Peach Trees, Pruning, & Closing the Doors...

I’ve been thinking a lot about this peach tree we planted in front of The Yellow House the Spring before we first moved in. Before, when the walls were mostly white and the kitchen was bare. Before, when that old blue lean-to was dilapidating out back and there were nails covering the parking area, busting at least one tire a week. Before the long nights in the living room and the fights in the kitchen when we were growing. It’s been needing pruning for a while now. 

Most of my twenties have been tied up in the same story as that little peach tree, and I’m just now realizing it in this moment. 

I’m writing to share how we are coming to an end of our current manifestation of the intentional Christian community that we’ve been living in and amongst and for these last six years, how we’ve learned God in this place, and how we’re moving forward. 

I, and a couple of friends, were reading a lot of books nearing the end of college written from the experiences of people experimenting with different practices of the Christian faith. The one I was most drawn to was the idea of Intentional Christian Community along the lines of New Monasticism. Pulling from fresh and ancient practices, New Monasticism attempts to apply the shared life and values of old monasticism in the marginalized places of our current world. I was thankful for prompts and a structure for my faith to take action.

New Monasticism was suggesting that my faith in this resurrected Christ had something to say about how I actively fight against racism, how what we plant and grow and eat and recycle matters to God, how covenants to people and place become the anchors that purge us of our desperate self-preservation, how hospitality to the stranger at my door is essential to the Christian story, how contemplation and resistance are the tools we use to fight the evils within and without, how confession and prayer are our paths to freedom, how Matthew 18’s teaching of conflict management is the way we heal, how our money can a should be shared between the needs of the people that we have deliberately relocated to be near, and so much more. I had been offered modern practical applications for my theologically theoretical life. 

No longer was my understanding of and connection to God merely personal. I was beginning to be made aware of how significantly wrapped up my liberation was in my neighbor’s; and how “Lord” was an acknowledgement of God’s story influencing and directing all parts of my life. A veil lifted in a way that I could see the possibility of every act, every decision, every practice being sacred—no longer bound to this dichotomy of “spiritual” and “secular.”Love of God and love of people now had a chance to be holistic within the fertile ground of community. 

This reading and conversation began to be our reading and conversation which began to be our dreaming together. A few friends from college and I were traveling back and forth to Haiti fairly frequently at the time, talking about our futures after school, and wondering how communal living could play out in our own greater lives. Experiencing a small, cross-section of shared life through foreign travel together, we saw the possible fullness and freedom in close living. A bit idealistic, to be sure, but in good ways I think. 

If and as you’ve been following our story since those Haiti trips, you’ll know that it wasn’t long after graduation that we moved into Highland to start the type of intentional community that we’d been reading about. It makes me somewhat nauseous thinking about it now, though maybe nauseous is the wrong word? It makes me weepy. We had zero clue how to do anything, and we learned everything the hard way. 

We didn’t know that these intentional communities frequently experience a bitter-sweet cycle of, as Clarence Jordan puts it, “…forever dying and forever living” in this agonizing “half-born condition.”

We didn’t know that the things we wanted to learn and the ways we wanted to live would not be natural, nor would they be fast, nor would everyone with whom we began learning still be close when the lessons became normal practices. 

We didn’t know that we were trying to force and/or expect stability during one of the most highly transitional times of adult life—our early twenties. 

We didn’t know how to meet our neighbors, or handle conflict, or not consistently kill gardens. 

We didn’t know that what we wanted was a lifestyle and what we were creating was a nonprofit. We didn’t know that nonprofits were expensive and hard to sustain. Or that money is sneaky in its ability to bend our hearts toward the ever-consuming program-speak of how do we keep the lights on

We didn’t know how far we’d come in such a short time, or that we’d ever actually figure a few things out. 

That peach tree stayed bare for exactly three years while I suppose it did the unseen work of root-growing below—amazing that it ever had a chance in this rock hard Louisiana clay. Fruit trees are funny that way, in that there’s no certainty in the waiting. All we could do is check the branches for that slick green inside and monitor the leaves—the small signs of life that let us know even in the hard days, it wasn’t dying. Then one day during morning prayer, we looked out to see our very first deep red peach tucked away into the leaves of this teenaged plant. 

Friends of ours had bought us a house in the neighborhood for which we’d been paying rent for about two years. Two years worth of renovations. Two years of transitioning people in and out as they found jobs, found partners, found themselves. Two years of trial and error programming where we were attempting to take our already-rolling-lives and get them to link up into something that looked shared…block parties, house meetings, living gardens, dying gardens, neighbor cookie drops, letting anyone though the front door who remotely seemed interested in being there. I think looking back now, what I remember of that time is that it was raw, and sweet, and awkward. That it was complex emotionally, simple economically, and that we laughed and cried a lot. 

Once we realized that the transitional nature of a young adult residency wasn’t going to offer the stable nature that an intentional community needs, we decided to create an internship through the Yellow House. 

