’s ample time to catch your breath.

But no matter how many challenges living in full community brings, doing it together with people committed to Christ and each other eclipses those challenges. They’re still there, just not center stage. So Kevin and I grab our guests some fresh drinks and move on to answer their questions about life or death, things like:

Do you ever get a holiday, or at the very least a day off? I never said we don’t get days off. I just wouldn’t ask for one unless I’m unwell or need time to recalibrate. You’d be surprised how frequently a spontaneous trip to the coast or an impromptu getaway pops up when you’re least expecting it! We certainly need to look after ourselves, but ultimately I’m here to look after others. A day of doing just that well feels like a day off!

Do you have any of your own dreams? Of course! I’ve had lots. Funny how many of them have turned into nightmares. I’ve learned not to trust them. Everything goes well when my will, my dreams, are reconciled with God’s will for me.

What about your personal talents or gifts? Good grief, there’s room for that in our communities. I’d perish if I had to stop singing, hadn’t time to freestyle dance, play volleyball, or God forbid, had to quit making a fool out of myself on stage now and then.

How about time for yourself? There’s many ways to look at that one. At first glance there appears to be very little of that. But there actually is. For me, it’s how I use my time that matters. And we all know you can have all the time in the world or hardly any at all, but whether you are productive and peaceful, or stressed and anxious depends on your peace with God.

What of your freedom? That’s a good one. I’m free to follow Christ, free to spend my energy on those around me, free not to be a slave to fashion trends or keep up with the Joneses; free because when you give your whole life to Christ, those invisible Jacob Marley chains can melt away. But it’s a work in progress for me – for all of us!

While writing this I had to quickly look up the definition of paradoxical because there’s no other word or way to explain this place. So here goes: Paradoxical – “seemingly impossible or difficult to understand because of containing two opposite facts or characteristics.” Helpful?

Eventually, after four amazing days, Tim and Liz’s visit came to an end, and we promised to stay in touch. And the first message from Liz came swiftly: “our visit to you guys destroyed our lives . . . in a good way.”

I immediately called Liz, and oh my gosh! Then my life started to change as well.


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