Changes. There have been a whole lot of changes taking place in the Groutas household over the past year, and as we are quickly approaching the end of 2011 we have more changes in store. Many of the changes that have taken place are very obvious. Mark resigned as Pastor of Worship at a big, ole Texas mega-church. We moved from Austin, TX to Denver, CO. (People, if you’ve lived your entire life in the South, this kind of move is a big deal! I didn’t realize what I was getting into when we decided to leave the South. Wow. I’ll have to write an entire post on that topic later.) We left total suburban life to live city life. Moved from a brand new home that we owned into a lease house built in the 1960s (Think 6 different kinds of linoleum throughout the house, 2 different styles of cheap carpet, pink wall tiles & pink laminate counters in the bathroom with a turquoise ceramic sink and bathtub. I’ll spare you the other details. Let’s just say we are still battling a bit of a rodent issue.). All this because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is calling us into something new and different.
We’ve invited some of our closest friends to be in on this adventure with us. As a result, Jon and Whitney Branch and Pamelagrace Okeke relocated too, and we are all living as a big, happy family in the aforementioned lovely, old home. Fortunately, the house is 4600 sq. ft. (that includes a portion of the basement that is unfinished), so there is enough room for all of us. The home is a ranch style house with living room, dining room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms & 1 full bath on the main floor with den & wet bar with walk out patio to backyard, gameroom/office, 2 bedrooms, 1 full bath, and unfinished workroom in the basement. My kids are living on the main floor of the the house each with their own bedroom. All the adults are living in the basement. Each couple has their own bedroom, and PG is living in the gameroom/office (we just installed a curtain rod with curtains to close off her room for privacy). Jon and Whit have 2 cats and a big dog. We have a little weiner dog and a snake. So, just to recap: We have 5 adults, 3 children, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and a snake all living together. It is truly an adventure!
Communal living is amazing. It’s not easy, but it is truly awesome. Over the years, I’ve read plenty of books that tout the glory of communal living (i.e. Blue Like Jazz, and The Irresistible Revolution), but I always thought it wasn’t possible for us especially with our children. Communal living sounds so hippy-dippy. You know? What I can tell you now already is that everyone should live like this at least once in their lifetime. I have learned more about myself in the past couple months that I have in 5 years. I kid you not. Living in community puts a spotlight directly on your weaknesses. For those of you that have been married, remember how hard those first few years were, because you were learning to consider someone else in every situation? You had to learn to consider your spouse’s feelings about everything, right? Well, Mark and I have been married almost 15 years. We are a pretty well-oiled machine when it comes to day to day living and raising kids together. Of course, we hit snags and bumps along the way, but on a daily basis we pretty much know how the other person is going to think, react, etc. Now. Throw 3 new adults into the living situation, and life gets a lot more complicated. Now there are a whole lot of other feelings and idiosyncrasies to take into consideration on a daily basis. I’ve learned that I’m a lot more controlling than I thought I was. I like things a certain way in my house, and when they aren’t that way it really bothers me. I’ve had to learn to let the stuff slide that really isn’t all that important. I’ve had to become more disciplined in the areas where I have allowed myself to slack off – managing time & energy, not letting dishes sit in the sink, planning meals, getting completely alone with God (not easy in a house full of 8 people on different schedules coming and going all the time), etc. The only way we can all continue to live together for an indefinite amount of time is for each of us to look for ways to serve one another and for each individual to focus on his/her own issues/areas of needed growth. It boils down to humility, and Whitney recently wrote about the subject of humility in an excellent blog post from her perspective of our living situation. You can check it out at whitneybranch.wordpress.com.
As Christmas is just around the corner, there is another key change happening for the Groutas family. We are simplifying Christmas. This has been a work in progress over the last few years. Every year as Christmas approaches my girlfriends and I have had lengthy conversations about how we are sick to death with the way our society has commercialized Christmas and how we as the Christian community have bought in to it. We’ve tried different approaches to counter the culture. One year we resolved to put “Love your neighbor as yourself.” into practice and spend the same dollar amount on a family/families in need as we did for our own family. Sheesh. That got seriously expensive, because we still weren’t really good at reining in the spending on our own family yet. For a couple of years now we went by the rule of my dear next door neighbor, Jonna, and bought for each kid “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.”
We’ve never been big on Santa at our house. Mark grew up without Santa and honestly can’t stand the thought of giving some fictional character all the credit and glory for our own benevolence. Just so that our kids wouldn’t be the Kindergarteners that ruined the Santa “magic” for all the other kids and their families we’ve given our kids each 1 gift from Santa each year. My two oldest kids became very aware at young ages that Santa is Mom and Dad, because we were never committed to the lie. I bought a children’s book when our oldest was a toddler titled Santa, Are You For Real?, and we bring it out with all the Christmas decorations every year and read it. It’s the basic history of St. Nicholas. This year we just aren’t going to do Santa at all. The kids get so much stuff from their grandparents, aunts and uncles that really it’s unnecessary for them to get one more gift. My children don’t NEED anything. They have more than enough. In the moving process, we donated 5 truck loads of stuff to Goodwill (I have receipts to prove it) and threw away another truck bed or 2 full of junk. They have not missed any of it! I wish I would have gotten rid of more. If you’ve never purged your stuff, you must! I’m telling you. It is the most liberating experience. Weight lifts from your shoulders. It’s addicting. If you feel bogged down in life, maybe even struggle with depression, stop buying, and start purging! Purge smart too. There are plenty of great organizations who will happily take your stuff and put it to good use. Typically, I like to find families in need to give to directly, or I give to local crisis centers.
I think the biggest change of all for our family this Christmas is that we will truly have time as a family. For the past 7 or 8 Christmases, Christmas has revolved around the work of the church. The Christmas Eve services and Easter services at a mega-church are like the Superbowl for the NFL. The work behind the production is months in the making. It takes countless hours of manpower to pull it off. It is exciting and fun and crazy and all-consuming. Mark loved his job. He was really good at it too, if I do say so myself. I think his ability to plan, administrate, build a team to delegate tasks to, and execute a production got better and better every year. I understood the amount of hours and energy it took to produce and perform in 6-8 services of that caliber in a matter of days, and I was committed to picking up the slack at home in order to support him. It was my ministry to him and to our church. All that to say, understanding and being committed did not change the effect it had on our family. This year Christmas gets to be simple for us. We get to spend time together as a family without Mark being completely and utterly exhausted. This may be the only year like this for us. I don’t know what the future holds for us when in comes to Christmas and Christmas services, but I know that this year we have a reprieve. Christmas this year will be a Sabbath. The thought of it causes me to take a deep breath.
For more thoughts on doing Christmas differently, please check out my dear friend Jen Hatmaker’s blog post The Christmas Conundrum. She finally put in print the years of conversations we have had among our friend group. Thank you, Jen!
My prayer for you and your loved ones is that Christmas is a time of love, light, reflection and togetherness. I pray that you may know Christ more intimately and deeply and that through knowing Him and loving Him you would pour out love to others.