Back to Life, Back to Reality: Community First! Village (Part 2)

It was mid-June. I was sitting outside reading a book and watching the girls swim in our pool, my absolute favorite way to spend a summer afternoon. Dustin got home from work and came out to greet us.

“I called Community First today,” he said. 

“What?!” I replied. “What did they say?”

It had been exactly one-month since our tour at Community First! in Austin, and we had settled back into our regular rhythm of life – pastoring our church, Imago Dei, and spending time with our girls soaking up summer break after having completed our first year of homeschooling.

Imago Dei Church – Community Garden

Dustin and I knew that our experience in Austin was a major deal, and the two of us talked about it fairly regularly. But we also knew that we owed it to everyone – ourselves, our girls, our church and our families – to take the process slowly. We wanted to let the impressive experience wear off a bit and return to our normal life. So we kept to the one-month timeline before we made that call.

Of course, I did spend more than a few hours during that month diving deep into the world of Pinterest & Instagram looking at remodeled RVs and dreaming about what it could possibly mean for our family of four to downsize and move 15 hours away to be part of this community.

If I’m honest, it was fairly difficult for me to keep everything to myself. When you have an experience that feels ground-breaking and life-altering, the effects of it don’t just go away by reentering into regular life. I’d find myself wanting to share openly with our close friends (who are also part of our church) but knew it was best to stay quiet and wait.

Our church had been through a huge transition over the last couple of years, and we wanted to give people time to breathe and relax. We wanted to continue to build a strong relationship with our newest co-pastor, Josh, and we wanted to make sure our community was adjusting well to all of the changes. Pastoral transitions are a major deal for some congregations, and our first commitment was to the church we loved.

So instead of sharing with our friends who were part of our church, we decided to begin processing our experience and sharing our behind-the-scenes feelings with a few of the people less connected to our daily life. These friends care about us deeply, know our hearts, and have walked with us through other big decisions and seasons. We knew that sharing with them would be a critical piece of our discernment process. 

I loved those early conversations, and I can remember the initial reactions of pretty much everyone we shared with because there was such consistency in their responses. Whether they were our friends in North Carolina, Oklahoma, or Texas, across the board they listened well, affirmed who we are, and expressed their support of and belief in us. As we told them about the tour, the strong pull we felt toward the Village, and our thoughts since returning home, they didn’t scoff or laugh. They didn’t say we were absolutely ridiculous for considering such a move. Instead, as good friends do, they asked specific, needed questions about what it would mean for our jobs, our girls, our parents, and our church.

So when Dustin came home on that summer afternoon and told me he’d called, I was super antsy to hear what the conversation with Community First was like. I wondered if they’d ever had a family from out-of-state want to come join what they were doing. I wondered if this was something that was even possible for a family of four. I wondered about their structure for missionals, their roles and responsibilities, and the process for figuring out if we were a good fit for the community.

“They told me to email a woman named Nancy who oversees the missional program,” he said. “Now we wait to hear back from her.”

The next day, we heard back from both Ed and Nancy, a married couple who help individuals and couples who desire to begin a discernment process about missional life at CF!V.

Ed emailed back first saying he’d actually spent time in Peoria, having gone to ISU in Bloomington. He was familiar with the area and that immediate connection was unexpected. Later that afternoon, Nancy emailed as well, letting us know she’d love to schedule a time to talk to us over the phone.

Dustin and Ed actually got to talk first and had a great conversation. They chatted about our family, our experience on the tour, and our current ministry at Imago and in Peoria. They talked a little about Breakfast Club, our Sunday morning meal open to those in our local area who are experiencing homelessness. 

I remember listening in on one half of the conversation as Dustin paced around the kitchen. When he hung up the phone, he filled me in on the rest of the details.

It seemed promising and we set up a time for the four of us to talk over the phone. Even in that early phone call, I could so clearly hear their passion for the Village, their love for their neighbors, and their enthusiasm about beginning the discernment process with us. They explained the basics about tiny home life, the adventure of living among the chronically homeless, and the ways their lives had been impacted by this unique community. 

I felt an immediate connection to them and could tell our hearts were similar. I was excited about the possibilities and felt an even deeper sense of calling settling into my heart. I didn’t know such a place could exist. It was not a utopia with perfect processes or perfect people, but it was built on a foundation that seemed carefully crafted and intentionally maintained. Their ideas were so similar to the ways our Breakfast Club ministry had evolved over the years. They focused on relationships with people not transactions and tasks, and they communicated not just a desire to “serve” but to “be with” those who’d been on the streets. This type of language matters deeply to us, and I could hear the authenticity in their words.

So, we began the official discernment process – one that normally lasted anywhere between 9 months to a couple of years. This process was one that all missionals would go through, though ours would be different since we were the first out-of-staters who were seriously interested in engaging the process.

I felt comforted by the length of time they estimated for walking through the process. It gave me confidence that they cared enough to do things well, investing time and resources into finding the right people to be part of this beautiful community they were creating.

So we set up some mile markers. We definitely wanted to go visit again with our girls and planned to go back in September for a week. We wanted to make sure that we could picture our family of four thriving in the environment. Then, Ed and Nancy would come visit us in Peoria for a weekend later in the fall to see what our everyday lives look like. Then, if we were all still feeling good about the process and where God was leading us, we’d visit another time, maybe for a symposium. The symposium at Community First! is a three-day learning opportunity aimed at helping others from around the country understand the heart of not only the Village but the entire organization that birthed it – Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

We now had a plan, a loose one with flexibility, but one that would guide our next steps over the course of many months. I felt a sense of peace knowing that there was no rush for a decision. No need to push or pull on the timeline. We were in no hurry to leave and they were in no hurry to “recruit” us. We seemed to be in agreement that if this was the next step for our family, we’d find alignment along the way. 

Of course, we had some practical details to figure out, especially about when to invite others into our process. We wanted to tell our families what we were thinking about and let our church leaders know as soon as we possibly could – but we didn’t want to jump ahead either. So we continued to hold things loosely – imagining the possibilities for the future while staying available to be engaged and effective in the present. 

We continued to enjoy our family time – spending afternoons by the pool and running lemonade stands in our front yard. We continued to lead our church – organizing events, sitting with people in their joy and pain, navigating the ups and downs of leadership.

A quite profitable lemonade stand

I even started something brand new by coming on staff at FamilyCore as their Foster Parent Recruiter. I am always thinking about ways to strengthen and support the foster care community, and even though I knew it might not be a forever job, I believed it would be worth it to pour my time and energy into an organization that I love.

Our life was still moving forward, even in the waiting, and that’s exactly as we hoped it would be.

And our next step? Preparing to share the Village with our girls when we’d visit again in September.

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