A couple of us had moved into the surrounding neighborhood and could offer the experience as learning teachers to young adults interns who moved in to follow the curriculum we were creating on the fly. Early twenty-somethings were ripe for this type of opportunity since they were likely to be in transition but still seeking purpose and some sort of new family. We felt that through a covenantal house agreement, 9-months of New Monastic teaching and practice, and heavy mentoring during a time in life that is so full of doubt and often shame and fear, we could offer something meaningful while creating the Body for which we’d moved here. 

By this point, we had joined forces with Community Renewal International who willingly offered their guidance, influence in the neighborhood, and nonprofit status/payroll to Sarah and me (and then eventually Kyle, Chris, and Alex). The enfolding into CRI and the partnership to their Friendship Houses provided us a transformational education that we could have gotten through few other ways. CRI showed us how to become a part of the neighborhood, grafted into its soil and its people. 

What a time of grace these last three years of internship have been. Patience and understanding were offered to our staff as we created by trial and error only. What steep learning curves we survived after covenant breakings and schedule shiftings and program re-directings. What incredible things we were able to have the time and resources to experience in regards to seeing Good News at work in this world. The reality that I am an entirely different person now, largely because of the life that has developed and poured out of 410 Dalzell Street is not, by any stretch, lost on me. 

  • Planting gardens with our hands, fingers in the dirt where our own food grew. 
  • Marching against gun-violence in our neighborhood. 
  • Crossing the Mexico border for an immigration immersion experience. 
  • Standing in Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech location at the Lincoln Memorial. 
  • Writing humanizing letters to people on death row. 
  • Cooking for each other. 
  • Working on neighbors’ homes.
  • Visiting with the elderly shut-ins for hours at a time, laughing at their crude jokes.
  • Learning about and being changed by nonviolence. 
  • Making art.
  • Painting peace murals. 
  • Traveling to Selma and Montgomery and Koinonia Farms in the name of racial reconciliation.
  • Watching the minds turn and the hearts feel again in young adults who have felt hurt by the institutional church. 
  • Hosting block parties, outdoor movies, and house shows.
  • Worshiping and praying together.
  • Seeing fear melt as a 20-something learns that they can trust the good in people, not hate themselves, and add to the beauty of the world through meaningful work. 
  • Asking for forgiveness.
  • Receiving forgiveness.
  • Becoming a part of the house and the neighborhood. 

What a rich, rich existence. 

That sweet tree is taller now, stronger now; and it drops ten to twenty peaches a year. It is a harvest we weren’t always sure would be possible; and yet here we are. 

But fruitful as it is, the leaves and peaches stop about halfway up that skinny spry trunk because it’s sprawling branches have needed a different type of care than we’ve been offering. Stewardship is the next part of the story for this ole girl. 

I’m not sure that I can outline all of the turns that got us to the point where we had to ask if the fruit from our current method of intentional community (the internship) outweighed the cost of it; but we did get there about six months ago. Where we once merely had appreciation for the value of stability in the communal lifestyle, we now recognize our great need for it. And it has become obvious how many levels we have been functioning without stability and therefore without sustainability. In the expenses and finances, in the culture of nonprofit start-up, in the emotional depth of working with multiple young adults, in the physical state of our old and precarious house, in the volatile nature of the neighborhood we’ve chosen to live in and love…we have been wanting for energy for a while with so many things perpetually unpredictable.  

We spent a few months attempting to solve some of these instabilities and concerns in one way or another, only to find our ideas for getting out from under the weight of it all too large, met with resistance, misdirected, or ineffective. It became evident how much was getting lost in the internship because of our sustainability efforts. Furthermore, it became evident how far we had drifted from personally living out the lifestyle of intentional living due to the stress of money and programs. We had become solid teachers and below average practitioners. 

It feels strange and somewhat wrong to cut back a plant when it’s making fruit. Counterproductive and confusing even. But it is necessary for growth of full potential. 

Sarah and I have largely carried the decisions for the Yellow House ever since the rest of our original housemates moved out after that first year and a half. That became official when we were made staff over its internship. This has been one of the most joyful privileges of my life while simultaneously being one of the heaviest pressures, as each direction we discern and choice we make has felt as if it is on behalf of every person that has found home in that place over the last six years. We have been highly attuned to the ripple effect of our discernment processes at all points along the way, knowing that high-schoolers, and coordinators, and former interns, and former residents, and donors, and more have invested in this journey—as goes the interconnected web of building community. 

Because of this wide spread connectedness and the buy-in that has been shared by so many over such a short amount of time, it was never an option to close the doors on the Yellow House’s ministry. This meant that Sarah and I (and our small counsel around us) were constantly attempting to determine option As and option Bs that were leaving us with no peace and ample amounts of anxiety. It did not feel like we could continue doing things as we had been, nor did it feel like we had choices for moving forward that did not do more damage than good. 

