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This month we began a new mentoring program for our neighborhood teens at North City Church of Christ. Each week, the mentor and mentee have a Bible study together, and the mentee has a memory verse to learn. A couple of days ago, as I was preparing posters of each of the memory verses, this one got my attention:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. –Ephesians 6:13
Stand your ground. I’ve heard that somewhere before. Right. Those recent laws that allow people to shoot potentially harmful people without consequence. So it struck me that this phrase “Stand Your Ground” was right there in my Bible. With some instructions on which weapons to use to stand my ground. Let’s see…
• Belt of Truth
• Breastplate of Righteousness
• Feet ready with the Gospel of Peace
• Shield of Faith
• Helmet of Salvation
• Sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God)
We live in an area where there is no shortage of crime. Just yesterday, an intruder broke our security door’s frame off the bricks of our garage, and stole a bike and lawnmower. We could literally get up in arms, and be ready to blow someone’s head off over a second-hand bike. And by our state’s laws, that would be completely justified. But what, then, would be our witness to the world? Our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, dark powers, and evil forces. (Eph. 6:12)
When our stuff gets taken, it’s frustrating. Not only do we have to replace our mower, but we also have to hire a brick mason to fix our garage. But at the end of the day, it’s just stuff. So I will tighten up the laces on my peace sneakers, and shine my shield of faith, and know my strength is in the Lord, and his mighty power.
Last week at tutoring, my friend Courtney asked me why I live in community. She told me she had read our blog, and could see the things we’re doing in community, but didn’t see on here why we live like this. I thought this was a valid observation that needed to be addressed. Back in December when we celebrated our 5th anniversary of Lotus house living, we made big posters with pictures, memories, and reflections. I had asked all the members, former and present, to answer that same question: Why do/did you live in community? Here are some answers:
Micah (Dec 2008-October 2009; Summer 2010-Summer 2011)
I chose community because it felt like a meaningful thing to do with my life and there was a lot of momentum going that direction with all of us. I was seeking closer friendship but also deeper and genuine experiences that connected to my expanding view of the world and of the gospel at the time.
Stephen (Summer 2013-present)
I had been interested in life in community for a long time. I read a few books when I was in college that pushed me to consider living intentionally with other Christians. I never got over that desire. Over the years I was a part of a couple different efforts to create and sustain Christian community in different places. I first heard about the Lotus House when my friends Alex, Jordan, and Alexis moved in. I had a chance to visit Lotus a few times and even stayed the night in January 2012. When I knew that I was accepting an offer of admission to Saint Louis University I immediately thought about my friends at the Lotus House. I emailed them and, as it turns out, Aaron was just in the process of moving out. I am so grateful that after a discernment meeting I was invited to join life with this community!
Aaron (June 2012-June 2013):
I inquired about joining the community at Lotus House when the priest and family I lived with told me they were moving to Illinois. While it was understood that I would only live in the community for about a year or so until I finished my studies (or got married, as the case turned out), I was drawn by the opportunity to share daily life with others, through meals, work, prayer, and play. This life shared with others is one of the answers to God’s injunction, “it is not good for humans to be alone.” During my sojourn, I received encouragement and support and also felt like I was needed and had a role to fill. It was also a place where my relationship with Ursula was able to flourish. At times, Lotus House was the catalyst for conversations we had about life shared with others, conversations that would ultimately become about family and the life we now share.
Alexis (March 2011-June 2012)
Jordan and I wanted to live in community to transform not just a neighborhood around us but our very hearts. I believe that it’s only when we are pushed to the point of agitation, annoyance, sacrifice, and called out on our sinful habits, that we change who we are. And community allows our character be seen as though it were a chaotic gallery of moods, mistakes, and successes on daily display. In community, the proximity and interconnectedness with other people’s lives does not afford us the abillty to run away or put on a good show. It is easier to see the truth of who we are. We give others permission to poke the areas that are ugly, but also to highlight the gifts that we have. Community is acceptance and challenge. It is more real than any group or club the world has to offer because the individuals around you are constant partners in prayer, coworkers in peace and justice, messengers of the love of Jesus, and friends.
