Rumor has it that a Puerto Rican and a white girl are moving into the yellow house. The for-sale sign now reads “sold” and the anticipation of who is moving in can be felt amongst all the neighbors. The elderly white man next door couldn’t care for he has long forgotten how. He doesn’t mind noise, his ears don’t work. He doesn’t mind crime, he has nothing to steal. He doesn’t mind mess, his house has needed work for years. The Asian couple on the corner just had a baby and don’t seem to notice much of anything else. The children are the ones who notice and proclaim there must be children. They are afraid their “playground” will be taken away. When move in day comes, rumor has already hit home and the Puerto Ricans across the way come and welcome one of their own. It will not be until the move out that they realize it is Italian and not Puerto Rican blood that gives the homeowner his color. The children greet the couple explaining that since their yard is the biggest on the block – a selling point from the realtor – they always played in it and couldn’t wait to play with the new kids; they were disappointed to learn no children would be moving in that day. But as the block became home and the neighbors grew to know each other, most days you could find the children playing in and amongst the back yard or eating from the various berry bushes planted in the fencing.
For most days this was a picture of growing up in America and how blended a city life could be; but behind the close doors of the neighbors lived the messy and truly difficult lives of these people. Down the street from the yellow house lived two children, the oldest trying to keep him and his sister feed would take his family food stamp card and walk to the grocery store and buy food. His parents, who weren’t married but for the most part stayed together far longer than most married couples, were drug dealers. Mostly light stuff like pot but still they didn’t leave home much and never answered the door when you happen to knock out of the blue. Certainty they didn’t go to church but they made sure that their kids did – each summer they forced the near by VBS (Vacation Bible School) on both their children. Every once and awhile the daughter would ask questions to “white girl” in the yellow house about God. But the neighbor to the right was the most intriguing. There lived a woman with three boys, all from different fathers. The youngest father often lived in the house but many days wasn’t welcome, he had a drinking problem. She tried to teach her boys right from wrong and she spent more money on rent in order to keep them at least a physically away from gangs. One day her middle son who had development and mental delays was playing in the yellow house’s back yard. He was running along the house and bam! He ran straight into the vent cover for the dryer, breaking it off the house. Sheepishly he knocked on the door. He looked shocked when the response was “are you ok?” and after finding out he was the next response was “thank you for being truthful.” He ran home. He confessed to his mom because he couldn’t believe that the neighbors weren’t mad. After that he made friends with the yellow house couple. He would come over to talk and to eat cookies and one night when the drunk sort-of boyfriend arrived at their house, he and his youngest brother found shelter and a safe place until the police worked everything out in the yellow house. And it was the yellow house that checked on the neighbor when his wife ended up in the hospital, offering a hot meal in the late evening when he would arrive home. And it was the neighborhood that rallied together when the MS women’s husband was put into jail for smuggling crack between counties to make sure that her lawn was mowed, her garbage was taken out and her walk way was free of snow.
It was a neighborhood that came together to make sure that even at life’s messiest points people were not left behind. That needs were met and God’s love was shown. I’m reminded that another neighborhood not too many miles from the yellow house experienced great tragedy one night when a domestic dispute became violent and after a rush to the hospital ended in death. The woman stated she didn’t know where to go, she didn’t know any of her neighbors to seek their help in the middle of the night. This is certainly not the life that God is calling any of these neighbors, or us to live. We are reminded that God grace extends beyond even the messiest of life’s circumstances.
It is in these difficult moments in life that we hope people feel the amazing grace of God working within and through each other. It takes everyone treating each other with kindness. And this is what church and our religious family should be about. But often we don’t let it. God knows that our life isn’t perfect that it is messy and sometimes down right chaotic. God knows that each day we try to live into the boxes of the homes we have made but that often life is oozing out of the sides. Yet we often don’t admit that. Neighborhoods are becoming less like the yellow house’s and more like acquaintances nodding at each other on garbage day; but more importantly churches which are not usually comprised of “the neighborhood” anymore are becoming places where we go but we don’t share. No one knows the “real” mess of anyone’s life and the consequences are leaving us without room for God’s grace and mercy to truly shine. We sit in the pews on Sunday “pulled” together but no one knows the strings that are close to unraveling. The book of Ruth is a wonderful reminder to each that each family has its struggles, has its past but most importantly that the bad does not define or prevent the good. Ruth reminds us that it is good to be honest about ourselves and our own mess in order for God’s grace to be felt. Naomi’s strength in returning home shows us how one brave and faith-filled decision can lead to God’s enormous blessing.