I’m sitting today, quietly reflecting on the magnitude of the last four days. There’s joy in my heart, and a deep, satisfied soreness in my muscles and a tired feeling in my bones. It’s the kind of tired soreness you feel with a great deal of satisfaction after you’ve experienced a victory in an arena about which you are deeply passionate.
I think it’s the feeling a farmer has after he’s made straight rows in the rich earth and scattered seed, diligently watered, fertilized and waited; then suddenly the green shoot pops through the earth! Aha, those seeds really do go down in the earth and then resurrect in new green life unto a harvest. Hallelujah!
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
So, what was this momentous occasion?
Our young friends came to visit from Ohio with their toddler daughter and Champ (the wonder dog), and a new baby girl being wonderfully and steadfastly knit in her mother’s womb. It was a reunion of sorts – a reunion of community. Ultimately, as I sit today and ponder their departure a year ago, their return has sparked a re-dedication to persevere in my desire to build community.
Four years ago, a house behind and to the right of ours sold. We wondered and waited. I had prayed for just those God-chosen people to live here. One eventful day, cars bearing Ohio license plates arrived along with moving trucks and people – lots of people! There were young people and older people, and then there was Champ, a friendly and beautiful black lab, and his side-kick, the three-legged cat named Dusty.
There was a stir of curiosity, and neighbors began to wander out of their homes. As my husband and I walked our dogs along the outskirts of activity, my husband spied the Ohio tags. I watched wide-eyed as my mostly introverted husband (born and raised in Dayton, OH) began to walk up the driveway, hand extended to introduce himself and offer assistance.
Once the dust settled a bit, the young couple quickly became known as Champ’s parents. Though they struggled in the thick Georgia humidity of their first southern summer, each day Champ would take his long sauntering strides through the whole neighborhood – people in tow.
Champ was not the only one eager to make friends. His human mom was determined to know the name matched with faces of every neighbor. Soon Champ’s mom and I found ourselves fairly consistent walking partners. We walked and talked about anything and everything – sometimes long after the dogs were done.
Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. Hebrews 13:16
We found we had many things in common despite our generational and geographical diversity. Most notably we learned we share a Good Father – our heavenly Father – making us spiritual sisters. Cultivating a friendship we realized we had another shared passion – building community.
It had long been my desire to connect with neighbors and in turn connect them to one another for the mutual edification of our community. And while Champ’s mom seemed to feel I had taken her under my wing, I knew that God had purposely brought her into my life at a time such as this. Over the previous ten years, I had sewn many seeds, watered, carefully tended to some budding hopes of community, but the harvest had been far less than bountiful.
It was during this drought season, at the exact time I felt the most discouraged, Champ and family moved into our neighborhood. Champ’s Mom came for me, and yes, I was here for her. We had a few extra years of experience in marriage, career and parenting, which could possibly prove beneficial. What amazed us then – and still does – was their desire for community and their commitment to pursue it; not just with their peers, but with the full diversity of our whole neighborhood.
As we walked and talked on our long treks up and down the hills and around cul de sacs, Champ’s mom asked walking companions for the names of people who lived in particular houses. Many times she practiced pointing to the houses and reciting the names of the people who lived there. Come to find out, Champ’s mom was so serious about knowing her neighbors she kept a hand drawn map on her refrigerator to which she added the names as they were gradually revealed.
For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. Galatians 5:14
Over time other houses sold and other younger couples moved into our neighborhood, and we could see (with the hopeful expectation of a farmer) the green shoots beginning to pop up from the dead seeds that had been sewn. In three years time, Champ and his parents made quite a startling impact on our community. Groups of neighbors walked together nightly, each knowing the other by name. We had cook-outs and ice cream sundae parties. And eventually, new babies were added to our community. Life events were commemorated, celebrated and assistance offered.
All too soon, with tearful goodbyes and promises of just saying, “See you later”, a year ago Champ and his family moved back to Ohio. I think they took far more home with them than a Georgia peach of a daughter. They packed memories of a neighborhood with its people – shared favorites and frustrations like Atlanta traffic! And that hand-drawn map with all the names carefully documented. They were sent here on purpose for a purpose. Champ and his family left a mark on all our hearts. And that’s why we welcomed them back one year later for a reunion – a celebration of community.
We’ve all confessed, “It hasn’t been the same since y’all left”. Honestly, the neighborhood hasn’t been the same. Several more neighbors have moved away in the past year, and it’s been difficult to dig those new straight rows in the earth to scatter new seed. I’ve found myself discouraged once again in this dry season of attempting to re-cultivate community. And so, it was good to have our friends return – to hear their stories of cultivating community in their northern home, and to encourage one another through the challenges and frustrations. Persevere, here and there, was our conclusion!
I needed to be reminded. I needed to be spurred on in love. I needed to have my passion stirred into action once again. And these words, from Champ’s Mom packing to go home, were the needed refreshing cool water on my parched heart:
Everyone wants community, they just don’t know how to make it happen.
She’s right. I know she’s right. That’s why I’m so grateful – when friends come to visit they pick right up where they left off. So for now, Champ and family, “We’ll see you later!” I’ve got some straight rows to hoe, some seed to scatter and some committed watering to do. May God bless it, bring the green shoots, the harvest of community and the many workers to fulfill His good plan for us and keep it thriving. All for God’s glory and for the love of neighbors – in community!
- What keeps you (has kept you) from reaching out to meet a neighbor?
- Is it true that you (regardless of your age) desire someone from the next generation to reach back and help you navigate life’s journey?
- Do you believe it is true that everyone longs for genuine relationship?
- Was there something in this post that inspired you to take a chance on cultivating just one relationship in your neighborhood?
- Would you share an idea of your own?