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Home is Where Love is…

“Home” and “love” sound like simple, sentimental concepts, but in our community we find that both have qualitatively greater substance. Home is not the only house where Alex lived before going away to college or the first place we ever paid rent as a married couples. It’s not the place where Melanie grew up as a child and later returned to birth her second baby. It’s not the house where Jason and Rita started their homegroup or this stepford-esq suburban dwelling where we currently reside.

Home happens because those who dwell together choose Love. Love has a name in our community. Love isn’t some ethereal notion or warm fuzzy feeling. Love is a person, whose name is Jesus Christ. Love is at the center of our thoughts, our movements, our commitments and our decisions.

We often tell our children (and ourselves), “there are only loving or unloving choices”, because Love is a dividing line as much as a unifying force. Love sets boundaries, and those boundaries that keep us safe and healthy can sometimes feel like hate. This reality can often seem unpleasant and difficult for some of us to embrace.

Love is a relationship, it is cultivated in everyday choices to put down an old, self-seeking way to make room for mutual submission and sacred obedience. And it is Love that has built for us this home, our family – 12 strong. A few of us share DNA, but Love is the tie that binds us to one another, transforming us into one embodied unit.

Home is where Love is… just not exactly in the way you might think.

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Baby N.

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Melanie expected another baby girl. She expected to put her little one in the dresses worn by her sisters. She expected to birth at home in NY, in the same room she had birthed Little M. She expected to go into labor at the end of April because her babies have always arrived before her due date. And most significantly, she expected to have Susan by her side.

Susan is Melanie’s midwife, she has cared for Melanie in her most vulnerable moments. Susan has delivered two of Melanie’s daughters, taken emergency appointments when Melanie needed to find care for women who had been victimized by the people who claimed to love them, and she treated Rita in her season of unstoppable bleeding. If you know Melanie, you know her strength. You know it is a sacred thing for her to entrust someone with her body, and even more, to entrust them with her people. Melanie is our matriarch, but when she has reached the end of her capacity as a mother, Susan is the one she calls to help her get the rest of the way.

Melanie’s expectations were upended in February when she knew in her gut that it was time to get on the road. The Lord prompted her to leave for Texas at 34 weeks pregnant. This meant she wouldn’t be in her house, in her room – she would leave that place behind. It meant she would leave Susan behind.

But our strong, protective matriarch is certain of her priorities. Trusting her intuition and obeying the Lord top the list every time.

There was care here for her when she arrived, but as her due date approached the absence of her mothering support systems destabilized her. Her expectations were obliterated and our fearless matriarch felt afraid. Melanie ached to be mothered by the woman she trusted to hold her while she broke herself open(again) to bring a baby boy into the world.

The day before Baby N. was born, she received an encouraging email from a far away friend. “You are capable. You are the mother…let go” it said. Her friend Nikki was able to tap on the mark of Melanie’s hesitation. Emboldened by this actualization, Melanie went into labor and birthed her son. Hope comes from unexpected places: sometimes the ones we leave behind.

Alex B Carpentry LLC

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The son of a carpenter, Alex was taught NOT to pursue a trade. Instead, he was encouraged to get a degree, settle into an office job with good benefits, and work to become a proper provider for his family.

Several years after college, Alex was miserable. Office politics, hours of sitting and long evening commutes cost him more than any job could pay.

After 14 years of varied work experience, he applied for a job with a local builder. In an email, Alex explained that he wasn’t actually the carpenter they were looking for, but he wanted their help to become one! In God’s unique grace, he was hired as an apprentice. Besides learning the trade, Alex drove a dump truck; he shoveled rocks; he mixed concrete by the ton; he commuted 3 hours a day for months on end. Despite these hardships, he was content. He was finally doing work that made him come alive.

From there, God used Alex’s skills and the right acquaintance to secure a lucrative job in the union. The pay was fair, the hours were cushy, and the commute was hardly half an hour. But something was wrong. Toxic community, worse-than-office politics, unhealthy conditions – plus, it’s frustrating to share work that you love with folks who care more about their retirement funds. So, it was easy for him to let go of his position when we left for Texas. He put in for a transfer, but when we arrived, job sites were closed due to COVID and the paperwork was never finalized.

After his son was born in May, Alex knew it was time, at last, to dare and chase one of his dreams. In June of 2020, Alex B Carpentry LLC was born. It was time to celebrate a new kind of birth. He started making cold calls to realtors and interior decorators, he loaded up the family minivan with his tools and bought himself a handful of purple polo shirts.

