Daring To Love Your Neighbour

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A_Leah

I share a farm with five other families, a few singles, two cows and lots of chickens. Our farm balances on the crest of suburbia. As in, across the street from our muddy fields lie 600 cookie-cutter homes, almost all built within the past five years.

Back in December, as an expression of neighbourly cheer and communal togetherness, we decided to go Christmas carolling in this brand-spanking-new neighbourhood. We put up flyers on neighbourhood mailboxes and invited them for hot apple cider before and after the wassailing.

The first two homes we approached proved very promising. We belted out Frosty the Snowman with gusto and the children laughed and the moms’ eyes sparkled.

This was such a good idea! We would be like pied pipers spreading neighbourly affection! This was sure to become a cherished neighbourhood tradition and all our neighbours would sing our praises because we had started it!

The next string of houses proved not so promising. People opened their doors a crack and then slammed them shut. Some peeked out their front door windows and then walked away without a smile. The saddest moment came when we met a woman on the sidewalk. She emerged from her car, donning party clothes and had a gift in hand. As our paths crossed, someone in our group started singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas and we all joined in. In response, this woman tucked her chin into her chest, stared straight down at the ground and sped past us, ducking into the house without a glance or smile. Our voices died out like a record player that had been unplugged.

Our hearts began to sink into our toes.

The kids in our group started asking hard questions, and we adults puzzled over an answer. Was it our song choice? But, we were singing the classics. Were we so out of touch with current cultural taboos that we hadn’t realized that Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer was politically incorrect?

This whole evening, which we’ve come to call The Great Christmas Carolling Fiasco, made anthropologists out of all of us. What was the problem here? Was it because we were trying to do something “religious” in secular Canada? Was it generational? Had all these people imbibed the Internet’s culture of anonymous rudeness? Did they think we wanted something? Did they just like the lights of Christmas and the scrubbed TV version of togetherness, but didn’t really value the kind of community that requires inconvenience?

It would be easy at this point to veer off into a rant. There’s a lot of fodder in this story for a great rant, but I’d rather inspire change than guilt.

So instead, I’ve been thinking about the multitude of small, everyday ways we can dare to love our neighbours. 

Studies show that those who know their neighbours are quantifiably happier. Neighbourhoods that are socially connected through authentic friendships experience less crime. In these sorts of neighbourhoods the vulnerable are cared for—soup and muffins arrive on the doorsteps of the sick, casseroles on the doorsteps of the new moms, listening ears are offered to the suffering.

These are the sorts of neighbourhoods Women Who Love are called to create. 

Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with—some radical, some simple—that will help foster communities where people thrive.

  1. Get to know your neighbours really well. If you like them, suggest you take down the fence separating your yards.
  2. Plant a garden in your front yard rather than your back.
  3. Give away portions of your garden’s bounty in a “Free” box near your front sidewalk.
  4. Start an online forum for your neighbourhood as a way to share ideas, skills, food, and more. Read this amazing story about how a couple got to know their entire neighbourhood and how their neighbours cared for each other in practical ways as a result of being connected online.
  5. Plant fruit trees in your front yard. Place a little “Help Yourself” sign near the trunks of the trees when fruit is ripe.
  6. Take a walk through your neighbourhood every day.
  7. Plant a “willow igloo” in your front yard and invite neighbourhood children to play in it.
  8. Buy something in common with a few neighbours (perhaps a pair of hedge clippers? a lawn mower? a canoe? female and male kiwi trees?)
  9. Invite someone to live with you.
  10. Have your children draw a map of your neighbourhood. Label the houses with all the names of neighbours they know. Make it a challenge to add a new name every month.

The possibilities are endless. What has worked in your neighbourhood, SheLovelys?

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Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo is the author of Planted: a Story of Creation, Calling and Community, a book Eugene H. Peterson called “remarkable” and Margaret Atwood called “clear-sighted and humorous.” She likes to read (and write) wise and winsome stories that inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world. She can be found online leahkostamo.com and @leahkostamo. She ministers with the Christian conservation organization, A Rocha.
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo

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  • I live in the country, our neighbors are barely visible, and it has been a challenge to find paths into their lives. I have found that food opens many doors! Christmas cookies were a natural beginning which graduated to garden tomatoes, cucumbers, and warm muffins for no reason. Now, finally, finally on this country road where people “mind their own business,” we know about surgery and cancer treatments that are going on and can show up with hot soup and love.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Yes! Michele, food is a great way into peope’s lives and hearts. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • HBurns

    You’re inspiring! I love this post…xo

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Helen!

  • Sandy Hay

    I have a swimming pool. My neighbors have an open invitation that I renew each summer

    • Leah Kostamo

      Ah, that brings back memories of my childhood in Arizona — we were swimming pool – less and so depended on neighbours to share their glorious water with us!

  • Sonya

    I love this post! We happen to find a suburban neighborhood just outside of a BIG city where the neighbors and neighborhood are connected. We all make meals, share garden bounty, walk to school… We are all in different stages of life, with different beliefs, but I’m confident the only way to show real Love to them is to Know them! Thank you for the encouragement!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Amen! What a blessing to have landed in such a place. I’m sure you are making into even more wonderful. 🙂

  • Kids who play outside definitely help. We pull out the lawn chairs on Friday evenings in the summer and it feels like the neighbourhood buzzes all around. Neighbours join as they can. Our trampoline is a communal space. So is our front porch and entryway with multiple plugs for minecraft devices.

    When our one set of neighbours moved in, I took flowers to welcome them. They still talk about it. I think doing that, felt like expanding the borders of our home and making the neighbourhood home, instead. Helping host and facilitate how we live together and taking ownership for making the connection.

    I’m quite puzzled by the response to your carolling. We have friends who live in that community … I might ask if they were there!

    • Leah Kostamo

      You’re living it, Idelette! (And you have a garden in your front yard too — you forgot that one. :)).
      I’d be curious to hear what your friends in our neighbourhood say. If they’re friends of yours I’m sure they aren’t one of the families who shut their door in our faces. 🙂

  • Lydia Skulstad

    “I’d rather inspire change than guilt.” Yes! Great quote to be lived out in so many different contexts.

    We are quite new to our neighborhood, but we have found that consistently going on family walks with no agenda has helped us meet our neighbors. However, getting to a deeper place of knowing and being known is taking time. I look forward to trying some of your suggestions!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Much grace in you neighbouring, Lydia! May those deeper connection come as you open your heart (and yard :)) to those around you!

  • Renee

    I live in a neighborhood of condos. A young single chick in an area that I’m learning is full of older widows. On holidays, and random just because days, I bake cookies or breads or cakes and leave them on their doorsteps. Little fun surprises to brighten days. I’ve met several really sweet ladies and look forward to branching out farther down the street. It’s great because baking is a stress reliever for me, I don’t eat everything I bake, and expand community. It’s win win! 🙂

    • Leah Kostamo

      Hi Renee — How wonderful! I hope when I’m old and alone (!?) I have a sweet young single baker living in my neighbourhood too! 🙂

  • Love these ideas! I especially like the idea of planting a garden in the front yard instead of the back.
    I have also planted a vegetable garden in my yard to share with neighbors (the neighbors shared the garden itself and we planted and harvested together). I just heard a talk by Joel Salatin where he talked about growing food as something that should be “people-centric” and bring people together. I think nature in general can be powerful that way in it’s ability to bring people together. Maybe it’s because nature itself works together and is interconnected?
    Great post…I will try to put some more of these ideas into practice 🙂

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