community first! village, Uncategorized

soap-making & surrender

“Entrepreneur” is not a word I’ve ever used to described myself. I admire the term’s association with energy, independence, dedication, and creativity. But people who call themselves “entrepreneurs” also seem to have a fascination with the new: starting a new business after selling their first successful start-up; seeking out new markets, exploring new avenues for profit.

This desire for “the next thing” drives much good in the world, but it makes me nervous. By nature I’m conservative, consistent, a refiner and reviser rather than an innovator. I’d much rather spend thirty years perfecting a craft than an hour worrying about how to monetize or market the goods I make. On the other hand, I’m always eager to read a new Victorian fairy tale or to try a new sewing technique, because these actions sustain interests I’ve cultivated since childhood. When I took my university teaching post at the age of twenty-eight, I expected–with joy–to be doing exactly the same kind of work for the next forty years or more.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself, at thirty-one, starting a soap-making business when I knew nothing about either soap or, for that matter, business.

I agreed to take on soap-making because someone needed to (we have goats at the Village, but no dairy to enable us to make any food products with their milk), and because, months before my marriage and move, I was dimly aware of the crisis of vocation that would come as I left academia, moved to Texas, and tried to discern a joint ministry with my new husband. In other words, I needed something to do.

For my first few months of marriage, soap-making was a gateway to belonging. While scores volunteers and staff bustled across the property, collecting herbs for made me feel a part of the work of this place. Making soap in my tiny RV kitchen gave me something I could share with volunteers and future neighbors. And having sample bars of honeysuckle-scented soap to give helped me vault over my shyness. I didn’t know if anyone here valued the poetry I had spent years studying, but I knew they could hold a bar of soap and call it good.

These virtues notwithstanding, I quickly I realized that I don’t like making soap at all. I enjoy formulating recipes and learning about different oils, herbs, and additives. I relish the pride of completing a batch. But I don’t much care for the process: having to wear gloves and goggles, the mess and equipment, the dangers of the lye, the washing of so many dishes afterward. I can understand why some people love it, but I simply don’t.

I thought my dislike was simply my insecurity, and I imagined that months and years of practice would “normalize” the tedious parts of the process. I tried to focus more and more on the elements I enjoyed (learning about herbs, for example.), but even so, the idea of a future full of soap did not thrill me. Furthermore, after a few months I was working (as a volunteer) full-time alongside my husband, helping get the Village’s on-site Community Inn up and running. By summertime I received the green light to pilot a program very near to both my own and my husband’s heart: a missional apprenticeship program called the Community Corps. Suddenly soap no longer felt like my only gateway to belonging here; it became a burden on my already-full and stressful weeks. When I was officially hired in August, I was told that I could drop soap-making whenever I needed to.

The problem, however, was that my little soap business turned out to be really successful. A fairly simple product with a good profit margin, our soap began to sell incredibly well when the Village’s Community Market opened, and I soon realized that it could produce a steady income for several of my formerly homeless neighbors. To simply drop it would mean withholding a valuable opportunity for meaningful, dignified work.

To a true entrepreneur, the solution to this problem is obvious: find someone else to manage the actual soap making event, or even to lead the program entirely. My husband, as well as my many wise colleagues, advised this throughout the summer. Pray for God to bring someone to take soap, they said.

These admonitions brought me little comfort. After a difficult year, I felt trapped in a world of scarce resources, and I was having trouble believing in God’s abundance. But I prayed, haltingly and angrily, believing that God could but not convinced that he would relieve my harried hours.

I prayed, God, bring someone to do this work with joy. Bring someone to do it instead of me!

The change came more quickly than I expected — not in the form of a person, but of a renewed spirit. With some changes to our weekly scheduling, the event moved from the end of a long day to a quiet afternoon — more restful already. As the soap make I had been training grew more confident, I realized I could let him work independently while I research recipes or techniques. I found my curiosity returning, and then she came.

An eager, capable woman. Someone who had dreamed of making soap for years, but hadn’t had the resources. Someone whose heart was committed to the work happening at the Village.

Just like that, I was “free,” baffled and blessed by God’s abundance and His timing.

In this freedom, I realized that making soap was teaching me a hard truth: for months, soap felt like a burden because I assumed that I was doing it for myself — that my own delight or pleasure was somehow the fundamental justification for doing a thing. When I first agreed to learn soap-making, it never occurred to me that I might be cultivating a skill or building a program in order to give it away.

Getting soap in your eyes stings, and it hurt to see myself so dragonish, unwilling to steward a treasure that was not mine to hoard.

