In the early evening hours, doors slam and women scream at their men and young girls chatter blue streaks into their trac phones while marking time across their yards. Dogs, chained in the backyard a few street numbers down, howl to be fed and watered and touched. The boys who cuss like sailors sit atop their mama’s jeep and kick the back window with their feet. They curse at one another and at everyone who looks their way.
The Man and I sit on the porch and watch them, awestruck with their profane skills.
Cars thump loud and baby daddies push curly haired children in umbrella strollers up the sidewalk to the Piggly Wiggly. Sweat runs down their brown faces and we call to the ones we know, checking in on the mamas and the state of all the pantries. Talk is small but it’s still talk and we take it for all it’s worth.
A little before dark, Chris comes across the street and she gives us the daily neighborhood gossip. Today, she’s called CPS and DSS and Rocky Mount Animal Control and the police. And she’s given the boys with the foul mouths the finger. Twice. She sits up late at night to watch the street and her flowers and she’s worked too hard to have the $@*%heads mess it up.
“I ain’t putting up with this $@*%!“ she says.
We listen to her knowing this is dangerous ground, this Us vs. Them talk. And we nod because we agree with the some of what she says and we nod because she’s quite humorous.
But we’ve been called to love and the deepest parts of us swell ripe with the grace of Jesus, so we speak softly, giving names to the kids she speaks of.
It’s been more than two weeks since the kids from around the corner came to play and more than three weeks since the little people I’ve never met came to play.
And I worry about the kids and their mamas and their bellies. Most especially the kids I’ve never met.
Our street is a bustling whirl of noise and activity and life, be it ugly or beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in the heart of Jesus and these eyes are learning to see like Jesus.
I think our neighborhood is beautiful.
Yesterday, before the sun hung heavy and hot, I moved the Come and Play flag to the tree out by the driveway and then we waited by the front door for the kids to come and play.
And no one came.
I paired the older four kids up and sent them out to rustle up the neighborhood for some fun.
And still, no one came.
It’s been nearly 14 days since we’ve seen Nickie or Hailey or Hunter or Sierra or Fat Cat or Kevon or Juan or Shawn or Tienasia or Brittany.
I baked cupcakes today, hoping someone would walk down our street and come sit on our swing.
And I’ve sat on my porch and watched quiet nothingness swallow up my street, wondering what we’ve failed to do or show or say to our neighbors.
And late in the day, while my kids hang from every piece of furniture in the house, I let the grace of Jesus swell up ripe in my own soul and I preach the gospel to myself.
But Jesus- He alone saves.
Tonight as the sky erupts into dark clouds and angry rain, I slip into heels and smear on lipstick, and drive alongside fields of tobacco to the better part of town.
It’s a girls’ get together and the drive across town does my soul good.
I blare music loud enough to make my chest rattle and I lose myself in the quiet space amid the noise. Deep cries out to Deep and from the pit of my soul, tears brim to the surface.
Jesus sifts through the muddled thoughts raging in my mind, casting out those things that still spring up from good, moral thinking and He sets upright those thoughts that make no worldly sense.
Courage prickles on the edges of my skin and I recall things Jesus said to me a year ago:
I have gone before you and the more you allow me to stir up your heart, the wider the chasm between your life on Avent and your life as if belongs solely to Me. You do not know it all, but I did not bring you this far for you to become like your place, to think like your place, to look like your place.
Stand firm. Live differently. Love greater.
BE NOT AFRAID.
And I let the tears roll down my face as Jesus whispers mighty things into my tattered, fearful heart and I let my soul swell with grace upon grace upon grace.
Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43: 18-19