Today I am blessed to be returning to Israel with these incredible people for the Christian Leadership Institute. Gleaned from all over the United States, they are funny, wise, insightful, deeply faithful and simply fun to be around. And like last year’s ten-day program, this year I look forward to deep learning, challenging discussions and really good Israeli food! So thankful to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Shalom-Hartman Institute for the experiences and learning which have already generated threads of transformation in my life.
Yet somehow I am reluctant to leave home. May the God of our journeys watch over the children, the work, the gardens and the worries we leave behind. If not for the gentle nudge of the Spirit, I would probably stay in my backyard. But like my son Kyle likes to say, “if you want to grow, you have to do hard things”. Thank you Kyle and thank you to my cohort for pushing me beyond my self-imposed limits and helping me find ways to build authentic community a world away.
The day was achingly warm. The kind of day we are afraid to complain about because we know what a fast, sultry lover July can be. Soon enough we will all be inside again, bundled up and wistful for sun. For now we are discussing teens kissing at concerts, and little girl wounds and memories of other summers gone. I suddenly realize two things- 1. none of the eight kids in the pool are mine; and 2. I have not been in a bathing suit all summer. Neither of these realities is great cause for concern, it’s just a moment, dropped down in the middle of a late July Tuesday afternoon. But it makes me think. The little boy surrounded by inflatable fun reminds me of my youngest, back in the days when his three older brothers thought of increasingly more risky and hilarious ways of playing with him in the city pool. They all swam early, an unintended bonus of being a stay at home mom in southwest Florida. We would load up the double stroller, the oldest pushing and the other two riding ahead on bikes. I was always in the water with them, a baby on my hip, another on the edge of the pool, watching as they held their sweet toddler breath and joyfully dove in. I went through three bathing suits a year then, worn out by pulling children and too much chlorine. Today there are five decent suits in my drawer, and not one of them looks good on me, or so I think…most days. I still spend a LOT of time around pools, not in the relaxed fun of that Tuesday afternoon but nervously watching my boys swim, compete, fly, finish, stand, fall or shine. How hard it is to release those delicious baby cheeks to the watery chaos of this world, and to trust God to bless them. Dive in boys, dive in.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. Isaiah 44:3
Every Tuesday afternoon we gather. At first we were three, then seven, now ten women living in homes on the west side of the street. For a decade we have huddled around coffee tables and on porches while children played around us. Food, wine and sparkling water are on the table, but the real nourishment is in the stories, the raucous laughter and the flowing tears. We move in and out of the room with our babies and toddlers and teens, transporting to practice, coming in from work, arriving weary and leaving refreshed. These women are a sounding board, an advice book, a circle of mourners and a cheer-leading team. We rotate hosts and among us have 31 children and nine husbands. The children show up more often than the men, and that’s OK. I love my neighbors in a time when we are supposedly living without neighborhoods. I trust my neighbors to correct my children and watch my house and tell me when I am off track. Also to make me laugh, right after they fill my glass with “just a splash” more.
The Gospel of John says of Jesus, “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood“. (John 1:14) So often I see God in the flesh, in my neighborhood, sometimes with high heeled shoes. Where have you seen God, in your neighborhood?