neighboring

College didn’t have a lot of Jesus in it, for me. Halfway through my eight years in that college town, His relentless pursuit of me included a campus minister giving me a chance to work for him, messy lifestyle and all. Jesus is the ultimate “chance” giver and that chance was life changing. Not overnight though…it was quite a process!

As I started attending church and getting more connected to Christian community after being completed disconnected for years, I was eating up all that the pastor was putting down. Soaking in all the goodness I hadn’t been exposed to for so long…

‘For I will pour out water on the thirsty land
And streams on the dry ground…”
Isaiah 44:3

I was a thirsty land and His streams were satisfying my dry ground!

One of the most monumental sermon series from that time in my life, that place, that church, that pastor, was based on a book called The Art of Neighboring.

In searching for the book a few months ago, I saw another author has created a parody of the book. Mocking it, challenging it, etc. It’s hard for me to see that because this sermon series was so powerful in my own life a decade ago and yet who knows what I would think of reading the book now!!

Bottom line — this concept sparked something deep in me, a desire to live in community with my physical neighbors. To know them, to be present with them. Not as a goal minded mission field, that’s not my style, but as a mutual “I need you, you need me, let’s do this life thing together” way of neighboring.

At the time, I was living super transitional. I moved 25 times in a 15 year period. That’s really hard to do neighboring BUT with each place I lived, the heart of the art of neighboring was present.

In Atlanta as a single woman living alone, I knew I had to be a little careful with how much neighboring I did. Safety is important and not to be scoffed at, yet, I never want fear to drive me — in ANYTHING — and especially not with neighboring. I’ve learned that 9.99 times out of 10, when I have a fear response to something regarding my neighbors, it’s more discomfort in the unknown than it is valid reasons to be concerned.

So, single woman, living alone in Atlanta. I met a next door neighbor and a woman who also lived alone across the parking lot. Both women didn’t become besties but they were in my life. One cooked me dinner one night, the other made me potholders when I moved that I still use today.

Apartment number two in Atlanta had me not living alone but with a roommate. This gave me a little more confidence and gusto to branch out more. In that season, life was insanely busy (insert Lukas into the mix) but I still managed to know my downstairs neighbors enough to identify the engagement ring dropped in the parking lot as the mom’s and know my “behind me” neighbor enough to know when her grandkids were coming to visit.

Once Lukas and I said “I do”, we were hotel living for 8 months. Not much neighboring you can do in the halls of a hotel but you know who is around a hotel? The staff! It was important for me to be intentional with each front desk, cleaning, maintenance, manager, breakfast food person we encountered during our stays.

For all of the above years, I did the best I could to neighbor those in my nearest proximity and even though I don’t remember names or have anyone’s phone numbers from that time period, I do have a lot of neighboring muscle strengthening experiences. Like doing reps at the gym over time, when our married couple selves moved to our Atlanta apartment, I was a semi-seasoned neighborer ready to watch God fulfill this desire of my heart.

AND HE SHOWED UP!!! Duh, right?

Lukas and I took candy and a note to all of our closest neighbors in the first weeks we moved in. We hit up probably 15 apartments and heard back from around half. Yes, I gave them my contact info including my CELL NUMBER, crazy, right?

Out of that half I established contact relationships (you have my info, I have yours, let’s chat when needed) with four households. Three of those four became something more. One family gifted us stuff left and right and loved being a part of Tabby’s early years, until she moved to take care of her elderly sister. One family is still, to this day, on our Christmas card list. And one woman I don’t keep up with regularly but could pick up the phone at any point to call to chat and it wouldn’t be weird.

The last one is the most meaningful to me. We legit got into each other’s lives. We shared meals together. We picked up stuff at the store when our households were sick. We bought her couches that now sit in our living room when she moved out west. She’d stand at my car watching Tabby if I had already loaded her up and forgot something upstairs. When a major family crisis hit, Tabby and I walked around and around the complex with her, praying for her family member in distress.

As many people as I have in my life I get to keep up with via the amazingness of technology, there’s something incredibly tangible about neighbor relationships. Some people might be able to post on their social media page — “Hey, can I get a stick of butter?” and someone bring them one in time to bake the cookies, but not me. I might not even get comments unless they were roll your eye or laugh out loud emojis. But a neighbor I’ve done life with? It’s easy to pick up the phone and have that butter within 2 minutes. (A real live example from last Christmas when Tabby and I were trying to bake Christmas cookies)

And that starts to get to the heart of why neighboring means so much to me, why it matters, why I love for it, crave it, and have worked to build it over the years. MEGA intentionally now that we own our own home and might be planted here for the foreseeable future.

The real heart? I NEED these people. I need to walk out my front door and do more then just wave. I need to know what’s going on in their lives and need them to know what’s going on in ours. I need to be surrounded by people who have my back and I need people who I can have their back too.

Six weeks (or less) after moving into our house in East Point, I stood in our living room and watched Lukas close the hallway door after putting Tabby down.

CRACKKKKKKKK. Thump!

“What was that?!?”

We opened the front door to see an 80 foot pine tree lying horizontal across our yard, across the street, and into the diagonal neighbors driveway.

I immediately started praying and thanking the Lord. The only damage? Our mailbox. if the tree had fallen 180 degrees in the opposite direction it would have hit the house, exactly where Lukas was standing and Tabby was sleeping. The humility of what we’d just been rescued from by the King of Kings was not lost on me, at all.

Nor was the reality of how He showed up through our neighbors. Within minutes, Brandon from down the street had his machinery out and Russell was chain sawing away. Between the two of them, they had the road cleared in minutes. Larry and Marie from across the street were checking in and Ms. Sharon came out to stand with us under her carport while the guys worked.

It was the first of many instances where we’ve relied on the people in our physical proximity since living in East Point. Some others have included borrowing a few sticks of butter, meals for months after James was born, feeding our chickens while out of town, moving our trash cans to the street after shoulder surgery, a hug when life was too hard and the tears flowed, or a little landscaping advice.

I keep a map of our current neighborhood on the refrigerator. Twenty seven homes have names beside them. At least fifteen, I know more about them than just a name, and eight households are on our Christmas card list.

Two of the eight families have become part of our family. They were the first people who met James when we came home from the hospital, I spoke at one’s memorial service, Lukas is taking one son to a Hawks game for his birthday, I’ve taken the same son to school, and one has cooked us so many meals I can’t even count. We’ve laughed and cried and prayed with them. And they will be in our lives forever, even if our address changes.

As I think back to that tan fabric covered chair I sat in as a single woman in Auburn, AL. Longing for the life the pastor spoke of — full of people and love and sharing the good, bad and ugly moments with people in the houses next door — I marvel at all God and I can build together. That was 10 years ago, this year. Ten years full of different addresses, front doors, and mailboxes. Ten years of a common goal — get into the lives of those who live next to me and make a point to get into theirs as well.

There is plenty of commentary on what Jesus means when he says “love thy neighbor as thyself.” From experience, I can testify that loving those in my physical proximity has impacted my life in profound ways. Living a life focused on “neighboring” is something I’ll always do. There’s just too much goodness in the people I see every time I pull into my driveway, and if all I did was put up a hand and hustle inside to the next item on my to do list, I’d miss it. I’d miss the treasures found while neighboring. And those treasures are worth more than all the money in the world!!

xoxo, va

4 thoughts on “neighboring

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