A few weeks ago on a quiet Saturday morning, I returned home from my morning walk to find my street flooded with emergency vehicles. It didn't take long to see that they were at the home across the street from us where two elderly people have lived since before we even moved in to our home almost 6 years ago. As the morning went on and I observed the activity across the street, it didn't take long for me to gather that someone had died. No one was taken away in the ambulance. The emergency vehicles left slowly. And later, what looked like to be a Priest or Reverend came by and spent quite a bit of time there. Todd found out later that evening that it was the man across the street who had died. His wife found him on the floor in the kitchen when she awoke that morning and he had a sudden heart attack that took his life.
My heart broke as I thought about the woman across the street who had lost her husband, now a widow. Ya'll - I didn't even know this man's name. I don't know if he knew Jesus. I don't know anything about him other than that he drove his car to check his mailbox down the street and that one time he left his water running in the front yard and Todd turned it off for him.
In the almost six years we have lived on our street, we never spoke to them. Other than an occasional wave and awkward smile, we have been disengaged, uninterested and living our own little lives, ignorant to the people around us. We were never truly kind, never offered ourselves for anything and never reached out in friendship or to even see if they had any kind of physical need that we could immediately meet. I never made them cookies or wished them a Merry Christmas.
I'm not only heartbroken still, but I am ashamed of myself.
And I've wanted to go across the street to talk to the woman, but I feel crippled by my pride and awkwardness. Her kids seem to be staying with her now and I've convinced myself that she is being cared for so what on earth would she need from a neighbor across the street who has never spoken to her before?
This last weekend, I went to hear one of my new favorite author/speakers/human-beings in person - the one and only Jen Hatmaker. Jen knows a thing or two about loving your neighbor. She is witty and clever and she lives out her faith in Jesus in tangible, messy ways. She's hilarious and enjoyable and she is anything but rigid or serious and I find that inviting and relatable. Jen is fun and her personality is magnetic, but mostly she is so very passionate about Jesus. She taught also from a Jewish perspective - meaning she took us back to the culture of the time of Jesus and what made Jesus as a Rabbi and calling out his own disciples so incredible.
I totally geeked out in meeting her and having her sign my book. She made me feel like we were friends and we went way back in how she greeted me. She is seriously super cool.
But enough about my girl-crush on Jen Hatmaker....
A lot of her talk this weekend had to do with loving our neighbors and lifestyle discipleship - meaning that following Jesus means acting like Him. Reaching out to the poor, the needy, the sick and suffering and doing life with those people. She suggested inviting our neighbors to dinner, throwing a party in our backyard, mowing their lawns, asking them over for coffee, and simply making them a part of your every day life. Get to know them - what are their hurts, their sufferings, their needs? She talked about how reaching out to your actual neighbors can lead to other things like serving the homeless downtown or eventually adopting a child from a foreign country. That's how her story goes anyway and it's pretty incredible. Her book Interrupted is an insanely convicting read - I can guarantee you won't be the same after you read it.
In light of my neighbor's death, hearing Hatmaker's talk this weekend was especially convicting for me. I will admit that I live in my perfect little bubble and I want to keep my kids in that same safe bubble where she said we gather "safely under the steeple and impact no one." Ouch. It hurt, but it's true. We don't expose ourselves and don't expose our children to anyone outside of our family or church community really. We ourselves know nothing of poverty, and neither do our children. We throw birthday parties and buy Christmas toys and relax on Friday nights with a movie.
Following Jesus - making disciples as He commanded and then loving my neighbor? I have come to sadly realize that I don't do these things. I say I love Jesus - I know that I need and want Him more than any other thing. I thirst and hunger for Him and feel as though my faith is more solid than it has ever been before. When He leads me to do something, I follow and obey. I regularly pray and read my Bible and I serve in my church and mentor and minister teen girls, I sing and praise His name. I have discipled other women in the study of the Word. Yet, I basically don't know anyone who doesn't already know God. And my lack of really loving my neighbor still says that I'm more of a semi-follower.
Jen reminded us that following Him means to be a light in the place I live, right where God has me planted. That following is reaching out and going into the darkness just like Jesus did. Going to the places that make me feel uncomfortable and offering hope and my time and myself. What will my boys know of following Jesus if our "following" simply looks like attending church on Sundays and Wednesdays and reading our Bible at night and listening to Christian music in the car? What will they know of following if they never watch mom and dad give Him away through love and service and kindness to our neighbors, the very people in our literal, physical sphere of influence.
As I have thought about what could possibly change in our every day life, I have started thinking about our home, our neighborhood and our little corner of the world where God has us planted:
The boys in our neighborhood play football or basketball almost every evening. Todd could certainly ask to play along with them. I could bake up some cookies and officially become the coolest neighborhood mom ever. Not that this is the point.
There are several moms with multiple children down the street from me - Tommy goes to school with them now. We could reach out and orchestrate a play date, book club or game night.
My annual pumpkin carving party is coming up - maybe I could invite my neighbors and not just my friends?
Halloween is around the corner too - how could we reach out? And not just opening our door and hand out candy, but go outside and greet others and get to know them. It's the one night of the year our neighbors come to us.
The holidays are coming too - is there anyone without a place to go for Thanksgiving? Do they spend Christmas alone? Could we open our home to others for the holidays so no one is left lonely on such a day?
The people on our side of the street are older and either have older kids or no kids. Down the street is a party house full of 20-somethings who watch sports together on a very regular and loud basis. And there is an odd couple a few houses down who let their bushes grow up to cover their front door like they don't want anyone to see in, yet they walk the neighborhood often and are outside regularly. How could we serve and love on these people we have distanced ourselves from?
And ya'll know I can throw a fierce party. I can certainly throw a party in my hood.
My head has been reeling with ideas and thoughts and I feel both nervous and excited, but I know that it's time to get over myself and reach out to the people around me and just love on them. Because that's what Jesus said to do.
Love your neighbor as yourself....
More than my neighbors, I will also admit that I do virtually nothing for the poor and the needy. Any extra we have leftover, we use it for ourselves - our wants, our luxuries, our hobbies. There is a world full of starving, lonely, sick people and I spend my extra money on crafts and home decor and new clothes. And there's not anything wrong with that in and of itself, but I know my heart. I know that I don't give anything away to those in need when I already have so much. I turn my eyes away and pretend I don't see it or I don't have enough extra anything to really help or make any difference. Yet this weekend, in my registering for this Jen Hatmaker conference, I bought a bag for $20. And that bag, that small purchase, fed 50 people a meal. FIFTY people.
My heart has been grieved and curious and moved. And not just because Jen Hatmaker is awesome. But because God has been doing something in my heart all year long. He has been cultivating a heart in me that follows closely and deeply and intimately. All of this has felt new and big. And I believe He doesn't do anything new or big for us to become some perfected, whole being so we can have some amazing awesome life and live our dreams and die happy. But so we can reach out and give it away to someone else - so our very lives that have been touched by Jesus Himself can turn around and touch someone else, can make disciples and win hearts for His name. The hope and joy and real life I have in knowing Jesus - why don't I want my neighbors to have that?
I'm going to start with the woman across the street. Some muffins need to be baked and a long overdue greeting is coming along with my sincere condolences for her loss. I'm supposed to care for the widow and the orphan, the poor and the needy. I think I should start now, with this widow, in this neighborhood.
I'm not exactly sure what will come from all of this, but stay tuned. Our neighborhood better watch out, because we are gonna start loving on them like they've never been loved before.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You? Then He will answer them, saying, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”