Mid-September in North Carolina is a perfect time for porch sitting – a favorite Southern pastime. A glass of sweet tea and a good rocking chair and there you will find bliss.
I was nearing my third trimester and we had just moved to our new(est) rental house. It was a 1970s Ranch-style house with “gorgeous” dark wood paneling and “stunning” wallpaper. For us it was an oasis, wood paneling and all, after a wild ride of life in West Africa.
On a sun-soaked fall day we took to the yard to wash our car and trim up the low lying trees – a bit of American normalcy. I waddled myself around the front yard pruning as our new neighbors across the street sat and stared at me. They sat and stared. They didn’t get up and come over to introduce themselves. They just sat and stared as I hauled my burgeoning belly and a pair of clippers from limb to limb uncomfortably aware of their gaze.
We lived in that house for eighteen months and our only interaction with those neighbors was at our mailbox, which was next to their own and on their side of the street. Even then it was always from across a chain link fence.
We were wearied by life right down to the bone and that little house on Blacksnake road held us through an uncertain time of life. God held us and He used people to carry us along through new parenthood and all our questions about calling and place.
We found a church and a small group almost immediately after we moved. It gave us room to exhale. We don’t have a great track record with finding a church that fits us so we had braced for a long and disappointing search.
We were in desperate need of community that got off the porch and moved toward us.
I found it one night at a church community group bonfire. A sweet older mama called to me as I walked out of the house, her house actually, headed toward the backyard festivities. I thought she was talking to one of the other ladies in the group because she said she had something for whoever it was she was speaking to. She said it in the way you would talk to an old friend whose Tupperware you were trying to return. We had only just met so I thought surely she wasn’t talking to me.
But she was.
She was getting up off her porch to come toward me.
She had made me a baby gift, handmade and full of love. A woman I had only met once had made me and my baby girl yet-to-be-named a gift that started to sew up the hole where I needed community so desperately.
I recognized a tendency in myself through meeting this sweet friend. I like to stay on the porch. I’m comfortable on the porch. Give me sweet iced tea in a mason jar and a rocking chair and I’ll stay there forever.
I’ve always felt that I deserved people to move toward me to create community, especially when I’m the new girl in town. The problem is that we’ve moved a lot and I’m almost always the “new girl.”
Some of us need to get off of our porch and stop expecting people to come to us. I know that sounds harsh because some of us have deep wounds from community gone bad. I get that. I’ve been there, but I’m telling you it is worth it, wounds and all.
I also recognize that sometimes we’re in places mentally, physically, and spiritually that make it difficult to reach outside of ourselves. That means the rest of us have to be getting off our porches to move toward those who are in that place, whether or not they ever get off of their porches to come to us.
There are those of you who are always getting off of your porch and I want to thank you. You’ve taught me how to be brave in community. I’m learning how to live it forward to others who are still afraid to step off of their porches.
After eighteen months we moved to a new place, new town, new community and I realized that I had to do the hard work without expectations from others. The beautiful thing that I have found is that when we move toward others open-handed and without expectation, they move toward us. Our porches get shared and expanded and those fences that we used as defenses come down.
I’ll always enjoy a good porch sitting at the end of the day, but I’m planning to live my life off the porch from here on out. Welcoming anyone I know to come and sit a spell.
Do you need a push to get off your porch? Maybe you are looking for an opportunity to invite folks past the porch and right on into your home?
That is what (in)RL is all about.
By Jessica Leigh Hoover, from the (in)courage archives.