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Home Missions

Dear Friends,

This is the letter I’ve been trying to write for over a year. Every time I sit down to write, however, I’m stuck. I can’t remember who knows what, or when I gave the last update, or whether I was joyful or in despair the last time we talked, and how that affected what we shared.

And so I’m writing it all here, in something much-too-long-for-a-blog-but-long-overdue. For all those who have asked how we are, or what we’ve been up to, or how we’re doing, or all the latest. This is it.

I really need to start at the beginning.

So: I never wanted to leave Alabama. I didn’t want to give up my house, and I never for a minute wanted to be anything other than a college literature professor. I had a beautiful house, wonderful friends, delightful students, and I was almost entirely content.

Almost. The lack I felt most keenly, believe it or not, wasn’t a husband or children, although I certainly desired to marry. Rather, the thing that kept heart from being entirely at peace was my inability to practice deep hospitality. Certainly, my house was often full of students, or of neighbors and their children. But these were all my people – similar to me in worldview, race, income, and culture. Their visits brought me deep gladness, but I know my Bible and my Homer well enough to say that you can’t measure your hospitality by how often you welcome your friends. It is your treatment of the stranger that counts.

Sometimes I would sit in my living room, watching live-oak shadows and sunshine tangle through my windows, and suddenly I would imagine Jesus walking in my door.

“Hello,” I’d stammer, awkwardly.

“Hello, dearheart,” he’d say. “I’m here because I need this back.”

“Need this?”

“Yes, this: your house, your books, the yard. I need you to sell it and give everything to the poor. Or we could swing open the door and let them come move in with you. There are lots of ways….”

At this point I’d usually shake the picture away and try to think of something else. I didn’t appreciate this intrusion. It was a painful reminder of years before, when I had volunteered at a breakfast for the homeless in Waco. After months of getting to know the regular attendees over scrambled eggs and strong coffee, I’d found myself in an agonizing position. One of the homeless men, Michael, began asking if he could come to my apartment and watch a movie with me, or even crash on my couch.  Although I knew it would be unwise to host him alone in my apartment, I also recognized that his fundamental needs—his need for friendship, community, and rest—were entirely legitimate, and could never be met by a shelter bed or a soup-kitchen line. My little household was not resilient enough to carry Michael’s burdens, and I was not bold enough to call out to Christ’s Body, the Church, to help me carry them.

Into this “divine discontent,” enter Steven, my farmer-prophet. I fell deeply, madly, unlike-any-other-man in love with him. I fell in love with his eyes, his grin, his honesty, his arms, his tenderness, and his work: using farming to build communities, restoring creation while restoring homes to the widow, the orphan, the castaway.

People are still shocked when I tell them that Steven proposed, and I said yes, only 7 weeks after we met, but I knew even earlier that when (not if, but when) he asked, I would say yes.

When Steven proposed, he had been working for years toward the opening of Community First! Village, and had already committed to God to live there for at least a year.  He had explained this on our first date, and so I knew that when I agreed to marry him, I was agreeing to quit my job, move to Austin, and live in an RV.

I didn’t want to do any of these things. Had there been any reasonable way for Steven to move to Mobile instead, I would have seized it. But there wasn’t. I had to make a choice.

To make that choice, I did what my parents had always taught me to do: I turned to the Bible. I desperately sought for a verse that said, “Follow your bliss,” or a parable about the wise servant who practiced self-care, or an epistle enjoining the faithful to seek first their passions. But of course I found none of that. Instead I found wedding feasts filled with outcasts. I found households that were somehow churches, hostels, and families all at once. I found tentmakers instructing apostles and dead being raised to life. I heard God speaking through His prophets,

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

[…]

if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

(Isaiah 58:6-7; 10-12 ESV)

I knew I could share my bread with the hungry, and welcome the homeless poor into my own home, better with Steven, and at the Village, than I could alone. And so I made my choice: we married and moved into an RV at the Village in July of 2015. When we came to Community First! Village, we were committed to a year, but open to the possibility that God might call us here longer.

