On Neighboring

I have a long story to tell you. It involves lots of confession and reveals lots of my ugliness.  But somewhere along the way, my stubborn self got all tangled up in God’s heart for people, and though I resisted in every way humanly possible, tonight I saw what it looks like to be a neighbor.

If you have ever been to our home, you have seen the porchful of teen and 20-something year old drug addicts propped across our neighbor’s porch.  My husband and I have judged them endlessly.  We have called the drug hotline on them.  We have visited the police station about them.  We have marched over and scolded them (I’m so serious).  We have called social services to report their behavior at the home of a very, VERY ancient elderly, darling woman.  Nothing happened.  Our hearts grew more bitter, we saw more and more drugs pass between hands outside of our bedroom window, and we continued to step across a filthy, debris covered porch strewn with young humans and candy wrappers to visit the precious lady behind those old walls.

At the beginning of the summer, I took an early morning jog through our neighborhood.  It didn’t take me long to realize that my iPhone was mysteriously playing the SAME song over and over, though it was not on repeat.  I decided to listen to the lyrics rapping in my ears.  It was a song by Lecrae called “Beautiful Feet”.  The song pleads with ordinary people to bring the gospel to the “hood”.  The song says, “I pray to God you’d be burdened for beautiful feet- go, go, go- run with those beautiful feet~ you hold the truth that saves, so run and shout it the world.”  Although we do not live in the “hood” as described in the song, we do have our fair share of drug deals and other shenanigans.  In one summer month, three of the four houses we can see from our home had visits from the police.  I listened to the song the entirety of my run, with tears streaming down my face and conviction to have “beautiful feet” in my own neighborhood.  And then I jogged home and rolled my eyes at the neighbors’ front porch again.  Totally missed that lesson.

Apparently God wasn’t impressed with my ignorance, because the next time I ran, the song played over and over…again. (Though I clicked “shuffle” and double checked it.)  I missed the point again.

Occasionally throughout the summer, my heart would be stirred to have “beautiful feet”, so I would do something really sacrificial (add sarcasm font) and grab a handful of popsicles and say, “Come on, kids. Let’s go give these popsicles to all of those guys on the porch.”  And then we would hurry back to our safe little house with the bad guy alarm which we had installed especially for them.

All summer long, the breeze kept whispering, love your neighbor.  And I kept responding, “But our neighbors do drugs.   Then, last week, before I could change my mind, I asked my husband if he could run next door and invite the neighbors for Sunday supper.  I made sure to include, “But none of the friends! Just the three of them.”  (Sigh. I’m a work in progress.)  They agreed.

Tonight, thirty minutes before our guests would arrive, I felt the unmistakeable tug of Jesus’ love for the dirty, outcast, poor “neighbors” of the world and asked my son to run over and invite one more.  This “one more” is homeless.  He lives in a tent in the trees near us.  I was feeling so joyful; we were finally stepping into what it looks like to “live in community”…to “be uncomfortable”…to “love like Jesus did”…all of these things that I get really excited about, but SUCK at executing.

However, when 6:00 came around, there stood the three of them on our front porch, without the one more.  I was so sure that I had heard from the Holy Spirit on this one that I slipped on my rain boots into the rainy newness of the evening and headed to the porch next door.  But I stopped in my tracks.  It wasn’t just one more…there were two there.  The 2nd one was the one who grunts when I try to say ‘hi’; the one whose hand passes the drugs.  “No, not him,” I told God.

LOVE. YOUR. NEIGHBOR.

I swallowed my fear and judgement and continued on my short way.  “You guys are welcome for supper,” I said quickly.  The grunty one looked to the “one more” to respond.  His reply caught my self-absorbed, ugly thoughts, and threatened to turn them into crocodile tears: “I hope you don’t think I’m being rude, but I’m just too embarrassed to come to your home.  I haven’t showered in a really long time.”  Friends. Something happened then.  Every ugly thought, every pointless call to the police, it was all meaningless.  This was my NEIGHBOR.  My selfish, ugly heart softened and I let Jesus take over for a minute.  I offered him our shower.  I carried bowls of chili and cornbread over to them.  I invited the “least of these” to a future game night at my house.  And Jesus, by His grace, showed me what it means to love others.

We had a great time tonight.  And though my weak, human heart offered twenty excuses when my kind-hearted husband said, “Let’s start doing his laundry,” I know this was the first step to its softening.  I finally saw these young men as people rather than a problem.  It is not my job to “fix” these guys.  It is simply my job to love them.

*** I wrote this several days ago, unsure if I would post it.  But friends, at this very moment, I am sitting on my patio watching firefighters and paramedics try to break into an old lady’s home two doors down from us.  I’m a teary, snot-faced mess.  Did she die?? I met her one morning last spring as I jogged the neighborhood.  Her name is Helen.  She told me that if I ever came to visit to knock on the back door, so she would know it was a friend.  You guys…I never knocked.  I’m pretty sure the first step to being a good neighbor is knocking.  It might be too late for me to knock on Helen’s door, but there are other doors around here I’ve never knocked on.  Who lives behind them?  Are they lonely?  Would it brighten their day to share a tea together?

Please, dear friends, go knock on your neighbor’s doors.  Invite them over to share a meal with you.  Even if they’re smelly and homeless, even if they’re a hundred years old and you have to repeat everything seven times.  Go, love your neighbors.

neighbor

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8 Comments

  1. Such a beautifully transparent, encouraging and convicting post, Johanna. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us! I’ve been wanting to invite the neighbors over for awhile… now I’m gonna make it happen. 🙂

  2. Came across your blog while looking for your address. Great post Jo!
    Though I’d say for some reason I’m not surprised Matt asked YOU to do the laundry for the neighbor. 🙂

  3. Johanna,
    I’ve been blessed and challenged by your posts just now. You have a great ability to “paint a picture” for us readers that brings what you’re communicating into sharp focus. I’ve been very judgemental of my neighbor and too lazy and hassled to do what you and Matt have engaged in. Thank you for being obedient and encouraging me to do the same.

    1. Steve, thank you so much for reading and for your comment; it meant a lot to me. I said a prayer that you and your neighbor would find common ground and start a relationship that will be a blessing to both of you. 🙂 I hope you are well!!

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