(this is what You do – You make me come alive)
Of: neighbors and church and death and springtime.
When I was much younger we lived in a neighborhood that was all about being a neighborhood. There was a community “beach” (lake) and BBQ’s and dances and events. Santa came on Christmas with sled rides and in the summertime on 4th of July a giant celebration that included relay-competitions with eggs that you had to balance on spoons and canoe races .. it was one of those American-Dream type neighborhoods. Almost not-real. Icecream trucks and TP-ing each other and tennis lessons with all your neighborhood friends. And we were all in love with it. But when I was still in elementary school we moved to the farm, and that is where I was for 10 years before and through college, and that’s where I really consider my roots to have grown and my “growing up” to have occured. (And we were all in love with it). The farm is trees and streams and chickens and bee’s and camp fires and forts and paint-ball wars. A mecca of hospitality, I’ve never known hospitality like my parents and how they hosted thousands and thousands of people over the years, always an event or party or bible study or soccer banquet. We didn’t really have neighbors, though. And being hosts and having people around all the time is still different than sharing life with neighbors. Because you choose when you have people over and when they leave. But you aren’t really committed to any one group of people. You let people come into your space, but you never have to see someone unexpectedly when you walk out to your car and they are across the street washing their mountain bikes.
What I’m saying is: I forgot what it’s like to have neighbors. To live in a place next to other people who are also living, you’re living in your big brick box that is painted white and green and they are living in their big boxes that are painted yellow and white or light blue. And we’re all so close- eating our food and mowing our lawns and petting our dogs. And now that I live here in this neighborhood in the house where my dad grew up, when I run back into the cul-de-sac the man and woman who live across the street who are walking out to get their mail ask me how my run was and how many miles I went. Because they care. Because we all live here on this street together. HOW COOL IS THAT? That we get to live next to people and share our lives with them? I went from the farm to college which is all about deciding you want or like different people every 6 months, transient to the highest power. And now I am back in a neighborhood and it feels so good. This kind of though process has inspired me to join a church in Denver. I became a member, a real member. I even went to the class and signed a membership-thing. I never thought I would do that. Because it’s been easy to be skeptical and critical of church-communities. Of their big buildings or their imperfect pastors and too-often hypocritical members (myself of which is usually one). But it’s all kind of the same thing. Getting over yourself and the search for the perfect people who share ALL your same wants and likes and dislikes. I don’t want to treat people or communities like restaurants anymore. Where you go in and see if it looks good enough and if the air is the right temperature and if their food is all organic or not, and if it’s not, go find another restaurant. I want to treat people like people, who deserve to be invested in. I want to try to listen to where I am supposed to be and then BE there and get to know my neighbors and let them borrow a few eggs if they need some and ask them if they want to come over to grill chicken this summer and bring them cookies and try to figure out what it means to live this life together. Cause together is better.
So when the beautiful woman next door who has known my dad since he was a little boy, when her husband passed away a few weeks ago, the street is filled with cars. And food fills her house and people gather together outside and inside and we all go to the funeral. These neighbors of ours, the man who passed and the woman who now still walks her little white fluff dog and gives me hugs in the afternoon, they were in love. The kind of love that still sits on the porch as the sun sets holding hands. The kind of love that committed, to better or worse, in sickness and in health. The kind of love that doesn’t know what to do because their other half has “passed away”. And even though we think we know we always wonder “passed away to where” as you sit in the pew during the strange tradition which is a funeral. And the procession feels like children rubbing sticks together because that’s what they heard they’re meant to do to create a fire; we’re told and we watch how to handle death but when he comes no one ever really knows what to do except follow the motions of whoever is leading, and repeat the words the other people are saying.
And of course a funeral always makes you think “what IS the point of it all” — if sometime in 100 years we leave as quickly as we came (quicker, even).
And of course a funeral always makes you think “what AM I going to leave behind, and who DO i want to spend these fleeting seconds with, and why DOES any of it matter?”. And those are good questions.
So we have neighbors and how good it is to know them and share life with them. Yes, that can be awkward and uncomfortable and feel forward or scary, but it is the most important thing. It is our biggest witness to any kind of truth that we claim to live by: how we treat our neighbors and how we open up our lives to them. Then we have the commitment to join a community. Which is that same awkward and uncomfortable and forward and vulnerable thing- but also so important because NO MAN is an island (and who would ever want to be?). So because of that we have a church that is a group of people who want to be neighbors and want to be community and want to figure it out together as they pursue the truth of God and man. And as a community we encounter life, and death. Death is still sometimes scary but I don’t think it has to be. It can be real and a reminder but it can be peaceful too. Especially if you are in it with people you care about who care about you and you can all figure it out together.
(This part is from a few weeks ago).
