how to be a good neighbor
We parked the car at our new playground and took deep breaths. The kids would play on the playground for a few minutes before the clock struck five - and we'd walk the short sidewalk path along our new street to get the keys to our new house. Finally. After two and a half months of getting our old house ready to sell - of sorting and packing and cleaning - of not working out and of gaining ten pounds and of wearing the same clothes and forgetting within which boxes everything was located (my mind included!) - we'd have keys to a home. A home that was ours.
There's something about transition - whether it's from one home to the next; from one relationship to the next; from one city or job or disappointment to the next - that kicks at all of your tumbleweeds. I mean, really. Even if it's just for a couple hours or days - in this case, a couple months - the wild, wild Western wind kicks up all the dusty mess that you thought was settled and reminds you that: 1) you're super-duper human and that 2) you've got a long way to go yet, champ. Your vices wrap themselves in "self care" stickers. Your idols grow taller on their poles and sound like old friends just calling to . . . catch up. And this happens even when the transition is an exciting and welcomed one.
All that to say, I showed up at the park with traces of tumbleweeds attached. (My dry, fluffy black-girl-hair said it all.) It'd been a season.
But something about that afternoon carried a hint of magic. The sun's angles across the blue and yellow monkey bars created an inviting haze of light. The kids' laughs were clear as glass. My pacing seemed slower, as did my breathing. The warm air wrapped around my shoulders as if to say, "You made it. You're a little roughed up but, nevertheless . . . welcome."
And so after a few minutes, the four of us began the walk to the new house. But we were stopped instantly by a woman and her two kids who were out in their yard. They attend our church and recognized my husband immediately. They were beaming and welcomed us warmly with smiles and introductions. And then, from the other side of the street, a man started to walk over. His wife and he attended our church, too - and they'd known we were planning on moving in for a while, per intel from the previous owners. We got our keys and were hanging out on the porch - when the next-door neighbor walked out with a plate of warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies. (I kid you not! Textbook movie scene, right?) We struck up a conversation, and then one of her four boys - the 7-year-old - asked if he could give his beloved plastic motorcycle-scooter to Myles. Not loan. Give. It was the first gift in our new garage.
We moved in a few days later. Friends brought over lunch and dinners, drinks and desserts. Families came over to hang the kids' wall art and bring them "welcome" packages. New neighbors brought over a folder with coupons and menus to the local restaurants. A mom with whom I'd exchanged numbers immediately invited us over for a bonfire in her back yard that weekend - and we went. While Delwin was mowing the grass for the first time, an entire family - a couple and their two kids - walked across the street to introduce themselves and give us a peace lily, just hours after I'd mentioned wanting new plants for the back deck.
We met more people in seven days than we had in five years living in our old neighborhood. My heart was tender and overflowing. Decision affirmed. We were truly home.
Then I started seeing news reports from my home state's border: people, many fleeing from violent and corrupt countries seeking a better life, it seemed - they were not welcomed with beaming smiles. They didn't receive warm cookies or restaurant menus - nor did their children receive welcome packages. No one walked across a divide to offer (a) peace (lily).
The joy and gratitude and relief I felt being handed keys to safety, security and a promising, community-rich future was met with so much confusion and grief. This wasn't about politics for me. This was about humanity. Luke 10 fled to mind:
"Love your neighbor as you love yourself," an expert in the law had answered Jesus' question.
"You have answered correctly," Jesus said. "Do this and you will live."
"And who is my neighbor?" the expert asked, testing Him.
To the core of my being, I want Jesus' Word to answer this question for me. Not my opinions. Not my politics. His Truth is water-tight. My opinions have always been so faulty.
I believe I have neighbors who are being mis-treated. Their families are being thrown into unimaginable chaos. I sometimes dream of their children who are my kids' ages and even younger screaming for food, water, someone to comfort them. The noise keeps me up at night. I have neighbors who are desperate - like Delwin and I were desperate for community, for a place where our outside appearance would be eagerly welcomed and appreciated - not just tolerated. Yet they're desperate for so much more.
This past season, I'm realizing, wasn't just for us. It wasn't just for our family to have a home closer to where we work, or to be situated in a school district where our kids could see other kids who look like them. It wasn't just for magic light or warm breeze or for chocolate chip cookies and restaurant recommendations. It wasn't for our comfort. By the grace of God, I'm realizing that we were shown immense hospitality so that we could more easily identify what lack of hospitality looks like. We were made comfortable to more readily point out when someone's being made uncomfortable. We were shown grace through good neighbors so He could say, "See? Now go and do - better yet, go and be - the same."
Here's what I now know about good neighbors that I hadn't seen radically lived out a few months ago.
- Good neighbors come and find you. They want to know you - the real, flesh and blood, you. They don't stay safely tucked indoors where they can gaze from their linen curtains and sip tea. They step outside. They touch and feel the weight you're carrying. They go first.
- Good neighbors provide nourishment. They fill bellies and take up space so you don't feel alone. They overstock and give extra - "just in case." They don't ask - they just do.
- Good neighbors know what you need before you know what you need. They look out for your best interests and deem no gesture too small. All of it counts. They survey your land and know that you need mulch. They give you coupons and care packages. They pay attention.
- Good neighbors receive your hospitality. It's a give-and-take kind of thing, where they value whatever it is you have to give. Even if the place is a mess, the company is worth it - and they walk in with open hands, just glad to be with you.
- Good neighbors care for your own like it's theirs. They have one eye out for your safety and security. They're at the ready when crisis crashes in and can bring over a hammer, a shop vac, or a first-aid kit - whether it's for your buckled hardwood - or your aching heart.
All that to say, good neighbors show up. They show up and rally. They raise their voices on your behalf. They claim you and count you and don't hide behind the tall, perfectly manicured bushes.
Yesterday, my family and I showed up at a #KeepFamiliesTogether rally. Our first one. I realize that I'd been scared to show up to those sorts of events - to show my face and be seen in proximity to causes I care about - because I carry hesitancy around offering my body and putting it at risk in that way. As a woman of color in this country, I do this every day: I put my body at risk just by waking up. It's the norm. And so to do this on someone else's behalf used to seem like too risky a sacrifice. That's me being honest.
But in the past two months, good neighbors have shown me that risk is what it takes to be a good neighbor. There is no such thing as a good neighbor who won't risk anything, whether it's their resources, their space, their time - their bodies. (Ouch, Lord - amirite?!)
And so here we are - in our new house - and here's my hope:
I'm hoping to grow into someone who is ready to risk it all for the neighbors that Jesus taught me about. My prayer is that he'd make me a better, more courageous neighbor.
Because, if ever there were a time when the world needed more courageous, present and risk-taking neighbors, the time is now.
Show up, brothers and sisters. I don't know how He's going to ask you to do it - but show up. Tumbleweeds and all.