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Archive for February, 2009

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

–e.e. cummings

My friend Drew recently posted the following question to his facebook status: “Can we show God’s grace in us without revealing our brokenness? How do we choose how much to show?” He got quite a few responses, and revealed to me that brokenness has been my theme the past few weeks. Since the end of January, two of my friends have passed away, another friend’s house burned to the ground leaving him with only the clothes on his back, and my mother was hospitalized for some heart trouble. Underneath all of that big stuff, the Permaculture Design Course here at Koinonia that I’ve been part of planning for almost a year is going on (which means that my husband Brendan has been unavailable since he’s in class 12 hours a day) and I’m preparing to switch jobs and move offices for the fifth time in three years. The job change and the Permaculture course are both positive events, and even the losses have become redemptive, but still it seems like every time I stand up, I get bowled over by another unexpected tragedy, and more gets added to my to do list.

“So,” you might be asking yourself at this point, “what the heck does all that have to do with revealing brokenness and an e.e. cummings poem? Well, I consider myself to be a pretty intelligent person. And I’m good at a lot of stuff. So when something needs to be done around here I often volunteer to do it. And when I’ve volunteered to be on every team and have to attend every meeting and I have sixteen unfinished projects going and my kids are screaming because I didn’t get dinner ready on time… I stop acting like an intelligent person who’s good at lots of stuff and I begin to behave like a total lunatic.

Lately I’ve been in lunatic mode far too often, yet I’ve also been staying fairly connected with God. Usually the two don’t go hand in hand. So the other day I prayerfully asked “What gives?” and the e.e. cummings poem came as the answer. It seemed to say, “Stop knowing. Just let yourself be wrong. Don’t be afraid to act the fool.”

I had to sit with that one for a few days before the murky waters cleared, and the same day Drew posed his question about brokenness, I began to see my reflection in the surface once again. My life’s calling is growing back into itself like the giant holly tree that my kids love to climb; where the branches cross they begin to fuse, but then they each keep on sending out new growth. I’ve known since I was a little girl that I was called to teach. Some time near the end of college I think I got a call to garden and grow my own food, and to live in community. And then I found myself at Koinonia, being called back to the church that I had abandoned when I moved out of my parents’ home. So, teaching, sustainability, community, church…I realized this week that I’m called by God to live here at Koinonia teaching permaculture and sharing my personal walk with God as I do so. But here’s the catch: I’m also a coyote.

Animal symbology has been an important tool that God has used to communicate with me over the years. I’ve learned valuable lessons from cicadas, vultures and deer to name a few. About a year ago I spent several nights in prayer over the course of a few weeks, and during my prayer times I would hear a pack of coyotes howling and yipping just as I was asking certain questions about my own role here at Koinonia. When I looked up the symbology of coyotes, it all made perfect sense. Here’s one woman’s description of what the coyote has come to represent:

Coyote according to many tribes is the great trickster. He is often fooled and astonished by the outcome of his own pranks. He survives this, then goes onto not learning by his mistakes and makes bigger ones. He denotes both folly and wisdom and the balance of the two. Wisdom is hidden in the foolery. He may have lost the skirmish, but remains unbeaten. Coyote is keeper of magic, teacher and creator… People see their weaknesses in his foolish acts. He helps them to become aware of their silliness and learn from it. Coyote teaches by folly. The message is to see through the actions of self sabotage, laugh at oneself and learn… Trickster of Native American tales often gets duped, but he always rebounds and, at some point, even teaches himself lessons he learns from.

I wondered for a while if I had it in me to live within this symbol, if I could handle acting the fool so that others could learn from my mistakes. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve thrown many temper tantrums out of sheer frustration, but I’ve never been so humbled. I’ve never admitted so many mistakes to so many people as I have in the last year here at Koinonia. I’ve never been so broken.

When I first returned to Christianity, I was given the gift of the 51st Psalm. David wrote this Psalm in his darkest hour, after having a man killed so he could sleep with the man’s wife. In verses 16-17 he addresses God, saying:

16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.

When I think I’ve got it all together, I’m apt to turn away from God and come up with my own plan, limited by my singular vision. But when I’m broken, I’m open to God’s way, and to the broad vision that comes with listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit within me. May my heart remain always open, and when it’s my turn to act the fool in failure may God fill the broken spots so that his light can shine forth to all who are waiting to receive it.

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As most of the world now knows, Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for housing, passed on to the next world this past Tuesday. His death was completely unexpected, as the 74-year-old lived life with a vigor that makes my 30-year-old body feel tired just thinking about it.

For anyone who doesn’t know his story yet, Millard’s life changed drastically when he first visited Koinonia Farm with his family 43 years ago. He had been a successful lawyer and wealthy businessman through his 20’s, but was already veering down a new path when he first set foot on our farm. His marriage was falling apart, and when his wife Linda called for change, the two of them decided to sell everything and set out seeking God’s will for their future. They had no intention of joining a community. They were just traveling through the south. In fact, the story goes that they did not much want to visit Koinonia the day they came, but had an obligation to connect with an old friend.