That was four years ago. When I arrived, I thought I would write along the way about my experiences here, but I quickly realized that the intensity of life at the Village would require time and wisdom before I could tell my story well. I thought we would have a baby sooner rather than later, and that I would spend my mornings walking the baby and building relationships with neighbors. But when I found myself humbled and without words (who am I to tell these stories?), and when I found myself bereft and without babies (two miscarriages in our first two years of marriage), I threw myself into the work of this place alongside Steven. Mobile Loaves was extraordinarily generous in welcoming me to the staff and helping me find ways to serve. I can say, with humility and wonder, that the work has been fruitful: together we founded an Inn, a Symposium program, a soap-making micro-enterprise, and an apprenticeship program, which I still run. (And, at last, a baby has crowned all this work, and I have those morning walks and sweet talks I thought would define my days here).

It has been a beautiful journey, but also a hard one. I’ve spent many miles grieving the things I gave up in order to be here: university teaching above all, but also my house, my dog, and the hope of my parents living nearby. I no longer have access to a university library, which makes good research nearly impossible, and I feel my scholarly muscles atrophying. Living in an RV is hard, and I’ve cried at least once because I don’t even have enough counter space to roll out a pie crust. Some of my sorrow has been legitimate mourning; much of it has been self-sorry tantrum-throwing. One of the dear friends I’ve made here once said to me, “I feel like I’ve met you in your winter, and I’m just praying that God will let me see the glory that’s going to come with the spring.” Another friend said I was one “acquainted with sorrow,” and I don’t know how you could live at the Village and not be: when you come to love men and women who have endured such trauma, who continue to battle addictions or labor under mental illness or wonder what has happened to the children they lost. To be acquainted with sorrow – to walk daily by the graves of neighbors who once shared your meals and told you stories, to be the one who calls 911 and says, “No, they’re not breathing. No, no, they’re cold to touch.”

Even so, there has been so much goodness. Meaningful work among amazing people. Laughter around campfires, drum circles and hymn-sings, work together in gardens and workshops. Growing cotton and hearing stories about what it meant to grow it and pick it years ago. Dancing at weddings and chasing errant donkeys and welcoming guests. So many walks, so many meals, so much celebration. When I take my baby on a walk through the Village, she comes back home covered in rose petals our neighbors have sprinkled over her. And do you remember Michael, the homeless man who wanted a friend to watch a movie with him? So many times, year after year, I’ve thought to myself, “I could have brought Michael here. He could have been at home, and we would be home alongside him.”

Indeed, it was the goodness, much more than the sorrows, that made us realize God wasn’t calling us to stay at the Village forever. My time here has convinced me that radical hospitality is not a special call given to some Christians, but one of the hallmarks of God’s people.  I have also learned, in a thousand large and small ways, that extending this hospitality requires participation in a robust, resilient, complex, dynamic household of faith. Our churches ought to be such communities, but how can they be, when their members only see each other once or twice a week? We need households that shape our everyday life, allowing us to welcome someone not only to Sunday worship, but to Monday supper and Wednesday work and Friday movie nights.

And so, in the summer of 2017, we began inviting others into prayer and conversation about establishing such a household. We called this project “the Abbey,” because we wanted to create a community rooted in rhythms of prayer and work, just as the first monastic abbeys in England were. In the months that followed, two families, in particular, began to dream and plan with us about what this might mean.

These conversations were the reason, in early 2018, that Steven left the staff of Mobile Loaves & Fishes so that he could move back into farming with the poor – the call that led him to work with MLF and help establish the Village in the first place. Additionally, each of the three “abbey” families had at least one member who felt called to farming in some way. Rooting our work in farming made sense as we sought both the ministry and the economic foundations for our community.

