In the middle of small group, right after the plates of green chili enchiladas had been devoured and the book had been discussed, I caught my youngest sneaking cookies from the cookie jar. I ignored her, thinking maybe she had failed to act fast enough to get a cupcake or a slice of cheesecake from the table piled high with desserts. The kids had swarmed the table earlier, leaving only crumbs.
An hour later, after the house emptied and I was putting away the dishes, I noticed the cookie jar that was once full was now empty. I raised an eyebrow, thinking again, that maybe the nineteen kids who had filled the house had all taken a turn sneaking cookies from the jar.
But the next morning, over the laptop in my office in the front yard, I asked Greenley about the cookies.
Hey babe, did you not get dessert last night like everyone else? Is that why you were sneaking cookies out of the jar in the kitchen? I asked her, looking up at her big blue eyes.
Tears filled her eyes while she choked out her answer. She told me to steal them for her! She told me to wait until you weren’t looking, grab them and stick them down my pants and then bring them to her in the yard. I didn’t want to but she wouldn’t stop begging me to do it and then she called me a baby. She made me keep going back to get more until they were gone. I’m sorry.
I didn’t have to ask her the child’s name because I already knew. Over the years, there have been missing snacks and balls and tire pumps and trinkets whenever she’d come to play.
You know that if you had asked me for the cookies, I’d have given her one, right? I asked. It’s wrong to steal.
Yes. But she said that if I asked you for a cookie she’d only get one and she wanted all of them. she said, still sobbing.
I reached across the table and squeezed my sobbing baby caught stealing for someone else and the mama in me silently roared some fierce words to Jesus, words about separation of church and neighborhood and about being a good parent and what a hot mess all of this crap is.
I’ve wrestled with this post for weeks now because when I choose to write about things, Satan loves to get his fingers in whatever I’m writing about. He loves to take the truth I know and screw around with it. He loves to take our family’s decision to move into our inner city neighborhood and challenge it by presenting the worst case scenario. He steals my sleep. At night, He draws into question decisions that Jesus and I have made in the light. Satan has my number.
Lately, Satan has been messing with our neighborhood. Gang activity is on the rise. Boys who used to play Ghosts in the Graveyard at our house after dark have grown into teens running drugs on bikes. New families have moved in and big kids are roaming the streets. Domestic violence is happening in front yards and screaming fights are an everyday occurrence. A few weeks ago, a handful of boys broke into cars and caused a Sunday morning ruckus with police having to knock on doors and inspect vehicles.
He’s even messing with my heart towards our neighbors and revving things up a notch.
Oh, you like modesty, do you? Well what do you think about her outfit now? How about if her entire chest is hanging out of the top of her bra and she’s sitting on your porch? How about those boys running drugs on their bikes staring at that kid on your porch? What do you think they’re thinking about your own teenage daughters? And that issue you have with cussing? Hang on. You’ve heard nothing like what’s about to come outta that kid’s mouth and honey, he’s only 7.
Don’t you love how those kids pose when they take selfies in your yard? Provocative, huh? And guess what? Your oldest daughter managed to make it into that one! How do you feel about living here now? Did you really think raising kids in the hood was going to be easy? How are you going to be a good parent and draw lines in the sand between your kids and their kids and not offend your neighbors? Things just got tough, didn’t they? These kids are becoming more than just neighbors. They’re becoming friends and you prayed for that, didn’t you? Your kids are just weak and this is your fault, you know that right? They can’t survive out here or at school. Your little church can’t fix these kids and believe you me, when you have to have a conversation with that mama and lay down some hardcore rules, things are going to hit the fan. Why don’t you just throw in the towel before your kids really screw up?
You need to understand that you’re going to have to choose: Your family or Your neighbors.
This is the tape playing over and over again in my head.
My family or my neighbors?
As if there is really a choice.
If I could narrow down all the hard things about following Jesus into one hard thing it would have to be this:
To love like Jesus, then I must choose to be where Jesus would be and trust His goodness there.
But here’s the rub.
I am a mama and as a mama, I am prone to want to hole up and hide out. Keep safe. Stay secure. Preserve self and family. I’m prone to want to believe that my primary job in this life is to launch Jesus followers into this world, one Harris kid at a time.
I’m prone to buy every good thing Satan whispers in my ear because he has mastered the art of good mothering and good mothering means safe.
But that’s a lie.
Being a good mother means that I give my children Jesus.
Being a good mother means that I make our home where Jesus is and invite my children to join Him there.
Being a good mother means that I teach truth and let the words of Jesus deliver.
Being a good mother means that I make wide open spaces for my children to see Jesus building His kingdom among people who are not clean or neat or pretty. Or safe.
Being a good mother means that when my kids screw up, I give grace through Jesus and trust that His goodness will capture their hearts and that He will launch them where He wants them to go.
And being a good mother means that when I want to choose my family over my neighbors, I lean on Jesus and trust Him to show me how to love both, even when I don’t know how.