We drove 26 hours to arrive at our new home. (That didn’t necessarily inspire me to share joy.) The twenty-six hours from Atlantic Canada to the Midwest were punctuated with traffic, laughter, phone calls about school enrollment, tears about leaving our sweet dog behind, pit stops, and the occasional complaint about broken air conditioning in August. It was trip to remember. The day we arrived with all of our belongings was the first day we actually saw our new home not on a screen. The close proximity of the adjacent houses made it clear we were going to get to make some new acquaintances, or even friends.
I wasn’t sure I wanted that.
My heart simultaneously mourned the loss of friends in our former town(s) and cowered within with a case of magnified introversion at the thought of the process of meeting another whole new community of people. Ministry and moving can take a toll. I reasoned to myself that this was merely a one-year lease, a stopping place on the way to our real new home. I was not thinking about how to share joy.
But within just a few hours of our arrival, we had already met folks on either side and across the street, learned about our neighborhood’s love of driveway parties, and received a plate of yummy cookies with water bottles to keep us going as we unloaded the truck. This resistant and displaced heart was soothed by welcome. That our neighbors would choose to walk the few feet it actually took to bridge the miles I felt between us spoke loudly to me.
You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
I’ll be honest: sometimes I find it really hard to take those few steps. I often need a whole lot of mental prep to walk into new places with new people. Each person is different in that respect, and that’s part of my different. Sometimes I wonder why God calls introverts into ministry. It’s crazy to me how often it seems I’m thrust into life situations so challenging to that part of my nature.
Share Joy in Ministry
As a young Resident Director on the campus where my husband was studying to become a Pastor, my door was consistently propped open to welcome in those far from home. I learned to live, and ‘wife’, and parent out in the open, and experienced the joy of nurturing young women, morning ’til night, as they grew. As a Pastor’s wife, I found myself in crowded living rooms, on public platforms, hushed funeral homes and in the middle of the messy and beautiful parts of other people’s lives.
There was no option of retreating away. Because people in the middle of a mess need other people who are willing to be leaned upon and don’t mind the smudges.People in the middle of a mess need other people who are willing to be leaned upon and don't mind the smudges. Click To Tweet
I learned to listen, to remain, and to speak words I was nervous to speak into tough situations. And I learned to share joy in places I may previously have been unwilling to go. I also discovered how tightly a heart can bond, creating sister- and brotherhood in unexpected ways. As a worship leader and professor, I was, countless times, in a position of authority that made me feel small and so, so dependent. But I learned to trust and to teach, and to call out and correct, and to lean in to the calling I’d received with open hands. And I wanted to share joy and freedom there.
So here, in a new place and new neighborhood, it’s time for me to open my hands once again. I’m confident that joy resides in this zip code too. On this relatively new street, all of our neighbors moved in within weeks of one another last year as their homes were completed. The camaraderie that they have developed has been unique.
As an introvert, I could choose to feel left out, having moved in as a renter 8 months later. But as a Christ follower pursuing joy, I need to learn how to find and scatter joy in my own community, so I want to choose to jump in. Regardless whether this really is only a brief stopping place, it’s clear to me that I can learn from my neighbors, and also that I can choose to invest in them.
Below are six things I’ve seen or experienced in my new community in a brief few months that inspire me to want to be a better neighbor.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
I don’t know whether my neighbors would even realize how much impact their greetings, their purposeful approach to our yard to welcome us, or their cookies and water bottles could impact hearts feeling displaced. But I’ve experienced it, so now I am responsible. On our current block, I’m keeping my eyes open for newcomers, that I might become the very welcome they might need.
If you are looking for ways to welcome your new neighbors, maybe you would consider creating a Home Essentials Welcome Box. Neighbors can always benefit from putting their feet up after a long day of moving with some Tea and Treats, and would likely appreciate some helpful tips about their new community with a Neighborhood Facts Sheet. No matter how you go about it, it would be difficult for newbies not to feel welcome if you chose to walk the extra steps toward them.
We weren’t sure at first whether the driveway gatherings really were open to anyone and everyone. But, thanks again to a neighbor being willing to walk across the road, it was confirmed we were invited to be part of the group who regularly gathered with snacks and drinks and baby monitors. Our experiences in other communities were more about backyard living with select guest lists than front-yard living where all are welcome. We look forward to he warmer weather, when perhaps we can drag our fire pit out to the front of our house to host. A simple bonfire with s’mores can be an easy gathering. Or if there are lots of children like there are on our street, perhaps an Outdoor Movie would be just the thing for grown-ups and kids alike.
One afternoon, we arrived home from a morning away and discovered that several of our neighbors had emptied the contents of their garages into their yards. Curious, my husband, Scott, walked over to see if we had missed an important event. Awesomely, it turns out that five families had co-ordinated a day to drywall the unfinished walls of each of their garages, going from house to house to help each other with the task. I have never seen anything like this before! It has inspired me to consider other ways neighbors can be co-operative, whether their homes are old or new.
Some people are blessed to live a lifetime near family members. Many of us are not. Whether we are transplanted for school, work, or any number of other reasons, transplanted people often need to create “family” wherever we find ourselves. Family holidays like Thanksgiving can be particularly lonely for people who do not live near enough to family to be able to celebrate together. And, while FaceTime is awesome for staying connected, there’s just something uniquely special about gathering around a table together, breaking bread, and celebrating in the flesh.
We were invited to a “Friendsgiving” at our next door neighbors’ house on the Saturday following Thanksgiving this year. All in all, there were 16 adults and 18 children present. In a well-organized manner, each family was asked to contribute certain menu items, and everything worked together nicely. For our family, it was another great opportunity to get to know people from our street. A meal is a comfortable way to spend time with people you don’t know well, and to begin to see their hearts. Once again, we felt welcomed, and were inspired by our neighbors to turn around and share joy in a similar way.
I recently saw a post on Nextdoor that drew me in. (Nextdoor is a handy app for connecting with people in your nearby community.) The post was searching for people who might help with an outreach by donating small toiletry items. The woman and her children were planning to prepare gift bags of toiletry items to hand deliver to people living on the streets in downtown Indianapolis on Christmas Day. We jumped at the chance to help our neighbors by providing toiletry items. As we collected them together, we were able to pray for the people who would receive them on Christmas Day. When the lady came to our door to retrieve them from us, I was able to affirm her generous act. And we were prompted to think a little more about those who don’t have all that we do, and to reach out, even in this small way.
A great resource for finding or creating volunteer opportunities for your family and your neighbors is with Point of Light, where you can log in to find existing services in your area, or use their suggestions, like leaf-raking, clothing drives, or making cards for the Red Cross’s Holidays for Heroes to create events in your neighborhood.
For us it was “Elfed“. I have also heard of others being “Jingled.” Whatever the terminology, the game is simple: when you find an anonymous Christmas gift on your doorstep bearing the message, “You’ve been ___,” your response is to think of two neighbors to whom you can pay it forward. Then get creative! Hang the provided “We’ve Been ______” sign on your door, so others know you’ve already received your gift. Then put together two fun gifts for other people or families on your street. Under the cover of darkness, drop off your gifts, complete with “You’ve Been _____!” cards, and watch the fun spread through your neighborhood. Share joy!
There’s just something so special about being an anonymous giver! I don’t think this sort of fun needs to be restricted to Christmastime either. Perhaps there are other great seasons for giving too! Here are some fun ideas for creative neighbor gifts: Stovetop PotPourri Recipe, Ice Cream Sundae in a Box, and Family Movie Night.
I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on the journey to share joy in your neighborhood! What creative ideas do you have to be a better neighbor?