This move first took Steven to the Multicultural Refugee Coalition, where he helped establish New Leaf Agriculture, a farming program for refugees who have settled in Austin. Steven was hired to get the program off the ground, and by the time it was well-established, we knew that we were pregnant again, and began praying for something full time (MRC had been a ¾-time position) to provide more margin as we prepared for the baby (and with the baby, a shift to either part-time work or resigning for me). That full-time role came in the form of a position with a research farm associated with Texas A&M. This enormous farm primarily grows commodity crops, but Steven was hired to develop a market garden – in other words, he would grow vegetables on about 5 acres, and find markets to sell them. I welcomed this as such good news – we had just finished paying off Steven’s student loans earlier in the year, and now we would have a season of two full time incomes to save towards land for the abbey’s own farm down the road.

This position, however, did not last long. Steven’s training and experience is in organic farming, and when he was hired the research farm agreed to let him grow half of his program by conventional meals (i.e. with pesticides) and half organically. As time went by, however, and Steven began to ask to grow all organically. His boss felt that he was not supportive enough of the farm’s culture, and fired him.

For me, this was a devastating blow. The two months Steven was with the research farm had been the first time I’d felt at ease financially for our entire marriage. I was incredibly angry and embarrassed. To be honest, I still don’t understand why God opened up that position and then took it away – I don’t have a tidy way to fit it into the story God is telling.

Perhaps losing the job was “a severe mercy,” for while it would have been a steady income, there was no way to make it a site for ministry. Losing it provoked us to do the thing that had seemed years down the road – begin a farm specifically for the abbey, which could serve to connect the abbey families, central Texas churches, and the poor among us.  Just as Steven’s job with the research farm ended, a friend who owned land northeast of Austin offered to let us farm some of his land rent-free. And so, we took our savings and started a farm. I wish I could say I did this boldly and with great faith, but in fact I was terrified and angry that we were starting it just as I was preparing to give birth. I loved the idea of the farm and the abbey dream it was advancing, but in my flesh I simply wanted security and stability as I made a nest for our daughter.

Despite my misgivings, the farm began with a beautiful service of prayer and blessing, as we shared with our friends our hopes for the farm – we hoped that it would be the foundation of the abbey – a community of prayer, creativity, and stewardship that can empower its members to extend radical welcome to guests of all kinds.

The farm bore fruit in community quickly. All three abbey households were deeply engaged, churches sent volunteer groups, and when we announced that we would be selling our produce through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscription model, the response was strong and steady. If all went well, the next steps would be finding a way to physically move our households and the farms to the same location, and to find how the farm could serve as a ministry to the poor.

The search for a place to grow, live, and welcome has had many chapters, possibilities, hopes, disappointments, and variations. I won’t try to summarize them all, but after lots of prayer, listening, and exploration, the doors seem to be opening for land and ministry in San Marcos. In fact, we have the possibility to move the farm to a piece of land that would be incredibly well situated to be a ministry to underprivileged populations in San Marcos. In the not-too-distant future, it could also be a place where we could establish housing for a community made up of rich and poor alike, carrying what we’ve learned at Community First! into a new city and new season.

As we’ve sought the farm’s new home, we put the CSA on pause at the end of the spring semester, and Steven has been working miscellaneous jobs (mostly landscaping) in between caring for the baby (on the days I’m in the office) and working on proposals for this (hopefully) next season of farm-community-ministry. It’s been an exhilarating season, but also an exhausting one. Money is incredibly tight as we live on my part-time earnings. Both our cars died in the first three months of the year, and we’ve been driving a friend’s loaner car (bless them!) for months. However, soon we’ll need to buy our own car, which means taking on a monthly payment.

Through all this, God has provided everything we need, right on time. We didn’t need to purchase a single thing for the baby, as our beloved community at the Village and our church surrounded and supported us. Friends have sent financial support, telling us they believe in the ministry of home we are trying to establish. We are living on God’s manna economy, rejoicing in our daily bread and praying for faith to believe that tomorrow’s bread is safe in His keeping.

