By Daniel Malakowsky
In November of 2013 we got a call from our good friend, Amber E, that an invitation we had given her 6 months prior to join us in living in intentional community to love and serve our neighborhood was something she wanted to embrace. Our plan had been to convert our detached garage into a studio apartment, but our architectural ambitions were ambushed by those pesky zoning laws and city ordinances that forced us to resort to a plan B. That meant more people were needed so we could lease another house in the neighborhood. Fortunately for us our friend and longtime A2Jer, Shannon, was up for the challenge and together with these two women we formed a prayer group and began praying for the space.
God moved and a home opened up just a few houses down and by June of 2014 both gals were there with the hope that the third room would soon be filled with another awesome lady. That hope was met when Carly, an east coast gal moving to Phoenix to teach, decided to join us in this grand adventure of learning of how to love well and do this ‘fullness of life’ thing Jesus talked about. My secret ambition, except it wasn’t secret because I told them all about it, was that these three, single ladies would draw some really godly men and we would hit that critical mass needed to develop the foundations of cultivating long-term change in the community.
I had dreams of outreach and mission, transformational relationships with our neighbors, Bible studies and prayer times that simply allowed our new found friends in the neighborhood to encounter the living hope that we came into the presence of every time we gathered. Well, we never got there. Instead what we found was that we were all in incredibly difficult seasons of transition and finding ourselves anew and that our greatest mission would not be our neighborhood, but how well we stood with and loved one another. Career changes, broken dreams, changing relationships and networks of friends, burnout and fatigue…it seemed like around every corner was another challenge for us to enter into with one another.
On top of that Carly’s mom kept Skyping in and praying with the ladies and apparently God really listens to her prayers. The desires for marriage, for a family, for a shared life with someone who would covenant themselves to them, well that began getting prayed for and within a few weeks it seemed as though each gal was engaging in a new relationship that we all knew was probably ‘it.’ Soon these guys started hanging around and eventually bent their knees with rings in hand, and next thing I know we were planning weddings. Instead of creating an anchor of hope for our neighborhood it seemed as though God had different plans and wanted us rather to be a launching pad into the new seasons he was calling each of these women into.
In January of this year I had the privilege of marrying Amber and her guy, Anthony, an incredible man who has not just blessed Amber, but all of us in the community. A week later I was emceeing (you can call me DJ Danny Dan!) the next wedding as Carly committed her life to Sean, another incredible man who has become a blessing to us. This summer will be the final wedding as Shannon marries another Sean, once more another incredible man (sometimes I jokingly shake my fist at Carly’s mom’s prayer as it was answered really well!).
This past Saturday we watched Amber and Anthony drive off after helping them pack the rest of their things as they had held down our community house after the other gals moved out. I stood with my children playing outside and felt the sadness of knowing that once more we would have to hold open hands towards the Lord in the call to live in committed community in the proximity of our own neighborhood. I couldn’t help but feel grief and sadness knowing that, while community living is a sacrifice and requires work, it is also a blessing that opens your eyes to what is possible in friendship and in Christ.
We have been in this neighborhood for nearly 9 years now and I looked around and wondered has anything even changed since we have been here? Is the neighborhood better because we have been there? How many people have we still not connected to, shared our faith with, and opened our hearts and home too? For a second I wondered openly before the Lord if we had failed him. This was our third attempt to build and cultivate this work in the community and once more we would be on our own again, not a thriving community, but a worn out and tired family that is growing into its own new season with little league, school projects, job transitions, etc.
Then on Easter morning I woke up and while hiding eggs for my children, I remembered. I remembered the friendships and relationships and how God’s love had touched us. I remembered Dan and Jessica, our friends who first invited us into this adventure and whose season was short in this specific work, but whose lives are a blessing to all they encounter. I remembered Amber H and her brief season with us, a critical moment in her own venture into finding herself and eventually her healing as the gift of her story and life is now touching so many lives. I remembered Darlene and her family, her brothers Sammy and Lito, how much fun we had and how we got to stand with each other in a very trying season.
I remembered Anna and the two years she shared our home with us. How the Lord worked in all of us to grow us, to mature us, and to create more fruitful love in each of our lives. I remembered guitar lessons and prayer, hard conversations and shared meals, times of study and times of laughter. I simply remembered.
We love quoting the Proverb that while a man makes his plans, the Lord directs his steps. What I am not sure we love is actually living it. For 9 years I have had my plans for this neighborhood, and for 9 years the Lord has directed our steps. I don’t know what this next step is leading to or where it is going, but I do know I can look back and see his hand in every relationship and every season.
So did we fail? I think that question begs the wrong answer. The work of God is not the success of our programs and assignments. The work of God is the renewal of our heart’s in Christ as we learn to eternally belong to him and one another in love. Remembering has shown me that God has been faithful to produce that ‘success’ in us and all those we have been privileged to share this journey with.
Is our neighborhood the same? No, because we are not the same and neither are those who have taken the risk of joining us in going deep with God and with one another. You can’t always see that change, but you sure can feel it. It rises up from the depths of the soul and impacts every relationship we will have from here on out. It’s a change we carry within us.
As we step into another season of the unknown, we do so with the memory of God’s faithful hand working in and through us. We step into a future that is formed through our past. We step into the unexpected blessings that those directed steps hold. We step with open hands, a gracious and faithful God, and a love we are only now beginning to understand.