I’m sitting at the starbucks that is attached to REI in Denver. It’s late afternoon and I am waiting for a friend who I am meeting for coffee (and by coffee- of course I mean chai). My dividend came in the mail today so I was looking at some new running shoes; I have officially “worn through” an entire pair of shoes. I am thinking of going the more “free foot” route. But with my knee surguries and such I haven’t decided yet.
Yesterday was one of those days. Where it seems like all the favor is shining with the sun. Where everyone you talk to is smiling and cars slow down to let you turn first and the strawberries are on sale. I blasted the song that titles this post on repeat — because during my run this weekend I realized it was spring. I was 16 miles in (yes, 16) and I was running on the path and it curved towards the mountains and the glow of blue sky and light was on my face and I looked to my left and the tree, the have-been-barren-all-winter-yet-beautiful tree one of hundreds that line the canal made eye contact and said “hey look at me!”. So I slowed and walked over and looked and GIGGLED because the little buds were there. The little white petals just babies and closed but COMING and going to OPEN were right there! IT’S SPRING TIME! I realized! So I kept running and told myself I would remember remember remember this moment (because we are people who forget!). I will remember being 23 and training for my first marathon and feeling really alive and looking at the mountains in the place that I love and being really happy and excited that it’s spring and excited about the DAY and that we get to live in it and make choices and meet new people and go where we want to go and do what were meant to do! It was beautiful. I will remember it. Unfortunatly about a half a mile later I hit a wall (not really a wall, the metaphorical runnnig wall that you hope is just a metaphor but it kind of feels like an actual wall). And the reality that life is still here and hard sometimes hit me with the wall. But that’s okay too because we hold the good favor sunshine in one hand and the hard wall reality in the other and we just keep running.
I love remembering peoples orders at the bakery. Julie comes in every morning for a large nonfat latte and George gets two toffee rolls and a mug for coffee and Jim gets a sticky bun and sits in the corner next to the windows. I love being able to ask dozens of people about how their day is going, every day, and actually mean it. It’s incredible the amount of influence and impact we have, the opportunity to give life and bring life in each small interaction. It is no small thing to smile. To be patient. To listen to someones story. To hope for someone a beautiful day.
My little sister was born on the first day of spring (March 20th). This spring she turned 16 and we celebrated and it was wonderful. And on my answering machine for my cell phone I ask the question “what are you most excited about for this next season” and the owner of my bakery answered “I am excited to hear the birds chirping in the morning, that is my favorite part of spring”. And that is the best answer I have heard so far. I forgot about the birds because they’re quiet when it’s cold. Winter is slow and winter is magnificent but quiet and a little bit hidden. But it’s officially spring and I knew it because I fell asleep with my windows wide open last night and this morning I woke to birds. There are two parts to this. 1) Fires. There are fires because there hasn’t been enough water. I am excited for spring and dreaming summer but we have to remember that we can’t rush it. If there are still a few more storms to come before the barbecues and flip-flop tan lines then that’s just what we have to do because it’s the right thing. And number 2: it’s time for spring cleaning. In every sort of real and tangible and metaphorical way. Look at the trees! How they let their leaves fall and branches curl up and they waited out the cold. They let themselves look dead and rid of anything they didn’t need. But now they say “thank you” to the sun and I see green green green! They are coming back slowly each blade of grass is allowing itself life. So I think: what do I come out of winter with? What did I learn in the colder months the quieter months? What is my source and what fruit will I bare and how do I let myself be made new in this new season that is all about fresh and life?
So for me here is one thing: I am going to do a health-food-cleanse the whole month of April. Because it’s important to be stewards of our body, our life. To not take for granted or take advantage of the gift of food. I love food. I always have. And I have never been on any kind of a diet in my whole life, I think because I (sometimes immaturely) rebelled against the obsession with diets. I want to, in preparation for the marathon, and coinciding with spring, really consider what it is that I put into my body. Because I can feel the difference every day starting in the first half mile of my run (and all the way through). Whatever I ate the previous 36 hours I can FEEL in every step. It’s incredible to be becoming that aware of my body. To feel so intimately the concept of my breath, of my strength, of fatigue and heat and stress and speed. So it’s going to be a lot of fruits and veggies and no chai or frozen pizzas or cinnamon rolls (AH!) and self discipline and spring cleaning! I think we have to live in our bodies and not just our minds, so I can go through my sentiments and emotions and memories and let them be “spring cleaned” – which is GOOD and IMPORTANT and we all need to be doing it! Also, in the flesh, I can pine-sol my hardwood floors and weed out the remains of last years garden and clean out my body and let everything be whole and complete.
In other news: I want to get a dog. Really badly. I want a Lab shepard husky mix. If you see a puppy of this particular breed, LET ME KNOW! : )