Throughout this journey, there have been many times that I’ve bellowed at God, “I don’t want to start a whole community! I just want a home where I can raise my babies and welcome others. I just want tranquility.” And then I remember all the missions lessons of my childhood. We learned about “foreign missionaries” who were called to preach the Gospel overseas, and “home missionaries” who embodied that good news on their native soil. “Home missionary” is a wonderful paradox – one who is sent home, or perhaps, one whose call is to bring the gospel home. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “…to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house… And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt.”

And that’s where we are, beloved: in a hopeful, liminal, exhausting, thrilling season. I pray with all my might that soon, very soon, we’ll have a way to invite you to join us in it.

Ever homeward,

Bethany

P.S. Ways to Pray

Ask that God would provide us with a good car at a fair price. Ask, if it is His will, that someone might feel led to give us a car.

Ask for God’s continued guidance and protection as we look to establish the ministry of the abbey in San Marcos. Thank God for the influential partners He has already sent us, and pray that we would be faithful, grateful, and humble as we move forward.

Ask that God would give us wisdom about when to move from Community First! to San Marcos. Moving would allow Steven to invest more fully in re-establishing the farm and beginning to lay the foundations for the community and ministry, but it would mean that I would be commuting an hour back to the Village twice a week for work.

Pray that the Holy Spirit would go ahead of us as we prepare to formalize the farm ministry as a non-profit and begin fundraising for its budget. In particular, for Steven to really dive into this work, he needs a full-time income.  Ask that God who help us know how to invite as financial partners in this work, and that they would be empowered not only with their money, but with their hearts and minds as well.

Pray for prudence, generosity, and clarity. I’ve been heavy-hearted and discouraged for much of 2019, and I want to enter our next season with courage and joy.

Continue to pray for Community First! and all that is happening here. As we prepare to move, I am already grieving the loss of daily community here, especially for our daughter. Ask that our departure would be a sending out, and that my continued role on staff would keep us deeply connected to the life and work of the Village.

 

 

 

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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. 

easter

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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Uncategorized

On (not) hating home

“I hate living in this RV.”

I am ashamed of how many times I’ve said those words in the last six months. Once, I was the girl who cultivated contentment in any circumstances, who cheerfully made a place for herself wherever she was. And when I felt unhappy or deprived, at least I kept my complaints to myself.

Throughout my engagement, I had plenty of time to prepare for life in a smaller space, but I didn’t trouble myself much about it: after all, I’d lived in tiny dorm rooms, garage apartments, guest bedrooms, and little apartments for most of my twenties. An RV couldn’t be so very different, I thought.

Perhaps if I’d gone straight from one of those tiny garrets to the RV, I wouldn’t have minded so much. Instead, I came from a house that I loved, and my grief for that beautiful building poisoned my efforts to set up housekeeping here. Hardwood floors, nearly a century old, high windows and ancient trees — this was my “Beth-Haven” cottage, and I cherished it.

Three years ago, I was just days away from making a bid on that house, and in preparation for that enormous choice, I made a list of my “dreams of home.” These dreams included prayers of blessing, dancing, keeping Sabbaths with others, a thriving garden, practicing traditional skills and crafts with others, and celebrating holidays. God answered those prayers for Beth-Haven through the wonderful friends, neighbors, and students he brought me there.

Rather than renewing grief, reading through the list convicted me for my attitude toward our little home-on-wheels. All those dreams have been true here, too — in fact, being married to a loving, silly, wise farmer-man, I’ve done a great deal more dancing and gardening than I ever did in Alabama.

God gave me the home I prayed for three years ago. In truth, he’s enlarged it, first by giving me a husband, and then by settling us here at the Community First! Village. However, I let our RV become an emblem for all that frightened me in this new life: my fears of instability, my anxiety about the future of my vocation, about my family’s judgement of my decision, about the ability of Steven and me to live into a common work and calling, and even the inevitable loneliness and bewilderment of coming to a new city.

