Community is delicate, deep and coloured.
It moves in currents – wild and tidal.
It grows, like so many living things, to the degree that it is tended.
When I first relocated to Melbourne four years ago, I had one friend.
Blindly, I followed him into a beautiful, messy circle of people with whom I slowly began to show myself.
I found a tiny two-bedroom apartment tucked at the back of a block of apartments, nestled above the trees. My writing desk looked over the mountains, and the bookshelf was half-full.
The home grew as my community did.
At first, I lived alone. The rooms were mostly empty. I was there simply to sleep on the mattress on the floor.
As friends moved in and moved through, the rooms acquired memories, and nuances – characteristics of livability and connection. The light became brighter. The mugs became stained with tea, the air was fresher with the stirring of dust. The home became healthier, as my circle grew and refined, as my identity realigned, as I got the courage to be myself, and my people in turn revealed themselves.
Each housemate brought their lives – both the beautiful assets and the hoarded baggage. I didn’t always appreciate having access to another person’s problems, but the human reflection kept me from assuming that I had none.
I would leave Melbourne for extended periods, but the home remained. Upon returning, the smell was always the same. The little apartment served as a lighthouse, as a shelter, a theatre, a hotel, and a church hall.
In July, I had been there almost four years, when the season changed unexpectedly.
I had started a ministry for artists one year earlier, and had seen it evolve consistently. This was exciting, but it was becoming clear that things were swiftly outgrowing the space I could provide.
Deep between my ribs was this longing to move, to redefine.
The restlessness would not be satiated by a holiday, or rearranging my furniture. I wanted to hit refresh.
My housemate at the time, whom I loved dearly, had a friend interested in my room.
I had wondered for some time about living with a few more people, in intentional spirit-led community, but as the opportune window to move came upon me, I resisted.
I was tired. People were hard.
There is a lot discussed regarding the rigour of marriage and the stress of co-habitation, but little offered to the parallel lifestyle of single people living together as family.
For people of faith, living in community is particularly pointed, because you are invested in the character formation of those beside you. You travel interdependently – including your community in your celebrations, in your mourning, in your verbal processing and your bad hair days.
You are your own tree, but you belong to the forest, and all your beauty and all of your agony contributes to the health of the whole.
Married people at least had a tested process of choosing one another – housemates were often thrown together by convenience, and expected to connect.
Over the past eight years, I had exposed the inner workings of my home, my life, and my heart, time and again. Surely it was enough for God? The process of community could be exhausting, and I was ready for hibernation.
Secretly, I looked for a refuge.
In August, on the way back from a conference in Sydney, I loaded a couple of podcasts and leaned into the flight. My mind drifted, dreaming of tiny one-bedroom apartments.
The first was a sermon about people living and loving together, as one body. How the full measure of Christ could only be experienced in community. That we didn’t just belong to God, we belonged to each other.
I listened, but left the topic there.
Other people needed people. I needed rest.
I closed my eyes, and within a few minutes felt that familiar voice nudge me.
You are created to stand together. It is love that binds you.
Sometimes God’s voice is small, and gentle, and sometimes it presses a nerve on the back of your spine.
This word was urgent, firm.
Three girls. Four rooms. Two bathrooms.
He was describing a house – a place He had already prepared. It was specific.
I wrote it down, as it came. There were strange details – restrictions and directions.
Know that I have space. I have time.
There is a garden. It is for prayer. You need to learn how to tend.
There is a room for prayer. You need to learn how to pray.
There is a room to eat. You need to learn how to cook.
There is a room for sleep. You must rest.
There is a room for the lost. You will find them.
Don’t be scared. There is space. Know the Spirit has you a particular place. Follow.
Charlotte, and someone you will meet.
Be free to love. You’ll see.
August 21. Settled by the 31.
It will work.
I have great plans. Don’t be afraid. Walk out, beloved.
The fire can only get brighter and warmer and bigger, and it is your loving responsibility.
No-one ever said it would be easy.
But they said it would be beautiful.
And you are learning about beauty.
I was convicted, and confronted. My mind ticked the rest of the flight.
All I knew, from that point, was that if this word were true, and I chose to partner with it, I would have a new home in ten days time.
If it were true, I would be living with my friend Charlotte, and a stranger, in a four-bedroom house with a garden. The fourth bedroom would be both a prayer room, and a spare bedroom for people travelling or transitioning.
A year earlier, God had spoken to both Charlotte and myself separately, encouraging us to live together. Out of fear, we both ignored that call, and only found out much later. We were amazed, but determined not to miss His next invitation.
The next morning, after flying home, I messaged her. God confirmed His will to her, and within twenty-four hours she threw all caution to the wind and declared she was in.
We immediately began looking for houses that fit the description in the word, not knowing suburb, or price range. As artists, budget was an obstacle for us.
