A Challenge

I’m listening to the Director of Operations for the International Justice Mission in Southeast Asia.  He makes three statements that can reshape my purpose in my community.

1.  Believe that the strong have a duty to the weak.
2.  Identify the one in need of rescue.
3.  Respond with courage and compassion to confront oppressors (spiritual and physical) and set people free.

I’m not in Southeast Asia, but I am in a neighborhood.  Do I believe I have a duty to help others?  Can I ask, “Where are the weak among us–those suffering, those oppressed by various sources–who God might send me to help?”  And will I have the Spirit-filled courage and compassion to move into lives that need freedom?

Living with flair means going on rescue missions.  Today, the verbs confront and rescue enter my list of actions I want to animate my life.  Lord, give me courage.

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Journal:  Who needs to be rescued in your community? 

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The Only Way to Make It

The driveway and sidewalks–every path we try–stretches out black and shiny, smooth as glass, and treacherous.  Ten of us set out for school, and by the time we reach the corner, we’ve fallen down six times (some of us twice). 

The danger is real, and I’m nervous.  

“Hold on to me!” I cry to the little ones.  We find another mitten to grab or another arm to link through, and we suddenly stabilize.  When one starts to slide and fall, the others catch him, find a new balance, and press on.

Instead of falling on our backs, our sliding on ice resembles smooth acrobatics:  our legs shoot out from under us, but then someone has our back and we bend forward and backward.  Arms flail and clutch, yet we do not fall

Every child laughs.  Even I can’t help but enjoy this treachery.  It’s now an adventure, a pleasure.  

I think about the strength in numbers.  I think about finding others to balance us as we flail and clutch the air.  Holding hands and shoulders, we approach the crossing guard who warns us of an upcoming stretch of ice to avoid.  We walk a wide circle around it, arm in arm. 

Safe at school, I recall what it takes to get here.  The danger was real, but we overcame together.   Nobody can make it alone. 

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Journal:  With whom do I lock arms on my journey?  What dangers am I facing that friends can help me battle? 

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Somebody Needs This

Last week–during my horrible cold– my neighbors express their concern for me in. . . soup

First came the hearty meatball soup with spinach and tomatoes.

Then, on day two, a bright orange butternut squash soup paraded in with crostini appetizers so delicious I gobbled six between the front door and my kitchen.

Day three?  A classic turkey noodle elbowed in.  The Italian Mama brought more the next day, escorted by bread and chocolate and a baked ziti that stole the show.    

On day four, a minestrone humbly entered, warm and muted.  

And the next day, when I had given up all hope that my body would heal, a creamy potato soup arrived.

Bowls and bowls of steaming broth, eaten right in the bed, nourished me in more ways than one. My body was healing, aided by neighbors whose soup loudly proclaimed: “We are taking care of you!” 

This morning, word spreads that a family down the street is sick.  My crock pot muscles her way between the toaster and the coffee pot, and I chop all the ingredients for a vegetable beef stew.  I’ll deliver it late afternoon and find my place in the parade of neighborhood love in the form of steaming soup. 

So loved did I feel by soup that I wonder why I don’t make it every day this winter and find a neighbor who needs it.  Somebody needs soup today, and living with flair means I deliver it. 

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When the Competition is You

Last night for Neighborhood Fitness Group, we dance our normal dances and crawl around like wild animals.  But then, the children beg for “The Jump Rope Challenge.”  Turning jump rope in a basement is a challenge in itself, but we figure out a way to make it work.

“The Jump Rope Challenge” isn’t a normal competition.  It’s a battle against your own best record.  Before each child begins jumping, he or she announces a personal goal.  Sometimes, this number is 10 jumps.  Sometimes, it’s 110 jumps .  There’s a scorekeeper, cheerleaders, and rope turners, so everybody has a role to play.

A little girl jumps.  We cheer when she surpasses 10 jumps and reaches 39.  The next one exceeds 100 and achieves 102 jumps.  The next one beats his record of 18 and goes for 21 jumps.  High-fives!  Loud cheering!

The fun of the challenge is that you beat yourself.

I’m amazed because the children don’t compare their record to other records.  The moment jumping rope is about their personal best–unique to them, in their stage of life, set right at their fitness level.  My sister has told me for years about the running world and “personal records.”  It’s not important who finishes ahead of or behind you.  You have your own time to beat. 

I keep turning the jump rope, and my arm feels like it’s going to give out.  I tell myself to keep turning so that a little boy can reach his personal best.  Somewhere deep inside of him, he musters up the strength.  I see his face, and I try to imagine what’s going on inside of his head.  He wants to quit; I see that.  But he doesn’t. 

The scorekeeper records the personal win.  We tape the evidence to the wall.  Maybe I’ll keep these charts in my basement for 20 more years.  Maybe I’ll show them at their high school graduation and remind them of these nights in my basement when they accomplished a personal best and the neighborhood cheered.

They wanted to quit, but they didn’t.

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Darning a Hole in Your Community

Last night, our neighborhood launched the second year of Monday Night Neighborhood Fitness Group in the parking lot.  We had children and adults jumping rope while others biked, skated, threw football and Frisbee, walked a circuit around the perimeter, flew the big turtle kite, or raced up the steep hill beside the parking lot.

From above, I wondered if we looked like one huge mass of criss-crossing elements filling in the space.  We wove in and out, passing one another.  

I thought of darning. 

Darning is the technique one uses to repair a hole in fabric or knitting.  I learned that a knitter makes a framework around the hole and then uses a crisscrossed pattern to fill the gap.  My friend alerted me to this concept two days ago when I mentioned that the beautiful socks she knit me last year were beyond repair with two gaping holes in the heels.  She says, matter-of-factly, “I’ll just darn them for you.”  

