We are almost fully moved into our new home and as we begin the process of unpacking and settling in, we are also beginning the process of meeting our new neighbors. A few days ago, our kids were playing outside and saw some kids in the yard a few houses over and asked if my wife would take them over to meet the new neighbors. My wife took the kids over and was greeted at the door by a young Hispanic lady and her fiancé's heavily tattooed brother. The young lady and her fiancé have five kids all under 7 and were very happy to know that there were new children in the neighborhood close in age to their own. The brother-in-law-to-be stood at a distance watching the interaction, but the woman was quite friendly and commented on how much her fiancé liked motorcycles. My wife invited them to come over the next time the riders from Men of Praise are over to check out the bikes and meet the group. As we are settling in, we are praying over our new neighbors and how God will lead us in being part of their lives.
The prospect of meeting new neighbors has caused us to reflect on the last ten years and all of the neighbors we are going to be leaving. The older contractor who always looked out for and helped people in the neighborhood. The teenage mom living with her parents down the street whose son loved to ride bikes with my kids on the cul-de-sac. The retired Army nurse next door who answered so many questions from my wife and I when we were young first time parents. Even the older gentleman who walked down the hill to panhandle at the corner stoplight; the one who my wife and I sometimes bought coffee or gave rides up or down the hill. We are leaving behind a very special neighborhood and some very special memories of neighborhood gatherings, of helping and being helped, of looking out for one another, and of being part of a community of such variety.
In spite of all the good memories and friends, we are also leaving behind "that neighbor". You know "that" one; the one who has damaged their relationship with pretty much every other person in the neighborhood. The one whose eccentric and irrational behavior is the stuff of children's fables and urban legends. This neighbor was all that and more, they even got a restraining order against one of the neighbors to avoid paying him back for some work he did. Each day when we would load or unload our children in the driveway or play outside we would see them scowling from the windows or front yard. They even made a makeshift "hedge" between our property lines using dead branches from the other trees in their yard after one of our children stepped across the property line by mistake. Even our children began to notice, one day my son actually asked my wife and I why our neighbors "hated" us. We could only respond that we didn't really know why they didn't like us, but that we did know that God had called us to love them anyway.
And love them we did, certainly not perfectly, but we did the best we could from a distance. We always gave them a friendly greeting and smile when we passed them in their yard. We reinforced the fence between our yards to prevent our dogs from bothering them and their dog. And on days when it snowed and they could not get outside to shovel due to their health, either my wife or I would shovel the snow from their walk; all the while aware of the scowling faces looking down on us from the windows. After more than 3 years of living next to them and attempting to love them from afar, we are leaving, not certain that the message of that love ever was received. Although there was one moment when our daughter said hello and the neighbor actually responded back.
And so we embark on the process of making new connections in a new neighborhood. We meet new people young and old, some friendly, and some not so friendly. With each new connection, we look for what God is up to in each life, and how we can be a part of that. We also pray that those whose lives we have been part of in the past will remember the love and concern we have shared with them in Christ's name. We are pretty sure that this new neighborhood will come with at least one of "those" neighbors, and that we will be once again asked to love some very difficult people. We pray that God will continue to use our family to incarnate His love to our neighbors, whether they are easy to love, or difficult.
This post was part of the February Synchroblog on loving our enemies. Please check out these other authors posts on this topic.