It’s in the middle of my day, in the tail end part of a busy week, when I feel the familiar rush of heat along the backside of my neck.
I shrug my shoulders in some vain attempt to fling off the heat, while still folded over a basket of laundry trying to match socks and pick balls of lint from pajamas.
The kids linger on the front porch and I can hear them banter back and forth, keeping rhythm with each squeak of the porch swing.
And still, the heat rushes under the surface of my skin until my face is on fire and so is my soul.
I watch the clock while I rake a brush through long blond curls. One girl stands on a stool to brush her teeth and I yell at my freckled boy to get to out of the shower.
I hear the oldest girl yell for me from the front door and I know why she’s calling for me. She’s here again and she needs one more thing.
I toss the hairbrush onto the counter and glance at myself in the mirror. I’m scowling and I don’t even care.
I long to plant myself on the bench in the bathroom and never come out because I have nothing more I can give.
And my skin tingles with another rush of fever.
We gather around our table late tonight, after church, and the kids inhale their dinner. The neighborhood kids know we’ve come home and they’re waiting to play in the side yard.
Before I can sit down with my family, half of the kids are pleading to be excused.
“They’re waiting! Come on, Moms. Let us go. It’s gonna be dark,” they all say.
I wave them away while biting my lip. “Just go. You have 30 minutes,” I yell after them.
The Man looks at me from his end of the table. He’s smiling. “This is called community,” he says.
I simply stare at him and hold my words steady-like. “Our house and our yard have not belonged only to us in over 9 days and I’m about to blow,” I say. “I can’t mother all of these children and frankly, I don’t even want to. I just want them to go home and I want to sit on my porch without a pile of children staring at me.”
“And I’m tired of people knocking on my door and needing stuff and feeling like I have to serve cookies 18 times a day,” I say. “I’m not Mother Teresa and I really don’t want to be her. I’m good at other stuff.”
That last bit about being good at other stuff puffs me up and I almost smile at myself. I feel like Jen Hatmaker. She says something like that and so I sit a little taller in my chair. “I’m good at other stuff,” I say again.
The Man smiles at me again, “Yeah, but we live here and the longer we live here the more the lines between them and us become blurred. And I think Jesus calls this place we’re in, community.”
I stare at him from my end of the table and all I want to do is wipe that smile right off of his face.
But I leave the table, my hands trembling in fury.
And my whole being is engulfed in one flame:
What about my life and my rights and my time and my space and my yard and my house and kids and my food and my being good at other stuff?
My people sleep now and I’ve set the coffee maker and the alarm to go off at 5am.
I have a date with my running shoes and the pavement around my house in the morning. Mainly because I’m getting old and dieting no longer is enough and mainly because my soul is crying out for quiet space.
And partly because I need to give God space to wake my heart up to my place: Avent Street.
For the last year, I’ve given God space to orient my life to the city of Rocky Mount and to His movement here. I’ve given Him space to take my life and use my gifts to make much of Him. I’ve given Him my fingers and let Him tap out words here and I’ve bowed low to the words He’s chosen to write. I’ve joined Him in the IF:Gathering and MOPS and women’s studies and coffee dates with hurting white people who look and act and think like me.
But I’ve not given Him much space to work with here on Avent.
I’ve kept up a small hedge around my heart and my home and my things and my gifts. And I’ve kept so busy that I haven’t had to bend low enough to enter into the us part of this community.
There has always been an us and a them and shamefully, I’ve liked the chasm between us and them. It’s been comfortable and easy and given me nice things to write about. It’s stretched my thinking and heightened my senses and increased my awareness of the poor and broken and downtrodden. It’s forced me to consider race relations and white privilege and the Church.
But the longer we live here and the longer I hold wide open my palms, the more I see that the chasm isn’t between us and them.
It’s between me and Jesus.
I spend a lot of time hustling for my time and my wants and my gifts and my family and my quiet and Jesus is asking me to hand over all of my my’s.
Because if I have truly been crucified with Christ then it is not I who live, but Him.
And in Him there is no space for anything that is mine.
And I have too many things I call mine.
So tomorrow, at 5am, when the rest of my street sleeps, my feet will hit the pavement and my heart will willingly be broken for my ‘hood.
And at 3:47, when the yard begins to fill with the neighborhood kids, I will slap on a smile and welcome each child who sits on my porch swing and I will go through the motions of loving my neighbors until Jesus completes what He has begun in my heart.
Some of you will read this post and feel the need to kindly direct me to all sorts of books on boundaries and margins. And even though I thank you now, I want to let you know that I am keenly aware of the need for both boundaries and margins. And I am even more keenly aware of how ugly my heart truly is and how much Jesus longs to lead me into deeper waters so that I may know Him more in the sufferings of His people here on Avent. So I ask you to let Jesus have His way here in my heart and refrain from encouraging me to put up boundaries. I think He’s asking me to trust Him with my whole life. The whole thing, not just certain hours of it.