About a year after moving into our current town, I reconnected with an old friend from our former community. She asked how the transition had gone for our family. I told her about our new home, conveniently located near the park, school and grocery store — a house in a neighborhood that often seems to be overflowing with children. And just when I began to talk about the joys and frustrations of living in a small town where everyone knows everyone, Wendy’s face lit up. “You’re still the popsicle house, aren’t you?”
I laughed and nodded, hopeful that her words were an accurate description of our house, where the yard is often busy with children playing, and many a popsicle break has taken place on the front steps. My husband and I have realized that in this season of our lives, one of the greatest God-given assets we have for evangelism is our kids. Children attract other children like magnets, and God has allowed our kids to work as a natural catalyst in the process of sharing Jesus with the families all around us.
Embracing a missional purpose
When we first faced the reality of relocating our family, I dreamed of finding a little home in the country. I imagined a tire swing over a gurgling stream in our backyard, my children feeding chickens and caring for fruit trees.
Lovely images, but my motivation at that time was more about protecting and isolating my family. My husband and I were recovering from a difficult ministry situation. We’d invested in relationships in our community for years, and part of me wondered if the love we’d poured out on others had been worth the effort. Perhaps we just needed a season of rest — some time and space to focus on the spiritual needs and enrichment of our own family.
But God challenged my spirit. As my husband and I talked about the relocation, the Lord reminded us of His heart for people, and of the opportunities that would be all around us if we chose to immerse ourselves in community. Jesus instructs us all to “Go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28: 19) and while disciple-making certainly applied to raising our children, we recognized that God had called us to apply this mandate to a broader spectrum of people.
The hub-and-haven balance
People like myself— people who are energized by time spent alone— may create a home that functions more like a retreat center. This is natural, I think. I am thankful that our family has been able to weave times of rest into the fabric of our busy lives. We need these margins for the sake of our emotional and spiritual health, so we have the strength to show Christ’s love to the world around us.
But while my husband and I are learning how to slow down to be refueled, we’re also learning the importance of being intentional about building relationships. We may be busy spinning our wheels when it comes to our families’ activity level, but that often goes nowhere when it comes to reaching our neighbors for Christ. It takes effort and sacrifice to move beyond the comfortable walls of our home and into the lives of those who need Jesus.
I love how writer (and mom) Kari Patterson speaks of this balance: “I want our home to be both a hub and a haven. A place where everyone feels comfortable coming, a place where paths cross, a place that is bustling with life and activity. And yes, a place where I can unapologetically turn off the porch light and lay low when my family needs calm and quiet.”
When we moved into our new house in town, we began to cultivate new relationships with the people around us, one conversation at a time. That meant being the first to cross the yard when a neighbor was outside washing a car or shoveling a walk, and lingering for conversation. It meant walking next door with a plate of cookies or starting dialogues with other parents at the neighborhood park. And as our kids have made friends with other children on the block, we engage in conversations with the children who play in our yard and in our home. This often leads to meaningful interactions with their parents.
The “hub and haven” lifestyle of making disciples looks different for every family, depending on the culture and neighborhood they live in. But for us, being that relational hub often looks like a backyard full of kids having a water fight or a basement of giggling girls in pajamas and sleeping bags. We’ve simply decided to be present with our children — and extend that presence into the lives of their friends. We want our home to be a place where kids feel safe hanging out, a place where there are good listeners, a place where there is healthy fun and a nurturing environment. We want our home to be an extension of Christ’s love — and then find openings where His truth might naturally be shared.
Progress and practice
There are days when I would far rather finish a household task or sit on my back deck than go to a softball game or neighborhood birthday party. But when I choose to go I am blessed by my interactions with other parents. True, I don’t always engage meaningfully with the opportunities before me. But I’m learning. Rather than sit with the same three moms on the sidelines, God prompts me to expand my circle of interaction to someone new. Rather than chat about the weather and other trivial matters, He gives me courage to ask real questions that deal with another’s heart and life.
And the effort has been worth it. After just two years, this new community doesn’t feel so new anymore. We have genuine friendships with neighbors on all sides. We’ve seen several friends on our street grow closer to the Lord, and we’ve been humbled to watch God’s love touch the hardest of hearts. And as I look out at our backyard full of boys and girls, bicycles and water balloon fragments, I recognize that Christ’s love is often demonstrated in small, simple ways. If a few Popsicles can communicate that love, then I want to make sure to keep my freezer fully stocked.