For a week we sent each other real estate links, went to crowded inspections in our desired suburbs and stared dismally at these ramshackle homes that were being leased for prices we could never afford. It turned out that four bedroom homes were exceptionally difficult to come by anyway, let alone with two bathrooms, a garden, and reasonable rent. The agents suggested we try again in a few months time.
I began to feel a little foolish. It was fine to seek God’s voice, but to think that one intense encounter was necessarily exactly how it would pan out? I was tempted to compromise. We didn’t really need two bathrooms. That was just an indulgent dream of mine. It couldn’t possibly be the 21st – that was scarily soon.
Four days out, I sneakily changed the ‘available’ date on the real estate website to the ‘31st’, just to see what would be on offer. As I went to press ‘search’, Charlotte messaged me.
I am believing with you for the 21st of August.
God had just spoken to her to confirm it. There was no way around it. We had to try until we either failed, or saw His hand.
By Friday, August 19, I was nervous. While I’d seen God act in the eleventh hour before, this seemed a stretch.
I did my ritualistic morning search through real estate websites, scoffing internally while I put in the details.
Available August 21 (a Sunday, no less).
Straight away, a house came up I hadn’t seen before.
It was beautiful. A two-story, front-gardened home, painted in cream and mauve.
It had three bedrooms, two living rooms, two bathrooms, and was the only home we had seen whose availability was listed as August 21. It was impossibly cheap.
Unsure if it would actually fit our needs, I sent off an enquiry, and headed out.
Ten minutes later, I received a phone call from the real estate agent.
This house was listed first thing this morning, and we haven’t got an inspection scheduled until next week. We are heading in to do a condition report, if you meet me there in ten minutes you can inspect it.
Without telling Charlotte, I sped over there with my boyfriend Jonno, who had been helping the search.
The house was a home. Spotless, renovated, air-conditioned and newly carpeted. It had a huge kitchen. The three bedrooms were upstairs, and the second living room downstairs was, in fact, a fourth bedroom.
There was clear split between private life, and community life. It was on a quiet, tree-lined street, close to a train station.
It felt too much, for us. I was intimidated by the thought of trying to fill such a space.
I left messages for Charlotte, nervous. She called back in awe. For two days, God had been telling her that exact suburb, but she was too nervous to relay it. We agreed to submit applications that afternoon.
Two days later, on August 21, we received a call from the agent. The owner was concerned by our lack of finances, and the fact we claimed to be bringing a third housemate, who did not yet exist. He said we could submit more information, but they would be going ahead with the public inspection on the coming Wednesday.
We recognised the resistance as encouragement. Strangely calm, we put out the call to prayer.
Wednesday night, at the arts ministry meeting, I shared the story of the house, and noticed a young woman I’d never met before listening enthusiastically. Her name was Beth.
There was something about her – a hunger for change. She was staying with friends, and waiting on God for a permanent home. I invited her to pray about moving in with us.
The following day, we received a phone call from the agent. He sounded weary.
Well, forty groups turned up to the inspection last night.
Not forty people, forty groups of people.
But, we’ve decided to give it to you.
As it turned out, the soonest they could give us the keys was in a week’s time. August 31st.
After Charlotte and I signed the lease, we went to the house to pray over it. Beth joined us.
The three of us sat in one of the upper rooms as the sun faded. We shared our dreams for the space, and laughed at where they aligned.
We placed our hands on the carpet, and we declared life over it.
In the past three months, The House of Love has grown roots.
It has served as a film set, a university, a dance floor, a retreat, a hostel, a concert hall, a chapel, an art therapy space, a farm, a childcare centre, a counselling office, and most of all, a home.
We’ve had nights where thirty artists have spilled out onto the street, eating the one meal, singing the same song.
We’ve had over ten guests stay with us at different times, while they have visited, transitioned, refocused or healed.
We have found our rhythm, in His rhythm. We have discovered the small things that turn strangers into family members. We have sobbed into one another’s shoulders, danced wildly to bad music, invented recipes and dismantled furniture. We have wrestled through revealing ourselves, and settled on nothing but the whole truth, however it chooses to come out.
God knows when we need space. He understands introversion, and He understands rest.
He does not encourage isolation, but He will give us space.
I have never felt so available to those in my community, and so protected from exhaustion, at the same time.
Yes, love challenges, refines and can even sting. But we are always more together, not less.
I am learning that I cannot truly experience God alone.
The weight of such glory must be borne by more than one.
His very Spirit works in co-operation with itself – creating the crazy, quantum nature of the Trinity.
His will is embodied, as we come together.
We find the person of Love, in the sacred tangibility of our friendships.
We find the height, depth and breadth of Yahweh, as we seek out one another.
These times threaten us with abuses and division, but I believe we have the ability to refute this, and reconcile. We are bound, all of us, as the Imago Dei.
We are the children of a higher love.
You belong to me. I belong to you.