My favorite church sign ever read: Men plan. God laughs.
I can’t help but laugh, too, at the accuracy of that as I look back over my life and realize how often my plans for what was “best” for me were so different from His.
I rarely understand, at the moment when the unplanned comes, why my world is being thrown off-kilter. It’s only in looking back that I see the bigger and better scope of God’s plan in the circumstances. It’s then when I begin to realize the changes both in me and around me.
Leaving what we now refer to as “the big house” in the country was NEVER the plan. It was the dream house we built to be our forever home. However, a series of events, most of which were completely out of our control, made leaving there our reality. We quickly learned that looking for a place to rent with our much-loved Rottweiler, Gracie, was a nearly impossible task. My nephew had offered to rent us his beautiful home on Charles Street but, I did not want to live downtown, in the ‘hood’. I had no specific reason. I was just afraid.
Because of the dog, Rocky eventually convinced me that she and the alarm system would keep me safe. (I should mention that, other than her looks, Gracie was about as much security as a kitten.) I finally decided I could survive this for a couple of years until we could regroup and figure out what was next for us.
I expected my life to be very limited. I was afraid to go out or come in at night; I kept the doors locked and the alarm set all the time. Therefore, my initial experience lived up to my expectations. Over time, I began to venture out a little more. By Spring, I was feeling a little more comfortable in my new surroundings and put a table on the front porch to balance my need to be outside with my remaining fears. I could never have imagined all the work God intended to do in me as I began reading at that table and posting to social media about my #porchtime. Initially, the books were a way to avoid interaction with anyone walking by. Later they sometimes became the topic of conversations.
Up to this point in my life, I was pretty comfortable with my “faith” that followed lots of rules. Right and wrong were clear in my head. I questioned little of what I’d been taught so the gray areas were a small sliver of my worldview. It’s an easy place to stay, and to feel safe, if you never interact with real people who don’t look, act, and think a lot like you.
Our block of the neighborhood was beautifully diverse. Our neighbors lived openly with various sexual orientations and this was definitely unfamiliar territory for me. My nephew had introduced us to the women across the street early on, and while my introverted self felt awkward, I made an effort to speak, wave, and exchange a few sentences of small talk. Rocky, of course, was already having conversations and meeting the rest of the neighbors. Relationships began to develop, and I slowly became more comfortable. It wasn’t long before we were having conversations that were deeper than small talk. One funny memory is of all the times sitting on the porch with our neighbors chatting and everyone just stopping, mid-sentence, as the train went past and then picking right back up where we left off. We also had a habit of yelling “wrong way” in harmony every time a car drove the wrong direction down our one-way street – which happened often.
I have so many fond memories of my neighbors and those years, so many I can’t possibly share them all. One summer, Rocky and I hosted a block party, and EVERYONE came! We had such a great time that a couple of the guys asked if we planned to do it every year. So, we did it again the next year. The block parties led to a Christmas progressive dinner that was filled with friendship and great food. Just a few of my other memories are of my grandkids and the neighborhood kids having a “band” on the front porch, much time spent in conversations on each other’s porches, the sidewalk, and in the middle of the street. We helped each other with home improvement projects and repairs. When Rocky left to do disaster relief, they reassured me that they were watching out for me and that I could call, any time if I got scared. One night when a police chase ended on our block, we waved at each other from upstairs windows and texted back and forth. When Rocky had surgery, they mowed our yard. We woke one snowy Sunday morning to find our sidewalk had already been shoveled and the car cleaned off. We watched football together, celebrated birthdays, mourned losses, and on and on.
All the events and small moments of our five years on Charles Street changed us in so many ways. We stayed way longer than we planned, but the exact amount of time God needed to open our eyes to the world around us and change our hearts. I grew in my trust of God and learned that I could do things scared. Gracie passed while we were there, and by our last couple of years there, I rarely remembered to set the alarm.
Fear has way less control of my life now, and that has opened the door to so many opportunities and adventures that, before Charles Street, I’d never have taken on. I have headed up one of our Women’s Retreats, gone into strip clubs with Stripped Love, and currently, lead the Birthday Bash for the YWCA and facilitate a parenting class that the YWCA and First Choice are collaborating on.
Additionally, there is much more gray (grace) area in my mind these days, and I’m comfortable with that. I don’t have to know all the answers to love people.
Here’s what I know for sure:
Our neighbors on Charles Street were the best, kindest neighbors we’ve ever had and acted way more Christ-like than some of our “Christian” neighbors in other places we lived.
I am forever grateful to my nephew for providing shelter in our storm, to our neighbors for accepting us, and for how God slowly changed us in that season.