Well, long story short, they came to Koinonia planning to stay for less than an hour. But they were enticed to stay for lunch (magical things still sometimes happen during community lunch hour!), and after they met Clarence Jordan they stayed for the day. The day turned into a week, then a month…then five years. It seemed that God had some ideas for Millard and Linda the day they drove through Georgia. Conversations between Millard and Clarence opened up the realm of the Holy Spirit to them, and once the inspiration took hold it was impossible to stop. Through their shared vision and through lots of prayerful listening, the idea of Partnership Housing** was born and eventually it grew into Habitat for Humanity International, and continues with the Fuller Center for Housing. Literally millions of lives have been touched by the witness of Habitat and the Fuller Center, and thousands of homes stand as proof that God has a calling for each one of us, if only we would show up and listen to him.

My own life was drastically changed when I went on my first Habitat build during my sophomore year in college. I traveled with a group of students to a small village in Honduras, where we doubled the size of a 13-member household’s living space (from one room to two) and built sidewalks around a one-room school. I had never seen such poverty, nor had I ever met such genuine people as I met on those mountains. After the first day I knew for certain that wherever my path would take me, service to others would have to be the heart of my life’s work.

Now, living in a community that recognizes service as one of our “pillars” of daily life, I sometimes lose sight of that certainty. I sometimes forget that service is my calling. I get wrapped up in the personal dramas as they unfold, get disgruntled and whiny about all the work I have to do…I focus on myself first, and others fade into the background until I forget they are there.

The day that Millard died, a group of Koinonians met with his family to plan the funeral. His wish was to be buried just as Clarence Jordan had been, unenbalmed, in a simple wooden box, without too much fanfare. He would be buried at the same site as Clarence, on Picnic Hill at the edge of one of our pecan orchards. The burial needed to take place within 48 hours of his death, as Georgia laws allow unenbalmed burial within that narrow time frame.

So there was Millard’s family, less than 12 hours after his passing, still not even sure what had caused his untimely demise, sitting in the meeting room in our office planning his funeral. I was in the office that day working, grumbling a bit about the fact that the construction of our new website is so far behind, and as the Fullers walked in I was forced to come out of myself for a moment. I have eaten lunch with Linda in our dining hall, but only know her informally. She looked exhausted, and I knew she had probably not slept all night. I felt like I should hug her or something, offer her some comfort. I half-smiled and said hello, mumbled that I was sorry. And then Linda stopped me in my tracks.

Imagine losing the love of your life, your best friend. Then imagine that their death was completely unexpected. That you had been up all night trying to piece it together, to make sense of it all. That you had struggled to recognize God’s hand and remain faithful, but you were still confused, filled with grief. Whose needs would come first in this situation? A stranger’s? A distant friend? Or your own?

Well, it might seem insignificant, but as Linda Fuller walked into our office to plan her husband’s funeral, she smiled at me and noticed that I had a new haircut (and the last time she saw me was more than a month ago). “Oh, you cut your hair!” she exclaimed and her face lit up for a moment beneath her fatigue, as I was awkwardly mumbling my regrets and sympathy.

My friend Amanda told me later that I had looked so confused by her compliment, and in fact I could not piece together a response. She said I kind of stammered, “wha- wha- what?” and shook my head. I’ve been thinking about that moment every day since, and all I know is, I want to be like Linda Fuller when I grow up. I want to be thinking of other people’s needs before my own so much that I will notice them even in my hour of deepest sorrow. So much that I will ask how they are doing and truly listen to the answer regardless of what is going on with me that day. So much that, if I felt God was calling me to it, I would give up everything familiar to me and set out to seek his will for my life regardless of the outcome, just as the Fullers did when they stumbled upon Koinonia.

Millard’s funeral bore witness to how deeply one person can affect our entire world, and how much God can do through the faith of one believer. Less than 48 hours after his death, hundreds of people gathered from all over the continent at a small farm in rural Georgia to carry out his wishes and lay him to rest. The songs and laughter, shouts of “Amen!” and heartfelt prayers stirred my soul that day. The torch had been passed. God was calling each of us closer to him, giving us a little more of the picture of his calling for Habitat, the Fuller Center, and most importantly for Koinonia.

I’m not the type to imagine the people in heaven looking out over us here on earth. But for some reason, I could just feel the reunion of Millard and Clarence, and I will forever picture them embracing one another with laughter and smiling out over our little demonstration plot. We who live here now are charged with carrying forward the vision of all those who have come before us. We are called to be so faithful that we will follow God’s calling for us, no matter what it takes, that we will follow it without fear and bear witness to his hand in it all.

I don’t know if I will ever get to tell Linda this story, but I will never forget the way that God spoke to me through her that morning. He seemed to be saying, “I love you, you’re mine, and you’re amazing! Stop looking at all that’s wrong in the world. Go make sure that other people know that I love them too!” And it was exactly what I needed to hear.

**You can click on the link for Partnership Housing to read an excellent letter from Clarence Jordan describing the genesis of the idea.

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