Through great amounts of prayer, and over many weeks, it became apparent to us separately and then collectively that maybe the direction we were to follow was in closing down the Yellow House and seeking community in a way that is more integrated into our own homes and lifestyles—as we’d hoped to do when we began looking for a house in Highland back in 2010. We made the decision in early January, with approval from CRI, to finish out this current internship as our final round and close the doors in May 2016. 

We are confident in the peace that we have received and the encouragement/affirmation we have been offered by former housemates and wise counsel. And whereas we cannot count the number of aspects of this program that we will miss with tremendous depth, we are excited about the possibilities of renewed energy and personal practice of intentional living that lay ahead. It is nothing short of a punch in the gut when we think about saying goodbye to the large cold sage green living room, the creaky wooden staircase, and the big welcoming kitchen that have been our village-center for what feels like a lifetime. But whereas once we had a house, we now have multiple homes that can offer the same sort of connectivity and hospitality as this place has for so many. 

Once the Yellow House’s doors have closed, our current interns will relocate (some into our neighborhood), and we will find new employment. We hope to continue having morning prayer in our homes together as well as press on in our learning and applying of new monastic values and covenantal living with the community around us. We ask for your prayers as we work with so many moving parts in the thick of this transition. 

After finding out that the internship would be coming to a close, a current intern shared that he felt like the Yellow House has been like a greenhouse. It has been a place of nurture and growth because so many variables could be controlled in this environment; but greenhouses are to grow seedlings for planting—they are to be temporary. He shared his gratitude for the time he’s had here and his excitement (albeit nervous excitement) in the opportunity to get to plant now. In the opportunity to fully live out what he’s been learning. I thought about how bare the peach tree would look this summer once it’s been pruned, and how extra bare it will look beside a big empty house. But his words gave me hope as I remembered the strange forward, backward, forward rhythm of growing things. This is not the end of that tree’s producing. 

To any of you, all of you, who have had a part in our little experiment in shared life over these last few years, thank you. The residents, the interns, the neighbors, the co-workers, the parents, the churches, the gardeners, the visitors, the other communities, the kids—you’ve been wildly trusting, encouraging, and hopeful friends. We have learned what it means to belong to each other, and that has transformed us in the faith and in our world. We go out differently now; and we stay differently now. Body, family, home, forgiveness, humanity, mercy, vows, community, grace, healing, Church, resurrection, beauty, God…they all have new meaning, more meaning than when we started. There are no words sufficient enough to share the gratitude we have in looking back or the hope we have in looking forward. 

It feels like cutting back and letting breathe all at the same time. I’m hopeful to see what shape this old peach tree—and all the other things planted in this soil on Dalzell—takes in the years ahead.

-Britney Winn Lee

When Faith is Tough (by Joel Davis)

Originally posted on the His Vigorous Heart blog... 

Photo: Joel Davis

Photo: Joel Davis

I’m Nine-ing so hard right now.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it is a personality assessment tool that we have found helpful at the Yellow House to help manage and understand our differences. Essentially, it categorizes 9 primary personality types that people can fall into, along with associated “wings” and periods of health and unhealth that expands and encompasses a wider range of emotional fluidity….whatever, it’s all very mathematical and complex and has already filled up countless hours of conversation in our house, with people who love it and people who are absolutely sick of hearing about it. (I fall somewhere toward the latter, but I do find it fascinating.) 

The Enneagram goes deeper than the Myers-Briggs and other similar tests, looking not only at how we act, but our motivations for doing so. Apparently, this tool stretches all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, developing popularity among the monastics and Eastern Orthodox priests, and is still being used widely today. 

If you’re interested in finding out what number your personality is, here’s the free online test we took

(And send me your answer, because regardless of how much I try to pretend like I’m over it, I’m actually really interested in diagnosing everyone I know.)

When I say I’m Nine-ing, what I jokingly mean is that I’m avoiding conflict and/or stressful situations by pretending they aren’t there slash removing myself from them. As a Nine, one of my primary goals is peacemaking, which often means I put other people’s desires before my own (why create conflict by sharing my opinion when I could just go with the flow?). When I can no longer handle being a doormat, however, my next option is to just disappear.

...I know. It’s not really the most effective way to actually handle stress. Nor is it the most noble. 

But that’s why I have sequestered myself in my room on the third floor, wrapped myself in a blanket, grabbed the nearest book, and crawled into my hammock. (Yes. You read that right. I have a hammock hanging in my bedroom. My house is cooler than your house.)

Sometimes community isn’t easy. Being a house known for its hospitality comes with a lot of expectations and demands, and sometimes you find strangers at your door asking for things you’re not sure you’re comfortable giving them.