***

Over one of our long Christmas drives, my husband played a podcast that offered a helpful alternative to my understanding of entrepreneurship: entrepreneurs, the speaker said, are those who find ways to add value wherever they are.

I didn’t want to own soap-making, and I cheated myself out of months of joy by thinking I was supposed to. Little did I know that my true commission was simply to steward it for a season, enriching, strengthening, stabilizing it, and then to hand it to its rightful master.

As a new year begins, I’m thankful that the time and energy soap-making has demanded are returning to me, providing more time for my reading, my writing, and my needlework. Nevertheless, I’m thankful for what soap has taught me about calling and ownership: that sometimes our call is not to follow our own passions, but to surrender them, pouring our treasures into something that was never ours to keep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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community first! village, faith, Uncategorized

being Bethlehem

“You have the sweetest voice. I’m going to call you Bethlehem.”

My neighbor, Miss H, announced this resolution in the middle of  a soap-making workshop.

I laughed and thanked her. I almost asked what a sweet voice and Bethlehem have to do with another, but I was distracted by the potion of lye and goat’s-milk in front of me. Besides, I’ve learned to let the wisdom of my neighbors percolate for a while before offering comment or question. Most of them are my elders by several decades, and all have endured more life–both joyful and painful–than I can imagine. So I try to listen well before speaking my mind.

This was in the spring time, approaching Easter, and I was finally beginning to feel my roots break through this clay-thick, east-Austin soil. It was (and remains) a painful rooting: I have lamented my quiet academic life with tears and terrors; I have missed my students and Chickasaw neighbors fiercely; and, despite coming here to live in community I have been so lonely in this frantic city, a beautiful Babylon where everyone is friendly, but it is hard to make a friend. And yet, for all that, I could feel the roots growing, ancient instincts inching toward water.

And so, in my weariness and hope, I received Miss H’s nickname as a benediction: Bethlehem, town of Christ’s birth. Let it be so for me, I prayed, Let Christ be born in me. A few weeks later, on the Thursday before Easter, I learned I was pregnant. I think babies must always be a kind of joyful terror, not to mention an interruption in practical affairs (e.g. My first thought was, “We live in an RV — which cupboard is big enough to hold the baby?”), but we had wanted a child, prayed for this child, and so we were glad in our trembling.

On Easter Sunday we had a dessert potluck for friends and neighbors. Afterward, I went for a walk, noting all the blossoms on the fruit trees (our farmers have planted over 100 on the property), laughing to think of all the peaches, mulberries, persimmons, and satsumas the year would bring.  Perhaps this is why God has called me to die to so much, I thought: to my career, my students, my parents’ hopes. Perhaps it was so something new could be born in me, in us. 

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Easter Sunday, 2016

But the day after Easter I began to shiver, and by Tuesday I was delirious with fever, a virulent strain of flu. On Thursday, I began bleeding, and that was the end of it. To feel, however briefly, so full of life, and then to crash back into the reality of death was agonizing.

For most of the past nine months, I haven’t thought directly about the loss of the baby. It was so early–mercifully early–that we had no time to make plans or set expectations in any particular way. We had picked no names, planned no showers, imagined no futures. And yet, the grief has infected almost everything. Feeling betrayed by the future, I have longed for the past more than ever, resenting the work at hand, resenting my husband, who thrives on dreams and future plans.

But the baby would have come right about now, sometime during Advent. I usually observe this watchful season with a careful and quiet gladness: lighting candles each morning, decorating the house little by little, sending letters and gifts to friends. I’ve done none of that this year. But I have pondered what it means to long for a savior, to cry out a God for deliverance, to demand, like Martha, why my Lord has not come sooner to raise the dead.

I have remembered Simeon’s words to Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart. I’ve remembered Rachel weeping for her children, for they are no more. I’ve recalled the Magi, bringing incense for burial to a fresh-faced child.

As I walked tonight I had a strange fancy that one day, when we come to table in God’s kingdom, we’ll feast on all the food we thought was lost — bread from wheat we saw scorched in the field, fruit from the tree that fell in the frost. And the little ones gathered at the table? Only God knows. We can believe, if He will help our unbelief.

Heavenly Father, if there is a life here for my books and quiet ways, if there is water for my roots, then send your Son to pitch his tent (or trailer!) right here among us. Put honey on my tongue and make room in my heart: let me be Bethlehem, even if there is no baby in my arms. 

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community first! village, Uncategorized

This week at the Community First! Village

Our RV moved to its permanent home! Now that the pad sites and utilities are connected in the RV “neighborhood” of the Village, we’ve taken our place here in a little bend in the road. Cedar-green and sunlight streaming through my windows.

