But as I grew into adulthood and moved off on my own, most of the time I didn't really ever get to know my neighbors. I had social anxieties that stopped me from being friendly with people until my hardened outer shell had been sufficiently cracked.
During our time in Illinois, I actually did make friendships with several of my neighbors, and we had a nice little community going. We lived in a mobile home park on the Naval base, so we had the commonality of being Navy to bring us into friendships. But it was towards the end of this tour that I was deeply betrayed by a close friend, and the damage done closed me off to neighbors for years. I could not trust people, and I hated to have others in my house. I was perfectly content not to know any of my neighbors.
In Virginia, I began to heal, and although I eventually devolped deep and meaningful relationships with the people at my church, even letting some into my house... I still didn't dare to let my neighbors into my life. It didn't help that we didn't live in a very good or safe area. But even after we moved onto Fort Monroe, where once again we had the commonality of all being military, I did not befriend many neighbors.
So when we moved here, and the woman at the housing office informed us that we might be snubbed by our neighbors because they were officer and we are enlisted, I actually said, "That's ok, I never make it a point to know my neighbors anyway."
I actually laugh at myself that these were the words I spoke only eight weeks ago. The office lady was in fact quite wrong. (Almost) Everyone we have met so far has been nice. Not that we have been advertising our rank status, we haven't hidden it either... and it really hasn't mattered much to the people we have met. Of course Paul is Navy among mostly Army, so we are different anyway. (And they are continuing to move enlisted on our street, so we are currently at 7 officer families and 4 enlisted families.)
I have noticed that it has become remarkable easier for me to carry on new conversations with people I am just meeting. And I have had people over for dinner three times already. I thank and praise God for the work he has done, is doing, and will continue to do in me. I talk to people all the time here. I haven't really gotten to the point where I would consider anyone more than acquaintance friends, but that will come with time.
So last week as we were walking over to the park for some free food offered at a WSMR party, we stopped to talk to a family moving into one of the many empty houses on our street. We talked for quite a bit, and another neighbor joined us as he and his daughter were heading the same direction we were. He wanted to welcome the new family just as we had.
A few days later, we stopped and talked through our car window for just a bit on our way home from the commissary. Paul wanted to see how they were doing and when their household goods were due to arrive. After arriving home, he found Justin to take down to meet their son who is about the same age, and he stayed for quite a long time chatting. When I went down to get him for dinner, we decided to invite them over for the next evening since they wouldn't have their stuff yet and were living on cold sandwiches.
It turned out they were not able to come over because they needed to make a trip into town that evening that could not be postponed, so we invited them for the next night instead. I know how tired out you are at the end of receiving your HHGs, and they probably wouldn't be unpacked enough yet to cook anything real anyway. Although she didn't want me to go all out or go to any trouble, they agreed to come down for dinner anyway.
I made my famous potato soup and tried out a new pumpkin cheesecake recipe. I even had to borrow some sugar from my other neighbor for my bread since I used the last of mine in the cheesecake. She commented on how sweet it was for us to have invited the family for dinner.
That night, we had a great evening. The kids played. The husbands sat outside around the fire pit chatting. And we two moms sat at my kitchen table talking. It was so nice to have a real conversation that wasn't surface chitchat. I felt a real connection with this woman... the possibility of something more than just acquaintance status. I know she will only be here for 8-11 months... but it will be nice to be neighbors while it lasts.
One of the things she said to me really stuck out. She said, "you sure know a lot of people around here already for being here such a short time." I commented that I got hooked up with the homeschool group quickly through one of our neighbors who seems to know everybody! (She has been here five years and counting...)
Then she said that she has lived on plenty of bases where people weren't so friendly, and people didn't always get to know their neighbors.... but after being here less than a week, she had already had three or four different people/families stop by to say hello and introduce themselves. I think I commented on how maybe being so isolated out here, it puts a higher focus on community and being neighborly.