Like last month, for example, we were getting ready for bed, when we heard a scream outside and witnessed a woman getting thrown out of a truck by a boyfriend who’d had too much to drink. One of my sweet housemates rushed outside and immediately invited her in. We fixed her some tea, offered her a sandwich, asked her questions, and then, when she excused herself to use our bathroom, we stared at each other with slightly panicked expressions on our faces. It’s 12:30 at night and we have a crying drunk woman in our bathroom who refuses to go home to her abusive boyfriend and can’t find any of her friends willing to take her in for the night. What have we gotten ourselves into?

(Thankfully, we have a wise and intelligent director who lives across the street from us. Don’t worry, Mom; you’d better believe we took this interval to send someone to go pound on her door until she woke up to come rescue us. In return, we gave her coffee.)

Usually, our hospitality is not so drastic in nature. Often, we have neighbors who simply want to come over to shower, to use our laundry machines, to spend the night because their house doesn’t have power. It’s not uncommon for some of the neighborhood kids to stop by our house for a popsicle or a glass of cold water on hot afternoons. 

But then, sometimes, someone drops a bombshell like “I’m a single black woman. I need a place to stay for two weeks. By the way, I have two kids under the age of 2.” And when she’s standing on your doorstep and she’s been your neighbor at the house down the block for several months and her sons are some of the most adorable creatures you’ve ever seen in your entire life, it’s really hard to say no. 

So here we are, having said "Yes" not only to her, but to her children, to her lifestyle, and to all of the excess baggage that goes along with saying yes to anyone in this circumstance.

I wish I could say that all of me was on board with this. I’d like to believe that my house would always be open to anyone in need; that I wouldn’t kick a young family out on the streets. But evidently it’s a lot easier to say those things than it is to live them out. I’m not trying to justify it, but for this introvert, “home” should be a place where I feel safe, comfortable, at peace; where I can relax and not have to be around other people all the time; where I know what is expected of me and know that I am capable of it. 

Photo: Amanda Angers

Photo: Amanda Angers

Reader, pray for us: our oldest is 25, our youngest is 23, and none of us are capably ready to be parents. Yet already we’ve found ourselves taking care of the kids when the mom has had to step out to take a phone call, to smoke, or--inexplicably, one time at 4 in the morning--when the baby was crying with a full diaper and neither the mom or a clean change of clothes were to be found. (It all worked out in the end.)

This life of radical generosity and hospitality that Jesus presented--as much as I wish it was easy or that it came naturally--is a daily struggle. And I think that’s something I needed to be reminded of. I’ve kind of found myself coasting along lately, satisfied that I’m “doing enough” but not really sacrificing anything. And I’ve realized that without putting myself out there like I have, I never would have known that I wasn't putting myself out there before. 

For once, I finally have the opportunity to start practicing the things I believe in (I actually know poor people, homeless people, orphans, widows, and outcasts! I can actually start loving them!), but it’s so much harder than I expected. I used to give myself a free pass and skim over those parts of scripture because “they didn’t apply to me” (read: I didn’t know any of those types of people). 

Then, as I learned more and I began to reexamine those parts of my faith, I found myself believing that I would do those things (if I knew those people), and gave myself a hearty pat on the back, thinking that my mere good thoughts were doing the world a favor: “It’s OK, guys. Joel knows the right answer. If he’s ever tested, he’ll get an A+.” 

But that’s the thing: I was never tested. I never went out of my way to place myself in that circumstance--instead, I carefully constructed my life in such a way that I wouldn't have to deal with “those people.” (I went to a predominantly white church, I stayed away from the “bad” parts of town, I avoided making eye contact with panhandlers.) 

Perhaps you have done the same thing.

Instead of actually following Jesus, I had constructed an entire hypothetical world in my head, in which Joel Davis was a super spiritual person--as if that's the part God cares about: our inner beliefs. In reality, I was just another white American, whose day-to-day life by any practical means of measurement or observation was no different than any other average Joe’s, Christian or not. 

And so now, finally, when the rubber is meeting the road at last...I think it scares me how difficult it is, how easily selfishness and fear and everything else can get in the way, how much we truly do have to rely on Jesus and not our own ability. This whole time I’ve been trying to be a good Christian on my own strength, and for the first time I’m starting to understand how foolish that is. 

I was hoping this blog would have a better conclusion. That I could say something witty or deep or inspiring. But this situation is still happening and it’s still messy and I’m still hiding. 

But don’t worry. We’re taking this one day at a time and we’re figuring out what it really looks like to love well. (And we’ve got amazing people around us who’ve been doing this a lot longer than we have. Praise God for them!)

Why Relocation Matters...

Written by Joel Davis, YH Intern, Originally posted at

Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

The sun beats mercilessly through the windshield as I wind my way through the streets of Highland. Yet again, my arms are not so much glistening as they are dripping with sweat. The seatbelt has already stamped a diagonal wet mark across my chest, and I haven’t even been driving for 5 minutes. It’s a good thing I remembered to stash an extra pair of clothes in my backpack this morning. 

