One late night, about two years ago, I walked to the Middle Ground to meet up with a group of girls, most of whom I knew fairly well, to discuss the possibility of one day living in the Ruka. I knew almost nothing about the Ruka – just that it was labeled as an “intentional community” and that living there would mean living with some pretty great people. So I signed on. I remember thinking during the fellowship application process that our goal to love each other intentionally was a funny thing to include in our mission statement. While we would clearly have to be intentional about living sustainably and engaging with the Rhodes and Memphis communities, loving each other intentionally (because we were all already friends) would come naturally. We would do that no matter where we lived – Ruka or no Ruka. However, living in the Ruka Intentional Community for the past nine months has taught me that loving intentionally does not come naturally; it takes hard work, but it is well worth the effort.
I believe the Ruka experience is unlike most, if not all, Rhodes on or off-campus living options in that it has really challenged my housemates and me to reflect on what it means to love intentionally. When I predicted that this would come easily for us, I did not account for how difficult communication might become during tough times. Since the beginning of the fellowship, I have incorporated into my definition of living and loving intentionally the need to communicate jaded feelings or frustrations about something another housemate has done or said. This sort of communication has never come easily for me. I do not like conflict, and I would much rather sweep hard feelings under the rug in order to avoid awkward and potentially hurtful conversations. However, living in the Ruka has helped me to understand that hard conversations facilitate loving relationships; dishonesty or lack of communication can prevent relationship growth and cause friendships to become stagnant or fake. As I leave behind the physical structure of the Ruka, I realize that there is so much I will be taking with me. No, I am not a master chef of home-grown veggies as I had hoped I would be by now. And the sunflower seeds I so carefully planted and dutifully watered for several weeks last summer never grew. However, because of my experience in the Ruka, I am better at communicating my feelings to others and listening to their needs and frustrations. I believe that these lessons learned will continue to encourage me to love intentionally in the years to come.