For seven years, I stood on my neighbors’ porches every other Friday to hand them some pages I’d written, rolled into a rubber band and labelled: Argyle News. The neighborhood newspaper was mostly a briefing of the birthdays, holidays, and graduations in my family, sometimes headlined by a tree that had fallen across Edgewood Road or rainstorm that forced Papa’s pond over its banks. I knew I wanted to be a writer and thought I wanted to be a journalist, so I reported on what I’d seen, took pictures, sometimes even interviewed people for feature stories. My brother drew cartoons, and my sister helped make deliveries, but it was my cup of tea, really. When I graduated high school, my neighbors asked what happened to the newspaper. They were gracious, but they missed it.
And so did I. The truth is that I didn’t want to give up the Argyle News but made myself. I was eighteen. My friends were applying for scholarships, not writing stories about lost dogs and roads getting repaved. I felt like a teenager still wearing kids’ clothes, and when people asked what I was working toward as a student, I never told them what I was working on.
“I’d like to be a writer.”
“I’ve been writing for seven years.”
It was a cute pastime, “a blessing to your neighbors,” said Dad and Mom. I kept at it because I loved it, and so did Mrs. Kathy and Ms. Sue, and I didn’t quit because I stopped loving it. I quit because there were “better things” to write about than my neighborhood and a “broader platform” to stand on than my neighbor’s front porch.
I started blogging in 2017, even as I ran the paper. The two never intersected, because my blog was for biblical things and my paper for real-life things. I couldn’t plumb the wonders of Psalm 139 for Sue who wasn’t a Christian, so I started a blog, where I could say those nice things to people who knew what I was talking about.
And I couldn’t write about Argyle Estates on my “platform,” in front of an “audience.” Bethany J’s Journal wasn’t so much a journal as a wall for pretty words and pictures. I did mean what I said, and my articles stemmed from God’s Word, but I think most new writers act like they’re wearing a tweed suit to their first day on the job. You’re the same person you were, but you think you need to say things like a “writer.” It takes years to feel the stiffness of those clothes and be brave enough to just wear jeans to work.
People asked me what I was working toward but never what I was working on. So you write between school subjects and visit your neighbors— but what do you want to be? What’s ahead? And ambition is beautiful, but the world’s idea of it isn’t Paul’s, who said to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11).
I listened to a podcast episode with Zack Eswine today—a writer and pastor I’d never heard of before—and he talked about being a writer and pastor no one’s ever heard of before. The episode was called, A Stamina for Being Overlooked.
“I am one person in one place,” he said, “I can’t fix everything. I can’t know everything. But I can follow Jesus where I am— and that matters.”
Then, he hit closer to home (literally):
“In order for us to reach the globe for Jesus, someone has to make it their ambition to live in Webster Groves, Missouri. Somebody has to plot there and stay… We have to find ourselves in a place.”[i]
Once upon a time, my ambition was my place. I wrote about Argyle for Argyle. Then I grew up and tried to grow out of that front porch platform. I was living a quiet life but looking for one where people clapped louder.
Sometimes, God’s grace falls like rain that starts as hail, and I had honest people say honest things about my writing that went to the bone. I buckled under their wisdom, then looked up to see the world as it stood around me, with its lost dogs and patched roads— and began to write about it. Yes, even on my blog.
Here’s something that surprised me: Handmaking the same newspaper for the same people on the same day of the week taught me to aspire for what’s quiet, to mind the affairs God gave me, and to bury my hands in the work of years. I think I see something now I couldn’t as a high school graduate with the world at my fingertips, and it’s that the world is at my fingertips. Because the world is here. In Argyle. On Edgewood. In the afternoons I spent writing about Argyle and Edgewood.
But is this selfish? Isolating? Does a quiet life shut the door in the face of a needy world so I can drink tea and bird watch?
It helps to see Paul’s words as they sit together:
“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you might walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12).
Paul had been taught love by Love himself, and so have we:
“[Just] as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:34-35).
And only moments before this command, we watch Jesus as he “laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist” and “poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5).
He wet his hands, worked quietly, then said:
“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
Jesus was ambitious. He set his face toward Jerusalem. As he went, he knocked on the doors of needy people, because his ambition was one that wore a servant’s towel around his waist— and then a cross over his back (Phil. 2:7-9).
Jesus has saved and freed me to run after an ambition that washes feet and knocks on needy peoples’ doors, too.
At thirteen, though, I wasn’t exactly aspiring to love and serve my neighbors. I was an aspiring journalist. But God uses small people with small hearts in small places to walk his love right through other peoples’ front doors and into their living rooms.
Before the Argyle News, all we knew about our neighbor Ms. Sue was that Papa Jay drove her places, trimmed her bushes, visited a few days a week, and she never once let him in her house. So, when my siblings and I dropped off the newspaper those Friday afternoons, we stood on her front porch. Sometimes, we’d sit on the cast iron bench for twenty or thirty minutes, visiting with her. I don’t remember the day she first motioned us into the foyer, but we looked at each other. Inside were skylights, tile, ceramic English thoroughbreds, and dog hair.
The three of us stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Sue’s foyer for about a year. Then, we moved to stand around the armchair in her living room. Then, we sat on her floral couch.
When cancer spread through Sue’s back, she laid on that couch and called for Mom and me. We went in without knocking. Mom left to contact a doctor, and I sat in the armchair, holding a bottle of Ensure to Sue’s mouth. She wouldn’t drink it but wanted me to comb her hair, then read to her. One of my newspapers sat on the glass table.
“Would you read that?”
Sue wasn’t an audience and her porch wasn’t a platform. She was a person— a dying one. Blog posts outlining Psalm 139 couldn’t break into her life the way stories about lost dogs could. These were stories she knew and cared to know. And so my family opened her front door, moved into her foyer, and finally, surrounded her nursing home bed.
Sue wasn’t an audience and her porch wasn’t a platform.
My ambition to write for applause didn’t work on the “platform” God had given me. Instead, Jesus worked his quiet, loving, seven-year-long ambition into and through me on Ms. Sue’s front porch.
He’s a Savior who stood on the front stoop of my heart, knocking until I was broken enough to let him in (Rev. 3:20). And he says:
“You also should do just as I have done to you.”
[i] Zack Eswine, Pastor Writer Podcast: “A Stamina For Being Overlooked.” Oct, 2018 (https://open.spotify.com/episode/5RHrTYa9OrzSeezf4eIjsD?si=QFYD8tyDQj-4aAkO-FNlNA)