My car has a leak somewhere in the air conditioning system, and none of the windows roll down--so in this Louisiana heat, some days can get pretty miserable. I arrive at the Cedar Grove Friendship House where I volunteer with under resourced high-schoolers every afternoon absolutely drenched, mumble some hello’s, and head straight for the dirty bathroom in the back that never seems to have any paper towels. 

As I stand there trying to wipe off enough sweat to avoid soaking my fresh change of clothes the moment I put them on, it hits me: This isn’t easy. And I’m not just talking about crappy cars or Cajun humidity. When I walk out of that bathroom, I will be face to face with a room full of strangers who are absolutely foreign to me. Everything about them, from their skin color and their taste in music to the streets they grew up on or the way they’re being taught math; it’s totally “other” to my way of life. Just last week, the dad of two of the boys I work with got shot and killed, and that’s unfortunately not uncommon in this city. They were just glad it wasn’t their mother or the man who runs the House where we meet. The funeral was Saturday. 

Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

In the face of so much otherness, it isn’t easy to relate to these kids. It certainly isn’t comfortable. And I know it must not be any easier from their end, either. Here’s this young white guy who’s graduated from college and traveled the world who now tries to help with homework or serves them food but doesn’t usually eat any of it. 

I realize then that the lines are blurred; these poor black 14-year-olds have iPhones and instagram accounts and the latest Nike shoes, but this rich white 24-year old has never owned an Apple product or a new pair of Nikes in his life and drives a car that is about as worthless as a greenhouse on wheels. But at the same time, violence is a norm for them and eating spaghetti with Rotel is apparently some type of delicacy, whereas I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a ten-foot pole and I’ve never been in a legitimate fight in my life. I realize that understanding happens not from perpetuating stereotypes, but through genuine relationships. It’s only when each of us, on both sides, are willing to relocate some part of our being that we are able to find fullness, honesty, and vulnerability in the relationship. 

This idea of relocation has been one of our main themes at the Yellow House. We believe one of the best ways to follow Christ is to relocate (either physically, spiritually, or ideologically) away from ourselves and towards Him. For us, we talk about relocating to the abandoned places of empire; those areas populated by the oppressed, the forgotten, the ones whose voices have been overlooked by the wealthy and powerful in the name of convenience, comfort, and efficiency. 

When we relocate from our perspective of privilege, we are able to love others as Christ loves them. Sometimes that means actually physically selling our things, giving to the poor, and living among them. Other times it merely means being willing to engage an idea that is new or uncomfortable, “relocating” from what we have always been taught. At the Yellow House, we have tried to strike a balance between the two. And what we have found is that by befriending the unloved and listening to their perspectives, we can better determine what it looks like to follow Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Here at Club (that’s what we call our after-school program) it’s especially true. Despite our differences and different-ness, the effort to trust, to know and be known, is being made every day. And I am finding that lines which used to be clearly established dividing black and white (no pun intended?) now appears much more fluid, more grey, and is at times even invisible. By relocating to this space and among these people, I am continually becoming aware of my own prejudices, my own faults, and they’re things I would have remained ignorant of otherwise, if I had remained in my safe, comfortable, rigidly perfect life. 

I don’t want to preach at you, but I feel like the question needs to be asked: How have you relocated your life, your thoughts, or your faith? How are you changing--not for change’s sake itself, but in order to avoid becoming stagnant, and to ensure that you are still growing and bearing good fruit? Maybe this blog (and countless others like it, let’s be real; I don’t think that highly of myself) can be a start. But don’t let mere head knowledge and vicarious living alone convince you into thinking you’re relocating and growing; at some point this information has to reach your lifestyle and your actions have to be changed.

As for me, I will continue to walk in this path of relocation, wherever the road may lead.

Love Never Fails

One of our staff members, Sarah Duet, wrote an article about life in the Yellow House community that was published recently on the Art House America Blog...

"We’re giving ourselves to these things, piece by very tiny piece. But before and amid all of that we’re giving ourselves to God and to each other. We’re relearning that we belong to each other already, that all things and people are connected. We’re creating space where we can remember who we are and whose we are — where we know we’re not alone. We’re learning that some people don’t leave, no matter how much of us they see, and no matter how many times we have to look into the eyes of a heart we just broke and say “I was wrong, I’m sorry, and I love you. Please forgive me.” There are places where we can relearn what it is to be human, what it is to be a family — where we can be restored to wholeness, compassion, and connection. Intentional Christian community is one of those places. The Yellow House, I believe, is one of those places..." Read more.

We love the folks that keep Art House America alive and running. We are, as always, grateful for their influence and for the opportunity to share stories on the blog. If you can take the time, let your day be enriched by reading Sarah's piece and perusing the other good words on their site!

Peace, friends.

Dear Church, Have You Considered...?

