We ventured out along the dirt road the meadows near the pecan orchards, back towards the creek and the reknowned Picnic Hill. The roosters had their say amid the chirps and the steady sound of hammers in the hands of a few volunteers from the Fuller Center for Housing. I found myself chasing the little people, lamenting their joie de vivre which often felt more like lack of self-control or obedience. Again, the old question- why can’t they drop everything and obey me? Again, the sharp answer, also a question- why do I need to feel this sort of power over them?
The king created a lovely parting gift- a journal filled with verses, photos, poems, and daily meditations. I longed for the free time to sit down and pore through its pages. Stealing moments and glimpses only to find myself conscious of the way Milla’s shrill shrieking (a new habit) strangled the soft sounds of nature and creation.
The ugliness within- here it comes- the true test of my faith, the way in which I allow myself to feel that the little people grate every available nerve. My hands lay idle, yet filled with the care and nurture, the possibilities of need to which I must continuously tend. I found myself distracted by the barriers within my own heart to accepting the mystery of life. It seems I would prefer it to be a pretty picture that I have designed and painted without any input from Max, Micah, or Milla- a picture of my own making which I can then encourage everyone to admire.
Does it seem silly that I thanked God for their heedlessness and disobedience at that moment when I most wanted them to sit down, plait the grass, and obey?
The little people collecting fallen limbs from the field.
In an effort to make ourselves useful, we picked up fallen tree limbs and branches from the soccer field. Max stacked them around the base of a tree- with Micah and Milla quickly joining him. Then the kids had a contest to see who could snap the largest number of branches into kindling. Watching them break twigs, arguing and laughing, building tiny piles of tinder in a race against each other, even their competition offered a truce of sorts- a moment to stop, breathe, and appreciate the lives we’ve been given to live and love.
After carting a few bags of kindling over the the bonfire pit, Max returned just in time to find Milla crying over a recent foray into a fire-ant hill. Her tiny plump feet were covered in red welts. I made a practical discovery with vast implications for future fire-ant incidents. Iodine, applied heavily with a cottonball, works wonders on fire-ant bites. After an hour, Milla’s welts dried out, removing every trace of the white bumps that characterize a fire ant’s vicious communication. The little things should never cease to fill our hearts with gratitude.
Another source of gratitude came with the development of a more other-regarding awareness. There’s a consciousness that comes from sharing a house with six hard-working interns- a house that is open to us whether we have money to donate $30 a night or not. I found myself watching my voice and its volume, standing to walk into the adjacent room in order to talk to the kids rather than shout across the rooms. By facing them up close, the way in which I communicated also changed- my words and language softened by the tenderness of flesh and proximity.
Alongside this re-humanized way of relating, I was struck by the way in which communal property earned a sort of respect from me that private property rarely evokes. Oddly, it mattered that we put the chairs back in the way we had found them. Knowing that everyone draws water from the same well, we took short showers and shared bathwater to make minimal use of this precious resource. Micah reminded us to turn off the lights and the fan.
We became conscious of our footprints not just on this world from an ecological standpoint but on the lives of others around us. A loud song from our room might keep others awake in the room next door. A yell might jar someone’s prayers. In a community where residents live nearby, there is an implicit understanding that one must honor the humanity and spirit of other persons. The way we express our grievances ripples in circles around us.
That second night at Koinonia, on our starlight walk, all four of us talked about our newly-discovered “spiritual footprints”, or the way in which our spirits impress and affect the world around us through through words, thoughts, and deeds. It was a heady and beautiful revelation, one with which I am still reckoning.
And yet I would lack the honor of this reckoning if it weren’t for the spirited excitement of the little people that share this space under the stars with me. Perhaps this is because the things I think I want are not those which allow my spirit to grow. Instead, the things I want (i.e. peace, silence, obedience, control) encourage spiritual statis, keeping things as they are, exposing me to familiar delights and comforts. Being broken can be beautiful thing.