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In small ways, we’re celebrating Advent and pondering what it means to wait and hope, watch and keep the faith. Left, tea lights in colored holders form my #rvliving version of an Advent wreath. Right, a few hundred stitches I offered to Church of the Cross, the new Anglican church plant my husband and I attend.

More residents move onto the Village each week, and guests come from around the world. This week my friend Hiram and I taught soap-making with a group of Fulbright scholars from South Korea, China, and Romania.

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Garlic (and strawberries and chamomile and radishes and ALL THE GREENS) flourish in the garden. Goodness grows all winter here.

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And finally, decking the halls is serious business around here. Have you ever seen so many men help decorate a tree? The grand tree lighting will be tomorrow — a celebration for residents, staff, volunteers, and friends of the Village.

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That’s the dispatch from our home — what about yours? What are your emblems and images of these watchful winter days?

 

 

 

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community first! village

This week at the Community First! Village

Technically, this post should be called, “these weeks at the Community First! Village,” as I’ve fallen a bit behind. Here are two weeks’ worth of the neighborhood sights, sounds, and hopes.

Wandering the neighborhood with our friend and fellow missional community member, Wendy.

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Discovering cochineal bugs on the local prickly pear cactus — an incredible natural dye. Can you see the purple?  IMG_8086

More neighbors every day!

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The cooler weather has the farm cats frisking up, down, in, out, and everywhere!

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A cozy gathering of missional community members, learning together how to be good neighbors.

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Wonderful volunteers helping with micro-enterprise work (soap making) and preparations for the future bed-and-breakfast. IMG_8064 IMG_8039

November comes home to Texas.

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A new favorite fragrance combination: ripe satsuma (from my own tree!) and fresh southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)

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And this little tempest-hound, who came barking to our door in the wee hours before a weekend of terrible storms and rains. We couldn’t couldn’t be her forever home, but we were blessed to have this little stranger join our household for a few days. IMG_7985

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community first! village

This week at the Community First! Village

Our first harvest from our first married garden.

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Pieces falling into place for neighbors to move onto the property.

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Some very groovy letters leaving our mailbox.

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Lots of tea and reading.

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Dreaming into our bit of earth–the site where our RV will have its long-term home at the Village.

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A delightful visit with a couple from the Bruderhof Communities. Not only did they help us wash up the dishes, they left of with several wonderful books from their affiliated publishing house, Plough.

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And of course (pictured at the top), some much needed rain. Hello, autumn. It comes even to Texas.

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community first! village

This week at the Community First! Village

We were excited to see the construction workers framing the spot where our RV will have its permanent home. Now we just have to wait for the cement and we can move to this sweet spot.
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Lovely blossoms from the volunteer squash that has taken over our herb planter.

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A winter garden that wishes cool weather would hurry up!

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Snapdragons! My father always grew these little dragon-blooms, and with their mouths open, they look like fierce guardians of our growing beds.

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community first! village

This week at the Community First! Village

As my husband often reminds me, I tend to live largely in my head. Most of what I write, therefore, comes from deep hours of reflection and rumination. Every once in a while, though, it’s good for me to simply take a walk and look around. Here are the sights and sounds in my backyard this week. What’s happening in your neighborhood?

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The week began with Backyard Story Night, a local event that meets around Austin. Over a hundred people came into the “backyard” of our outdoor amphitheater and listened as amateur storytellers shared poignant, entertaining, and fascinating tales.

Lots of enormous, rumbly equipment all over the property this week. Drilling deep supports, laying foundations, pouring RV pads -- they roar and roll this Village into hope.

Lots of enormous, rumbly equipment all over the property this week. Drilling deep supports, laying foundations, pouring RV pads — they roar and roll this Village into hope.

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To supplement what we've started from seed, we brought in some beautiful organic transplants: chard, kale, red cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, and strawberries. We're battling ants and cabbage loopers, but for the most part everything is thriving.

To supplement what we’ve started from seed, we brought in some beautiful organic transplants: chard, kale, red cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, and strawberries. We’re battling ants and cabbage loopers, but for the most part everything is thriving.

A little volunteer springing up.

A little volunteer springing up.

We're trying to develop more and more volunteer activities for families with young children, so today some eager littles dyed muslin with natural turmeric. The fabric will eventually be sewn into bags for our goat-milk soap.

We’re trying to develop more and more volunteer activities for families with young children, so today some eager littles dyed muslin with natural turmeric. The fabric will eventually be sewn into bags for our goat-milk soap.

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