I recently moved. This is not my first move but I hope it will be my last. Moving is not fun. If you have moved, then you know it can be quite traumatic. I have heard people say that moving is similar to going through a death or divorce. I cannot say my move was that painful but I did cry for six months prior to packing up and leaving. Honestly, I wasn’t really that upset about moving. The move, itself, seemed perfectly timed, divinely planned and I was making it with one the best people in the world. The reason why I was crying was because my move coincided with what is often called the end of the first half of life.
No one tells you about how quickly 23 or even 45 years can pass by or about the space that seems to appear out of nowhere when your kids grow up and move out. Likewise, no one tells you when that time arrives and this space appears, you’ll also need time and space to mourn and celebrate the highs and lows, regrets, failures and successes of this part of life. As I got ready to move, I wasn’t just looking forward, I spent the majority of the time looking back, pondering, praying and on many levels saying goodbye to everything and everyone I had known for the last 23 years.
Perhaps, it’s incorrect to divide life into halves. It seems to make more sense to divide it in thirds, fourths, fifths, hundredths, billions or even trillions. If you think about it, what is life but a series of beginnings and endings occurring on a momentary basis and if or when that process should stop…we die. So my friend, just remember if you are alive, then you’re always in some part of life where you are experiencing an end and a beginning. And, whatever part you find yourself in at this moment, the truth remains that the journey of life with all its beginnings and endings is not easy. Some parts are very hard at the end, in the middle and/or at the beginning of even the hundredth half of life.
I have moved in many parts of my life and I discovered that these parts are not for the faint of heart. At this point, I am not sure if it’s more challenging to move to a brand new area where you don’t know a soul or, in my case, move back to an area where 27 years have passed over the souls who you once knew and your at the end and the beginning of a big part of your life…and in so many ways you are completely starting over.
When I moved to Knoxville in 2000, it felt like I was just starting. Mainly, because I had 2 babies and I was only 25, and the time during and after college was nothing but many big and continual firsts. The move to Knoxville was not hard, but moving to a new place where I didn’t know anyone and I was desperately trying to figure out who I was at 25, with soon to be 3 kids under the age of 4, would prove to be challenging.
Like most, we moved to a new city and into a new place surrounded by neighbors and wanting to find friends. Looking back, It wasn’t easy making new friends but it should have been super easy to be a good neighbor. Yet, it wasn’t easy and I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t good at being a good neighbor. Maybe… because I was so young, dumb and covered up in kids. Perhaps, I was waiting for my neighbors to show me how the neighbor thing works or they were waiting on me. And, since we were both waiting for each other, years passed and not a lot happened. Sure, we all spoke and said hello. Of course, we were nice but we weren’t committed or invested in each other’s lives or well being. If I am being completely honest, then it’s because I didn’t make time for them. For the most part, I was too busy trying to make friends and be part of a community with people, who did not live, breathe or sleep right beside me.
I keep thinking about where we choose to live and why we think we can choose to live beside people who we have no intention to do life with and I wonder why. By the sheer grace and mercy of God that superseded my hubris and arrogance, I did end up having the best relationship with my next door neighbor but it took too long. I have deep regrets that I did not go first and I did not dig in and create the space to know and accept (love) my neighbors by practicing this awkward neighbor thing, and trying to be a friend to all my neighbors.
After this last move, I have been wondering why we don’t factor neighbors into our residential decisions? All of us know when we choose a place to live that it will, whether we like it or not, determine our neighbors. I think it’s odd that we don’t think, investigate, interview or pray about who the complete strangers will be living right beside us. Nor do we think about the choice that we will face as soon as we move. That choice being, “Will we venture outside or across the street to get to know the people who will most likely have absolutely nothing in common with us (other than a residential decision that was most likely based purely on finances)?” Even if the most impersonal thing, besides our egos, has determined the place where we live, move and have our being…step back with me for a second and consider that even this could be an act of providence and your new strange neighbors could quite possibly be the very relationships that are divinely planned and given as the perfect gift to grow, heal and help you the most. Thanks to my neighbor and the impact she had on my life, I discovered that my relationship with my neighbors is not a reflection of them but a reflection of me, and who I am and what I believe. Am I healthy, whole and doing what I believe to be true?
A couple of months ago, a friend asked me where I thought she should move. The question opened a space for all my failures of loving my neighbors to fill my heart but it also opened a space for gratitude, when I considered how life changing my relationship had been with my next door neighbor. The more I thought about the question “Where to move” I was pushed to ask deeper questions and those questions led me to a truth that is true for me and you, as much as it is for her. What mattered most was not where she moved but if she would dig in and love her neighbor, wherever she moved. Would she commit to the people and the place where she lived? Would her neighbors be the place where she loved, bled, sweated, cried and gave of her time, talents and truths?
Just think what would happen if we committed to love our next door neighbors and we dug in, picked up trash, opened our doors, shared out tables, helped, encouraged and gave ourselves away where we lived. I don’t believe that we would just see change if we committed to simply love the people to our left and right, and the people in front of us but we would experience transformation in our hearts, minds, bodies, communities and world.
I find it interesting that the Bible has a lot to say about loving our neighbors. It even has a parable about a Good Samaritan and the whole point of the story is not to ask or answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” But to ask yourself, “ Am I the neighbor?” Am I the neighbor who shows mercy, kindness and love? There’s no doubt that most of us do not love our neighbors, because we don’t even know our neighbors. We don’t open our hearts to them, because we do not open our doors to them. It’s strange how easy it is for us to drive right past our neighbors to hang with friends, go to church, participate in social movements and groups, and help strangers in other parts of the city and country. But, what if we stopped going elsewhere to live our lives and we started living our lives and practicing what we say we believe where we live. What if we stopped driving out of our communities to live and love, and we lived powerfully in our places and we loved our next door neighbors, and we starting practicing that awkward neighbor thing?
Today, more than ever, I am convinced and convicted of my responsibility to love my neighbor- especially after pondering my first half of life. We live at a desperate time that desperately needs men and women to be neighbors, to show mercy, to be kind and to love the people who breathe, sleep, eat and live right beside us. We need to create spaces, homes, and relationships where our neighbors can belong and believe that they are valued, beautiful and wonderfully designed. We need people willing to sacrifice their time, energy and money to help their neighbors remember who they are and how they are naturally designed to be healthy in community and in relationship with others.
Only love can change this trajectory that fear has puts us on. Only love can grow peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And, it is this love that we give others that reflects the love that we have divinely received and it is this love that will determine the love we give ourselves and others. In other words, we love others, especially our neighbors. like we have been divinely loved by our savior, who came into this world to be our neighbor.
I don’t think we need another renaissance, revolution or rebellion but what we desperately need is a REMEMBERING of who we are (we are the beloved) and a REMEMBERING of how we are naturally designed to give and receive love and be deeply nourished by the giving and receiving of love. Only in a relationship with nature, our neighbors and with The Truth can this remembering occur and we can receive and give the divine love, truth and beauty that is ready to flow through us.
Today is your day. Today is an amazing gift and opportunity to create the space to remember who we are, to practice health, to love our neighbors and to become the most amazing, wonderful and beautiful people you and I are designed to be. If we want to see the world change, then we must start where we are and in the places where we live, and with the people who live right beside us. We must decide to walk across the street and do more than say hello, we must commit to love our neighbors with all our spirits, hearts, minds and bodies.