Through the Porch Screen
Jan 27, 2019 06:40AM
● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
From July 2007 to July 2009, I lived on a tiny island in the South Pacific with my young family. If you were to ask me about that time, I would reflect that it was a magical time for my children and husband. Safe, good exercise, warm, small-town-ish, full of adventure—whether on the sea or along the islands in the atoll. For me, this urban girl felt smothered in the fish-bowl lifestyle. People knew when you left your home, if you had an argument with a friend or husband, if you went to the drug testing place (which doubled as a hearing testing lab—my reason for taking my 5 year old at the time), etc. My anxiety was high. Rampant alcohol use on the beach, while certainly not always abusive, triggered me, and the fact that my introverted self could not properly hide when I needed to all contributed to the air leaking out of my balloon. It was a slow leak, a subtle hissing, until one day I found myself fully deflated.
Juxtapose this with summer nights on the screened-in porch of my childhood home. In the summers I slept on the couch—Dad on the chaise—and it was the closest thing we would ever get to camping in the wild. But we heard the insects. The crickets and frogs serenaded us. The mosquitoes hummed. And peace reigned on the porch. Any arguing any of us did was to be inside the house. The porch opened us to the neighbors, but it also surrounded us in peace. A safe space. A place where I could count on time with my father. We could share summer air, and I fell asleep to the predictable rhythm of his snoring and nasal whistles (an art form, I’m told, I’ve apparently inherited).
Climbing up the many concrete steps to her rowhome porch, I could see my grandmother sweeping the floor after coming in from tending her rock garden, which served as a way to make the city feel more homey and reflective of the personalities inside the house. I would see she had hung all the plastic birds and dime store decorations for the upcoming Valentine’s Day. The window would be full of them. Her hug would greet me at the porch door.
I believe in living my life as transparently as possible. I want people to see the very real struggles we face because I need people to see how we face them. I don’t feel we do anyone a service whining about the problem without reminding them of a solution, or a work-in-progress.
The time on the island, and the very close quarters with which we all lived our lives with each other had its benefits, for sure, but the shelter of home with family almost didn’t exist. It was often interrupted. The cement walls of our quarters were not enough to make me feel safe. I felt constantly exposed just by walking across the room where the window backed up to a neighbor's window in the shared yard.
The screen porch at my childhood home was awesome but mostly showed the good moments. I loved that it was a center of peace and also hospitality when we had visitors. My mother could cook an amazing summer feast. But it was the opposite of my island quarters…it projected something not necessarily dishonest but definitely purified and censored.
The front entrance to my grandmother’s house showed her sweeping, her making due with few funds, her resourcefulness, and her love. I’m sure it also hid a few realities. And I don’t know her full story or all the history in that tiny rowhome. But I do know it welcomed me in. I wasn’t afraid of it. It was real and safe.
What do you want seen through the porch screen of your life? Through the gateway through which people enter? Or even from the road looking in?
For me, I don’t mind them seeing my brokenness, my not-so-great moments, my righteous and unrighteous anger, my healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with life. You know why? Because then people can come to me with their mess (and/or in mine) and come alongside me in the sanctification process.
I want the broken to come into safety and be healed.
This has been a lifelong journey of
adjusting my porch,
hiding from myself and others on the island,
fighting the tendency to project a false perfection of past realities,
letting my plastic decorations hang, knowing someday in heaven they will shine like gold and sparkle like diamonds.
Some days, my light is dim. I fight for hope. I struggle to see through the clouds of trials to find Jesus. But when that darker season comes along, and I remember how to get my Light back on, how much brighter it shines, right? I pray it attracts people to finding the same Light in the same broken world.
Matthew 5:16, ESV
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
I love the accountability of this. If we live honestly and, to some extent (as appropriate) openly, we live in community and honor Christ. We are “fellow citizens…being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
This next verse speaks to me so strongly. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a “peddler of God’s Word.” I want to live itso people understand how it informs and transforms me daily. I want my life to validate it. To exemplify it. I want people to see me as I fall—and certainly as I get back up again.
2 Corinthians 2:17, ESV
For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Part of why I really enjoy campgrounds (we camp with an old 30-foot trailer) is that while I know our “reality” is out there for others to see and hear over a brief stay, I take comfort in hearing other teenagers mouth off to their parents, other couples struggle to get their kids in bed, to find quiet. It’s the human experience, and try as we all may to be quiet, life is in the raw. Despite the many differences of who gathers on any particular weekend, the human experience remains the same.
By living my life as vulnerably as God calls me to, I hope that others will challenge me and watch God refine me in the process so that I can one day be “pure and blameless” as the Apostle Paul talks about in Philippians.
Philippians 1:9-10, ESV
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
I want to honor God by living in sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:7-8, ESV
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
So, I offer you this challenge: In what ways, big or small, can you be more open about your life with someone who would benefit from your guard being down? How can you invite Christ into this moment/vulnerability to build one another up in love and sincerity?
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.