Breaking in to Community

Community is an essential part of the parent life.

I love a good redemption story. But I couldn’t have imagined that our house getting burglarized would end up being a good thing.

Well, it wasn’t, actually.

It was scary and violating, made me angry, and tapped into fears I didn’t even know I had. My hus­band, who is sometimes annoyingly able to find the silver lining in things, said that we should be grate­ful the burglars really didn’t take much. He even joked he wasn’t sure if we should be upset or offended our TV wasn’t among the items stolen. (We were the holdouts on one of a few remaining tube televisions. The thing probably weighed 150 pounds, and Jason was actually sad the thieves didn’t haul it off for us!) I think I remarked that it was “too soon”—and that we should go back to being upset.

The break-in occurred during the day, when most of our neighbors were at work. Not that we knew any of our neighbors. We’d just gotten married and bought our first home, a 1930s bungalow in a historic neigh­borhood near downtown Atlanta, a few months before. Our “plan” was to be in the house for maybe four or five years, then move to the ’burbs and start a family. Both sets of parents had warned us about “big city” living—and simply couldn’t understand why we’d want to live in town. The break-in would surely shorten the countdown to the suburbs.

Thankfully, no one was hurt (see, silver lining!) but unfortunately no one was caught, either. Follow­ing this event I went into action mode, as I often do when fear knocks at my heart. I made signs, collected emails of those living on my street, hosted gatherings to get to know neighbors—and formed a Neighbor­hood Watch. At one of those gatherings we met a couple who was also new to the area. Our husbands talked about their mutual interest in beer brewing, and we invited them to our church. Over the months a friendship was forged and they became some of our dearest companions.

Our Oikos community in Atlanta.Eight years later, we’re still living just up the street and Jim, Beth, and their little boy, Torris, have become part of our oikos—our extended family. The guys have formed their own little community of fellow home brewers and enjoy spending time together often brewing beer for special events and weddings for people in our church. Isn’t it just like God to take something awful, unjust, and fear producing—like a break in—and turn it into something good?

The word oikos has been a buzzword among those in my church community for the past few months. We spent much of last year studying Acts and the begin­nings of the early church. The term that best described the connection among related and unrelated members of a close-knit group in those days was the Greek word for family/household. The New Testament is replete with examples of the community coming together to support those in (and outside of) the group. In fact, the spread of the gospel hinged on that type of community forming healthy relationships with each other in order to go out into all the world.

It is oikos—community God initially created in the garden, and reintroduced by Jesus—that has kept my family in the “scary big city,” a family that now has two kids and a dog added to our little (seriously, no storage) home. We know that genuine, life-giving community exists outside of our neighborhood. And, that crime, too, finds its way to the suburbs. It’s just that the family-like friendships we’ve been lucky to find over the past eight years make looking for a bigger house in a better school district a real dilemma.

The little community on the eastside of Atlanta that God had in mind for my family and I is far from perfect. Our oikos, just like most families when they’re honest, doesn’t have it all together. But that’s what I love about us. There is something unusual yet so desirous about doing life with people who are open about their own failures and brokenness, and instead of trying harder, seek to invite God into those spaces. I’ve been a part of the church my entire life, and this is still fresh and appealing to me. My community has taught me about patience, when a “difficult” neighbor’s tree fell on our house and totaled our two cars (and kindness when they patched our roof so we could stay on vacation when this happened!) I’ve expe­rienced real, abiding love during seasons of deep grief, and learned about celebration and generosity from them when they brought meals to our home when our children were born. I have true friends who love me enough to challenge me, and speak truth into my life and heart when I need it, but don’t want to hear it.

These people, my community, have shown me how to love my neighbor by being my neighbor.

In the commentary of my Bible there’s a note about geography being “as much a part of the spiritual life as theology.” Where I live, who I choose to invite into my home, what school my children attend, all these conditions impact my spiritual formation. So, instead of letting me run for the hills when our house was burglarized and our “plans” didn’t work out God pursued me through my community, to teach me about His love in ways I never could have imagined.

*This article originally appeared in Conversations vol 13.1, Spring 2015.  www.conversationsjournal.com

ALL MY FAVORITE PEOPLE

The musical duo Over the Rhine describes authentic community in their song “Favorite People.”

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other, try to rise above
We are not afraid to admit we are all still beginners
We are all late bloomers when it comes to love

Joannah M. Sadler is the Managing Editor of Conversations Journal, she lives in Atlanta with her family. A licensed marriage and family therapist, she has a small counseling practice at Richmont Graduate University. To continue the conversation with Joannah you can find her at contact@conversationsjournal.com