That sour symbolism has made me blind to so much that is good and beautiful, not just at the Village, but within our very walls. I’ve missed what a light-filled place it is, full of windows, with high, bright ceiling to give a sense of space and rest. I’ve ignored the happy rug, the snug armchair, and the many household gifts we received for our wedding. I’ve missed the ingenious cupboards and clever nooks, the open floor plan that makes it possible to cook and talk with guests at the same time. I’ve failed to give thanks for the screen door and the ash juniper that fills our western windows, for the pretty floors and the amazing bed — so deep and soft I sleep well every night.

This RV is my home: in it I’ve spent the first months of my marriage; I’ve celebrated Saint Nicholas Day with friends and neighbors; I’ve had friends come to tea; I’ve sewn church vestments and woven kitchen towels; I’ve written stories and read holy words; I’ve prayed in the morning and danced in the afternoon. I’ve cooked so many meals with food from our garden, meat from nearby farms. I’ve sung along to Johnny Cash’s hymns, looked up to see my husband grinning at me and singing along. From this place, I’ve walked to worship and work with the others God has called here. In these rooms, I’ve dreamed of herbs and flowers,  of children, and students, and building a long, fruitful life.

As it so often happens, love, and patience, and beauty are teaching me to repent. I have said that I hate living in this RV, but I was lying to myself and slandering what God has provided. For He has given, as he always does, a home.

 

 

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Taking hold of hope

 

Advent is a girl in a purple skirt, her face homelike and strange. I knew her once, you think. Maybe she’s the kid who used the live around the corner? Or what about the girl you almost asked to dance that night long ago?

Advent is a girl who never grins or giggles, but her eyes are bright. Nails clipped short, those hands say she works hard, while the line of her mouth–so nearly a smile–makes you want to ask, like a child, that she tell you a story.

You’ve seen her sisters, too: up north they clear snow-blocked sidewalks by night, and sneak into homes where the furnace has gone out, kindling fires to warm the sleepers. Here in Texas, Advent keeps a candle in her pocket, matches ready. Lit, it smells of southernwood and orange rind.

When Advent comes to visit, she will be stern to see your house in disarray, so much dust on the floor. Ashamed, you’ll fumble for the broom, only to see she has it in hand already. Humming, she drives the dirt from your rooms and helps you put the house aright.

After the work, you’ll sit together and she’ll tell tales you haven’t heard in years. If you fret over all that must still be done, she’ll take your hand and say, “Enough,” and call you back with a cup of spiced wine. (Did you even notice, as you cleaned, that she had set it to simmer on your stove?)

You invite her to the Christmas party, and she agrees, but only out of courtesy. The fête is glamorous, tinseled and triumphant, but you lose sight of the girl in the merry bustle. Someone says they saw her outside, candle lit, watching the sunset.

And so you run. Run to the door — can you catch a glimpse of her light? Forget the gaudy gladness inside: run and find that girl, whose name you now recall. Run, along the roads she’s cleared for you, run with a heart made warm by her wine. She’s gone on ahead, but she wants you to come. Run after Advent, take hold of her hand. Take hold of Hope.

 

 

 

 

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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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faith, Uncategorized

Waiting on the Word

 

I have not been silent these last few weeks, though I have not written much. My words have been spent through early hours and late, with old friends, new loves, with my husband and my kin, my neighbors and my God.

…in the kitchen, I’ve rolled out countless pie crusts to the rhythm of our tears and tales, pondering together the joyful agony of new covenants: marriages, adoptions, vocations

…in the car, we’ve covered icy miles with hopes and fears for the future, our words blades that makes us strangers again, and  threads that bind and restore

…under the setting sun, I’ve recited the old, best stories of homemaking and creation, learning to believe again as my feet learn the contours of this new, broken ground

…in the morning, we’ve prayed and sang, “O Come, O Come…”

Today, I have no succinct morsel to offer, no pithy conclusion about life or work or the other questions of the hour. Instead, I share with you, today, my poverty: I have spent all my words, and I cannot know what good or harm they have done. I have spent them, and wait to be filled with the full and shattering hope of Advent. I am waiting to write, waiting to speak. I am waiting on the Word.

 

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