April at the Yellow House was our month for focusing on Humble Submission to Christ’s Body, the Church. This is not a month we take lightly, gloss over, or shy away from around here. As a new monastic community, part of our inherent purpose is to learn to be the Body of Christ with these people in this place in such a way that helps to preserve or reawaken parts of the Church's identity that over time may have been forgotten or become distorted. This is obviously no small task, but it's a deeply important one and our little cell of the Body has a small part to play in that preservation and reawakening.

So we practice being the Church we dream of together (aware that only once in a blue moon do we "get it right") submitting ourselves to one another and the God that connects us in love. We read about the history we stand on (see The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle), learning to see the patterns of cause and effect that got us to this moment and thoughtfully considering where the Spirit could be moving in our midst for today and the days coming. And we engage conversation with folks in other cells of the Body, specifically those working within the institutional church...a part of the Body that we love dearly, to which we owe much of our own formation, and for which we have some questions. We commit to thinking critically, but never settling for criticism that isn't hand-in-hand with compassionate creativity.

In one brainstorming session, we sat down to dream up some ideas we'd love to see experimented with in local congregations, and we've shared the shorthand version of that list below. Perhaps these simple bullet points could get our collective wheels turning in some fruitful directions. If anything sparks your curiosity, we'd love to dialogue in the comments section below or via email or face to face if you're looking for some conversation (and coffee...we always have coffee): 

-Creating intergenerational & interracial mentoring relationships

-Prioritizing community members getting to know their neighbors. “Get to know your literal neighbor” charts (idea credit: John Hawkins of Clearview Church, Shreveport)

-Small-group based relational tithe’s

-ECO-FRIENDLY BULLETINS. Biodegradable or electronic bulletins or at the very least recycling bins stationed at churches. OR 4-6week’s worth of information in 1 bulletin which is reused each week. Create weekly e- bulletins and encourage those with smart phones not to grab the hard copies.  

-Mini-experiments in life-together (i.e. 2-week structure retreats that mimic and teach intentional community)

-A system of needs-cards/provision-cards and a way to match them up

-Gleaning rooms for clothes and/or supplies and/or food pantry

-Open-minded Bible studies and discussion forums (not being afraid of controversy)

-Creating/carving out space to grieve and respond to current events/social injustices

-Encouraging daily morning prayer within zip coded small groups and/or at the church

-Standing in solidarity with oppressed people groups outside of the church (going to them). Asking, “What do you need?”

-Asking, “What do you need?” of neighbors that live directly around church buildings.

-Prison visits + re-entry programs within the church

-Encouraging hospitality rooms within churches and within homes of community members

-When 2 small churches are dwindling, joining up (even and especially when one congregation is black and one is white)

-Encouraging more participation from congregants 

-Partnering business leaders in churches with neighbors to help provide jobs

-Embracing and creating times of silence 

-Having a feeding night for congregants and the broader community (and incorporate communion)

-Considering a more racially diverse staff in an effort to encourage diversity of the congregation

-Writing music that pertains & speaks to the lives that are actually being lived by community members

-Teaching and focusing more on all of the spiritual gifts

-Free child care for single parents (a list of who would be willing to be on that list)

-Diversity in language during service as to also encourage diversity (dual screens or translators)

-Is your church ADA accessible? Sign-language friendly?

-Creating insurance alternatives

-Creating/encouraging covenants and pathways for reconciliation within small groups

-Financial assistance classes, years of Jubilee (encouraging the forgiveness of some form of debt every few years), asking families to not live in houses bigger than what is needed OR having them invite others to live with them

-Encouraging community members to live geographically close to other community members or to the poor or different

-Encouraging intentional relationships

-Setting up a retreat center with pastoral care and guidance and offered to people with little money

-Offering income based or communally funded counseling

-Reassessing what resources are being wasted and what ways they can become more sustainable

-home-based programs to save on church resources and/or multi-purposed church spaces (soup kitchen by day, shelter by night, church by weekend)

-encouraging/teaching nonviolence

-encouraging the coexistence of singles and married people and families (specifically things for singles that doesn’t pertain to life starting “after marriage”)

-small groups that are zip code based

-Community gardens

-resourcing people with information about how to do meal wagon and coalition child care

-Tool libraries, car pooling, etc

-equipping members to be foster parents or better yet, homes that invite single/young parents to live with them

Thanks for reading! May we become the Church we dream of...little by little.

How do you measure success?

We often get asked questions around here like: What's the goal for your interns? What would a young adult get out of this experience? How do you measure the success of your program?

I used to dread these questions as the sort of life changes and transformations that happen through intentional, communal living are by and large more qualitative than quantitative...hard to chart or graph or put numbers to. (And people seem to want numbers these days.) We've been working on how to communicate clearly with the "numbers people" because that's important too, and we're getting better at it. But my favorite way to answer these questions now is to sit folks down and let them listen to our interns tell the stories of what they're learning, how they're growing, and how they're becoming more holistically healthy, caring, and thinking people in the they're taking their experiences from internship into their next seasons of life and feel more equipped to be better neighbors, friends, employees, daughters/sons, wives/husbands, siblings, citizens, etc. And it's a real privilege & deep joy to get to walk together as all this takes shape. 

