I love being a part of this little street. It's not just that I have a neighbor who will beat up a bad guy for me; it's that this kind of community is the antidote to some of our greatest worries, the answer to some of our biggest questions.
A place like this, it's a niche. It's that little place in the world where I fit for no other reason than that I am here. Here, I am surrounded by people who know me. They know when I come and go. They see me in my pajamas taking out the trash, in my work clothes with the hole almost unrepairably ripped through the hind end, barefoot or booted up, sweating and friendly or hurried and frantic. They see me and know me in a way that not a lot of other demographics can....and it doesn't matter because I see them the same way. Picking up the paper in a bathrobe and slippers. Mowing the grass with an old man gut hanging over some faded out bermuda shorts. Sitting on the porch smoking a cigar and talking on the phone just loud enough to be overheard. Walking the labradoodle (who is absolutely adorable and loves to put my whole forearm in his mouth whilst wiggling his whole body). Talking to the schnauzer by his nickname..until he's really in trouble for not listening, then using his formal name in a more stern tone. (On a good day, he's "willie." But ignoring his owners, he's full-blown "wilson." Hilarious.)
Around here, we just are. We're just people with just lives and we're just living and that's ok with everybody. There's no pressure to prove ourselves or to be something different or something more. It's alright to be just as we are, and we're woven into the fabric of this street that way. It's what makes this place work.
The other great thing about that is: no one has to be in charge. We're not an association; we're more ragtag. Everything doesn't fall apart if I choose to do something else for a day or if the woman across the street spends a couple of days in her house or if the couple next door has friends sleeping over and doesn't visit as much. There's not one thing that any of us consciously, purposely, scheduled-ly does to make this neighborhood "work." It runs on its own, so there's nothing to worry about. We are free to pop in and out, to sit on each other's porches when the mood strikes us or be homebodies if we're looking for some quiet. There's no attendance sheet. No check-in. No assigned duties. This place is beyond structure. I love that about here. Especially in a world where we often feel like we have to take charge of anything we want to happen, a neighborhood like this that loves us to be here but doesn't require such is something rare. It's a chance to kick back, give it all up, and not worry about how things are going. It's just to be.
At the same time, of course, people are going to notice if I'm gone for a day or two. They aren't going to hound me or beat down the door, but the next time I'm out in the driveway, at least one or two of them are going to mention they haven't seen me in a few days. They're going to ask how things are going and open the door to a conversation. These are people I can talk to if I need such a person and people who won't push me if I don't. And I get to be the same for them. Noticing when they're gone for a few days, asking how vacation went, expressing condolences on the loss of the cat (which used my flower bed as a litter box, so I have some mixed feelings). But not pushing anybody into anything. It's not group therapy; it's just group life. Camaraderie.
And if I ever needed a cup of sugar, I have a few doors I could knock on. And a few cups of milk I could give out, too.
This is the place I live, but it's also the place I love. It's easy to define our ministry, our work, our service, or even our importance in terms of what we do on the clock. What our title is. Where we are 9-5 (or whatever swing shift we might work). How many reports we run out. How big our profit margin is. What people count on us for. But in a place like this, you can't quantify it like that. You just live your life and be a little part of this place, and one day you look around and notice that you do make a difference here and this is a great place to love.
I love that this is a place to love. Where I feel like I'm making a difference and I have something to be here; I have a role that only I can fill, something I can offer from the depths of my heart. I serve here, but at the same time, there's no pressure to be "on." The woman I first talked to, the one out trimming her tree, we talk fairly often these days. She's older and usually alone, except when her bipolar son drops by to wreak havoc. Her husband is deceased, so it's just her and the cats. We started talking a few weeks ago while I was weeding in the front garden, and it turns out we have a lot of story in common. We know some of the same brokenness the world has to offer, but we also know the same Healer. She goes to church across town. I've dropped off our women's newsletter at her house for encouragement. She's the kind of person who says she's praying for you and you know she means it. But sharing our stories that day, we found our hearts more kindred than we had imagined, and she just looked at me with a strange heart in her eyes and said she knew there was a reason we became neighbors. And now friends. She just stood on the sidewalk saying she loves me and do I know that? When I see her now, I see a different way she looks at me. Not because I've ministered to her. Not because I've put on an act and shown something incredible or awesome or holy. Not because I'm "working" her. Just because I am and somehow, knowing each other as we do, I sense in her eyes that she sees hope in me. Hope for something in her heart, something unanswered but I haven't pried. I'm something for her. And for me, she is another example of that older generation, that strong woman - like the line of women I come from - my mother to my grandmother to my great-grandmother. Somehow, she answers something in me, too.
It's just one example, but it's the heart of the thing. There is something I am here. Not something I do, but something I am. That's what this kind of community does. It draws me into being a part of it and encourages me in all I am and all I could be. I want to venture out, to serve here, to love here, to offer what I can here even as this little street offers me what it has.
It answers the deepest questions we have. It strengthens and encourages us. Because this is the kind of place, the little community, that is an invitation to simply be and you find a new worth and a new purpose in yourself because it's a place that validates your being, validates your very core, based on nothing more than what you are. Not what you do. Not what you say. Not who you know. But simply what you are.
I think we're all looking for that. I think we're looking for that place where it's ok for us just to be and to find some validation that not only is it ok to just be, but that it's worth something, too. It matters that you are who you are. I think we know that when we look at how and why God made us just this way. But in a place like this that can't define by any other terms what that looks like...a place that just takes you as you...it means a whole lot more.
Take some initiative and find your community. Find your place like this - where you're not in charge and you're not putting on a show and you're nothing more than what you'd be on a slow Sunday morning in your PJs with your coffee and your doughnut....and weave yourself into a good story for no other reason than that community matters. Community is the place that both invites you in and feeds you. It makes you more, without your even realizing it. And even though your community might not necessarily be your neighborhood, you'll find it is your home.