Our kids’ patience for street outreach and conversations with neighbors, for the most part, ran out a long time ago. People on our streets, strangers or not, rarely hesitate to pinch their cheeks, take their pictures, or try to pick them up despite their loud hollers of protest. It is one of the harder aspects of parenting in our context. Our hearts are both to love our neighbors and love our kids, and sometimes it seems like both can’t be done at the same time.
There is, however, one group of neighbors that are an exception to the rule of “hard for our kids to interact with”. It is a bit unexpected, and also beautiful, in the sort of way Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom works.
For more than a year now our children have gravitated towards our street neighbors who are sickest, weakest, and most in need of physical care. Oddly, those neighbors are “safest”, from the perspective of our kids.
Izayla once made a list for me of the neighbors she likes the most. All of them were in advanced stages of liver failure or had HIV/TB.
“Why do you like them so much?” I asked her.
Her answer was simple enough, “Because none of them try to pick me up.” True – most of them don’t get up much at all, let alone attempt to muster the energy to interact directly with our littles ones, except to smile weakly and say hello. Physically, these friends are probably the greatest “risk” to our children, especially thinking of those with active TB. we try to be careful and wise to limit physical contact with the kids, but it is truly beautiful to see Izayla and Elian both come out of their shells and freely engage with our friends laying on the sidewalk. They feel safe, and don’t have to worry that their boundaries will be crossed by these neighbors.
Because of that, our hearts are even softer towards these neighbors than they would otherwise be. We see the softness that Jesus would have interacting with these friends through the hearts and posture of our kids. Yet another place we are seeing them lead us more and more into the Father’s heart.