They say that good fences make good neighbors. I’m starting to suspect that they just make good fences.
I have let the mulberry trees grow. I also let the lilacs grow. I realized mowing the other day that they are likely going to ruin the fence that surrounds part of my property. I don’t care. I looked at the fence, the fence that doesn’t let the deer through, the fence that makes it hard to mow, the fence that says here is mine and there is yours.
I’m no communist. I’m not even a socialist. I think ownership is the fastest way to stewardship but what about companionship.
Is it an accident that on my large property the only neighbor I know is the one with no fence between us and a shared drive-way? In fact I probably know the next guy down about as well as the people on the other side. Because he has no fence either and when he saw us trying to prune our pear tree he loaned us his pruning chainsaw.
This morning my friend left. Maybe she’s more of a sister than a friend. We got this hair brained idea that if two husbands were gone at the same time it would be good for the two wives to put the nine children into one house and try to survive the week together.
I am happy to report that we didn’t survive. We thrived! I’m not trying to plug communal living (yet) but this week was powerful. And she gets the credit. Last month when I told her my husband was going to be gone the last half of June she said “yeah, we should just bunker down together.” We thought it might help us keep from a total mental breakdown or as I like to call it Momagedon. I adore her but I was being polite when I laughed and said “yeah. that would be awesome.”
I just didn’t believe she’s actually want to do that. Do people do that? When she texted me for the exact dates he was going to be gone, well… it was getting serious. We left ourselves an out. If it was going horribly and our children were stressed and it was just too much then we’d just call it an experiment and she’d go home. The day arrived for her to come and I really just didn’t know what to expect but it was amazing. She brought the kitchen cabinet and some bedding and we were off and running.
There is something about having another adult in the house. By far the hardest part of staying at home with your kids is being without another adult so much of the time. But I don’t think that was the only reason this week was so successful.
Just a couple weeks ago we had a family reunion. Instead of just getting together at a park for a day in the blistering heat we opted to find camp facilities where rooms could be rented from Friday Night to Monday morning. It was one large building but air conditioned with two large separate meeting/dining halls. Some of the rooms had private bathrooms but most of us with large families were in the rooms that had a common bathroom with several stalls for showers and such.
It was a cost. An energy cost, a financial cost, an emotional cost… I mean when you commit to something like that and you really have no idea if its going to work well for your small children, or you… Honestly, that Friday morning I was on the phone with my husband sobbing. It was so stressful just trying to get everyone packed. Was it even going to be worth it?
YES! Dear God yes it was worth it!
Granted, I had to let go of the idea that I was going to get the house clean, and the laundry all done and just say get what you need in the car as fast as you can and leave. But as soon as I swallowed the jagged little pill there was instant peace. And for the next three days I was surrounded by community. The children ran off and played together. The father’s often chaperoned from under the shade of a tree if it was even needed. The women bustled around together and the work didn’t feel like work because we had someone to talk to.
We sang. We prayed. We worked. We rested. We broke bread.
When I left I was trying to figure out why that time was so powerful. And the thought that kept coming to me was this…
The willingness to move towards one another.
That’s the same thing my friend did. She paid the price in familiarity and convenience and moved her entire brood to my house so we could be together. My aunts and uncles plotted, planned and paid to make a space where we could come together. They prayed for it. They fought for it. And it bore good fruit. Those of us who were there could sign up for the next one fast enough.
It’s true, I wouldn’t invite just anyone in my home for a week. It’s true that the world is full of ruthless and mindless people who take advantage and abuse and so we’ve learned to insulate ourselves from them. But for the believer… this should not be. Earthly philosophies should not contaminate our Christian faith. Our Christian faith should contaminate earthly philosophies. The world should look at the church and say “how can that possibly work?” The mark of a disciple to a dying world is not how boldly he witnesses nor his personal devotion to God but this…
John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Love is not a feeling. I don’t love my children by feeling affectionately towards them. At least not exclusively. I love my children in willingness. By devoting myself to them. By teaching them, feeding them, listening to them, spending time with them, learning from them. I love them by living my life with them in mind. The same of my husband, and my parents and my sisters. Those I love most, I live with the most in mind. I make myself the most available to. I share my needs with to most readily. And take counsel with most often.
This is the kind of life we not only called to but desperately in need of. I see it all the time in third world countries. They have so little and yet seem happier and calmer because they have each other. They aren’t trying to go it alone, be respectable, stay on their side. They are just in it together.
Can we dare to open ourselves up to that? To invite people into our mess and our miracle? To allow them to profit from our strengths and minister to us in our weakness? Can we do life together? Can we mark the boundaries with trees that we can eat from instead of fences we can’t cross over? Can we share our needs instead of trying to insulate ourselves from needing others? Can we dare to move towards one another?
This is my heart today. It is perhaps the greatest hurdle the church has left to cross. Perhaps not… but it is a great one none the less.
Give us to courage to move towards someone today. Give us the strength to open ourselves up. Give people wisdom and humility to walk tenderly into each others lives and hearts and see to it that in that place something beautiful springs up. That for fences there is fruit. There is shade. There is a place to abide and feel Your sweet Holy Spirit resting on us. Be glorified in us and help us to truly help one another. Help us to serve each other and receive from one another as You build us up into Your image. You are the only one with the skill and strength to complete this work. Give us the courage to say yes and amen. Thank you for the many gifts you have given and the companionship that you have brought. I love you so much.