If you have ever visited the Lotus House, you know that we love to cook and eat around here. We like it so much, it’s even part of our covenant- we agree to eat together at least twice weekly. Currently, we have 5 scheduled weekly meals together. Sometimes visitors want to know more about how all these awesome meals come together.
All the house members share chores equally. That means that each week, we all rotate through the jobs of cooking and cleaning. While I only have to cook about once a week, I get to enjoy a home-cooked meal 4 other nights a week. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
It takes a lot of food to feed a household this big. Alden does his part to grow lots of vegetables in the summer. We preserve as much of the excess as possible. We also raise chickens that give us eggs, and occasionally meat. Thirza is the official house shopper, and she brings home cases of goodies from Restaurant Depot and Sam’s. A few months ago, we began receiving food donations. It’s a long food chain that ends up with us [(Growers- Distributors- Stores/Restaurants-unused food to Operation Food Search-West Central Church food pantry-leftovers to North City Church-ministry needs first, church families, then all leftovers go to the Lotus House) even still, Americans waste 40% of the food produced]. We never know what or how much we’ll get, but it kind of feels like manna from heaven. Just like in the summer when we’re putting our ever-abundant tomatoes and summer squash in every dish, we have to get creative with our donation foods. Sometimes we get 15 lbs of phyllo dough, 40 lbs of bananas, 150 individual yogurts, or 12 gallons of buttermilk. It’s a fun experiment to try to use them up in different ways before their quickly approaching expiration.
I can’t talk about food at the Lotus House without giving a shout-out to our favorite cookbook, Simply in Season. It’s divided by seasons and has recipes that use primarily foods that are growing at the same time. At first it was quite a shift to think about food seasonally, but after 5 years of staining the fall section of the cookbook with our butternut orange fingers, it’s hard to think of fruits and vegetables outside of their growing season.
We have been so blessed to have our table over the years filled with good people, lively conversation, and great food.
(PS- Community Dinners are now on Friday nights at 6:30. Come join us!)
About 5 weeks ago, a couple of kids knocked on our door and asked to play with our kids. They had recently moved with their mom into their grandfather’s house across the street from us. Since then, the neighbor kids have been at our house every day. They are sweet children, but I was wondering what was going on at home for them to be here every day. After getting the low-down from another neighbor, I learned that the grandfather had gotten out of jail a few months ago, his son (the kids’ dad) had passed away a few years ago, and the mom has had a rather transient life with her 3 kids, ages 4, 9, & 13.
At first, the mom (I’ll call her N for privacy’s sake) would send the kids over for a cup of sugar, butter, or corn. I felt really neighborly lending a cup a sugar. The first time. By the fourth time, I was feeling like a resentful distribution center. Around that time, two things happened. First, N began to come over to our house too. We began to get to know each other. I learned about how difficult it’s been for her to get a job, and the barriers she has that I completely forget about- no car, no access to the internet, no money for bus tickets, and limited minutes on her phone, plus a 4 year old at home. I also learned that they have been unable to pay their gas bill, and can only heat a couple rooms with space heaters. This is pretty common in our neighborhood, unfortunately. The second eye-opening event happened when Dylan and I read his daily calendar Bible verse. At the very time I was feeling a bit stingy with my commodities, we read Luke 6:35 together which reminded me to “lend, and expect nothing in return.”
Lend and expect nothing. Could anything be more counter to our capitalistic culture? I said the verse over and over in my mind. I have lent many times in our 5 years here, but I think that often I would lend, expect something, and get nothing. And I can’t remember ever getting anything back in all this time. Until now. Quite unexpectedly one day, N’s oldest daughter came over with a big bag of sugar from her mom. I never thought I’d see the sugar that I had given her the week before again. Her kids have eaten dinner here most every night for the last 5 weeks. And, last week, after N got her food stamps, she cooked dinner and invited MY kids over. [I need to explain how extraordinary this is. We’ve lived here for 5 years, and despite our efforts to be good neighbors and hosting neighborhood Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, Alden and I have NEVER been invited to any of our neighbor’s homes for dinner.]
