When the leaves begin to change to the colors of fire in less temperate places around the world, here in my southern California suburbs, the changes are more slight. A cool breeze. Light jackets. The morning taking just a few minutes longer to start its day. The evenings cooling off enough for our family after-dinner walks.
One early fall evening, we take to our suburban walking paths for “walking tacos,” a meal where we stuff chip bags full of taco meat, lettuce, and salsa and eat it right out of the bag. My children fly to the name, insisting we must eat our second and third dinner helpings by walking around the neighborhood.
We walk through the suburban tract homes, past a park, and make a circle by my children’s neighborhood school, which on Sundays, also hosts our church. My kids walk and jump over the shadows of passing cars. They follow a well-worn walking path that used to be their go-home-from-school path. They jump over bushes. The chip bags are crumpled now.
My mama heart worries as they do cartwheels a few feet away from the street. I mentally rehearse the details to keep track of (the ones I’ve let slip through the cracks): sports and homework schedules, if children are eating and sleeping well, my writing deadlines. I want efficiency, the clearest, quickest path home for there are things to do. While my children easily inhabit the moment, my feet hasten to my to-do list.
As I walk, I notice. And often I begin to worry. Easily the long, slow practices of belonging to a place morphs into what it can do for me. Will these schools be a good fit for my children as they grow? Where will they hang out when they’re teenagers? Will our church grow? How long and hard should I walk to work off that ice cream sundae?
Do I love my place only for what it can do for me? Or, will I finally learn how to find holy in the suburbs? Will I learn how to pour out myself for my place?
Might my very walking of neighborhood paths be a way to reorient my heart?
I’m finding that as I slow down and pay attention, as I root my body to my place, God inverts my suburban sensibilities. Instead of thinking of my place as another consumer choice, I ask: How might I love it? How might I practice being broken, open, and given for it?
It doesn’t come easy. My heart still longs for certainty — a clear Point A to Point B. Yet the wildness of the Kingdom of God seems to come by curved walking paths and crumpled chip bags. Through daily elements. By only seeing just a little bit in front of us where we’re beckoned to go, “This is the way, walk in it.” The pathways of God’s Kingdom are ordinary and unexpected.
So I keep walking. It is here, on the paths of my suburban neighborhood, where I learn the bodily and spiritual practice of putting down roots. It is here — in the ordinary movements of leaving home and returning, of parenting and praying — that I begin to find holy in the suburbs.
I let my children run. I hold their hands when we cross the street. I spread my toes in my running shoes. I smile, and we run home.