Our neighborhoods are a circle of influence that God has given to us to live in. Our neighbors can be the people we live among, or the people we live with...we choose.
I lived in a 9-story, 72-apartment building for the first ten years of my life. Because we were the superintendents, we knew our neighbors, and several of them were part of our support system of friends. When my parents bought a house in the suburbs, we were largely disconnected from the people that bordered our property, maybe in part because I attended private schools. I spent a lot of time with my out-of-town friends, so I didn't think much of the disconnect. Until...several years into married life, my good friend Bethany and her husband bought a house in a neighborhood where many of their neighbors shared commonalities including young children and the same church home. Bethany lived inside a strong and beautiful environment of community. She and her neighbors did a lot of life together: birthdays, small group Bible studies, holidays, etc. This picture of community became an ideal in my mind, but not one I expected to become my reality...
Almost 10 years ago, we sold our first home and bought a house in a nearby small town. One afternoon as I started prepping my new house with my three and one year-olds in tow, I heard a knock at the back door. I ran upstairs with a toddler on my hip to find a smiling pregnant woman with a toddler on her hip, on the other side of my door. She welcomed me to the neighborhood in her British accent, introduced herself as Shelly, my neighbor two doors down, and handed me a white box of cookies from our town bakery. I was deeelighted!!
In the years that followed Shelly and I spent time together here and there: the Starbuck's date several months into our move when I told her I was pregnant, too; into-the-night family BBQs on her deck; an occasional mom-while-kids-play tea or coffee at my house; stop-ins to each other's homes for quick chats or favors; phone calls to ask for eggs, veggies - whatever was lacking in our pantry that a trip to the grocery store was too inconvenient to drive off our block. Also, there was the time we asked them to break into our house to grab and FedEx the Disney World tickets that we left behind; and one of the most significant additions Shelly has made to my life was introducing me to her friends, Diane and Cynthia.
You see, about two years after my arrival, Shelly's friend Diane moved into town. Diane already knew we homeschooled. So, when Cynthia starting thinking about homeschooling, Diane asked me if I was willing to connect with their friend. We did...at our town pool, and Cynthia called me a few weeks later. She asked me about my school choice and God, and I invited her to my homeschool meeting and MOPS. She decided to come to both. This was the beginning of another treasure of a friendship that a couple years later gave Cynthia one more circle of people to help carry her through a very difficult time that none of us could have predicted: her 4 year-old's victorious two-year battle with leukemia. Today, Cynthia and I cherish the the gift of our friendship, and the moments we find to spend together as we stay connected through our passion for healthy foods, and our shared faith in Christ.
Then there's Ellen...she lives directly across the street from me, and holds another special place in my heart. Not that cookies is the way to my heart (lol!), but Ellen made a batch of the best chocolate chip cookies for us shortly after we moved into our house. She walked them over with a sincerely contagious smile! In the year that followed I found out via conversations in our driveways that she is a copy editor. Well, this writer-in-training (me) felt an instant connection!
When I was in the final trimester of my last pregnancy, Ellen told me to let her know if I ever needed anything as the moment of delivery drew near. Well, 13 hours into laboring at home, I knew I needed help when I saw my husband passed out in our bedroom, and my aunt and sister passed out on the couch. I knew I couldn't labor without support...so at 7:30 AM I remembered Ellen's offer and called. When I asked if she was available and why, she was at my house within 15 minutes! Ellen helped me labor. She was a support to my husband and I as I pulled through contractions for the next 10 hours. I can still remember Ellen's smile and supportive tone through the fog of my pain.
Several years later, though I knew it was time to start writing, I felt lost and didn't know where to begin. I asked the Lord to give me a mentor; someone who could show me the way. He answered my request in a way that I didn't expect. It came in the form of a conversation with Ellen in my driveway one Sunday afternoon. As we chatted, I decided to ask her advice on how to begin writing. She said, "I can tell you are good writer by the way you speak. Just start by journaling...just write." Her encouragement together with God's timing caused something to click inside my mind and heart. I walked into my house with a renewed sense of understanding, and soon after started my first blog.
All of these connections, and the events that have come from them, cause me to think: what if Bethany lived in a different place and I didn't have the chance to catch a vision for a strong sense of community in a neighborhood? What if we had never made the unexpected decision to buy the house we live in today? What if we ate Shelly's box of cookies but neglected to get to know her and her family? What if I was too shy to take Ellen up on her offer to help? The truth is that each of us are given opportunities to influence the lives of people around us and their lives impact ours. God uses people and circumstances to change the world, our world, if we let Him.
This past Thursday we said goodbye to Shelly and her family...they sold their house and moved out of state. I will miss her deeply. I am still waiting to meet my new neighbors, but my daughter has already reminded me that we'll have to welcome them with cookies.
Feel free to share your own neighbor story in the comments! You never know, you may influence and encourage someone else through your God-fingerprint moment :-).