“Aren’t they going to think you’re weird, Jen?” he asks. “Traditionally, people bring food to the new neighbors, not vice versa. Won’t they feel obligated to reciprocate?”
“I don’t know. I think it’ll be nice," I reply, "and I want to share these cookies with them. My parents do things like that in their neighborhood.” My parents live in the inner city and are intentional about connecting with their neighbors. Bringing cookies, working in their own yards and in the community gardens, teaching families how to grow vegetables for the first time, prayer-walking past strip clubs, drug houses, and talking with prostitutes, or encouraging neighbor kids to get their GEDs, my parents are loving people each day, in each encounter.
Armed with a family photo complete with name captions and a message introducing ourselves as the new owners of the yellow house on the corner, I ambled down my own suburban/industrial road.
At one house, a woman in jean shorts pulled weeds from around a landscaped tree, surrounded by a lush green lawn. “Your grass is lovely,” I called out. She turned and I introduced myself.
“I’ve lived here for seven years and you’re the first person who has ever introduced themselves to me,” she said. We spoke of former neighborhoods and swat teams, and our children and purple coneflowers. Shaking hands and speaking of bonfires some summer night, we parted ways.
I met more neighbors, handing chocolate chip and butterscotch cookies to a cautious slender-faced woman behind a screen door, and to a pony-tailed mom heading out. Seeing people’s faces change from skepticism born of too many telemarketers and door salesmen, to relieved surprise and slivers of pleased warmth delights me every time.
At home right after, my family of five gathers around a scratched cherry-wood table from my husband’s youth, passing salad dressings for crunchy lettuce and tomatoes, or shredded cheese for baked potatoes. In between bites, conversations, and pepper passes, I remember a couple I do not know, have never met. Their tiny son fights for life in a hospital room, a “failure to thrive.” Forks paused, I ask my family if we can pray for these people we do not know in person, but whom the blogworld has brought to life. Suddenly fearing tears, I ask my husband to pray. Five heads bow, toddler son joins in, swirling tomatoes on the side, as my husband prays for this family-- who is in our family because, in Jesus, we are family.
After supper, I head outside again, grab my tiny metal spade and pry weeds from the asphalt driveway. Sprawled on the ground, I dig like a child at the beach, heave hard, and wipe dirt across my forehead. Grabbing another weed, I grin at the sight I must make when cars pass, with legs slightly spread, braced for better leverage.
And this is how neighbors work, I muse. Neighbors near and neighbors far, even across invisible internet waves, humbly, on the ground, pulling weeds, admitting failures and gnarled issues, working openly to make things right. Warm welcomes mixed with cookie morsels or family prayers, and then right back onto the ground we go, humbly pulling weeds, sprawled out like a child with a shovel.
Friends here, my reader friends, I appreciate you so much. Thank you that we can do life together online or in person, pulling weeds, opening up about life, and sharing desserts together too. I think of you all tonight and am thankful for you. Thanks for your comments throughout the years, for your open lives, and for your encouraging presence here, where we can learn and grow together. For those joining us via email, feel free to click here to join the discussion. I appreciate you all.