One of our interns, Jessie Lynn Smith, who is completing her second year at the Yellow House this week wrote out her version of this sort of story...of what these 2 years have done in her life and what she's taking with her as she moves on. If you've ever asked the aforementioned questions, please take a few moments to read Jessie's story. Honesty, vulnerability, lighthearted humor, and depth...they're all here. This, to me, is a story of success. And what a gift it is to read and share.

-Sarah Duet (YH Intern Director)

MY YELLOW HOUSE by Jessie Lynn Smith (YH Intern, 2013-2015)

In January of 2013, I don’t think I truly believed in the power of prayer, but I think I was out of options. A worrier by nature, a child of God who thought my Father was waiting for me to “get happy” so He could pull the rug out from underneath my feet.18, fresh out of high school, living in pseudo-community, disconnected, dishonest and lonely. I didn’t like my living situation, my financial situation, my community situation, etc. Although doubt was pumping through my veins, I asked God specifically for a living situation where rent was $200 so I didn’t have to work so much and could do something important with my time outside of school instead of show people to tables (Looking at you, Carrabba’s). My lack of creativity could not imagine an option suited for my desperation – thank God.

I was in a Psychology class, scrolling through social media under my desk when I saw the first advertisement for The Yellow House of Highland 2013-2014 Internship. Looking back, I can’t remember the thought process. I just know that I saw it, grabbed my bag, and immediately started walking back to my apartment to send my first email to the YH of Highland. Friends, when I tell y’all I sat in front of my computer for hours, I’m not exaggerating. Around 11 p.m. that faithful email ding resounded through the speakers of my computer like the message was sent from God Himself. I sped read the email where sweet Britney Lee was giving me some basic information before I officially asked for an application. One of the pieces of information was the rent: $200. I was sold (on what, I’m not sure – but we’ll get to that). Within 7 minutes, Brit would get another email saying “YES TO ALL OF THAT” and an application request. Within 18 hours an eager and equally naive 18 year old was on the front porch of that pollen colored house on Dalzell Street, placing my application in the mailbox. I met Britney, my future intern director/coordinator, that day. We laugh about it now, but I’m sure I scared her with my twitches and stutters. I would have plucked out every eyelash on that porch that day had she asked me to. I had been stalking her for years via Facebook. She didn’t know it then, but she was my hero. She may not know it now, but she still is. At least now I have less manic reasons.

The wait was on – Am I too young? Too persistent? Was I good enough? The questions kept me up at night. But, I would calm down when I thought about being in that house. I don’t know what I thought internship would be like. Except – an escape, a popularity ladder climb, a way to be known/important in the city. I was going to save the neighborhood. I was going to make new friends, make a new life for myself. My imagination ran wild when I thought of how amazing I would look to people. They would say that I’m selfless and that I’m a role model. Shaking hands, kissing babies, doing life intentionally or whatever. Looking back now, it’s humbling – excruciatingly humbling – to know how incorrect and selfish my motives were about my upcoming adventure in Highland.

The first few months were hard. Everyone was fumbling around trying to figure out why we were there. No one did the dishes, I left my shoes in the living room, and I wanted to be the favorite. Sam, Stephanie, Alex, and I were all in this thing together. Half in the light, half hiding. I try not to speak for everyone, but I know that none of us knew how much Britney and Sarah expected of us. They thought highly of us and they demanded the best that we could give: 100% presence, 100% honesty, 100% willingness. If I haven’t said if yet, I’ll say it now: I would have given up on me and my pride within the first few months. But our fearless leaders were strong, resilient, honest, and brave. I don’t care how old you are, it takes a brave human to take on young adults. We love our privacy and we love to choose what others get to see. To be in charge of little heathens like us takes warriors, – and warriors Sarah and Britney have been for me.

We got into a groove. A rotation of house meetings, neighbor visits, book discussions, and cultivating lessons took up the first half of internship each day. The last 2 hours were for for Youth Club (6th-12th graders in Highland). It took me months to remember their names, and even longer to feel comfortable with talking personally with them. I was so awkward and scared. They – the kids, the interns, the intern directors – never made me feel awkward, it was just that second nature of worrying if I belonged here. I was a walking threat of abandonment. I was constantly formulating an escape route. I needed an exit plan to leave before I was left. Sarah and Britney caught on to that one gloomy day in February of last year. They brought me to the third floor of the house where they yelled and cried and fought for me. I hope everyone gets to have a conversation like that one day – one where respectable people yell, cry, and fight for you, where they tell you to stay because you are XY and Z to them. I haven’t threatened to leave Highland since that day. In fact, I haven’t been able to find a reason to leave since that day. That’s also the day that I decided for sure to stay in the Yellow House one more year.

