This summer I lived in my friends’ garage. It was both better and more awkward than it probably sounds. (For an explanation of our living situation and other details, you can read my friend Becky’s account of our summer here).
We met them twice before they invited us to move in. We had enough money to rent an apartment, but with our immigration status and our next missionary assignment so uncertain, we didn’t want to be locked in to a lease. Mostly, we were without roots and looking for a reason to be somewhere while we waited. There were several doors that looked like they were about to open, but none opened at that moment when we needed housing.
Accepting the Sells’ invitation felt risky. From the little we knew of them, we liked them. Having lost a lot of friends on this adventure, we didn’t want to strain another friendship to the breaking point before it even started.
We’d lived in community before. We’ve been on the giving and receiving end of long-term hospitality, so we knew what it would cost all of us to do life together.
Most of my hesitation was personal. I’ve been forced to leave a lot of places that were home to me, sometimes at a moment’s notice, sometimes without knowing if we were coming back. So the idea of home is extremely loaded.
Not wanting to wade into those murky waters with strangers, it seemed safer to say, “Thank you, but we can’t accept such a generous offer”. We said that to some dear friends who had also offered their home as a temporary landing spot. After lots of prayer Erik felt compelled to take the Sells up on it. Since he rarely expresses a strong opinion, his insistence overruled my objections.
For years, I had prayed to be like the woman who told Elisha she didn’t need anything, because she had a home among her own people. Watching the sunrise on one of our first mornings at the Sell farm, I sensed God saying, “This is your home, and these are your people.” It was bittersweet. Even then, we knew we couldn’t stay there.
So we began our experiment in community feeling especially vulnerable. All the wounds from the last few years had just been freshly opened. We’d moved 22 times in two years. Now we weren’t just adjusting to a new place, we were adjusting to a new lifestyle. They had rules and routines, their life as a family was structured in a way that made sense for them. They were extremely flexible and didn’t try to impose anything on us. But we were all co-parenting each others’ children, and all the kids (their four and our five) needed consistency.
Every part of all of our lives was suddenly subject to scrutiny, not because we were judging each other, but because we needed to understand in order to better cooperate. Why did we do this that way, at that time of day? Why did we expect this of our children, and not that? Why did Erik fill this role on our marriage while I filled that role?id Erik fill this role on our marriage while I filled that role?It was an intricate dance with thirteen dancers, all improvising, trying not to step on each others’ toes. Sometimes the house hummed like a well-oiled machine. Sometimes the tension was thick until we found a way to slice through it with laughter. It was hard to feel misunderstood and watch our kids grapple with feeling misunderstood. We also hurt for their kids who struggled with their loss of privacy and felt they weren’t being respected. We hurt for Andy and Becky who were navigating difficult life decisions and stressful job changes.
We offended each other, in some cases deeply. One day I was out in the yard building an herb spiral with fieldstones. We’d had a really hard conversation the day before. I remember breaking the rocks that were too big to stack by dashing them against each other, feeling so furious about what had happened, so devastated to be in this position. I swore more that day than ever before or since. Mostly I wept.
In fact, this summer I cried more than ever (which for a hardcore crier is saying a lot). I cried happy tears, tears of white-hot rage, achy grieving tears, you name it.
I also prayed for the Sells like I’ve never prayed for anyone before, and loved their kids like my own. I loved Andy and Becky with a combination of sibling love and best friend love. We became friends and then family in a few very intense months.
Toward the end of our time in their home, our family read the Torah passage about the altar being built of uncut stones. The instructions that the stones used to build the altar shouldn’t be cut with any tools caught my attention.
That’s when it all started coming together. Our summer with the Sells, and what God wants to do in the church overall. God calls us “living stones”. He also envisions us each as a different part of the body of Christ. What’s interesting about the body analogy is that the Bible says every joint supplies what’s needed for health. Not just every member, but every connection between members. Every relationship. It’s the places where we’re connected that supply what’s needed for the body. We’re the stones that He’s fitting together into a living body, into an altar.
The thing is, it’s easy to stack and fit together stones that have been cut with precision instruments. Building the herb spiral’s rocky foundation reminded me that uncut stones are another story.
They’re unruly. Before you can place them, you need to really see and understand each one. They aren’t interchangeable. Some have sharp edges, some are stronger than others. Some need to be shattered before they can be placed.
This is church. Raw, uncut people who are chosen, tried, and fitted together. Rocks with the breath of life breathed into them. Strangers who become family. Family that becomes an altar.
Church is giving airplane rides, making sauerkraut, and doing dishes. It takes miles of toilet paper, several boxes of Kleenex, some late nights and lots of early mornings. Church is finishing each others’ sentences, and it’s also listening without interrupting. Church is the place where you are dashed to pieces, and it’s where you fit.