I’m proud to say my sons joined a gang—a bicycle gang comprised of every kid in our two-street subdivision. Like something out of Stand by Me or The Sandlot, they tear up and down the street, explore the creek running through the neighborhood, and play baseball in the yard next door. We bought our little white house in the cul-de-sac for this exact reason—so the kids we adopted from foster care could relish childhood. I love hearing whoops of joy when one of them sinks a three-pointer in our driveway and savor the sight of them sitting together in the yard, all scabbed knees and jutting elbows, sucking down Pop-Ice.
The size of their little cabal fluctuates depending on the day of the week, and it can be difficult to remember who’s who at times. Some kids show up every other weekend or so when they’re staying with their dads. Others, usually cousins of one family or another, are around one day, never to return.
Maybe that’s how I missed Joshua, the spunky five-year-old who lives two doors down. I looked out the window one Saturday afternoon to see him gleefully firing a Nerf Gun at my eldest who was hiding in the branches of a Japanese Red Maple in our front yard. The boys played for hours, changing activities when it suited them, and by the end of the day, they knew pretty much everything there was to know about Joshua—his favorite foods, what cartoons he watched, where he went to school, and that more than anything, he wanted the training wheels taken off his Spiderman bike. (You know, the essentials.) They were basically best friends for life.
Joshua’s father eventually walked down the street to get him for dinner, and while we waited for toys to be gathered and goodbyes to be said, we got into a great discussion about raising boys and the struggles of working parenthood (which, in Atlanta, usually includes traffic woes). He said, “I knew the commute would be a challenge when we moved in a year ago, but . . .”
I cannot for the life of me tell you the rest of that sentence. I stood there, totally flabbergasted by the fact that this man and his family had been less than a hundred yards away from us for more than 365 days, and not once had we managed to have a conversation with him. Until that day, I didn’t even know his name.
Now that the too-brief Georgia spring has passed and summer’s bearing down on us with the fury of a jilted lover, the boys keep coming in to ask, “Can I go to so-and-so’s house to play?” The heat makes the request a reasonable one, but the same reply keeps coming out of my mouth: “No, you can’t go over there because we don’t know that family well enough.” Granted, my hesitation comes from a good place; I want to keep my sons safe. But who’s to blame for that ignorance? Certainly not them. It’s my fault we don’t know the people around us well enough to trust them with our children. That realization left me deeply ashamed and asking myself how to correct such an egregious oversight.
When questioned by a lawyer about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded with an answer we likely can all quote verbatim: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 25:37–40).
Love your neighbor as yourself. It sounds great in theory, and we say we’re here for it. But what does it look like in practice? How do we love those around us when there’s barely enough time to love the people in our homes? How can we begin to care for one another when the demands of daily life are sometimes more than we can manage? There’s no easy answer for this modern problem, no quick fixes. We must simply be willing to put in the time. As Linda Loman says at the end of Death of a Salesman, “Attention must be paid.”
We must be willing to cross thresholds if we’re ever to connect one to another. It’s a word that has several definitions. Most commonly, it refers to the sill of a doorway or the entrance to a building, but it can also mean “any place or point of beginning.” It also shares an etymological link with the word thresh, which means to “trample or tread.” Perhaps that’s why we hold ourselves back, why we’re unwilling to cross the threshold of another’s home or allow them to step over ours. It’s a word loaded with potential, but also great risk.
Our children, through the simple act of play, have served as ambassadors to the neighborhood, introducing my husband and me to their friends and their parents. But simple pleasantries and fly-by engagement aren’t enough if we want to love those around us the way Christ calls us to. More is required. We began simply—by inviting three families, including Joshua’s, over for dinner next Friday. My husband (who smokes a mean brisket if I do say so myself) is eager to fire up the grill. And I’ve found myself looking forward to the evening as well, excited by the prospect of welcoming others in.
Cover image by Gleren Meneghin.