At the end of the evening as we said our goodbyes, this family just thanked us over and over for inviting them over and preparing such a wonderful meal. It was almost like they still couldn't believe we wanted to go to the effort.... but it wasn't really an effort at all. It was pure joy to do something so simple for someone else to make their transition here easier.
And since I still had half a cheesecake left, I cut a huge hunk to take over to my neighbor who had loaned me the sugar earlier in the day. (I think she got a good investment for her 1/3 cup of sugar!) She was also so appreciative of my simple gesture. It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to bless other people with my skills. I think I have missed that since we left our church family in Virginia.
But this evening got me thinking. Has our culture lost this art of neighborly love? I grew up watching old shows of the 50's in syndication..... Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, The Patty Duke Show. This was a time and a culture where neighbors mattered. People not only knew who lived on their street, but actually took the time to know and help each other. They took on each other's responsibilities and were not so focused on themselves.
Of course I am not saying that this no longer exists.... but has it become more of the exception than the norm? It is easy to be helpful and kind to the people you already know. But you really have to put yourself out there sometimes to do these things for people you don't know. It can be scary at times to sacrifice yourself in any way not knowing what will come out of it, especially in our society that is so Me oriented.
Even though my heart wanted to bless this family, and I felt like it was no big deal.... wouldn't have I reacted similarly if another family had welcomed us this way? With actions and not just words? If someone had brought "the new family" food or invited us to dinner.... or even came to our door to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood instead of us going out to meet them?
Although these specific examples did not happen with us, we have been quite blessed by our neighbor who opened herself up to help us... she is a wealth of information and resources about this base, the area, and the homeschool group. She has made our life so much easier here since we met her two or three weeks after arriving. She is one who often goes over and welcomes a new family to the neighborhood, and she feels badly if she hasn't had the time to do so.
Maybe it is that this base has somewhat of a 1950's feel to it. I have heard jokes about how nothing has been planned for since the 50's. I have enjoyed the easy pace of life. In a lot of ways it is like living back in a former decade. But maybe that isn't all bad. I kind of like it.
So what do we do in this society that has gotten so scary? When you are somewhat afraid of the people around you? When you think it will cost you more than you are willing to pay to reach out and help another person? And how did we get this way? How did we get so self absorbed and isolated from each other? Ever notice how the bigger and busier the place is you live, the more isolated you can be? You may have people everywhere around you, but that doesn't mean you're not isolated.
Romans 13:8-10 (New Living Translation)
Love Fulfills God’s Requirements8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”[a] These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. Well I think our culture only knows how to do the latter.... love yourself. It seems so few are willing to put someone's needs... anyone's needs before their own. Maybe that is part of the reason our divorce rate is so high in this country. Some have been hurt so badly, all they know is to take care of themselves. They are so afraid of being hurt further, that they do not have the ability to put anyone before themselves... it is just too risky. I think others are just too filled with pride or lust to care about anyone other than themselves. I know there have been points in my life where both could have been said about me. We live in a fallen world filled with pain and greed and sin.
But when we try to break free from this world, when we step out and away from ourselves, when we sacrifice ourselves (in love) for the sake of someone else.... don't we feel wonderful? That high is so much better than anything we can do for ourselves. And wouldn't you say that this is true because this is how God designed us? He has a purpose for our lives that does not revolve around us. Sure, he wants us to be blessed, to be happy and joyful.
But he wants that to be accomplished when we are serving someone else instead of ourselves. He doesn't want us to be consumed with "what is is going to cost me if I do this for someone else?" But rather, "How can I better myself by giving of myself in love to help someone else in need?" I think it is amazing the lessons we learn when we love our neighbors, with our actions as well as our words.
Lord God, you are an amazing Father. I thank you so much for all the work you have done in my life this past year. I can see how your healing has been manifesting in my life as I relate to those around me. I can see in this place how you are beginning to give me a heart and a love for people in a way I have not ever experienced before. Thank you for providing these opportunities and experiences to practice being more selfless and less selfish. I love you. Amen.