We're currently living outside the barn.
Yup. We're in a motorhome, living in a barnyard in Newaygo Michigan.
This farm and the barn have no animals however, it's all crops, tools, and equipment.
Which is perfect for what we need as we prep our own creature comforts for Gracie, our motorhome.
But something very strange has been happening over the past couple of days and finally, last night, it all came to a head.
Let me back up a bit.
Just a bit... like 9 years ago!
When Alia was first born we were living in Illinois. A week after she arrived we loaded up our stuff and moved to Holland Michigan. A year later we bought a house in Newaygo Michigan. This was the house Becky was raised in. This is the same house we sold to Becky's brother last year (after leaving the country). This is also the same house we're living near, mooching off of it's water and electricity. (Thanks Mike!)
But we lived 7 years in that house. Added three kiddos to the crew (two were actually born in that house).
A lot of our nuclear family history is still wrapped up in that house and on this land.
But Mike has made the interior and exterior of the house his. It's his bachelor pad, no doubt.
So it's not like we're sad we're not living in that house anymore.
It's about the Community
This house is in the middle of a mile long dirt road. There are only 12 houses on this road and another 8 more on a dead end which spurs off of this road (some of which are just summer cottages). When we first moved here there was some baggage between some of the neighbors and our extended family. It was mostly perceived baggage. So and so didn't like so and so... etc.
I remember that Becky encouraged me to get involved, to get to know the neighbors... and together we made friends with the mostly older families in the neighborhood (one of the 19 houses had kids, the others all are now grandparents or of that similar age).
One time many years ago we had a country version of a block party--a potluck dinner in our garage for the neighborhood.
We've been invited to the kids' baptism open houses, we've been invited over for dinner and we've been asked for help with small projects around our neighbor's properties.
We visited one of the neighbors when she was in the hospital and in general have just stopped to chat whenever we'd bump into them.
We cared for them and about them. We cared but the relationships never went very deeply.
There were occasions when I'd stop by a neighbor's place and chat for 30 minutes and Becky would wonder what happened to me or where I was. Investing in people, looking out for people, being intentional about community isn't necessarily comfortable, or easily fitting into our schedule. But we did it. It was important to us.
A few years ago our family had a change of plans and we decided to hit the road (or the air). We felt bad for leaving the neighborhood, only two of the families are on Facebook, and we knew we'd loose touch with many of the others.
And yet I didn't give it a ton of thought. These were just the neighbors who had no idea what work I did for a living etc. They were people with whom we simply chatted about the weather, or health, or finances, or politics, or just laughed together.
But my eyes were opened up to a whole new aspect of this community this week. And it reflects on community as a whole.
Ron stopped over, Roger stopped over, Dave stopped over, Ken stopped over. Terese and their 3 girls stopped over and also invited the kids over to play. We have interacted with some of the neighbors on Facebook when we thought our kids' bikes were stolen (long story there, but Alia and Thys absentmindedly misplaced their bikes in one of the open barn stalls. -- Hey the state trooper who showed up and walked around didn't find them either!). Yeah this neighborhood is a community.
And we're fully a part of it.
This culminated with a visit to our Amish neighbors last night. "Neighbor" is always an interesting term as I grew up in the city where if someone lives on the next block over they're in the hood but they weren't your neighbors... the neighbors were the 8 houses directly sharing property/street borders with yours. Turns out that here in the country where Becky grew up neighbors are the 12-15 nearest houses, even if they're a mile away!
A visit with the Amish
I'm not 100% sure how it started, but somehow the Bontrager and Kortman families started a great friendship and over the years it has grown. We've had them over for dinner and a campfire. They've had us over a couple times for dinner. Shoot, we've even been to their church with them. I've had many a long, long, long, conversation with Mr Bontrager about God, love, family, differences between the English and Amish communities and so many more things I couldn't put it all in this article. Often times I would be on a 5 minute errand to the neighbors to pick up some eggs and Alvin and I would strike up a conversation and lo and behold Becky would call me 45 minutes later to find out if everything was alright.
It was just one of those friendships. We always had questions for each other, and loved to listen and talk. Doesn't matter the subject we're both very interested.
Becky shares the same with Alvin's wife Ruth. They like to be together and conversation comes easily. They have much in common and enjoy each other's company.
I think it started out by us buying eggs from them. They had posted a sign for eggs, and our chickens weren't producing so we supplemented with eggs from them.
The relationship grew when we asked if we could buy their extra milk. We didn't have enough need for a dairy cow but wanted fresh milk, and so we worked out a deal. Over time we were buying three gallons of milk a week.
We even got to the point where we employed one of their daughters as a house helper. Having her over weekly had a lasting effect on our two families. It tied the heart strings of our families together.
While in the Philippines I received a phone call from Mr. Bontrager.
While in Africa I was able to leave messages on his answering machine.
We never did connect in real time on the phone, but it was still amazing to know that a family of ten kids was praying for us and thinking about us and missing us. (We were missing them too).