Why a purple polo? In memory of the many times he wore a purple polo to a New York courthouse and jail, Alex chose a logo and a uniform that support the awareness and prevention of domestic violence.

What’s the best part about being a small business owner? More than the advocacy – more than the integrity in the work – Alex loves the freedom to spend more time with his family.

Baby A.

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Baby A. was born to the Fullerton family in August of 2020, two days after her brother’s 4th birthday. In the weeks leading up to his birthday, Little L. had asked his mama if his baby sister would arrive in time to celebrate with him. When his birthday arrived and Rita was still pregnant, Little L. was definitely disappointed.

After his cake and presents, Jason took him out to have lunch and to choose a gift with the money his grandma had sent. But instead of returning with a new toy, Little L. came home with orange roses to give to his mama. They were still standing tall, with full, open blooms a few day later when Baby A. arrived home from the hospital.

Baby A. was a prayed for baby. Rita prayed very specifically for this baby girl, knowing that having an opportunity to carry and birth her would be a healing experience. And one she hadn’t been prepared for until she began to pray. Rita’s past birth experiences, and much of her upbringing have been traumatic and she has always struggled with embodiment and gender rolls. Carrying Baby A., caring for herself through her pregnancy, having a daughter, this was a significant milestone in her healing journey.

There was a time when being a good daughter/wife/woman meant bowing down to the needs and desires of every man in her life, this was a perspective she carried into her theology. Rita believed that being of service to God was the only way to please Him. That pattern of thinking was disrupted and upended for her a few years ago, and from that time she has done the work to detox, and to deconstruct those ideas. Today if you asked her how to please her Heavenly Father, she will tell you to dance. That is – to be liberated, to be free, like a little girl in a field of flowers, twirling her dress in the sunshine. It was in that prayerful, painful season of dismantling that the Lord confirmed this new perspective.

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 55:12-13

Rita will say that Baby A – like all children – is a gift. But even more, Baby A. is an inheritance of JOY given to her directly by her Father. In a year, Baby A. will learn to walk, then run – and then she’ll dance. We’ll make sure she’s wearing her best twirly skirt – and Little L. will bring the flowers.

Daily Bread

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Meal planning for a family of 11, on a shoestring budget, for kids with severe food sensitivities is like playing Tetris at level 4000. We rely heavily on bulk dry goods to keep our costs down and stretch our fresh produce. Carrots, celery and onions go into a Lentil Soup – then the carrot peels, onion ends and unused celery tips go into a freezer bag to make tomorrow’s broth. Quinoa and beans get salsa and an avocado split 4 ways to make dinner and then tomorrow’s lunch.

We arrived in Texas in early March. Two days later the government ordered all households to shelter in place. This meant the grocery shelves were emptied of rice and beans, eggs, peanut butter and toilet paper. We had traveled 2000 miles with our 5 kids, 2 pregnant bodies, and everything we owned. Before the move we had diligently wrapped the contents of our NY pantry in brown paper, electing not to start from scratch when we arrived. As we unpacked our jars of salt and sugar, and we put our cans of crushed tomatoes on the empty pantry shelves, I blessed the Lord for what felt to me like miraculous provision. Jason found a job running orders for a delivery company and he would cash out his daily $40 to bring home milk and potatoes, if they could be found.

We ate to the very bottom of every supply we’d brought with us, but there was enough to keep us fed until we found our feet and the food supply chain normalized. In those days, especially when I felt deeply hungry, I prayed that the Lord would “give me the food that was needful for me” and He was faithful to answer that prayer.

Now we have found a rhythm. We make most of our foods from scratch, buy in bulk, cook large portions for leftovers. We try to infuse a meal or two each week that we can really look forward to eating. This rhythm, while providing us with some level of predictability, can still feel completely overwhelming. We have built in a weekly respite of simplicity from Friday to Sunday, but food prep fatigue is a real thing. We will continue to share our food prep hacks and highlights, but we are so aware that this is an area of vulnerability for us and many others. We can assure you there will be seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity and want. And we hope to share both. This is our prayer from Proverbs 30:7-9:

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God”

We believe that the Lord will be faithful to respond to our prayer, but if not, He is still good.

Homeschool

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The states of Texas and New York have remarkably varying perspectives on homeschooling. In New York, our school district required regular quarterly reporting, grading and curriculum planning. In Texas, homeschool means providing a “bonafide” education – and I assure you that it is exactly how it sounds. Folks here are wild, they can choose to Unschool, use a Classical Method, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Child-Lead, Eclectic Methods or the like. There is zero reporting. In fact, our school district doesn’t even know that we have 7 children living in our home. And so developing a homeschool approach that works for our community means a trial and error approach for starters.

