Becoming Neighbors

This is a letter from a couple in our church who had a "life changing experience" during our ten week message series I preached through Luke 10:1-12 entitled Sent Together.


"Steve and I have been in a place of transition in our housing situation since 2005. It has been a long, drawn out painful period of time. After being homeowners for over 30 years, we found it necessary to rent for the past 3 years since coming to the San Diego area and have been anxiously awaiting the time when we could feel settled again and find and purchase a home again and stay put and to leave the feeling of things being "temporary" behind once and for all.  

We are currently living in a very small condo/apartment and thought originally that we would be here for only 4 months.  Four months turned into 18 months very quickly.  Apartment living has it's challenges and I must admit that we had not connected with anyone living around us and have done like everyone else here. We'd come and go, keeping to ourselves.  Everyone around us has moved. The turn over rate is frequent except for the couple that lives across from us.  While we keep our blinds open, there's are shut tight.  I would wave to the young beautiful and frail appearing Japanese woman who lives there when she walked her two little puppies, only seeing her on rare occasion, she seemed to avoid conversation.  Since I care for our two year old granddaughter at our place all week. I began to wonder why she stayed so isolated.  After our small group sharing one evening, I knew the Lord was nudging me to be intentional about encountering her in some way. 

The next day, I was leaving with our grand daughter in my arms and she was coming up the walkway.  We began to talk and I asked about her puppies, she said in her broken English, "Oh, I want baby, but I have dogs."  She beamed a big smile at our granddaughter, Averi.  We smiled and waved and parted ways.  I was struck by her statement, but even more by the look in her eyes and I sensed both desire and loss--perhaps the loss of the ability to have a child.  For the next several days, I prayed about how to go about befriending her being sensitive to her apparent need for privacy and her culture.  I am sure the Lord planted the idea that followed because it seemed obvious that part of her openness to me was because of our granddaughter being present.  Maybe she could still know the love of a child, I kept thinking.  It was the week of Halloween and Averi and I got to work on making my neighbor a spider from an egg carton with googly eyes and spindly pipe cleaner legs--pretty cute when it was all done and painted by a two year old.  I let Averi pick out a small plant from the store earlier that day and we went and knocked on my neighbors door so that Averi (with arms full of her gifts) could give her the spider and plant to our neighbor.  

She was hesitant to open the door at first, but when she did, and saw what we had come to offer her, she was so delighted and almost couldn't believe what was happening I felt.   She kept apologizing for repeatedly asking our names and finally excused herself and went for a piece of paper and pen to write them down.  It was then that she told me that she had experienced a "brain stroke" eight years ago when she was in her early 30's.  Having a medical background, I could imagine how this young woman's life had been turned upside down and what she might have endured, that she came close to death, what the recovery involved, and her high risk for reoccurrence. 


I asked her,"Do you have family close by?"  


"No, she answered they are all in Japan."  


"Friends?" I asked (hoping).


"Some," and she gestured toward me and kind of hunched her shoulder. 
I can't even describe how the Spirit of God so convicted my heart in that moment. Here I had been living next to her for 18 months, a person so obviously isolated and I had the ability to understand and care for her like no one else in our complex given my life experiences and training. It was our first real encounter and I fought back the tears walking away from her door.  

The following day she brought her husband to our door with a bag of Japanese Halloween candy for Averi. Steve and her husband had a warm encounter and a share a similar work history--her husband speaks English confidently and travels out of the country often for weeks at a time. He wanted to thank me for meeting his wife.  He told us about her Subarachnoid Hemorrhage and told us that he traveled to Asia often.  We both sensed his concern for her just by his tone.  It was then that I told them I was a nurse and I understood what had happened to her.  She looked surprised and so happy and clasped her hands together like she was praying and said, "Oh, I just thank God that He came here."  Again, one of those moments when I couldn't believe the words that fell off her lips and definitely one of those moments when I knew God was making a point to my heart.  Let's just say it was more than the usual nudge, it was more like an audible "Are you getting this?!"  Her husband then shared he would be leaving on a 10 day trip to China in two days. We offered to them both that we would watch out for her as well as our phone numbers and told her that should she need anything at all we would be available. I saw a relief come over both their faces and they expressed gratitude. 
During the 10 days her husband was away for the first time I noticed her blinds where opened slightly in our direction and so I left ours open all the time so she would see either us or the lights on and know we were here. I believe she was feeling peace, from knowing we were present and that we had connection. Averi and I made several visits to her door during her husband’s absence, once to leave something on her doormat and twice to share more two year old art work. If Averi had her way, we would be visiting my neighbor every day.  We can't go to any store now without her picking up something with the suggestion that I buy it for my neighbor and she anticipates and plans for times when she can run with joy to our neighbors place to give her a gift of love--her little handmade treasures.    

Do you know what I have realized? That I did not consider this woman my neighbor because I didn't consider this place my home.  In my mind and in my plan I was as transient as the rest of the residents that live here for a short time. And without being aware, I did not see that the Lord had given us this home in this place for His reasons in this season.  All this time I  could have been caring for someone who really needed a friend. I was someone who could understand her special needs had I not walled off my heart to this experience.  Since all this has happened we have met several other great folks around us.  We have been intentional to linger long enough to say hello, ask a name and be interested in the lives of those who live in our complex.  God forgive me for not seeing what He wanted all along, to bring His Kingdom and His peace to this place.   Hospitality and caring for people has been our thing and He knew we had what it took to love our neighbor. And now finally we are doing it, and what a joy it is! 
Interesting too God's timing. It looks as if an offer we have (there have been many along the way) on a short sale and a home we are so excited about is coming thru.  We may have only weeks left to live here.  I never thought I would say this about this place, but, I will feel sad when we leave it and move away as happy as I am to find our new home after this long journey of disappointments and waiting.  There is a new friend here in my home that I will not lose touch with even though we will not be next door neighbors for very long.  We will still be stopping by with two year old art treasures and inviting them to dinner in our new home. I hope that I can offer her some kind of continued peace, love, and friendship.  
Thank you Lord for my new friend and for teaching me about what is really important once again: people.      

Thank you Mike for keeping us in Luke 10 long enough for the Lord to speak to my heart.  Some of our long journey and the waiting has finally made sense."




Note: We have used lectio divina to dwell in this passage at PGF’s Moving Back Into the Neighborhood, session and staff meetings, but this was an experiment to see if we would be able to create an all church learning experience in worship and sermon based small groups. I began each message by reading the passage slowly, asking people to identify a word or phrase that surprised them, they were curious about or where their attention stopped. Then I asked each person to pair up with another, share the word or phrase and include a short explanation if possible. Each week I preached on themes in the text, giving some background to Luke’s writing, developing the themes within scripture and telling stories that had emerged in our church family through this passage. After a few weeks of this pattern it was getting dry, and some groups were getting stuck. We were all wondering if there was anything else to learn. I acknowledged the frustration and moved through the series, trusting God had something for us. On the second to last Sunday I asked each person to write down the word or phrase that had been impressed on them for the whole series or in the moment. I received 944 responses and about 300 explanations, all summarized in 22 different phrases. I was able to preach the last message reflecting what God might be  saying to us as a whole congregation. I learned so much. God was faithful. 

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