My friend Lori is raising six kids, a church and a safe place for hard questions in the ‘hood. I can’t get enough of her stories.
At the end of the day, we pump our bruised and battered legs from the porch swing and watch the sky pull clouds into milky shades of pink taffy. The kids pick scabs and swat gnats and I watch glory encamp around their freckled faces.
And I am full on the inside.
It’s our most favorite time of the day. The street is quiet and the yard, although still strewn with the day’s play things, is empty of neighbors. The house and porch and patchy grass are all ours again and we stretch out into the wide open whitespace, grinning into the nothingness.
And for about sixteen good minutes, our moment on the porch is nothing short of serene. Think Norman Rockwell-esque.
Or think Thomas Kincaid, with the glorious light of Jesus illuminating from the sweat on our brow.
It’s sweet, really. Precious even…
Until all sorts of ugly begin to spew out of the mouths of the babes living across the street.
And by babes, I mean the eleven year old twins who like to pee on my welcome mat late at night. The eleven year old twins who love to make crude gestures and drop their drawers in the middle of the street. The eleven year old twins who, just last year, spent the entire summer on my hammock, sucking down popsicles, and eating my PBJ sandwiches to only turn around and trash my yard.
Yeah, those babes.
While we’ve been porch swinging and gnat swatting, the babes from across the street have made their way to the top of their mom’s jeep and have begun to hurl obscenities at everyone who walks by their house, looks at their house, or lives anywhere close to 519 Avent Street.
And since we live just three houses down and across from them, all the blanket-blanks now have our names attached to them.
We’ve been down this road a hundred times before and I know my kids are waiting for me to pull up my big girl panties and march across the street and tell those boys what’s what.
But this time, I stay put.
I look my freckle faced children over, shrug my shoulders, and smile. And to my surprise, I feel a giggle bubble up from within me.
And that small giggle gives way to roaring laughter that spills over into side-splitting howling and before I know it, the whole lot of us are doubled over in fits of laughter, tears streaming down the corners of our eyes.
“Those boys are gonna go to jupee!”
“What does F-you mean?”
“Can I call him one, too?”
“I think we should call the popo.”
“Why does he keep sticking up his middle finger?”
“Yo, moms, you gonna go over there and whoop ‘em?”
These kids of mine ask a hundred questions about the things those boys are doing and saying and all I can do is laugh.
And for the first time since moving to Avent Street, I feel free to stay and love instead of fight or flight.
This mothering in the ‘hood business is not for the faint of heart or for the foolish in pride or for the fanatics who wage war against all things deemed secular. It is not about fixing the broken or about killing the trash or about meeting all of the needs, all of the time. It is not about making all things gritty a little more pretty or about washing out potty mouths.
Mothering in the ‘hood is about seeing the community as a family and seeking the welfare of the family, as I would my own.
It is about setting up house along the margins and next door to the marginalized.
It is about seeing the whole earth as sacred and making my street address an altar in this world.
It is about inviting others in, even the ones with potty mouths, sharing the swing, and then sending them home with a sack of groceries.
It is about becoming a friend to the hard-to-loves, entering into their junk, and offering a listening ear and a safe place to land.
It is about seeing the babes across the street as eleven year old boys and laughing with my own children at the audacity of this life Jesus has chosen for us.
And it’s about choosing to stay and love, laying down my mama heart on the altar I’ve made at 554 Avent, and praying always that Jesus would make something beautiful of my offering.
Lori Harris is a Southern-born girl rearing six kids in a neighborhood some would call the ‘hood. She and her husband, Thad, have planted a church on the wrong side of the tracks where poverty and racism run deep. She coordinates a city-wide MOPS group, passes out PB&Js to the neighborhood kids, and writes at loriharris.me. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and always on Facebook. And take it from me – reading her will change you in unexpected ways.