Each of the four adults is a product of public school education and suffer from the long term effects of pervasive coastal elitism. We like using big words, reading highbrow literature, and having our children practice penmanship. It would be foolish for us to claim that our perspectives on homeschooling are unbiased or objective, and so it’s important that we share the highlights of our homeschool journey with the following caveat: we have by no means arrived or solved the world’s challenges with education. We are still in the process of discovering what it means to educate, we are still unlearning and discerning what systems and information ultimately have value or should be discarded.

We have grouped our 7 children into four grades or developmental stages. We have 2 infants, “the babies”, who primarily require floor time and comfortable napping conditions. We have 2 preschoolers who participate in our morning movement, our daily Bible lesson and will complete a worksheet or two. Both children can write their name. After snack, “the littles” spend a significant portion of the day outside covered in snot and dirt, playing imaginative games and and making weird sound effects. Our two 1st graders and our 4th grader have grade specific language arts and math curriculums we use for one-on-one learning, but they study history collaboratively and science independently according to their interests. “The bigs” also spend a good portion of the day in free play or outside. They also make weird sound effects and seem to enjoy dirt and/or snot.

It is a joy to have the flexibility to accommodate our little learners and make adjustments according to the seasonal needs of our family. We spend a significant amount of our energy on intentional learning and we plan to share our successes and failures here on this platform. So stay tuned…

Celebrating Christmas

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Celebrating is a significant aspect of community living. And when it comes to our perspectives on celebration, our community runs the gamut. For some of us, celebrating can seem trivial and pragmatism is preferred. For others, certain celebrations can be traumatic, or theologically problematic, and therefore celebrating may require that long held traditions be altered. For others, namely our children, celebrating is undoubtedly, absolutely, categorically, fundamentally essential.

For us there is no option to ignore Christmas, there is only an opportunity to handle it responsibly. 2020 was our first December 25th in a shared home on a shared income. We have no church or extended family coming to visit and so the parameters of our seasonal festivities required attentiveness.

We decided to work through a study on Advent called the Jesse Tree. Our “tree” was about 12 inches tall, artificial, and covered in homemade ornaments hung one day at a time. We took out Christmas themed books and we told our children that Santa was mythological. We explained that each child could expect one gift from their parents and one from a family member “secret santa”. We celebrated the “12 Days of Christmas” by taking each afternoon to write a card to each of the 12 members of our community and we fashioned a “Christmas Mailbox” out of an old cardboard box. We planned a holiday menu, we sang carols by firelight, we watched Christmas movies, we hand-made paper decorations, and we took a walk to see the lights in our neighborhood on Christmas Eve.

But on Christmas morning it was our children who caught US by surprise. Instead of demanding that we open our gifts to each other at 6am on Christmas morning, they insisted we start the day as we had through all of Advent, reading scripture and meditating on the first gift given on the very first Christmas. They spoiled us with their cheerful, generous hearts, with their sweet messages, and with their gratitude for the one gift that had been chosen for them. That morning we reaped a harvest of blessings from our little ones and any reluctance we may have had to celebrate with them seemed inconsequential. Ultimately, our first shared Christmas was remarkably charming – the stuff that time-honored Christmas tales are made of.

Top 20 of 2020

The New Year has just begun and we are eager to welcome it and cast off the burdens of the year behind. The New Year is a time for looking forward, setting goals and new beginnings, but before we can do the good work of forging ahead, we must be diligent to labor in reflection. Like Maya Angelou, we have “great respect for the past” and we believe that we are called to be people who remember, acknowledging that there is a great cost for forgetfulness.

2020 is our Origin Story. It’s a year full of firsts. Over the next seven weeks, through the months of January and February, we will retrace the 20 most significant changes and events that were brought to our community in 2020.

As we review 2020, we acknowledge that the greatest joys of our intimate life have been set on a backdrop of a world on fire. We are not unaffected. On the contrary, on the evening of December 31st of 2019 we prayed the words of Psalm 90:12-17. We wrote it in colorful markers and hung it on our refrigerator, knowing we would need them as a resource for the year ahead of us. Here are the words we have prayed to the Lord on repeat in 2020:

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

We believe that as we share with you over the next few weeks, you will see, as we have, that our prayer was answered in both tiny and tremendous ways, time after time after time. And so we bid you to come and see, to come and look at what the Lord has done!