For the last several days, I have been thinking about N’s family and Christmas. She had told me money was tight, so I paid her to help me clean for a few hours before a party. We had good conversation, and I asked her about Christmas gifts for her kids. She said they’d get gifts from their Aunt, but she couldn’t get them anything. I thought about how to be helpful, and so I invited her to shop at our church’s tutoring Christmas store for free, to join us for Christmas Eve lunch, and I’ve bought her kids some gifts. I shared the food donations we receive each week from our church. I tried to embrace lending and expecting nothing, while all the while trying to be conscious of not making her a charity case.
Yesterday, everything changed for me. There was a beautiful give and take that has completely humbled me. In the afternoon, I took her to get gifts from my church. She invited my kids to dinner for a second time. Her kids needed clean uniforms, so I washed them while my kids ate at her house. She texted me before bringing my kids home that she had a surprise for me. My kids arrived, and my girls jumped around excitedly with silk scarves on their heads. N had braided my daughters’ hair, and lent them scarves to sleep in. For readers who don’t know our family, my children were adopted last year, and they are biracial with lovely curly hair. I’d like to offer some self-justifying excuses at this point, but the fact is sometimes my girls’ hair is a mess. N saw that their hair needed help, and she just did it. But let me just tell you, as my excited girls are hopping around, I feel humiliated. I feel like she didn’t think I was taking care of my kids. I feel like she thought I wasn’t doing a good job. I feel like I probably have made her feel numerous times.
I realized in those moments that to help someone assumes you know better than them. And, no matter how hard I try when I help someone, no matter how much they may need it, it puts them in a humbling, or more likely humiliating, position.
N told me last week that she thought being around our family was good for her kids, and maybe it would be good for her too. She said “it may not be anything you do, or say, but just being around you will help me get myself together.” While I was grateful for her words, I am beginning to wonder that maybe being around her is good for me too. And maybe I’ll get myself together too and learn how to give and receive better.
We’ve been a little absent on the blog for the month of September. So I’ll use this blog post to catch all of you lovely readers up.
With a house full of students, September brings the annual adjustments to getting back in the swing of things. Our youngest students, Desiree (5th), Destiny (4th), & Dylan (1st) returned for their second year at Northside Community School, a neighborhood charter school. Stephen began his first year in the Theology doctoral program at SLU. Alden is diligently working on his dissertation, which hopefully will be in its final draft by the end of the month (fingers crossed!), and teaches courses in Latin and Theology.
September also brings the new start of our tutoring program. North City Church of Christ hosts a weekly night of tutoring for neighborhood kids, which I have the pleasure of directing. All of our house members participate- Alden & Stephen teach the teen Bible class, Daniel & Will teach the teens money management, and Thirza teaches Bible class for the younger kids. And of course, our kids participate by being star students (most) every week. The program has grown to include all grades, and additional children. We had 35 kids for our second session, and I expect it’ll grow a bit bigger. We have been blessed with our 4th year volunteers from LeClaire Christian Church, and new volunteers from Ferguson Heights Church of Christ and Maryland Heights Church of Christ.
Last Friday night, we had a wonderful time of celebration and fellowship. Kyle Schenkewitz, a community dinner regular of nearly 5 years, successfully defended his dissertation last week. And, former housemates and dear friends, Jordan and Alexis Wood, were in town for a conference. We had a great dinner together and fantastic late night conversations.
At the end of September, we will welcome our newest community member, Scott Nelson. Scott became a consistent diner at our community meals several months ago. We have enjoyed getting to know him, and were happy when he expressed an interest in joining us. After a period of discussion and discernment, all parties agreed that it would be a good fit. You can look forward to hearing a new and thoughtful voice on our blog!
(I saw this slogan “Doing Good in the ‘Hood” on an urban farm flyer once. It’s catchy, and I like it.)
