When asked “What are you good at?” the prostitute told the pastor “I’m really good with people…”

Sometimes I’m surprised by the dumb things people say.  Sometimes those things come out of my mouth.

This woman came to see me because she had to do community service for the court system. I asked her what her crime was and she told me “prostitution.”  Because I wanted to figure out what we could have her do around the church, before I could stop myself I found myself asking her “so, what are you good at?”  Her reply: “I’m really good with people.”

We put her to work providing hospitality to people who came to the building.  And she was really good at it!

Mike Mather

I love the way Mike tells stories – particularly when they help drive a point home with listeners. I wish I had 20% of his long-term memory and recall of details. But, I digress…

Mike gets some great questions. And some surprisingly dumb ones. But he generally finds a way to bring the story back around…

I love when he tells this story. Because it’s my story. But more importantly, it demonstrates in action how people I’ve come to call “neighbors” practice seeing people for who they really are – behind the stereotypes, labels and preconceptions we might put on those same people.

“Everybody has gift, yea sure. But what do you do with people who are mentally ill or who are drug addicted?”

Question from a visitor to Broadway

To hear the surprising response, I invite you to listen to Mike’s message. The juicy relevant pieces are in the beginning 4:33 minutes…

I probably would have lost my identity struggle with addiction as well as my identity as a contributing member of society had it not been for the simple acts of compassion I was shown – the friendships, the walks around the neighborhood talking, the new lens through which I’ve started to see myself and the world around me…

For that, I’m humbled and grateful. Thank you Mike, Rachel, Cathy, Karen, Kathy, Mike, Ann, Seana, Fran, Scott, Diane, Amy, MaryAnn, Cindy, Scott, Bill, Sue Ann, Mike, Mark, Chris, Holly, De’Amon, Terri, Greg, John, Sandya and many others…

Getting from “Next Door” to “Front Porch”

I live on a quiet stretch of Ruckle St., just north of downtown Indianapolis.  I moved here several years ago by choice to embrace community.  On our short stretch, there are four older homes – plus two houses with driveways/rear entrances from our quiet two blocks.

Our Front Porch
Our Front Porch

This past year, I’ve discovered a great tool for discovering community…our front porch. We’ve met several neighbors walking by. We’ve carved pumpkins with friends on the porch.  And, we’ve occasionally played with flow props or done acrobatics in the empty lots next to our duplex.

Spinning poi in a vacant lot...
Spinning poi in a vacant lot…

With such a small, quiet stretch, we also do a pretty good job of watching our for one another.  If we notice something “out of the ordinary,” we ask questions – pick up the phone and call one another – or knock on the door and check in.  This has included everything from noticing a near flat tire on our neighbor’s car and letting him know before work the next morning, to getting a call from a neighbor when we parked a 24 foot U-Haul on the street while getting ready for a yard sale.  He thought the latter was a little odd, and wanted to make sure someone wasn’t preparing for a break-in or stealing a motorcycle.  It’s little things like that bring a little peace of mind. We’ve also shared or borrowed bike racks, air compressors, hoses and the proverbial “cup of sugar.”

We occasionally use the online app “NextDoor” to communicate a little more broadly with neighbors. We’ve bought and sold gently used furniture online, advertised our yard sale, and learned about crime or safety issues in the neighborhood. While it doesn’t take the place of the front porch, it has been helpful to have around…

Earlier this month, there were a couple posts about individuals checking out cars for unlocked doors — with the occasional “success” on the burglar’s part, finding a items to steal when someone has left them visible in the car, and forgotten to lock their doors.  It’s sad and a bit scary to hear about such events – though “comforting” to know that it happens everywhere — from Carmel, to downtown, to the outer “burbs” of Indianapolis.  Having lived in several large cities, there are certain “rules of common sense” that…make sense.

Having seen a couple of these notices, I took screen shots and shared them with our neighbors – just to keep us all extra aware of our belongings and vehicles.

Next Door Crime & Safety
Next Door Crime & Safety (click image to join)

Late one evening, we started to wind down for the night.  I headed upstairs to brush my teeth, when I heard Brandon yell from the front room, “there’s a guy poking around outside near Bruce’s car.  I’m calling the police..”

The next couple of hours proved to be a little exciting!  Brandon startled the man who was lurking near our landlord’s car next door – he ran off down the street and around into the alley.  Two IMPD cruisers showed up in no time.  They took a description of the suspect, and told us they would stay on alert in the area.  Our landlord joined us in the street with the officers. We exchanged details – and once the police left, I posted an update to Next Door.  We continued getting ready for bed – with a little extra adrenaline to keep us awake!

Before we could get much further into our routine, we heard shouting from several men outside.  We went to the door, only to discover the man in question on our front steps, and two other men yelling at him – and us – from the street. There were accusations of burglary from the men in the street, who were shortly joined by a woman who added to the yelling and screaming.  Clearly, something had “gone down” between the man and his friends – but we really weren’t up for becoming a part of their drama.

Without hesitating, we called back to 911 – and within literally seconds, the two IMPD cruisers reappeared and the officers took charge.  We locked up the evening – setting the alarm – and watch from behind the windows for a bit, while the officers took the man into custody and dealt with whatever situation / back story the other three individuals had to share.  There is a time for being aware, vigilant and neighborly – and a time for letting the police do their job.

But the story doesn’t end there…

How did we get from “Next Door” to the “Front Porch” – for real?!

A couple days later, I was on the front porch enjoying the evening sunset with my two dogs.  I saw a gentleman and two young girls walking down Ruckle, and started to put the dogs inside so they wouldn’t keep barking.  The next thing I know, the man approaches our steps.  “Excuse me sir.  I’m sorry to bother you, but I was down here the other night when the police were here.”

He had my attention…

He introduced himself (I’ll call him T. for short…), and his two daughters.  He went on to explain what had happened the other night, leading up to the other man showing on our front porch, trying to get into our house.  “I came down to apologize for the disturbance. I just wanted to introduce myself, and say I’m very sorry this all played out the way it did.  I’m sure you all must have been pretty frightened when our friend tried to get into your house.”

He added some pieces to the puzzle.  I thanked him for reaching out.

I also told him about some of what happened prior to the small group showing up.  That added some pieces to his puzzle.

We then talked a little about where he lived, about his daughters, about his work.  It was not the conversation I had expected after the night with the police. I made doubly sure to thank him for having the courage and consideration to follow-up and explain what was going on.  I also made a note of his name and address…and want to follow-up with them to have more conversations…probably over a meal (something I’ve learned from my community at Broadway…)

And that is how we got from “Next Door” to “Front Porch.”  Where some, including myself, may have expected the worst – I discovered compassion, courage and community…one conversation at a time.