I dropped the kids off at school this morning then kept on walking in a straight line, into the heart of downtown, through the kinds of neighborhoods that make magazine covers and the kinds most of us avoid. (If my city has both, yours does, too.)
Lining every block were homes filled with people who all want the same things, deep down. We're mothers and wives and sisters and friends. We care for our families and take pride in certain things. We want to believe we are lovable.
I clocked miles and stopped for a piping cup of Earl Grey with my city-sister, Kim. Then I turned around and headed back home, where the bathroom waited to be scrubbed and my writing projects waited patiently for my attention.
I knew my walk was stealing time from things that seemed more important, but I've been wrong before and I'm learning the truth often opposes my instincts.
Along the way, I took loads of photos of pretty homes to share on this little Instagram thing I do called #favoritesofgoshen. I could stand on the curb and stare at beautiful bricks and historical, gingerbread-laden homes all day. They inspire me, but more than that, they make me believe the world is an easy place to be.
And I know I'm repeating myself, but for real, give yourself permission to suspend judgment, starting today. The next time you drive past "this" home, imagine only the best of the people living inside. They might need something you have to offer, but they might be doing just fine for themselves. They might not need a helper, just a true friend. Reach in and grab all the junk we accumulate living in our privileged corners and toss it out, because I am telling you, politicians and civic groups and churchy folks and our elders teach us things that aren't true. These untruths sow seeds of superiority and disregard that dull our ability to love and before we even stop to think about it, we are no longer the Good News.
Go ahead, ask me how I know this.
But God tricked me, so we talked gardens and pickles and yes, the walnut tree really is poisoning our garden.
We shook hands and shared names and I can only hope they are future friends of ours. Their radness and joy still shine on my face.
So I smiled once more, and kept on walking.
See? This is what I usually do. Most of the time, I get tangled up in my insecurities and my strange pride and my reverse-pride, the one that says my neighbor doesn't care.
Something in me made me turn around.
She nodded shy when I asked if I could take her picture. I sputtered out a few words of broken Spanish, enough to confuse her, but not so much that we couldn't patch it all together. She did the same, speaking to me in the language I know best, her skills infinitely sharper than my own, but not close to perfect.
Before I walked away, she handed me something delicious. And I can only hope in my wildest dreams that she is also a future friend.
Two blocks from home, there was Bonnie. It's been months since we've crossed paths and when I shouted her name, it startled her and she jumped into the air. "Shannan!" she yelled back. Then it was grandkids and great-grandkids and how she still walks her two-mile loop, every single day.
I'm sorting out how my days should be spent now that all the kids are in school. But I have to believe staying inside, keeping to myself, drifting towards people who are mostly like me, isn't what will make me a better neighbor.
And I'm starting to see the best way to love a broken neighborhood is by being a broken neighbor; palms up, ready to spend whatever I have for the sake of His kingdom, hair down, willing to expose my messes and scars and that stubborn humanity I can't seem to keep at bay.
This is community. This is what we were made for.