An Open Home

An Open Home

It was April of 2010. My fiance and I were roughly two months away from our wedding day, and we were spending the weekend looking at places to stay. Which seems very normal, except we were looking at the lower of a 95-year-old duplex that currently didn’t have a functioning kitchen or electricity, both of which would be fixed before we moved in. In the upper were two single men, and the idea seemed simple: move in to the duplex and build relationships together. Plant gardens in the backyard, share meals, play board games, become like family. It felt like a weird way to start off our marriage, but we said yes to spending the first five years of our shared life together sharing with others as well. Almost a decade later, we’re still here.

The duplex has seen its fair share of change over all these years. One of the men who lived upstairs moved out, and two others have come and gone as well. One of the men got married and we welcomed his spouse into the duplex, and our community shifted again. My husband and I had a child, and we charted the unexpected territory of raising a child in community. We’ve welcomed two long-term roommates into our third bedroom, each moving in for a year or more. With every shift in the inhabitants of our home, we’ve prayerfully sought to welcome each new person with a sense that home and family is not a right to possess and defend, but a resource to share and steward.  

People were made to live with connection and in relationship to one another. In the Genesis poem, God observes humanity—created very good—and says it is not good for the human to be alone. Often, Christians will point to this is as a good reason for people to get married, but I like to pair these words in Genesis with the words of Jesus in Matthew 12, where he snubs his biological family for the chosen family of those who “do the will” of his Father in heaven. What if taking God’s caution that it’s not good for humans to be alone means that we as believers fundamentally shift our idea to thinking of family as, all those who do the will of our Father in heaven? For my spouse and I, we have chosen to orient our household more in line with Matthew 12, in what Dr. David Matzko McCarthy would call an “open model,” welcoming guests not only for dinner and game nights, but to live with and become as much or as little a part of our family as they choose.

The particularities of this approach move and shift over time, the same way our household itself shifts. Before our daughter was born, the inhabitants of both parts of the duplex naturally gathered together after work more evenings than not. Shared dinners would stretch into late nights playing games and laughing ourselves silly. During the years when our daughter was an infant and toddler, it meant we necessarily were a bit more limited in the amount of time we spent with our upstairs neighbors. Rather than extending hospitality, we became the recipients of it more often than not, welcoming the help and care of our neighbors and friends in caring for our young child.

Now, as our daughter enters school, she has become as much a contributor to our community as anyone else. She climbs up the back stairwell to eat snacks and talk with our upstairs neighbor about his day after school. She seeks out the help of our roommate to teach her to sew and crochet. We still gather for meals and game nights and house-wide conversations that stretch late in to the night, but they rise more organically. Pints of ice cream bought and shared after someone has a long day of work; meals planned out after holiday weekends when we’ve all been away too long.

In structuring our lives and our home this way, not only have we learned what it means to love our neighbors better, we have learned to love one another better as well. Our daughter has a more expansive view of the world, and is one of the most generous and compassionate kids I’ve ever met. As we choose to make our home not just ours but a home for anyone who needs it to be that for them; not just our refuge and resting place, but a refuge and rest for anyone who is weary, I find the rest of my life is oriented more toward the commonality of all people as well.

Living in community is a daily, moment-by-moment, embodied reminder that nothing in my life is built for my sake alone, but so that I might be a tangible presence of the grace of God in the life of another. Likewise, living in community reminds me daily that I too need others to care for, teach and provide for me. That I am not self-sufficient. That, like Jack Johnson sang, it’s better when we’re together.


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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