I love our house. I think it is perfect for us. I love it’s size, I love its layout, I love it’s backyard, and I love the views. I love the views from our window, the views from the road, the view from our swing in the backyard. In fact, there is only one view of our house that I don’t love: the view of our house as a small, red icon, obscured by two bright, green dots.
That’s what our house looks like on the sex offender registry map. There’s our nice, cozy house…two doors up from one sex offender, and two doors down from another.
I remember the first time I saw it, shortly after we moved in. In the two seconds it took me to orient myself to the map and to figure out where our house was, my heart almost stopped. I thought, “You have got to be kidding me.’ I quickly called Greg to the computer so that he could share my horror. We then spent the next half hour looking at that and several other sites, trying to gather more information about the nature of these people’s crimes. To us, the sites were pretty opaque, but from what we could understand, their crimes were more “low level,” less serious…whatever that means. Still, the realization of the darkness that surrounded us led to a serious talk. I lamented that we hadn’t checked the registry before we moved in, but Greg disagreed that it should have made a difference, and ultimately, I saw his point. The reality is that you cannot control who lives around you. People move in and out all the time, and there are tons of people who should be on the registry, but aren’t. At least here, we know what we are dealing with. And on a larger scale, there are tons of dangerous people in this world, not just sex offenders, who could be living around us right now, and the only reason we don’t know it is because there isn’t a worldwide heinous-sin registry online (thank God).
The truth is, we generally have no idea who surrounds us day in and day out; we have no idea who we live alongside, drive alongside, shop alongside, worship alongside. We can barely understand the darkness that lives in our own heart, much less the hearts of others, even our brothers and sisters in Christ! That rather morbid awareness constantly looms over me. At the worst level, it makes me fearful, and at a neutral level, it makes me vigilant regarding my children. At the best level, though, it gives me a mission.
See, when I get a glimpse of the darkness of this world, be it through the nightly news or the sex offender registry, it makes me realize how important it is to build a home of light and love. I work hard to build up my house, to make it a place full of love and joy and peace. I want my house to be a safe haven for my family, both a training ground for action and a welcoming retreat from battle. I want it to be a place where our souls can rest, can be refreshed…a place where our hearts are filled back up with love, which gives us the strength and confidence to take that love with us to the world. The goal is to build a home that we can carry out with us into the world. Ultimately, I want the love experienced in our house to internalize itself in each of our hearts, so that we can take that love and light with us into the darkness. I want that “home” to never leave us, even when we leave it. That’s a big part of my mission.
Also, I’m slowly realizing how those goals for my home can help more than just my family. My home can even perhaps be that safe haven of love for others. I first started thinking about this when some friends from school came over. There was a boy about Anna’s age, who was recently adopted, and who always hovered close to his mom. It was as if he was afraid that she would leave him without telling him. They had been over once before, and although the boy ventured off to play several times, he was quick to come “check in” with his mom, just to make sure she was still there. Well, on this visit, the older girl ran outside to play with Luke and Anna right when she got here, and the younger boy disappeared inside. The mom was shocked. She called his name and eventually went to find him. He was in our family room, happily playing with Luke and Anna’s toys. I didn’t think much of it, but the mom was flabbergasted and told me that he had never done that. He had never felt comfortable enough at any other house, where he would just run off an play. And then she said something that went straight to my heart; she said, “He must know that this is a house of peace and love. He feels safe here.” That blew me away. It reminded me of something weird Greg had said earlier that week. We had marveled over all the animals that we had seen around the house (five deer, a turkey, and a family of foxes living at the end of our driveway), and he had come in from the woods with news of more. He said, “There is something big bedding down in the woods, like a deer or something. I see the flat spots where it is laying. Apparently,” he added jokingly, “the animals must know that this is a house of peace.”
I thought about his joke again last night, when we had an impromptu cookout for Memorial Day. It started when we invited a couple over from church, and somehow that expanded into us inviting all the families at church (it’s not a big church). So last night, we had about thirty people over to grill out and enjoy each other’s company. It was especially cool to see how the older kids interacted with the younger kids, and especially how sweet they were to Luke and Anna. One boy, especially, impressed me. He was quiet, but happy throughout the evening. At one point, when a young mom pulled up to the house with her three kids, he ran out in the rain to help her inside. At another point, he came and told me that the trash was full and asked if he could take it out for me. I thanked him for telling me and took the trash to the garage myself, but when I came back, he was digging out the food-covered plate that my son had thrown in without realizing there was no liner. Throughout the night, he was so helpful and kind to the children, but always in an unassuming, natural way, not in a “look at me” way. He just seemed to be such a good kid. Afterward, I commented to Greg about how much I liked him. Greg responded, “Yes, he has a good heart, and he can be a great kid…when he doesn’t feel threatened. When he feels insecure though, he can be a handful.” Turns out, this sweet, thoughtful boy was currently suspended from Y.E.S. because of blatant disrespect. And he was also known to pick on other kids! What?? That revelation shocked me, but I think that Greg’s prognosis was right on. The environment last night was non-threatening. It was welcoming and happy and loving. And it gave him the space to be a good person. See, it’s easier to be light when you are surrounded by light. It’s easier to show love when you are surrounded by love. And that’s why it is so important to have an environment, a “home base,” of light and love. I realized last night, yet again, that my home can be that refuge for other people besides my family. In fact, I realized that that is my mission. This world is so dark. I want to be light. But I don’t just want to be an individual light; I want to share that light with others. After all, I didn’t create my own light. It originated from God, and it was passed to me by my family and so many of my wonderful friends. And now my job is to keep that light burning, to keep that love flowing, so that it will pass on to others. So that people like that teenage boy can come to our church, can come to my home, and be filled with enough light and love to sustain him when he goes out into a dark and threatening world.
And so we continue to try to bring that light in our cozy house, nestled between two sex offenders.
How do you bring light?