On a Friday, before the sky fades into a milky shade of gray, the neighborhood kids play tackle football in the side yard while the Man builds a bonfire in the backyard. The girls line the driveway, the grooves of the path marking the lines for their cheering squad, and cheer like it’s their job.
Dust flies as the kids hit the ground. The girls cheer louder and louder and the boys get closer and closer to the flowerbeds. I wince with each tackle.
“Not the flowers, y’all!” I yell. “Seriously, anywhere but the flowers.”
They pause long enough to roll like tumbleweeds onto a patch of clover and I sigh as I look at the trampled bed. Another purple aster has been plucked from the ground and tossed aside like a weed.
I watch them from the porch and snap pictures in my mind and I think the whole filthy lot of them is glorious.
“You guys all staying for hot dogs and marshmallows later?” I call to them. “Thad is building a fire and there will be plenty if you want to stay for dinner.”
They all answer from their places in the yard and I take a mental head count as smoke billows up from behind the fence in the backyard.
And as I rise to prepare the food, I find myself grinning at how wonderful this life really is.
I need to let you in on a little secret.
I’ve not always thought this life on Avent street was wonderful. Poverty sucks the life out of the living in my neighborhood. Racism runs deep and wide. Crime is an everyday occurrence. Children are neglected and homes are abandoned.
The kids that now play in my yard once vandalized my house, my car, and my heart. They have urinated on my porch, painted my mailbox, shot pellets at my car, and cussed me out more times than I can count. Because I am spirit living in flesh, there is a constant war within my being: Do I rise up and call out or do I make strides to love my neighbors as myself?I am learning that hospitality is simply an overflow of a heart fully surrendered to the commandment of Jesus to love your neighbors as yourself.
My neighbors, the kids who trample my grass and throw litter in my yard, are hard to love. They come heavy laden with baggage no one their age should have to carry. They come dirty and tired and angry and hurt. They come hungry for love, for acceptance, and for bread to fill their tummies.
But they come and Jesus is teaching me to seize the moment in their coming.
Some days, loving my neighbor looks an awful lot like kool-aid and oatmeal cream pies on the porch swing. Other days it looks like popcorn and movies on the floor in the family room. A few nights ago, it looked like forty hotdogs, and four bags of marshmallows around the fire pit. Tomorrow, it may look like a warm mug of coffee at the farm table and a long talk with a lonely neighbor from down the street.
Each day looks different than the day before. The people change and the stories shift and needs are magnified, but the heart of Jesus for my neighbors remains the same.
And His commandment stands: Love your neighbors as yourself.
In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle says this:
I suppose Jesus walks into a room and loves what he finds there. Delights in it, in fact. Maybe, He makes a beeline to the outcasts and chooses, in them, to go where love has not yet arrived. His ways aren’t our ways, but they sure could be.
I think he’s on to something, the bit about Jesus delighting in the presence of the outcasts.
And today, I choose the ways of Jesus and I anticipate my neighbors coming.
And I seize the moment to go where love has not yet arrived.