The doorbell is ringing. Again.
There are small hands banging on my front door. Again.
And the baby has been startled awake from her nap. Again.
The neighbourhood kids all like to hang out at my house. I am less than thrilled about it.
Years ago, when I first stumbled into the missional church conversation, before it was Christian-marketing-speak or a buzz-word, I felt like I had come home to my people. This was my tribe. Yeah! Now I had labels, names, books, a vocabulary and lexicon, leaders, theologians, and co-conspirators for what was already stirring in my heart about the message and life of Jesus. I yearned to experience the truth of Christ and then bring that truth into my daily walking-around life.
It sounded sexy and exciting. I wanted to be part of making space for God in the world, I wanted to be part of God’s mission to restore and redeem and renew creation. I read and underlined all of the books, downloaded podcasts, I wrote and waxed philosophic about discipleship, about the theology of place, about community, sustainability, intentional organic church practices, justice, mercy, redemption, I was seeking an active and inclusive living out of the Jesus-life I knew right now.
And over the years, as I’ve been committed to missional life in actual practice rather than theory, a life that seeks to be outside of structures and institutions and programs and models, centered on embodying the mission of God, my life has gotten considerably more messy and uncomfortable.
Sometimes this has involved serving and supporting the poor and homeless. Sometimes it’s helping to provide ID cards to marginalized African women with my friends. Sometimes it’s been how I live my life and raise my babies. Sometimes it’s been writing letters to government about human trafficking, speaking up in a dozen small ways. Sometimes it’s been intercessory prayer. Sometimes it’s been building websites and writing newsletters for a local residential home for women with life-controlling issues. Sometimes it’s been giving my money away. Sometimes it’s been eye-contact and long conversations and prayer with the people right here in my town. Sometimes it’s been social media. Sometimes it’s been writing a book. Sometimes it’s been changing my mind and opinions in response to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Sometimes it’s been opening my home, practicing radical hospitality, washing sheets, making meals for the sick. Sometimes it’s been remembering to make space for God in my life. (Lately, it’s been a gradual re-entry to intentional Christian community, tentative but hopeful.)
Sometimes this whole “living a missional life” thing has been simplifying and exhilarating.
Sometimes it’s been complicated, weird, and uncomfortable.
But it’s always been transformative.
These days, it feels like my doorbell is always ringing after school, and my front street always has a half dozen kids, hollering and laughing and shrieking, hurtling down the small hill on their scooters. My ears are filled with the usual squabbles of kids, toy-taking freak outs, whose-turn-is-it-negotiating, we-don’t-say-those-words admonishments.
My first instinct – I admit it, even after all this missional life living stuff – was to cocoon and withdraw. These neighbourhood kids have very different standards and rules and home-life. I wanted to take my two older tinies into the house, not allow them to play with these ever-present, rather inappropriately dressed, potty-mouthed kids. I wanted to protect them, to hide them, to erect a tall fence. I wanted my life to be untouched. I resented the doorbell ringing past bedtime, the constant chatter of free-range kids, and little girl voices singing pop songs about grinding up on their guy.
What would Love want to do here?
As always, it’s pretty simple. My husband just heads outside with everyone. He works in the garage, like he usually does on a Saturday, and sometimes he puts them to work, and he always supervises their play. “Our yard, our rules,” he says seriously and they nod and (try to) obey. They stayed for four hours one Saturday, playing in our sandbox, carefully minding our rules, and no adult came to check on them or make sure that they were safe or that we were trust-worthy, I tried really hard not be judgemental about that. (I failed miserably.) I brought everyone water to drink, snacks to eat. We still maintained boundaries, wouldn’t allow them in our home without permission, kept groups together, and sent them home for supper, sometimes we just said nope, we’re just having a family afternoon today, maybe tomorrow, head home. I have learned to hang a sign on the door when the baby is napping, they know when every one goes to bed here. But they keep coming back.
Two of the little girls trail behind me after school most days, to tell me their stories, all of the “here’s what happened at school today” stuff that kids like to tell an adult in their life. I set up a lawn chair, and bring the baby outside, hand everyone sunscreen. One little boy has sad eyes and he hardly ever speaks, but he watches my husband work around the yard, trotting after him in the garage, watching every move he makes. When I greet the girls by their names, every day, they look up, surprised, for some reason. One day, when they left their hoodies behind, I carefully washed and folded and left the clothing on the bottom step for the next day. I touched one girl’s back lightly, told I was glad she was here. She said, Me, too, I like it here.
It feels sometimes like it would be simpler to live in a Christian ghetto, to shut the door, build a fence, keep the big, bad, scary world at bay, especially when it comes to my tinies. And sometimes we can buy into the idea that ministry is for the professionals, for somewhere other than here, right where we are in our walking-around life, like the Gospel doesn’t have hands and feet and voices, right here, right now, in our own neighbourhoods, in big ways and small ways.
At first, when the doorbell rang, I rolled my eyes, I stomped down the stairs, resented the intrusions. But as the days went by, and my husband continued to welcome them without fanfare or fuss, I had to wonder, what does it mean to follow Jesus, if it doesn’t mean loving a few lonely little kids in my own neighbourhood?