This week’s guest post is from my friend, Kris Camealy, and I’m thrilled to be hosting her words because they are honest and real. I hope that you, like me, see an echo of yourself in these paragraphs, and are encouraged.
I sat down on the front stoop the other evening and watched a flock of Canadian geese fly overhead, while my kids scattered themselves down the street, making new friends with the neighbors. They’d been recruited for an impromptu soccer game happening up the street, in the common area between a couple of houses, an invitation unlike any we’ve ever had. This kind of living is completely new to us.
Before we moved here in March, for nearly twelve years, we lived on a noisy, unfriendly street that over the years, became more and more transient with the shifting tides of the economy. Our neighbors changed frequently as houses changed hands, suffered foreclosures, became rentals and so on. The neighbors who did remain we rarely saw, on account of a number of factors.
But it wasn’t all their fault. We could have made more of an effort.
When my husband and I first moved to the old house, we had one toddler and one baby on the way. After walking through a number of nasty houses, we stumbled into a house that was clean, tidy, and move-in ready. We didn’t deliberate long before signing on the dotted line. We made our home there, and for a while, tolerated the openness of our large backyard. But as the boys grew into preschoolers, and we added yet another baby to the mix, the lack of fencing around the perimeter of our yard gave me pause. Our backyard became a regular cut-through for teens making their way to the bus stop, or to the main road. People regularly walked through our yard as if it were a public thoroughfare, and honestly? I hated this. The regular foot-traffic of strangers across our property made me feel unsafe, and caused me great angst when the children wanted to play in the yard. This, coupled with the fact that our home sat only one house into the neighborhood, off of a busy road, made me long for a fence to keep the kids in, and the wanderers out.
As soon as we were able, we had a 6 foot privacy fence installed all the way around the backyard. I would no longer have to deal with the neighbors dogs pooping where my kids played, or the teenagers behind our home traipsing past my living room window on their way to wherever. My kids could play freely without my worrying that they’d somehow make their way to the busy street out front. This was exactly what we wanted.
But now? I would no longer see my neighbors.
Before the fence, we’d greet each other while returning our trash cans to the backs of our homes, or while raking the yard or letting the dogs out. Before the fence, we could wave hello as they sat on their back deck, or grilled burgers across the lawn.
Before the fence, interaction with our neighbors happened naturally, without much effort, without any pretense.
The fence gave us exactly what we wanted. I still think we needed the fence for all of the reasons I mentioned, but at the same time, we lost something too. When we locked the door on that house for the last time, after 11 years in the only neighborhood my children had ever known, we didn’t say goodbye to anyone. We had no relationships there to grieve or miss. We’d been rooted there alone, and partly by our own doing.
After nearly 12 years in what felt like a social dessert, we’ve miraculously landed here, on what is arguably the most social street in the state. Six months ago, I didn’t know places like this actually existed, outside of Hollywood sound stages and sitcoms. We are living in a place “where everybody knows your name”. For real. It’s crazy-amazing.
Almost no one has a fence.
Our current backyard is a wide open space that bleeds indistinguishable into our two neighbors yards. Our children play between the houses, and in the common area situated smack out my kitchen back door. On any given afternoon, half of the neighborhood can be seen wandering between each others homes, sitting in each others driveways, and wandering in and out of each other’s garages. Here, you can’t help but see each other.
I’ve thought a lot about fences since we settled here. I’ve thought a lot about the ways we build them in real life, and relationally. If I am honest, I liked living behind a fence. It made me feel safe. The 6-foot privacy fence erected behind my old house is not the first fence I’ve lived behind. Or hidden behind. It’s only in the last couple of years that God has revealed to me, what a master architect I have been at building fences.
Last year, God called me to launch GraceTable, a hospitality themed website where writers share stories of what it is to love their neighbors, to live in community and wrestle out what Jesus meant when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. GraceTable is a virtual space, but through it God is teaching us what it means to make actual space for people. As we have been coming around to the idea of practicing intentional hospitality, it’s not lost on me that God planted us here, in a neighborhood free of fences. This is a place God is growing me, growing us, as a family. We are learning what it is to let others in, to let them walk on our grass, and discovering the beauty of fence-free living.
Kris is passionate about bringing people to the table to be nourished by good words, good food and Jesus. Meet Kris at her blog, kriscamealy.com and on Instagram @kriscamealy. Kris is the author of the book, Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey Of Refinement and the founder of GraceTable.org, a community Table open to all who are hungry for more of Jesus.