Do you have something in your life that you do now that you didn’t used to do?
My family of five sat around the dinner table last night, eating fajitas and quesadillas and salad. I also put a bowl of strawberries and blueberries and some snap peas and ranch dressing on the table, since two of my boys won’t touch salad. My middle son, Zeke, tried the salad, loved it, and asked for more. In response, my oldest son, Noah, said, “I’ve never liked salad.” True fact.
Dave, my husband, replied, “Ya know, I didn’t used to like fruits and veggies either, before I met your mom. And now, look at this.” Dave had a mound of salad on his plate and was shoveling in strawberries and blueberries by the serving-spoon-full.
It was a good reminder that we are all malleable, if only we are open to the change.
I can’t help thinking about the way in which God has been changing me. You see, a handful of years ago, I somewhat reluctantly enrolled in a continuing education cohort with my husband. It was geared to pastors and their spouses, and, to my surprise, really helped me grow in how I lived out my faith in the day-to-day. One cohort led to two, and now we are learning how to help lead other cohorts.
Much like Noah’s repulse to salad, I used to say, “I don’t like reaching out to people who don’t know God” (not out loud, of course, because that’s not what you’re supposed to say, but that was how I lived my life).
But God has been changing this in me.
I became aware that God could use me in my neighborhood (since ours was one of the only cars leaving home on Sunday mornings). And, kinda like a 9-year-old, vegetable-adverse boy looking at a big salad, I knew reaching out in my neighborhood was good for me, but I didn’t have an appetite for it.
So, I started asking God to help me love my neighbors across the street. And love looked like walking over to chat in their driveway after a long day. It looked like starting to pray for their health in our family prayers.
Our next “bite” was putting our fire pit in our front yard on Halloween night and inviting a few of the neighbors we knew to join us around the fire. (Campfires are great, aren’t they?) A few showed up.
We learned a few more neighbors’ names and were intentional about welcoming people who moved in to houses on our court. The next Halloween, we made flyers and invited more people to come sit around the fire. And I found in my heart that I actually wanted them to come—God had grown my love for these people who used to just be strangers who happened to live in the same area of town I did. We heard on that Halloween night how “we should do this more often” and “this was really great.” Other people in our neighborhood were getting a taste of the goodness of gathering in community.
I assumed we had a green light to move forward, so a few months later, I made a flyer for a Valentine’s party at our house, where we would play The Not-So-Newlywed Game. We would have good food and fun and get to know our married neighbors in an even deeper way. I was still a bit timid, passing out fliers, but I was ready for my next bite in my journey of reaching out to my neighbors.
The only problem was that no one showed up. Not one neighbor came to ate pasta. Not one neighbor stopped by to join in the laughter of playing a silly game.
That bite did not taste so good.
It made me wonder if there was any point in reaching out to my neighborhood at all. If they did not want to be reached, should I keep trying to extend my arm?
I prayed for weeks. I asked God to show me how to move forward. Should we move, if no one on our block connected with what we were trying to do? Should I be focusing my energies elsewhere?
When the spring rains finally let up, I mustered up the courage to approach a couple down the street about the possibility of praying together, like they had suggested months before. Would this be like the Valentine’s Party, where they sound interested, but never actually show up? I wondered. They said they would come over the next day, sometime after 4:00. Sure enough, 4:30 hit the next day and they were knocking on my front door.
I let the boys have bonus screen time and my neighbors and I sat on folding chairs on my back porch and prayed for our neighborhood. We prayed for specific concerns we knew of and we prayed in general that Jesus’ light would shine through us to the darkness around us.
And then they suggested hosting a neighborhood barbecue. They would make the fliers and cook the meat. I would bring some side dishes and talk to the neighbors closest to me. We would do it in less than two weeks.
The barbecue will be this Saturday. Last night, my sons and I passed out fliers to each house on our block, getting to talk to individuals from every household except for two. And as I went from house to house, I was surprised to find that I knew many of their names, and some of their stories. I was surprised that I wasn’t as apprehensive as I had been in previous years—quite possibly because I knew that at least one other couple would show up for the event.
I rejoiced that an outreach-apprehensive person like myself could grow into a person who reached out to her neighbors in love… kinda like learning how to love salad.
We’d love to hear from you around the fire this week: what is your thing that you are growing to love?