There were about twenty-five people sitting in a hodgepodge of lawn chairs or on blankets in my driveway. We’d become “the summer house,” and I was never sure what each day would hold or who would be there.
Today would be a talent show. My three kids plus other girls and boys of all ages were ready to perform or be entertained. The kids had decided to raise money for missions in Belize, and people were actually paying to watch this talent show. The entertainment was entertaining (to say the least), with magic tricks, gymnastics, dribbling a basketball, Hula-Hoops, and a jump rope routine.
Music played, and grandparents and neighbors smiled, laughed, and clapped. They didn’t mind paying the dollar for this interesting mix of kids with an array of talents. Then one of the sweetest little redheads in the neighborhood announced, “Please stand for the singing of the National Anthem.” This was the grand finale as this third-grader sang proudly and perfectly on key.
Of course, no neighborhood performance would be complete without those icy pops, the ones where you cut off the plastic on the top and then suck out the fruity flavor. I think some first-graders, who were now allowed to use scissors, were asking the guest audience what flavor they’d like and handing out the refreshments to close out the show.
The hour was entertaining and endearing. It was the type of thing that brought us together as neighbors and built friendships.
What I remember most about being the summer house is laughter. It is the music that plays through my memories as I think about all the kids in our home through the years and the neighbors we were able to get to know because of an open door. We created the home I always wanted, where people come and go and relationships are intentional but not forced. A summer house is a safe place to learn, grow, laugh, and cry. Smiles and hugs are free. And once you come through the door, we consider you family.
Jesus talks about loving our neighbors, but sometimes we make it more difficult than it needs to be. Some of the best advice I ever received about being hospitable to others, and especially to the kids in the neighborhood, was, “Don’t feel like you have to do anything special.” In other words, don’t go out of your way to entertain. Just let them be present with you, and be available. Jesus modeled this example and ministered to others as He was on His way doing the things He would normally do on a daily basis.
So, following Jesus and His example is how we became what I love to call “the summer house” where kids gather. A few ways to make your home the summer house:
- Don’t worry about the clutter. Kids don’t care about things being clean and picked up. Go about your normal day with the kids there. Ask them to help with something occasionally when you need help. Let them feel that they are part of the family.
- Have a designated snack spot. For us, we had the freezer pops and a set of scissors handy at all times. They would cut off the top of the icy pop, drop it into a trashcan by the freezer, and be on their way. At times, different neighbors would supply something for a snack, but the kids came to the house to play, not eat.
- Set safe boundaries. Make sure kids know your home is a safe place. One way to do that is to let them know the boundaries. Kids feel more secure when they know what is and what is not allowed. It is best for them to know where they can and cannot play in the yard, especially if there are no fences. Safe boundaries are physical but also include appropriate behaviors. Don’t be afraid to set the rules that enforce no bullying, no fighting, and no unkind words. Kids will often keep one another in check if they all want to be there.
- Create margin for conversations with both the kids and adults. Pull out the lawn chairs or sit on the steps to visit with those who come to your summer house. Be open and remember that Jesus may be using you to demonstrate biblical hospitality to those in your neighborhood. “[Loving your neighbors] is about cultivating an authentic relationship with people we live (and work) closest to and then letting God do whatever He desires to do with it from there” (Jen Schmidt, Just Open the Door Bible study, p. 29).
Through the years, summer days were special. There seemed to be a little more time and a little more freedom. Summers happened at a different pace. You could play. You could rest. You could breathe. We were able to meet and have conversations with people in our neighborhood, grandparents visiting from out of town, parents and their kids. We took time out for talent shows, bike parades, and games of any kind.
One last thing that was an unwritten rule at our summer house was to always wear your swimsuit under your clothes. You never know when the water hose will be pulled out or a water sprinkler will be turned on. When you are a kid, it might even make a great water routine for a talent show!
What other fun ideas do you have to be the summer house?
Michelle Hicks is the manager for Women, Marriage & Family resources at LifeWay in Nashville, Tennessee. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to LifeWay. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.