As part of our covenant life, we agree to serve together once weekly. Our service for the last 3 years has been focused on the youth programs at North City Church of Christ. In the school year, we work with around 35 kids, grades K-8. We work on strengthening skills in math and reading, have a Bible class, and share dinner together. We also have an enrichment/life skill class each semester. Leclaire Christian Church in Edwardsville, IL brings around 10 wonderfully dedicated adults each week to assist in the program. (Our neighborhood has not only the lowest literacy rates in St. Louis, but in the entire state of Missouri. Here’s an interesting study. Many of the children we tutor are below grade level, and several have an Individualized Education Plan.)
In the summer, we have a program that lasts 3 to 6 weeks, depending on volunteer availability. This year we had groups from Tennessee and Texas prepare classes for the program. Like tutoring, we learn Bible stories and songs, play together, and eat together. This summer we had a total of 82 kids enrolled, and most days 55+ attended.
To round out the summer and gear up for school, our church hosted a Back to School Store today. The children earn “bucks” based on their attendance and behavior in the program, and get to shop for supplies accordingly. In less than an hour and half, nearly 60 children had filled their new backpacks with the supplies they will need for the upcoming school year. McKnight Crossings Church of Christ and other Christians donated many of the supplies.
Sometimes people ask us why we live here (in the ‘hood) and work with an inner city church. The simplest answer is that we want to be good neighbors. When we call places in a derogatory way ‘The Hood’, I think we are forgetting that hood is short for NEIGHBORhood. Our experience here has shown us that the Neighbor hasn’t been taken out, not in this Hood anyway. The people who live around us have been hands down the best neighbors we’ve ever had. When my daughter fell off her bike yesterday, I came outside to see our dear neighbor Jan hugging Destiny to help her calm down. We are simply trying to mirror our neighbors in their kindness, acceptance, and hospitality.
I have been blessed to have a loving, caring mother all 28 years of my life. My mom loves me unconditionally and is no doubt my biggest fan. She believes in me and encourages me. She taught me how to be a mom. On this Mother’s Day, as all my other Mother’s Days, I think of my gratitude and indebtedness to her. However, I also am thinking about the many others who don’t feel happy today.
Last year was a really hard Mother’s Day for me. It happened to fall the day before the court date which potentially decided our future. We had fallen in love with three beautiful foster children, and their birth mother’s rights were set to be determined the falling day. I longed to be their forever mother, but that longing couldn’t make me a mother. It was completely out of my control. I am so grateful that those three children did become my forever children, and that today we celebrate our first Mother’s Day together. I have loved getting their hand made cards and crafts.
Six years ago, we lived in Honduras at a boys’ orphanage. There was a big celebration at the local school. I was the sole white face in the crowd, but I proudly represented “Mom” for nearly 30 boys. A year later, we took in a teenage boy whose family was homeless. Once again, I found myself being Mom for a child not my own. While I believe that all these boys were grateful for someone to come home to, it didn’t take away their pain of not being with their mothers.
Mother’s Day is such a special day to honor our moms and to be honored as a mom, but it’s not a joyful day for everyone. It’s a hard day for so many that have experienced loss or unfulfilled longing. I am sure that as my family celebrates, my children’s minds won’t be far from their birth mothers, nor will they be far from hers. Today, in the midst of my celebrating, I want to be mindful of all the motherless children and the childless mothers.
All of our posts are written by the adult crowd of the Lotus House. However, since May 2012, we have had 3 younger, but very important, members of our house. So, what’s life like here for them? Here are their response to the questions: What is life like in the Lotus House? What is your favorite thing? What is your least favorite thing? [The children typed their responses themselves.]
At the Lotus House we all share our things with each other. We share our money and lots of other things with each other.
My favorite thing is playing with everybody.
My least favorite things is I don’t like that we are always so busy and we don’t get to do lots of things together.
At the Lotus House every morning we pray together at 7:00, that is how I know it is a new day! The Lotus is always filled with joy!
My favorite thing about the Lotus Houses is that there is someone to play with. And there is those chickens to play with. There is my mom, dad, sister, brother, and my aunts and uncles and T-Rex.
My least favorite thing about the lotus is there is not a tree I can climb.
At the Lotus House, we like desserts and my sisters. And I like will. I like uncles and my mom my daddy and Thirza .
