Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Neighbors and Breaking a 7-Year Record






“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. 

Amber and Seth, we join you in praying for your Titus. 

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. 

23 comments:

Mary Nowachek said...

Hi Jen, I just read your piece and I am glad to say that I introduced myself to a neighbor that lives two doors down. We've lived by her for 6 years and I've never stopped to talk. how sad is that! We had a great conversation. Thanks you for your words-they are needed in our American neighborhoods.

Jennifer Dougan said...

Mary,

How wonderful to find you on here, and I am delighted to hear of your conversation with your new neighbor friend tonight! That thrills me, and makes me grin to my God.

Love to you, friend,
Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Kathleen said...

I love this and what a fabulous idea... We need to get back to the neighbors being friends instead of strangers... What a testimony you have shared. You are an inspiration! Bless You!

Dolly@Soulstops said...

Hi Jennifer,
What a wonderful neighbor you are, and a blessed addition to your n'hood. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement at my blog. Blessings, and congrats again on your new home :)

Lori said...

Hi Jennifer!
How very Japanese of you!
Thought you'd be interested to know that in Japan it is a cultural expectation that the person who moves into the neighborhood delivers to neighbors a small gift (dish soap, hand towel, noodles, etc.) with careful wrapping that also has the new person's name on it. The new person is expected to greet any neighbor whose property touches theirs, any neighbor sharing the neighborhood garbage pick-up site or in the case of apartments the apartment above, below and both sides.
Living so closely together in Japan it really helps to be on good terms with neighbors.
In Minnesota, my immediate neighbors are in their 90's and full of stories! Community is a beautiful thing!
Lori

LOLITA said...

Jen, that was wonderful!

What a way to break the usual, or the traditional.... like waiting for the older neighbors to come and welcome the new.

I think, that if Jesus waited for us to knock at His heart door, then it would be a pity..... I don't think the gospel will be known to many and to the chosen. But He knocks at our heart's doors.

Instead, you went over every door and brought your own "Welcome Us, we are the new occupant of the Yellow House" banner. Complete with cookies and smiles and small talk.

Thanks to Lori for the info that it is a Japanese custom.

I join you in prayer over Titus. God will make a way and we will claim Miracles.

GBU!

tandemingtroll said...

What a great idea. I wonder if it will work three years later?

I will be praying for the family whose baby is having difficulty. Could you please pray for a family who just lost their wife and mother to cancer? The husband's name is Price and he has been having health issues, too. He has a 12 year old son, John and two twin daughters, Rebecca and Rachel, who are in 3rd or 4th grade. The family was in my homeschool co-op when I lived in Chicago. I just heard about her death while on vacation.

breakfast in moscow said...

Jen, I love this post. We have yet to really get to know our neighbors here, and I really regret that. I've had the idea of taking them cookies, but worried that it would freak them out as that's such a foreign practice here. But probably I should just do it and see what happens...! Thanks for the inspiring/encouraging post.

AmyAlves said...

Jennifer this post excites me so much! I'm so proud of you sister! And I have done the same moving in/cookie things too. The joy of tilling up a new relationship far outweighs any possible embarrassment! :) ~ Blessings to you and yours, Amy :)

Wendy said...

I so love your heart. What a beautiful picture of community you have painted with your words and actions Jennifer. So blessed to have connected with you. Thanks so much for sharing.

futurehope said...

That is so neat that you did that with your neighbors!!! I'm still trying to work up the nerve to introduce myself to our neighbors in our apartment building :/


thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment so I could follow you on yours too! :D

angelonwheels said...

Hey Jennifer I'm well! How are you? Where did you guys move from, and what sate did you move to? I have a good friend who is a youth Pastor, and He and his wife are moving from ATL to Texas today actually.

cabinart said...

Great idea, Jennifer! We get to know our neighbors around here because we have to discuss water outages, cats going missing (usually coyotes or bobcats), and rattlesnakes. Your method is much more appealing.

Jennifer Dougan said...

Kathleen,

Yes, I agree... neighbors being friends and not strangers. It is a process, but worth it. I still miss my old neighbors, and we stop by to greet them, swap stories, and share basil and peppers. :)

Thanks for stopping by here.

Have a great week.

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Dolly,

Thank you. It's nice to talk with you.

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Lori,

How interesting and fun to learn more about Japanese culture! I wonder if that is similar to Indian and Vietnamese cultures too, since I know some people from those backgrounds. Hmmm... :)

So you have two sets of neighbors then...?

Thank you :)

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Hi Lolita,

Is that a Filipino custom as well? Aren't cultures fascinating? How do new neighbors behave to their neighbors in the Philippines?

Nice to talk with you :)

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Tandeming troll,

I have been praying for your friend Price and his family, off and on since I read your post several days ago. It made me teary-eyed to think of all they have been and will be going through.

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Elizabeth/Breakfast in Moscow,

What Russian customs and expectations are there for neighborliness, etc? That always fascinates me.

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Amy,

Thanks for rejoicing with me -- and what a neat line "tilling up new relationships" !

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Wendy, thank you. Blogging and sharing our lives and hearts online is a fun way to start getting to know each other. I am thankful you are here.

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Futurehope,

Thank you for stopping by, dreaming with me about neighbor possibilities, and saying hi here. How fun that you have that opportunity still at your apartments too. :) You can do it!

Nice to have you here, and to start getting to know you more.

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Hello Angelonwheels,

We stayed in the same state and even in the same suburbs, but it's in a new zip code. We live in Minnesota.

Your youth pastor friend who is moving just had a big job! I remember those days well :) Where is ATL?

Jennifer
www.jenniferdougan.com