A family photo of our intentional community in Los Angeles, 2012.
A family photo of our intentional community in Los Angeles, 2012.

This morning I jumped into a borrowed car to drive to a borrowed house for a morning of writing.

I am amazed at the generosity of our family at Open Door. In Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton writes, “What else is family, if not a commitment to keep showing up?” (81). Family is certainly that – a commitment to keep showing up in the midst of joy, tragedy, and the mess that is both at once. We keep showing up for each other, even though sometimes things are awkward or frustrating or just plain hard. We keep showing up, because that’s what family is, and it’s worth it – worth it for the times of joy and laughter, and worth it for the depth that comes with a lifelong commitment to a group of people.

Today I am thinking about another piece of family. Family is where we share everything in common.

A week ago, my sister-in-law and her family arrived from Wisconsin for a ten-day visit to our home. We were thrilled and daunted by the thought of four adults and three kids sharing one roof and one bathroom. Where would everybody sleep? Would anybody sleep?

It’s been lovely. We share everything in common – including the cooking and cleaning and caring for the kids. My sister-in-law is watching Everett this morning so that I can write. On Monday Dave and I took the kids so she and her husband could go out for a beer. This afternoon we will share a babysitter so that the four of us can enjoy a meal together.

I was worried about how Everett would feel about sharing toys with his cousin, but they have played beautifully together. We tried to put them to sleep in the same room one night, and they stayed up for hours, playing and laughing and giggling. Yesterday Everett and I had a day at home while they explored Marin County. Everett said to me that afternoon, “Mama, I need a fwiend.” Eight hours apart and he already missed his cousin. Play is far more fun when it is shared.

I think again of our family at Open Door. I think of the borrowed car I drove this morning – on loan for ten days because we can’t fit seven people into our Prius, and Nathan and Martha want their second car to go to good use. Here I sit in Brooke and Steve’s house, drinking their tea, writing at their dining room table, because it’s hard to write in a coffee shop and they’re both at work during the day. Their house is peaceful and inviting. Brooke leaves me snacks.

I remember that Dave and I have taken two weekends away this summer, leaving Everett with families who he knows and loves. We have only lived here a year. Over eight years, we built up a wonderful shared life with an intentional community that became family in Los Angeles, but we have only lived here a year. How is it possible that after just one year, we have found this family? How is it that we share everything in common?

I see two things that make this possible. The first is the generosity of spirit I see in the people we are in family with. There is a sincere desire to follow Jesus through action, and that means living out radical hospitality. This hospitality goes beyond having each other over for dinner – it means inviting each other into our homes, our lives, and our messes. It means listening carefully for the needs of the people around us, and then responding. It means looking at what we have and recognizing our abundance. Everyone has an abundance of something.

The other piece is the harder one. We need to name our needs. First, that requires knowing what they are - we have to admit to ourselves that we are insufficient. I like to be competent and independent, but every time I name my own needs, I feel relief. Saying our needs aloud can be terrifying. What if we admit to what we actually need, and that need still goes unmet? That can happen sometimes. But if we don’t ever say our needs aloud, the chances are a lot slimmer that they will be met.

Sometimes we hope that someone will just happen to offer what we need. We hope that they will notice where we are struggling. We see that as a sign that we are seen and known, and soon we start to use it as a test: if this person really loves me, she will offer me _____. This is dangerous. I do that to Dave – I build up hidden expectations only to be disappointed, when all I needed to do is name the need out loud. Dave loves me well, and wants to love me even better, but he can only do so when I name my needs.

One day Martha mentioned that they were considering reserving a park shelter for their kids’ birthday parties. “Use our yard!” I said. “You’ll have access to a kitchen and a real bathroom, and we would love it.” We were delighted when she said yes. It’s a great excuse for me to pick up the house, and I’ve found that it’s not stressful at all, especially if I leave at the end and give them space to clean up. I don’t have to host, I don’t have to do anything, really, and I can fill a need. But only because Martha named hers.

What do you need?

What is your abundance?