The Good News of Obstacle Courses and Dance Parties

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This month’s newsletter is written by Jessica Hearne, a Grace and Main leader and founding member, Jessica is supported in her work in our community by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where she is “Field Personnel.” You can read more about her work and find ways to support her directly here.

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“How do you do this with children?” When people start to learn about our work and way of life, this question is often at the front of their minds and soon upon their lips as well. Like most families, children in our community are very important to us, and we would give practically anything to give them a leg up, open all of the doors, and give them their best possible chance in life. But when people hear that we are inviting people into our home – people who have personal experience with poverty, addiction, homelessness, and hunger – their minds run to how Josh and I and our community can protect Lucy, our 5-year-old daughter, from the unknown and unknowable dangers that they suppose people in these circumstances might bring with them. My mind runs there too, sometimes, but more often it runs to Darius.

We’ve known Darius since before he was born, not quite four years ago. Grace and Main has provided some help and stability to his parents through the years as they prepared for his birth and learned to be a family after his arrival. We know Darius’s extended family members, who all share the responsibility of raising him, making sure he has food to eat, a place to stay, and people around who love him. Darius is pretty quiet and a little bit shy when he comes around us, and I can’t blame him. We’re different: we look different, we live in a different kind of house, and we speak differently (my northern accent still stands out even after more than a decade of tempering in Virginia and North Carolina).

But do you know who doesn’t notice the differences? Our bombastic daughter, Lucy. She saw Darius at a big Grace and Main dinner this summer and immediately decided that he was going to play with her, whether he knew it or not. Lucy ran up to Darius and said, “Let’s play!” then took off to run a lap around the room. To the surprise of everyone who knew him, especially his cousin Sal who had brought him to dinner that night, Darius followed! They played chase around the room for a while, then created an obstacle course using the bottom 3 steps of the loft staircase and some pews that line the walls of the fellowship hall. Then they had a dance party around one of the columns in the middle of the room. When it was time to leave, Darius asked to ride with Lucy. We took him to our house, and they played in the hammock and the sandbox while we waited for Sal to walk over and pick him up.

Even better, it wasn’t a fluke! The next month, at the same regular meal, they did the exact same thing: chase, obstacle course, and dance party. Darius sat next to Lucy and me to eat, and then they were off again. We took him back to our house, and they played outside until Sal picked him up on the way home from dinner. I was glad to give Lucy and Darius a chance to play together, and even happier to offer Sal a few minutes of quiet at the end of a long day. Darius didn’t make it to our most recent big dinner, but Lucy’s obvious disappointment worked on Sal so that he promised that he would make sure Darius is there next month. Lucy and Darius claimed each other and we all just followed right along.

So how do we live this way with children? The best answer we’ve found is that we have to figure it out as we go along. We make friends, invite people in, serve dinner, and pray, and we do it with Lucy – and any other children – present and welcome. Perhaps a better question to ask is, “Why do you do this with children?” Making friends with people who live at the margins, who have personal experience with hunger, addiction, and poverty, teaches and changes us, and it is teaching and changing our daughter. Jesus said that anyone who wants to enter the Kingdom of God has to receive it like a child. Lucy and Darius, by choosing to be friends in spite of the differences that might try to separate them, have a piece of the Gospel that we struggle to find on our own. Sometimes, it seems, the Gospel involves impromptu obstacle courses and dance parties.

We invited Darius to come to Lucy’s birthday party in September. We rented a bounce house, and had pizza and cake with a handful of Lucy’s friends. When Sal dropped Darius off in our back yard, I could tell that he was nervous about the other kids running around. He and Lucy are fast friends, of course, but he’s still learning to play with bigger kids. However, it only took a minute for Lucy to see Darius and pull him into the bounce house with her. The kids bounced and played together for nearly 2 hours, stopping long enough for quick lemonade breaks before running back to bounce. We do community with children because anything we could build without them wouldn’t tell the whole story of God’s love. At five years old, Lucy is not yet able to explain our way of life and community to others, but her jubilant expressions of hospitality tell me that she knows all about it already because she’s been learning it alongside us.

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