My pastor husband co-preached about living a front-yard life at a large joint worship service at the park last weekend. With three churches gathered together and probably half of our town at the park, the message of interacting with our neighbours in the front yard, instead of keeping isolated in a fenced-off backyard, rippled through our town this week.
A few days later, I got an invite for a local barbecue from a friend who said she was inspired by the sermon. And a few ladies told my husband that they were sitting in the front yard this week, as per their pastor’s suggestion!
My own front-yard life involves playing outside with my kids. With my year-and-a-half-old son ripping around on his Strider bike all morning, I follow him around the neighbourhood and enjoy conversations with our neighbours. After school, I’m outside playing hockey or baseball with my bigger kids, and I usually end up in another yard chatting with a friend while my kids run around with neighbour friends.
One of our neighbours recently gave us a picnic table. It got carried over to our yard and placed in the driveway, and although we had intended to put it in the backyard, we quickly realized how nice it was to have a table in the front yard too.
I was chatting the other day with some ladies walking their horses by—we live in the country so this is a common occurrence—and one of them said she needed to find a stool to get back on to her horse, as she has a bad hip. I quickly offered our picnic table and the lady was very thankful to have a perfect spot to climb back onto her horse. And my four-year-old daughter was incredibly excited to see this beautiful horse right in front of our house. I did hope that our picnic table would encourage neighbourhood friends to come visit, but certainly didn’t expect it to attract horses.
To me, though, living a front-yard life is more than choosing to have my morning coffee in the front yard, it’s about being open and vulnerable with the people around me. It’s about sharing my life with people, building community and welcoming people into our home, our yard and our family. It benefits our own family when we feel safe, watched over and comfortable in a neighbourhood that knows us, but we also seek to offer that security to others.
I volunteer at a program for single, low-income moms and have talked to several women who say they have no support network outside of the volunteers at the program. Several of them, after splitting up with a partner, have no one they can ask for help, no one to help them move, no one to babysit their kids. It saddens me to see how isolated so many people are; I feel passionate about helping create caring, supportive communities.
In a society where people are busy, independent and task-oriented, I want to ensure that there’s always space for long impromptu sidewalk chats, time to bake an extra batch of cookies to share with the neighbours, and weekend hours to spend working on the yard and watching the kids scooter on everyone’s driveway.
I enjoy living in the front yard, but I also want that in all areas of my life; I want to have a posture of front-yard living when I visit with friends at church, when I volunteer with single moms and when I pick up my kids from school. I don’t want to go about my day living in my backyard, keeping to myself and not allowing others into my space. The front-yard life of loving our neighbours, sharing with those in need and being open and vulnerable in our friendships will create the caring communities we all need.
Christina Bartel Barkman, with her four little ones and her pastor husband, seeks to live out Jesus’ creative and loving “third way” options.
—Updated June 20, 2019