Darning reminds me of how scabs form on the body.  Platelets, fibrin, and plasma all work together to form a web around the wound–filling it in and sealing the hole. 

There’s something beautiful in the webbing and criss-crossing that must take place to repair a hole or a wound.  It happens when we repair fabric or our own bodies, but it also happens in our lives.

I thought about my community and all the ways we hold each other in place, all the ways we intersect, gather in, unite, and fill each others lives. We choose to deliberately criss-cross.  We are wound healers when we come together like this. 

Something was darned in my heart last night–some gaping hole I hadn’t remembered was there.  I only played for an hour.  The sun set upon us, shining gold through the trees in the distance, and there I was, jumping double dutch (making a fool of myself) with these folks I’m living life with. We aren’t related by blood.  We were strangers a few years ago–some a few days ago.  Now, we are something else.   I’ll gather on the asphalt every week with these people:   platelets, fibrin, and plasma that circle, web, and heal.

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The Extra Chair Revolution

A revolutionary is a person who actively participates in a revolution. A revolution, I just read, is defined as: a drastic and far-reaching change of thought and behavior. Defined this way, I like to think about my search for daily flair as a revolution for me. It’s a daily choice to find the good, the beautiful, and the meaningful in the rut and hum-drum of a life. And once I notice it, I have to proclaim it and act in response to it. I want to revolutionize the dark days; I want to let the light in.

Last night, a boy knocked on the door with little marshmallows and toothpicks in his hand. He invited my girls to help him build structures out of these materials.  Afterward, they were outside, running barefoot, playing hide-n-seek in the yard.

I cooked dinner with my husband. Nothing fancy: burgers, some pasta, some corn, some sweet potatoes. All of a sudden, the little boy came into the kitchen and said: “I’ve got to call my Mom.”
“Is everything OK?” I asked.
“Yeah. I just gotta call her. I’m gonna tell her I should probably stay for dinner.” Apparently, the kids smelled the food cooking.
“Sounds good.” I smiled. I love impromptu dinner guests. In fact, I keep three extra chairs on standby with extra place mats for our round table. Years ago, my husband and I had this policy that we’d always make more food than we needed for a “just-in-case” dinner guest. Every so often, a student or a friend will stop by, and as 6:00 PM rolls by, I just pull up the extra chair. We’ve never had to say we didn’t have enough for dinner guests.
It’s a hospitality revolution for us. My house isn’t clean. The food isn’t anything great. I didn’t have to send out invitations or have party favors or anything. I just had to pull out an extra chair. Spontaneous hospitality for the neighbors is part of our lives now.
Having barefoot kids coming in for dinner and then rushing out for another game of hide-n-seek was my flair for today. I’m so glad I had extra corn and burgers just in case.
Living with flair has something to do with being a neighborhood revolutionary. It means having extra chairs to pull around a dinner table. It means having friends who know they should probably stay for dinner.
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The Double Dutch Challenge

I learned Double Dutch with the neighborhood children.

I did it. Seriously, I did.

It was a community effort. One mom bought the jump ropes at a sporting goods store, one mom offered her vague memories of how to do it, and one mom agreed to turn the ropes with me.

We read an instruction booklet first.

So there we stood, us moms and dads, with all these children around us, rising to our newest neighborhood flair challenge: Learn Double Dutch jump rope.

It’s a terrific game to learn. Think about the fact that two ropes are turning in opposite directions, fast, and some child (or adult) jumps over these ropes in a sequence that resembles running in place or else doing little hops to avoid getting tangled up. We practiced turning the ropes (that’s a sport in itself), we sang traditional jump rope songs (something about candy), and soon, 6 children learned this skill. We cheered each time. We slapped high-fives. We celebrated like we were at the Olympic Games.

And then it was my turn.

I am an older woman, remember. Put it this way: I jiggle in places and need support in more ways than one. But I always wanted to learn Double Dutch, and for whatever reason, I never took the opportunity.

Well, now. If I’m going to live with flair, I can’t let this be.

It took me two tries, and I did it. I maybe jumped 5 times in total, and I didn’t get tangled up in ropes or anything. It’s actually not that hard once you learn to jump really fast. Now I’m moving on to performing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” moves while I Double-Dutch (thanks for the suggestion, friends).

What made it an overwhelming flair moment? Double Dutch represented the best of community organizing. We set a goal, we divided tasks, we gathered to accomplish our goal, and then we celebrated. As I teach my family about community service, I instill the value of building a neighborhood. We are learning how to gather people together around common goals.

Our neighborhood values physical fitness and raising children with the skills they need for life-long health. We can’t do this alone. We need the group.

Something about this shared task of learning Double Dutch felt truly authentic. I’m not sure how to define it other than to tell you that authentic community involves jump ropes. I keep them in my minivan at all times.

Besides, life is hard. Some days I feel like I’m trying to jump over ropes going in opposite directions with out-of-control schedules, sick children, working, and just living. But then I look up, see my community with their hands on the ropes, steadying me, encouraging me, looking me straight in the eyes and saying: You can do this, Heather! Ready, Set, Go! And the ropes turn, and the neighbors cheer, and then I’m doing it! I’m doing this impossible thing that I couldn’t do just yesterday!

Having a neighborhood that comes out to play after dinner is community flair. We value exercise, and now, we value it with flair. Living with flair means keeping jump ropes in the back of your minivan just in case the neighbors come.

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