In Praise of Neighbors

“Are the kids still up?” my husband asked as our van turned down the driveway.

I strained to see through the trees. “Everything looks black.” Our teenagers usually lit up the house, played loud music, watched movies and ate junk food galore in the rare event of our absence.

“Someone’s been here.” He pointed to tire tracks in the snow, illuminated by the van’s headlights. “What’s by the door?”

It looked like a big, bulging sack.

In the past year, reports of theft had mushroomed. I’d also just read one of my least favorite passages in the Bible: Judges 19. Maybe that’s why I approached the sack with such dread.

My husband reached inside and pulled out a dark lump. “Potatoes?”

The puzzle pieces came together later. As he guessed, our girls remembered seeing a neighbor’s vehicle that evening but hadn’t realized anything was left at our door: we’d been anti-robbed again.

Our neighbors bless our lives in lots of surprising ways. God has granted us favor with them. Homeschooling isn’t the only thing that makes us different from most, but in varying degrees many have come to accept us anyway. Though unsure what to make of our family Christmas caroling at first, a lot of them have really warmed up to our annual visit. We sing on their doorsteps bearing cookies and Bible tracts. Some invite us in to share Christmas goodies and catch up. It takes hours. Last year they sent us home with armloads of gifts.

We’ve hosted neighborhood summer barbecues, ice cream socials and a ladies’ Bible study, which weren’t as successful. We try to think of ways to minister to our neighbors, but we seem to be the ones who keep coming out ahead. When we’ve been sick or had nothing to drive, our neighbors have loaned us vehicles and plowed our driveway. We’ve cared for each other’s animals and plants. We’ve showed up with food and gifts when we’ve heard reports of celebration—and tragedy.

In one of my fondest memories, a group of us were wandering home from another neighbors’ outdoor wedding. As the sun set, our potato-gifting neighbor came by, driving a team of huge horses. I stuck out my thumb. He slowed, we climbed into his cavernous wooden wagon and he drove each of us to our homes. The wagon swayed as the slow beasts lumbered: washed red, orange and black in the sunset. The deserted road lay quiet except for the clop of the horses’ hooves and our soft conversation. I used to think of it as an Americana moment, a sampling of something that’s largely ceased to exist. But I think it’s bigger.

Our neighborhood isn’t perfect. We also suffer from modern ills. Sirens and flashing lights sometimes shatter our peace, attesting to the myriad effects of our sin. We may let each other down, but we may also go out of our way to help. Some of us alert each other when bad weather’s about to strike or the wild blueberries are ripe. We’ve shared recipes, advice, garden produce and meals. We might not meet often, but often enough to know we’re still there.

Heaven will be a redeemed extension of our neighborhood: a great multitude from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues praising the Savior who bought them with His atoning death. Because of Him, we’ll live together forever in perfect peace and love. I’m glad our neighbors have given us a foretaste. I hope we can give them a glimpse of what’s to come, too.

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