I jumped as someone pounded on my front door.
On a sleeting Tuesday morning in November, at the height of Covid isolation, we certainly weren’t expecting anyone. I cautiously opened the door and saw a teenage boy standing on my front steps. He was breathing heavily; I could tell he had been running. It took me a second longer to register that he was also barefoot. “Can I please use your phone?!” he asked breathlessly.
I hesitated. Our house had been broken into the year before, and living in the city, we’d had our fair share of scam artists coming to the door, asking for money. But after a second, I let him into our house. My three young kids stared in surprise as I offered this stranger a towel to dry off with and looked for my phone. With a shaky voice, he told me, “My dad came home drunk this morning and is chasing my mom around the kitchen with a knife. I snuck out the back door and ran until I saw a house with lights on.”
With his words spinning in my mind, my fingers fumbled to dial 911. Together, this boy—Alex— and I relayed the necessary information to the operator, who then told us to wait for a call back from the police to know when it was safe for him to return home. Alex and I had a glass of water and a snack together. He told me bits and pieces of his story—about his mom’s broken jaw, his dad’s drug-dealing friends, his two younger siblings, still at home. I listened and offered quiet sympathy while on the inside I raged at how much he’d been through in just fourteen years of life.
Eventually, we got the all-clear from the police. I walked Alex home. His mother greeted us at the door with a quiet thanks and tear-filled eyes. Alex and his family moved shortly after that. We never saw him again.
But his words—a house with lights on—have stayed with me ever since.
I wonder sometimes if Jesus ever sighed. In the gospels, he’s constantly on his way to some destination when he is interrupted—a blind man calling out from the roadside, a soldier begging for Jesus to heal his servant, a woman who just wants the bleeding to stop.
But time and again, he pauses.
He lived as though he anticipated interruptions, a lit house on a hill beckoning all in need to simply come. I would have made a terrible Jesus. I can barely slow myself down enough to not view my own needs as interruptions to my Very Important Tasks.
But I’ve learned that pausing is everything.
For years, my therapist has been telling me to physically stop in the midst of a busy day, take a deep breath, and ask myself what I really need. Usually it’s just a second deep breath or a sip of cold water that brings me the regulation that my frantic squirrel nervous system desperately needs. In practicing this, I have learned the power of being available to myself, of getting out of my head and returning home to my body.
I’d love to tell you that this practice of turning inward throughout the day has also transformed my parenting and made me more in-tune to my kids’ needs, but the truth is, I still regularly have to stifle a sigh when my kids find me mid-task. When I was pregnant with my first child, the women at our church threw me a shower. All of these years later, what I remember most from that night are the words of veteran mom Lauri. She shared about the closeness and connection with her grown kids that had been sown over the years by her efforts to be intentionally unbusy and deliberately present as they grew up. She talked about the legitimate sacrifice of sometimes setting down laundry baskets and ignoring dirty dishes to just listen to her kids, to play a game, to simply ask them what they needed.
She called it the Ministry of Availability.
It was almost as if she could see the Pinterest board of rainbow-arranged snack plates and scheduled one-on-one dates with my kids forming in my mind because she reiterated her point: The Ministry of Availability is not fancy…or even that much work. But it is intentional.
It’s the kind of love that pauses.
It’s the kind of love that looks you in the face and listens. It expects interruptions to the point that they are no longer interruptions. And what I know now, eleven years later, is that it is a lights-on kind of love.
My kids are older now, and I’ve found that what they really need is for me to sit with them and turn on the Genuine Interest lobe of my brain as they tell me about their latest Pokemon trades. They need me to listen as they process changing friendship dynamics, and Lord help us, emerging crushes.
They need me to be available.
As I’ve slowly learned to set down the metaphorical laundry baskets over the years, I have indeed stumbled upon the truth of what Lauri described at the baby shower: unbusy, unhurried love breeds connection.
In other words, people are drawn to a lit-up house.
In Matthew 5:15, Jesus says something that seems stunningly obvious: people don’t light a lamp and then place it under a bowl. But in this year of our Lord 2023, it’s tempting to hoard the light in the chaos of raising kids amidst packed schedules that I would defy even the Proverbs 31 woman to keep up with.
But I think what Jesus was saying is that his kind of love is meant to be expansive, not contained. In learning to flip the lights on for myself and check in with my own needs, I have begun to leave the lights on for my kids more and more. And in recent years, I have realized the joy of flinging the curtains wide open and letting that light spill out into my neighborhood, which has brought a level of connection into my life that I didn’t even know I was missing.
There was, of course, Alex. But there have also been kids in my house whose mamas were running late getting home from work, kids who have wandered over to climb our backyard tree, adults who have walked across the street to share a LaCroix and talk about everything from how to get toddlers to stay in bed to how to relate to aging parents. I’ve taken an elderly neighbor to dialysis when her metrocare ride failed to show up. I’ve helped look for lost cats and grabbed packages off porches for safekeeping. Over the years, I have experienced the joy of meaningful connection in my neighborhood: the fruit of availability, a harvest wrought from choosing presence over productivity, tables over tasks, and love over lists. I have found a sense of place in my community, a home around my home, that is bathed in the warmth of lights-on love.
I still sigh sometimes when someone unexpected shows up at my door, but I am slowly learning to see each person on my front steps not as interruption, but as image-bearer. I know I can’t meet every need, but I have learned that loving my neighbor does not usually look like strategic programming or putting something on my calendar. It looks like the Ministry of Availability. It looks like pausing. It looks like just sitting on my front steps, setting down my phone, learning people’s names…or even just leaving the lights on.
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