Hollins Mill Park is becoming one of our places, one of our familiar spots, someplace to invest our time and to foster our community. Oddly enough, I’ve only been there twice with the familiar folk who share it with me. But somehow, nevertheless, at any time I’m there, so are they.
The first time we all went, we were content simply to stand with our toes comfortably cool in the moving water of the creek, as spray from the waterfall alleviated the feeling of the heat. We sat on a fallen tree, now a smooth and welcoming log, arched high enough to dangle our feet with delightful ease. We watched as the dogs romped and ran and sloshed through the water, frightened for awhile by a massive, dead snapping turtle, yet thoroughly enjoying their splashing about.
Twice last week I went there alone with the children I babysit. I watched as a two-year-old’s eyes lit up in wonder when she saw her first waterfall: “Naesee, whas dat big, bubble water doinin’?” I held a six-month-old who grimaced with surprise, then relaxed into hearty, infantile laughter each time the breeze blew a mist of water across his chubby cheeks. The next day, I climbed across rocks and waded in the shallow stream with four- and five-year-old siblings, who’d rolled in the dirt they called “sand,” and who learned from some older children how to hold craw-dads without getting pinched.
Today, I went alone and walked awhile down one of the trails that branches off to one side of the park. With trees on either side of the man-made path, and the motionless, muddy creek just beyond, it was almost as though I were alone indeed in a solitary woodland. There were no sounds, save the distant voices of the park’s other patrons, and an occasional car on the roadway above. I stood at the water’s edge and watched some geese float peacefully across the still, solid surface. I saw a turtle bobbing its head now and then above the water, after which it would dip so close to the bottom that despite the creek’s significant lack of depth, the turtle would almost disappear entirely into the water’s sullied shallows. I watched as a large, spindly spider spun a bumblebee twice its size into a perfectly impenetrable mass of silky thread.
Later, I carried a lawn chair across the creek’s shallows and into a shady nook where I could rest with the waterfall and the deeper, quieter waters at its base stretched out in front of my now-bare feet. I was struck with how familiar the place had become, and with the fact that familiarity had, after all (and even after four straight days of reposing there), bred no contempt. Indeed, the more I get to know those shallows, the sound of the water, the feel of the place–the more I get to know Hollins Mill Park, the more I love it.
That’s when I realized that my church family was there, too, even while I was alone–because I love them, because they love me, and because we love Hollins Mill Park together. That’s when I also realized that the more familiar I’ve become with them, the more and more dear they’ve become to me. I am so blessed to have been called into such a strange yet beautiful family, and to know that each member is not only my neighbor, but also my brother or sister in a very real familiarity that’s founded on the common Spirit whose will we seek together. There’s the married couple who’ve shared their space, their time, their belongings, and their very lives with me; the tiny child as-yet-unborn that owes its being to their love and God’s; the three single guys who live upstairs, who each in their different, quirky, brotherly ways have shared with me their friendship and themselves; the sixty-year-old man who’s sometimes–oftentimes–difficult, but who is nonetheless like the eccentric uncle who just belongs with us anyhow; the two big, black, well-behaved dogs, their new and adorably shy little friend (a smaller, yellow pup), and the grey-striped cat who is my real favorite pet from amongst our menagerie. You see, I live in a duplex right now with these people, and I’ll soon move into a house with them, where we’ll live together, garden together, eat together, pray together, and together seek to know and to follow and to desire Christ in every aspect of our lives.
For the moment, we’re about to finish off this Sabbath day by eating together once again, and it is in my church family’s physical presence that I type these final words, full of gratitude for all the time we’re redeeming and for all the times still to come.