It’s been two years since I found out that I wanted Highland and one year since I found out that Highland wanted me. I remember at some point in the first half of my first year, I was crying (what? you? stop no way) about the day that the novelty of the YH would wear off. What if one day I didn’t want to blast upbeat 2011 Gungor songs while pulling into the driveway? What if I didn’t feel like posting pictures of these primarily different colored kids that I hung out with? What if I ran out of superlatives to explain how “this was the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life?” Britney told me that the coolest part of the experience is when the novelty wears off because that’s when the reality begins. Those words didn’t mean much to me then, but today – with the novelty completely worn off – it makes so much sense.

I’m two years into this and I’m still not that good at it. I still don’t do the dishes and I guarantee I have at least 2 pairs of shoes lying around here at this very moment. My room is never only 5 minutes away from being clean enough for visitors like Sarah taught us. By Friday, I’m peopled out and not always nice. This work is hard and it’s exhausting, but I was made for it – because I was not made to be alone.  And just like 2 years ago when my imagination simply could not conceive an idea for my future, I can not imagine the kind of Jessie I would be without this experience. Internship did not mold a perfect person, but it grew me into a person that sees the importance of this work – and it taught me how to take the romance out and do this community thing when I move out in a couple weeks.

On our last day of internship last year, I was a crying mess. For sentimental reasons, the novelty had just not completely worn off yet. I stayed another year because I personally did not feel equipped to be a part of Highland without the title of Intern. But this year, I feel excited and thankful – I’m ready to take the tools that Britney and Sarah so freely gave to each of us on a daily basis and use them when I move 2 blocks away. Tools like building friendships with our neighbors, constant self-awareness, striving to find balance of the good with the bad, that there are rules to friendships, and a covenanted commitment to your community means that you will be there on the other side of their mistakes (and vice versa, praise God). I’m excited to be a neighbor to next year’s interns and our Club kids that I eventually grew to know and cherish. I’m not scared like I was 2 years ago or even a year ago because I have been able to build a life here in this neighborhood that won’t end when I move down the street. I have made friends for a lifetime, and mentors that I have and will trust with the deepest parts of me. This awesome, weird, difficult life is real and authentic life. And I wouldn’t change anything about the two years of internship that led me here.  My story in this house is my own and future interns will experience totally different, but hopefully equally important years. This is my testimony of how I didn’t deserve a lot of things like grace and longevity in the past 2 years, but God so loved me and the world that He gave a group of young adults an idea and a way to buy a Yellow House.

Then they let me move into it.


 (This story was originally posted at


Line Crossing Faith...

We loved having a full living room last night for our Line Crossing Faith event! We shared stories from our Yellow House trip to Arizona/Mexico this past December, watched a short documentary, and had a conversation about immigration and what's going on currently on and around the US-Mexico border.

A photo taken during the film screening last night.

A photo taken during the film screening last night.

We hoped that sharing these stories might raise awareness about what’s really happening on the border, might humanize what has been mostly just a "political issue” in our minds, and might help us to start conversations that lead to compassionate action as we seek to respond faithfully as God’s people in the world…Asking and answering this question, among others: How do we follow our call to welcome the stranger at this time in this place?

Thanks to everyone who joined us for this conversation! It's not an easy one to navigate in all its complexity, but an important one to be having even still (or all the more). So let's keep the conversation going! Below are links to resources where we can learn more about what's happening and how we might help:

This is the 25 minute film we watched together at the event. It's part of a PBS series on U.S. immigration policies that examines how Obama administration policies are leading to the deportation (and ultimately the deaths) of thousands of undocumented workers who have worked in the United States for decades, even raising families here.

Highland Peace March


Highland and Cedar Grove neighbors organized peace marches in response to the recent shootings in our neighborhoods and in an effort to get caring neighbors visibly united to show that we are standing for communities that are safe and loving! (See photos below and read more about the march on the event page.)

The following is a reading we did together during our walk...

We believe, even in the night when the sirens sound or the gunshots are heard, that we don't have to spiral into a panic.

Let us remember that good is greater than evil.

We believe, even when we see crime reports or hear people talking poorly about our part of town, that there is so much good here to celebrate. Like the diversity, the community, the unique festivities, and the friendships.

Let us remember all of the things that are positive about our neighborhood.

We believe, even when we're not quite sure if anyone else cares, that there are far more people who do than we often realize.

Let us remember the strength in knowing our neighbors.

We believe, even when we feel alone, unheard, or without the ability to change things, that there is still great power in friends coming together to care for a place and its people.

Let us remember that we need each other, that we are here, that we are close, and that we care.


Responsive reading written by Britney Winn Lee 

Photos by Emily Pitts, Community Renewal Int. and Sarah Duet