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New neighbors

September 05 2017
September 05 2017
welcome mat
By

My family got new neighbors this week. We said goodbye to our former neighbors, who we adored, in July when they moved away. Since their moving truck pulled away, we have been on something of a stakeout. Every time we spot a car in the driveway next door, my children take up their posts in the front and upstairs windows and yell to each other what they can see. (“IT’S A MINIVAN! MAYBE THAT MEANS THEY HAVE KIDS!” If you’re going to stalk people, you might as well do it as a family.) But for two months, we would get excited only to realize it was a contractor hired by the landlord to clean the carpet or do touch up painting.

This gave me a little too long to imagine meeting the new neighbors. In my perfect mental picture, we were going to walk over and knock on the door, dressed nicely and not like people lost on their way to a pajama convention, which is our usual summer look. Maybe we would make cookies, even though I rarely bake. We would introduce ourselves and make charming small talk.

That is not what happened. What happened is that our dog found the new neighbors before we did.

Our two-year-old Labrador Retriever, Scout, is 75 pounds of hairy, people-loving, unhinged excitement. She lives her life for the moment when there is a new human she can lick. On Sunday afternoon, I was standing on our porch wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt with holes in it, calling Scout in from the back yard, when she suddenly veered away from me, put her nose right up to the fence adjacent the vacant house, and started barking like she had seen fourteen cats. While yelling at the dog and scrambling around trying to corral her back into the house, I realized with horror that there were people on the other side of the fence. I climbed back on to our porch and beheld our long awaited new neighbors, looking right at me. My husband Dan joined me on the porch and we loudly introduced ourselves over the racket as Scout barked and threw herself at the fence, convinced that if she could just get enough of a running start she could clear it.

The charming small talk I had envisioned turned out to mean gems of dialogue such as this:

Dan: “We have a ton of kids on the street.”
Me: “Yes! We do this great Halloween parade! The kids all wear costumes and parade down the street and then we have sandwiches in the cul-de-sac before everyone trick or treats. Oh but heads up, the party is basically in your driveway. I hope that’s cool?”

Welcome to the neighborhood! You’re invited to a block party in your yard in eight weeks! These poor people. They were just trying to see their new back porch.

Since that first encounter, we’ve had a few more chances to talk to the new neighbors. We’ve told them what veterinarian we use (it turns out they have a dog too) and given restaurant recommendations and sung the praises of HEB. And it has all reminded me that seven years ago, we were the new neighbors who had just come to San Antonio. We were visiting new preschools and looking for a pediatrician and getting tired of introducing ourselves and giving the small talk bio of our lives in social settings. We were also visiting a new church.

We first visited Redeemer on a Sunday in October 2010. We had been in town maybe two weeks, and we were exhausted from rapidly selling our house, moving, and unpacking in another state. And I will never, ever forget that when we were standing awkwardly in the lobby at Edison High School after the worship service, my now dear friend Elizabeth introduced herself to me, and within minutes had not so much asked me, but more informed me that based on where we lived I would be coming to her community group and would attend a book club meeting at a coffee shop with the women of that community group the very next night.

“Welcome to Redeemer. You’re coming to coffee with us tomorrow,” was the basic message. And I did it. I went to coffee with my new friend Elizabeth. I met my friend Sheila that night, who a few years later would bring us a casserole and pray with me while I cried during a really challenging chapter of our lives. Over time I met all the people who have prayed with us and cried with us and laughed and cheered with us for what is now seven years. Redeemer was the first church we visited in San Antonio. We never left.

The fall brings us new neighbors. We meet them over the fence in our back yards and at meet-the-teacher night at our children’s schools. And we meet them at church. The fall is a time when we have many first-time visitors at Redeemer. It can be intimidating to introduce yourself to someone new. It may not go the way you planned. But the great news is that the Gospel says that it doesn’t matter if we are charming and well dressed or if our dogs (or children) are well behaved when we’re shaking hands for the first time. It matters that we love our neighbor. Loving your neighbor starts with meeting and welcoming people. I pray that at Redeemer, we would always have eyes to see the new neighbors God is sending us.


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