So when we moved back to this part of the state earlier this month there was an inevitable joining of the two families for fellowship, for laughter and for food on the horizon.
That happened last night. And there's just something else about sitting on the back porch of a large family house with the rain falling, our littles and their littles running around with the cats and 23 kittens, and the rest of the 18 people gathered around a 13" Macbook Air, looking at pictures of our 6 months of traveling. (Thank you laptop battery makers, we were able to show a couple hours of photos in a house with no electricity!!)
But something happened that I wasn't expecting. I'm used to not talking about our adventures with those who cannot afford it. I'm used to not bragging and not flaunting our lifestyle. But I made an error in my thinking leading up to this evening. I thought they were well traveled, well educated Westerners. Yes they're Amish, but they live in the states... they know what life is like around the world right?
Imagine explaining what flying on an airplane is like. From what the food is like to when you are allowed to remove your seatbelts. And Yes, airplanes have toilets!
Imagine explaining how people look at us when we board an airplane with 4 young children... the eye rolls, the checking for advil in the purses, the "oh my goodness we're not going to sleep on this flight" expressions on their face.
Since you're reading this on a computer I can assume you know a thing or two about these experiences... we don't have to explain them to you.
And we understand explaining this to the kids we met in Smora Michelle, a township outside of Cape Town South Africa... or our neighborhood friends in Southvillia in Davao Philippines. They could never afford to fly.
The Amish are different.
They live in a society flowing with ample cash all around them. In fact the Bontragers are roofers/contractors that are booked out for the next year or more for work. They're making so much money they don't have time to spend it. It's not that they cannot afford to fly. They choose not to.
And they have no idea about the common things we ran into.
But it was sure fun showing them videos of whales in Hermanus and then showing them a picture of the kids standing next to a Southern Right Whale statue and hear the family gasp at how large the whale is. They could not fathom it.
Reflecting on a Great Evening
At the end of the night after many memories were shared and more were made. I sat with Becky inside our 330 sq foot home on wheels and reflected on how blessed we are. Blessed by people who commune with us. Who care about us. Who love us. Even if we seem to have "left" them.
We will see the Bontragers many times over the next couple of months, we're hoping to have them over for dinner and a campfire next week and a tour of Gracie! But we will eventually be leaving here again.
There's some sadness in leaving again. There's real community here, there's the ins and outs of daily life. The picking of strawberries, the talk of Utah and mountains, the laughter of kids being kids and the investment made in dear friends.
Other full time RVing friends of ours the Sosas, commented the other day: "I love that being a full time RVer gives you more opportunities to have so many friendships. This is such an amazing life." and "We are caravan-ing with another family who's been at the same rv park as us for the last 6 months. Coincidentally we're all heading the same way so WHY NOT! Here's to new experiences!" These and many more comments show that we'll be picking up communities and friends as we go...
Shoot we've even developed a community of people living location independent lifestyles, which has connected us to many many more people around the world.
But no matter what, this community is and will be missed.
We have friends in Africa we miss, friends in Grand Rapids we miss, friends in Fremont we miss, friends in Texas we miss, friends in Georgia, Alabama, Kazakstan, The Philippines, Thailand, and pretty much all over the world.
As the world becomes smaller, and more accessible for our children. What will that do to their sense of community?
Earlier in the week Becky shared with me a desire for a larger vision. Traveling is fun, living a lifestyle we always dreamed of is fun... but as followers of Jesus we live for something more than just ourselves and getting everything for ourselves. We live to praise him, to honor him and to love the people he created (by the way, that is every person, yup you... we're here to love on you).
So while being reminded of this community we have here in this neighborhood, I'm being stretched by Becky (and through her by God)... What is the greater vision of our life? Why do we live a life worth blogging about? Are we digital tent makers? Are we a new breed of missionaries? Are we just a selfish, naval-gazing, bragging, family who likes to throw all caution to the wind and do life differently? Clearly, we have more thinking, praying and soul-searching to do.
Life is a Series of Trade Offs.
You choose not to become a high paying yet high stress surgeon... positives and negatives to that choice.
You choose not to work late and go to the kids 3rd soccer match this week, positives and negatives to that choice.
We have chosen (for a season) to travel the world, testing the waters in different communities as we go. There are positives and negatives to that choice.
Last night I cried over one of the negatives. We truly have been involved in these folks' lives for the last number of years, and due to our life choices they love us and we love them. Yet in a few months we'll be shoving off again, making new friends, meeting new people, making new communities.
There are positives and negatives to that choice.
This community will always be here for us to visit and return to. We will not be outsiders, but things will change. And while this isn't the community I desired, or dreampt about living in and sharing life with, this is a community with love.
And I will miss that.
Oh, and the laughter too.
There's something to be said for living in community, something that you don't realize you have until you don't have it , or until you leave and return again. We're fortunate enough to spend a couple of months re-visiting this community. I hope we will be an impact while being here. We've already been impacted.
What community are you apart of? How are you impacting them? How are they impacting you?