For the first five years of our married life, my husband and I pretty much ignored our neighbours. We knew the names of the elderly couple over the back because their ivy spilled over into our yard and occasionally Leigh climbed a ladder and hacked it back. But other than that, we did not speak to the people who lived in the houses around us. We had not made any effort; we were young and free, working long hours and sleeping late on Saturdays. We seemed to have nothing in common with the old folk surrounding us.
And then we had children and I was in the house all the time. The children grew and they were loud and bold and curious. They toddled across the lawn and made conversation with the Chinese grandma I’d never really spoken to. She gave them flowers and pomegranates. They hovered around our retired neighbour John while he weeded, and George asked him if he knew God, and would he like to come to church.
The neighbours knew the kids. But I still stood at a distance, unwilling to be close with the people who lived so close. I’d grown up in the country, with acres of space all around. Suburbia made me nervous.
I knew it wasn’t right so I started to pray. Change my heart, God. Help me love my neighbour.
There was a little house across the road owned by an investor who lived in Queensland. New tenants came all the time and didn’t stay long. Single people and couples with no children. I didn’t meet any of them. Not long after I began praying, I was able to catch the real estate agent and ask her if she could find us some neighbours with kids.
“Sure!” she said, and soon the Tan family moved in. I first got to meet Mrs Tan when we reversed out of our driveways at the same time and smashed into each other. Our kids went to the same school and she was a Christian too. Eventually they built a house and moved out.
The next family to move in were the Lee family. A couple of days after they arrived, I was sitting on my bed praying. I prayed that God would help me to get to know them, and he would help me to love them. Just as I was saying ‘amen’, the doorbell rang and it was Mr Lee. He needed jumper leads. A few days later I was shoveling mulch and Mrs Lee came across the road and we had a great chat. Our kids grew to love each other and spent many afternoons playing between houses. Eventually they bought a house and moved out of the area. We were sad to see them go.
Then came a couple from Singapore. I was getting better at initiating friendship. On a day they were out the front I walked over and said hello. He had recently moved over from Singapore. He would be alone, as his wife and kids were going back to finish the school year. We took him some dinners and we waved every morning. The rest of the family joined him again 5 months later but only stayed a week before being relocated to Melbourne. On the morning they left, they came to say goodbye and thank us for our friendship. I wish I’d invited him in for dinner, instead of just dropping the meals off, but at least I was making progress.
I continued to pray.
We started to make friends with people further down the street. There was a family from Sri Lanka who cooked me delicious food and popped over to chat while the kids bounced on the trampoline.
I made friends with a beautiful single mum who was going through a tough time. Her kids were sweethearts and we loved having them at our place. Our friendship was maybe only for a season, but the season included wine and movies, gifts and baking, deep conversations and tears, and it was a privilege to be in her life.
God was growing my ability to reach out and connect in meaningful ways to those around me.
The most recent family to live in the house across the road have been the greatest blessing of all. They are a Sudanese Muslim family. I thought was that we probably wouldn’t have very much in common, and the relationship would be difficult to forge. But I was so wrong.
They have become dear friends. The blokes, who are both about as blokey as blokes get, rib each other constantly, swap stuff and help each other lift heavy things. Us ladies, we drink tea together and look after each other’s kids- and I’m counting down the sleeps till I can cuddle their new baby.
Living across the road from them has enriched our lives enormously and I thank God for them all the time.
I’m not the perfect neighbour. I do like a lot of alone time and personal space. I could definitely be more giving of my time- I should put the kettle on and invite people in more often. I’m getting better at it though- better at opening up my heart and my home to the people who live around me.