I’m Jessica. I came to be a missionary in August of 2016 and have been here ever since. Since I’m a visual kind of person, here’s a picture of me with my parents on arrival to illustrate that moment.
I was 22 years old and fresh out of college. From that first year I went on to do another year on the road, this time on a retreat team based on the West Coast. And then, when the opportunity presented itself to apply to be on Mission Staff as a Team Supervisor, I jumped at it, knowing that the training and formation I’d receive would be priceless. As I write this in May of 2020, I’m at the tail-end of my 2nd year on Mission Staff. For those of you unfamiliar with what the Mission Staff program looks like, I’m going to take a moment to explain it. A very large part of our day to day life is affected by our living situation which entails living in a men’s or women’s household. The past 2 years I lived in a house affectionately known as the ‘Bastille’ (yes, named after the infamous French prison- google it!) with up to 7 other women. We live, work, eat, and basically do everything together.
On purpose, because living in community teaches you things. Specific things.
We spend 2 nights a week sharing a meal and intentionally hanging out together. We pray together every morning along with the Liturgy of the Hours. We meet monthly with a mentor to keep each other accountable and intentionally foster deeper relationships.
Living that closely with other humans, intentionally, brings out the best and worst in you.
Especially during these quarantined times. So, without further delay, I give to you 7 lessons I’ve learned from living with 7 women.
1. Running out of ‘necessary’ groceries allows you to get creative with your meals.
We can run out of eggs in 5 days if all of us decide eggs sound tasty. So instead of going to the store to pick up every little thing you need, you just wait until the next shopping day. But in the meantime you’ve gotta stretch yourself a bit and make something out of the grain. We’ve run out of eggs and bread enough times that I can prove to you through my memory that those meals when I am without, become way more dimensional and satisfying than if I were to eat toast and omlette for the umpteenth time that month. I think Asian-inspired Brussels sprout tacos was the most creative recipe we’ve come up with.
2. State the unobvious.
Living with a bunch of women has taught me that sometimes tension comes out of nowhere, for seemingly no reason and whacks an innocent situation into hypertension. Sometimes you just wake up annoyed (anybody else with me?) and it is literally nobody’s fault, you’re just touchy. Yeah, so I’ve learned that it’s helpful to voice that so next time you respond harshly to “Do we have any more toilet paper”, they’ll already know that today isn’t your day, it’s not their fault and move on.
Clarity is charity as they say. I’d rather be bold and state what I’m thinking than have tension come out of nowhere because someone inferred something by my tone.
Which brings me to my next point:
3. People do things for all sorts of reasons.
It might confuse you. You might not ever understand why the olive oil goes in a fancy dispenser instead of staying in its original container. That’s a question that in my mind isn’t worth asking. But let’s say your roommate walks into the kitchen, making a face that you interpret as annoyance, specifically directed towards you. Here’s some wisdom I’ve learned the hard way: sometimes people make an unpleasant expression because they smell bad, or are upset about a previous conversation they had, or maybe they had a twitch. I think it’s likely you’ll make the assumption that it’s not about you if you’re a mature and logical human. But I would go further and say that it might not be about anything. So don’t go assuming that there’s something wrong. If you need to know, just ask. Seek clarity, especially if it causes you to be anxious or unsettled in a relationship. In order to maintain harmony in relationships with 7 people, you quickly learn to prioritize which interactions are worth reading into, and which are better just left alone.
4. Your preference is just your preference.
I really am picky about the way the dishwasher gets loaded. To me, it’s a science. It’s a game, like Tetris. It makes sense. It is soothing to me to fit the maximum amount of dirty dishes into the dishwasher. BUT. I also live with 6 women who aren’t as passionate about the dishwasher arrangement as I am. Some like to wash all their dishes by hand immediately after use, some like to set them in the sink until the end of the day. Some like to see how little they can open the dishwasher door when they place their dirty dishes in the machine. For them, that’s a game.
But in my mind, the way I’ve figured out how to load the dishwasher is the right way. However, it’s just my preference. It’s not right, it’s not wrong. It just is my preference. And living with other people who weren’t raised as you were requires you to put your preferences aside. It’s a really good practice in dying to yourself to let someone load the dishwasher the way they want to. (Not that I am successful at that… ask my roommates) But, it is a good reminder to tell myself that there’s nothing morally wrong with loading the dishwasher a different way than I prefer.
5. When in doubt, dance it out.
We’ve gotten the chance to think out of the box during the quarantine with regard to our workout routines. Most of us were pretty set in our ways, going to the gym each morning before work. Now, being out of sorts has required more sleep, and going to the gym is no longer an option. Fortunately, we found some solid dance videos on Youtube to keep us equally active and entertained. It’s been pivotal in our physical, mental, and emotional health to dance after a long work day. Physical activity is grounding, and brings your whole self to the present, a lesson I’ve learned after processing hard things during this unprecedented time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have fun with my roommates and let loose in a new and fun way.
6. Loyalty grows over time.
Being a part of this ministry organization for four years has taught me how to invest in relationships that I wouldn’t normally be drawn to. For example, on each NET team, you’re placed within a group of 8-12 people and basically forced to be friends. That’s some life skills in the making, right there. And basically this can be summed up with the idea that love is a choice, not a feeling. But that’s not the lesson I want to demonstrate, even though that’s valid and good truth. The more we choose to love those around us, our feelings follow suit. The loyalty and care for another person will come when you are continually choosing to serve them, listen to them, and encourage them. I’ve had beautiful friendships born from my choices to be attentive to the women I live with, to be open and share life with them.
7. There’s really not an inappropriate time to laugh.
Yeah, I thought previously that there were times you definitely should NOT laugh. But living within household, I cannot think of a time that it would hurt to laugh. In fact, our ability to laugh has been crucial to get us through these times without resenting each other, or at least getting on one another’s’ nerves. These women I currently live with have taught me the value of a good belly laugh, how deeply cathartic and therapeutic it is. And that’s just the act of laughing itself. But the ability to laugh in all circumstances doesn’t show immaturity, but a light-hearted and humble view of oneself. To laugh amidst trial and sorrow shows hope in God’s presence with us and the simple faith of a child.
Well, there you have it, folks. It’s truly a unique experience to live with a large group of women, but never dull and never without its deeper lessons.