I grew up inside a communal Christian home. I can sum it up this way: when it was good it was very, very good. But when it was bad, it was horrid.
We called it a "missionary training home" and it was run under the guiding principles of my grandfather's ministry. Fresh, new believers would move into our house all fired up to serve the Lord. What they ended up doing was cooking, cleaning and babysitting us kids. Usually for free.
They were willing to do this because it was a privilege to be involved with the "ministry of the Lord."
But it was a sucky arrangement for them. And for me, too. Mostly because I wasn't the easiest child to babysit: I was a sickly, sensitive kid with a bad stomach. Plus, I was always worried about being left behind at the Rapture. FUN!
If there's one thing I learned as a kid, it's that there's not much people won't do for the sake of a Higher Calling. We called it "storing up our riches in heaven." But the main person storing up riches was my grandfather. And all in cold, hard cash.
The other problem was that we didn't have Google. This meant we couldn't google potential roommates. We pretty much accepted any ol' idealistic new believer into our home. Sometimes this worked out dandy. A lot of times it didn't. Let's just say we often had a colorful menagerie of people living with us.
We had your garden variety anorexics, your fun-loving ex-sorority girls, your hyper-spiritual holy-rollers spending hours weeping into their Bibles on bended knee. Occasionally there was the failed actress or musician who had left her high-flying life of sin and debauchery for the quiet life of Bible study and no makeup.
Sometimes we had families live with us. This was nice when there were kids involved because it meant more playmates for me and my sister. But it wasn't nice when the other Dad walked in on you peeing. Especially if he just glanced over, said hey and went to the sink to start his morning shave.
That was the other problem. No privacy. Nothing was your own, including (and especially) the bathroom. You peed, pooped and showered with people walking in and out all the time. You shared towels. You picked pubic hair out of the bar of soap before lathering yourself up.
Another thing I learned: when ladies live together, their periods synch up. (Sorry to gross you out, guys). This made for SUPER FUN "house-meetings" where we discussed problems, issues and concerns. I used to bring my drawing book to those meetings and scribble stories just to avoid listening to Sister So-and-So break down over the fact that she'd missed three quiet times that week.
Sometimes when things got too tense inside the house, I fled outdoors to my favorite tree. If I was feeling especially overwrought, I climbed it. I climbed high, high, higher than I was supposed to.
I could sit in a tree for hours. Somehow, way up there–nestled between the huge, glossy magnolia leaves, I could relax. I could think my own thoughts. I was safe and alone.
I listened to birds, felt the sunshine on my skin and heard the breeze rustling in the leaves around me. I could talk to God while sitting up in a tree.
To this day the scent of a magnolia tree soothes my mind.
To me, it smells like being tucked in next to God.