I’ve learned that if you’re going to welcome students into your life, you can’t worry about what the neighbors think of you. I’ll always remember the first sleepover we had at our apartment. There were eight or nine 5th grade girls there, but they made enough noise for eighty or ninety. I spent the entire night urgently whispering, “Shhh, shhh—the downstairs neighbors!” My husband and I had many riotous small group activities in that apartment, and were relieved when we bought our own home a few miles away in the same community. Our neighbors helped load the moving truck.
We agreed from the beginning that our home would be more than just an investment and more than just our own space. Chuck Bomar, one of the authors of The Slow Fade, teaches that one of the signs of true community in relationships is that people are so comfortable and familiar in another person’s home that they know where their dishes are kept. That’s what we wanted—our home to be a place of community for students, a place where stories could be told, jokes laughed at, and questions asked.
What we never anticipated was some of those 5th grade hooligans—who are now in high school—finding community close to, but not inside, our home. One night this summer, my husband discovered a tent in our yard while trying to take our wimp of a dog outside at midnight. I spit toothpaste out in disbelief as he tried to convince me he wasn’t joking. So we went back outside, armed with a flashlight and a crowbar (laugh if you want, we like to be prepared). As we crept closer to the tent, the weak beam of light revealed a pair of blue Converse, Puma sneakers and flip flops—all shoes I recognized from the times they had been piled up at our front door during get-togethers. In a few minutes, I went from thinking I was going to bed in my air-conditioned house with my comfy mattress, to in a tent in my yard, curled up in a sleeping bag and giggling with a group of girls about the practical joke they so expertly pulled off.
The next day, when people asked us how we reacted to our guests, my husband and I couldn’t help but say we felt honored. We had purposed for our home to be a place students felt accepted and safe, but never imagined our yard becoming a place for uninvited guests. As they dragged their sleepy heads inside for breakfast the next morning, I was struck by the privilege God has given me to be a part of their adventures—from chasing them around our small apartment as sugar-crazed 10-year-olds, to sitting in the living room and talking about life over muffins and orange juice. I’m sure the neighbors passing our house on their way to work wondered about the oddly-placed tent in our yard, but, hey, at least I didn’t have to whisper, “Ssshhhh!”