My favorite thing is using my time to play with my mommy.
I don’t like going to time out.
Many times in Scripture the importance of having eyes that can see and ears that can hear is stressed. As I reflect on these verses, I consider the times in my life that my vision has been limited. It’s so much easier to see what is there, and not to imagine (or perceive) what could be there, or what is there under the surface.
Our communal life is rooted in the example of the early church in Acts. While we see it in Scripture, it’s sometimes straining on the eyes to see it realized in our life. Certainly four years ago when we formed our home, we couldn’t have foreseen the wonderful things God has done here.
We live in North St. Louis City. Many people discouraged our move here because of the crime, the racial divide, and, honestly, the unknown. For outsiders it’s hard to see the beauty and potential that surrounds this neighborhood. Our neighbors are deeply rooted here; many have spent over 50 years in the same house. Our 100+ year old homes have their challenges, but the architectural beauty is unbeatable. And, most amazing of all, our neighbors (this area is 99% African American) have loved and accepted us in ways that have humbled us. I’m grateful for their eyes that have seen us, despite our whiteness and the horrors of the pre-Civil rights era that they lived through.
Realizing that there can be more to see and imagine, it makes me wonder what else we may be missing because of our limited sight. There has been much talk about guns and violence lately. I wonder, what if Christians took Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence and were consistently pro-life? What could that world look like? What if no babies were aborted and no children aged out of foster care without a permanent Christian family? What if we said no to war, no to taking life in the name of our country? What if we turned the other cheek, and didn’t fear the one that could kill the body but trusted in the One who gives life? What if we loved our enemies in word and deed? What if we acted as if God was the judge and not us for a criminal’s capital punishment? What if we saw the image of God in every person –intruder, terrorist, criminal? Crazy? Perhaps. But, either Jesus was wrong about the whole loving your neighbors/enemies stuff and non-repayment of violence, or it just might work…if only we had eyes to see.
(The following blog is a modified version of an original post on March 26. Because of the uncertain legal nature of our case, our adoption agency recommended that we remove our post and close out our blog until things were settled. We are happy to announce that the adoption is now complete and we can post pictures of our beautiful children!)
Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. Romans 8.23
As a parent of three adopted children (Desiree, age 9; Destiny, age 8; and Dylan, age 6), adoption is never far from my thoughts. Alden and I began the process to become licensed foster-adoptive parents in July 2010. We met our children in March and fell in love, they moved in with us in May, they became legally free for adoption in September, and the court declared us a legal family on December 7 . Adopting from the foster system has been a long and frustrating process that has been filled with risk and uncertainty. However, God brought the five of us together at the right time.
Adoption was our first choice for growing our family. Many times we have been asked by well-meaning loved ones (and even strangers!), “but don’t you want your OWN children?” This is a terribly frustrating question for me. First, it seems to assume some sort of potential superiority of any children naturally born to me. But more than that, it assumes that these children are not my OWN. Now, if you are a stranger reading this, you will not be able to grasp the irony of either of these assumptions since you don’t know my family. Obviously, I think my children are quite wonderful (challenging at times, of course), and that God prepared us to be their parents, and for them to be our children. We knew from the first night we met them that they were our OWN. Our family has meshed and adjusted remarkably well, and I believe that it is a testament to God’s grace and goodness.
Ok, so maybe you are still wondering, Why adoption? Besides our personal experience of working with orphans and underprivileged children and having 7 adopted members of our family, here’s one of our theological reasons. I am reminded of my own personal adoption- not by earthly adoptive parents, but by my Heavenly Father. It is difficult to comprehend that the Creator of the Universe also wants me as His child. He has a Son, but He adopted us and made us joint-heirs with His Son. Then I think of our brother Jesus, who was also adopted- by an earthly father. It’s easy to forget that Joseph wasn’t related to Jesus, but he adopted Him and raised Him as his own. So, it’s kind of like adoption is in our own grafted family tree genes.
I am encouraged by the verses which come immediately after the one above from Romans 8 — the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us in prayer. And most of all, that God works all things together for good.