It was September. We had gotten the chance to tell Pastor Josh a little bit about our discernment process, something we really wanted to do before we moved forward, so I finally felt ready to head back to Community First. We loaded up the van and began our 15-hour road trip to Austin.
Our girls knew we were planning to be in Tulsa for our trip. They just didn’t realize we’d only spend one night there. Once we were on the road, we decided it was a good time to start the conversation with them.
We turned down the music, probably Taylor Swift’s most recent album, and told the girls we wanted to talk to them about the rest of our trip. We asked them if they remembered the movie about Community First! Village, we had watched back in May. When we’d come home from the initial tour, we brought back a copy of the documentary that showed the village and how the model for community worked in their unique neighborhood.
The girls immediately remembered. They had loved the documentary and had actually asked to watch it a second time. They loved the stories about the neighbors and Kaylynn particularly liked Alan Graham, one of the co-founders who spoke quite a bit during the film. We told them we were going to actually go visit the Village as a family for most of the trip. They were excited!
Then, we eased into the second part of the conversation, aiming to choose our words carefully.
“We’re actually wondering if the Village could be a good place for our family to live someday. Daddy and I loved our tour so much, and we could picture our family fitting right in. We wonder if God is sort of giving us an invitation to join in what’s happening there in Texas, so we wanted to bring you this time to see it for yourselves.”
I don’t think they quite knew what to say. They were obviously shocked, just as we expected them to be. We continued.
“Sometimes, when we’ve taken a big step in our lives, we’ve had a super strong feeling. It’s sort of in our stomachs, and the feeling tells us to notice something really important happening. When we were at the Village in May, we felt that feeling. Kind of like God was trying to get our attention. Do you know one of the other times we felt that feeling?”
“When?” they said.
“When we felt like God invited us to become foster parents.”
They filled in the rest of the story because we’ve told them how our family had come to be many times.
“You waited for two girls who would be your daughters, so you said no a few times to other kids who needed a home,” Kaylynn said.
“Yep. And when we decided not to have babies come from my belly and to become foster parents instead, that was a big decision. It felt something kind of like this. And when they called asking us about those other kids who also needed a safe home, we felt like we should still wait for two girls.”
“Us!” said Kristin.
“Yep. We waited for you. This might be a time kind of like that. But we don’t know yet. It’s sometimes hard to know what God is saying, but we try to learn to listen.”
They got emotional, and I immediately wanted to clarify. I didn’t want to make them feel like we had to do big, bold things to follow Jesus. Most of my life has just been ordinary acts of obedience. Everyday decisions. Small steps. On a rare occasion, I have gotten a strong sense of God’s leading in order to help me take a leap.
“But you know what, even if it’s an invitation from God, I don’t think he’ll be mad at us if we decide not to move. God’s not like that. He might just be saying it’s a special place that we could be part of. I think he’d still be happy if we stayed in Peoria and kept our same house, our same church, and our same jobs. Either way, whatever we choose, God will be with us and we’ll be together. But we want to decide together, so we want you to see it. You can get to know the neighbors to see what you think, and we’ll talk about it a lot more.”
The conversation went on for quite a while. Kristin put her headphones on to listen to more music and perhaps, check out of such a heavy conversation, but Kaylynn had more emotions she wanted to process and more thoughts to sort through.
She shared how much she’d miss Pastor Josh, Breakfast Club, and our nearby family. She also shared about how neat it would be to live in a village that helps people who used to be homeless. It was, in fact, her dream.
When Kaylynn was in first grade, she was impacted by visiting our local Salvation Army on Christmas morning. That day, we took our Breakfast Club on the road and met our friends where they were staying at the shelter. This was the first time the girls saw where they lived. After we served, Kaylynn got into the car and told us, “I want to open a homeless shelter someday.”
It was out of left field to us, and we just listened as she shared her thoughts. She wanted everyone to have their own room, activities to do, and a swimming pool so they could all have fun together. She thought they needed more there than what she’d seen, and she was pretty determined to make it happen.
Months later, when she was asked by her first grade teacher to draw a picture of what she wanted to be when she grew up, she drew this:
We honestly didn’t know she was still thinking about that idea, but it seemed to be a pretty big deal to her.
For that reason, and many more, we knew that if we decided to make the move, it would be a family calling. We were looking forward to seeing how the girls could fit into the rhythms of village life.
We stopped in Tulsa the first evening to spend time with dear friends, and then traveled on to Austin the next day, with a brief stop for lunch in Waco, because while we were open to the idea of a tiny home, we also love watching those amazing spaces that Chip and Joanna create on Fixer Upper.
We arrived that evening in Austin, and stayed at the Community Inn, one of the micro-business on-site at Community First! where neighbors can work and earn a dignified income.
The inn is made up of tiny homes and RVs that are rentable. People from all over the country (and even the world) can book one through AirBnB. They’re all well-maintained and inviting as they sit at the front entrance of the neighborhood near the outdoor theater. The girls were so excited to spend a few days in our airstream with the booth that turned into a bed!
We spent many hours over the course of those few days getting to know a little bit more about the community. We shared meals and coffee with missionals and heard stories of how they had uniquely been called to live there. We chatted with neighbors at the Farmers Market and at the Community Table. And the girls loved hanging out with the chickens and goats and enjoyed watching Aladdin at the Community Cinema.
We spent time talking with as many people as possible, and especially loved meeting the members of the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Executive Team, a sharp and passionate group of people who were approachable and incredibly humble.
Everywhere we turned, we seemed to encounter hospitable people who were grateful to be part of something so special.
Our girls jumped right in, as we thought they would. One of my favorite qualities both girls share is their ability to connect with all kinds of people. They have spent quite a bit of time around our church’s Breakfast Club ministry, and they’re incredibly friendly, wanting everyone to feel welcome.
Seeing them at Community First, where people aren’t just housed but are welcomed home, Dustin and I felt strongly that this move across the country would be a beautiful experience for our whole family. It would be a way to fulfill dreams that Kaylynn had been carrying in her heart for the last couple of years.
And while Dustin and I were definitely thinking about the ways our gifts and experiences could fit into the fabric of the Village, we were also aware that our girls had their own unique gifts to offer, right now. Those gifts weren’t something they would have to wait to use when they were older.
Instead, we could see their unique personalities – their joy and hospitality and love for people – immediately fitting in and filling gaps. They hugged neighbors they’d just met and introduced themselves to everyone.
But our favorite moments of the trip were probably during the house blessing, when we were able to help welcome a new neighbor, Linda, into her new home. The neighbors gathered to read the house blessing prayers, and our girls handed Linda the traditional housewarming gifts for her RV. Then, we walked to her new home, prayed prayers of blessing, and she welcomed us in. She’d spent four years living on the streets, and she was so happy to finally have a place to rest and call her own. It was beautiful.
Our girls seemed to connect with her right away, and she chatted with us for awhile, sharing that she wasn’t in touch with her family. We didn’t need to hear the whole story to know that when our girls hugged her, just a little bit of healing happened. Their presence mattered, and they offered a gift that none of the adults there could have given – acceptance and love from children.
We spent the rest of our time at the village celebrating Kristin’s birthday and connecting with more missionals. One of the missional families who has four kids (yes, they’re all in a tiny home) helped us celebrate.
They put up balloons and streamers and the kids all played together like they were old friends, running from yard to yard.
As we wrapped up the trip, we felt even more confident that this could be the next step for our family. We could picture our future, and it looked so bright.