Monday, July 15

What I'm Doing on My Summer Vacation: Loving My Neighbors.

This week we are highlighting Kirsten Wagenius and her family as they are intentionally being better neighbors this summer. 
Kirsten Wagenius

What are you doing? 
"This summer I'm becoming a better neighbor. After almost nine years in the family house, on our block, in this neighborhood I am finally realizing that being a good neighbor starts here, right where I'm standing. I am now about ten months in to an experiment to renew a sense of neighborliness on this block."

Why did you start?
"As one who grew up hearing the Great Commandments of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that its only in the last two years that I've begun to locally love my neighbors."

"You see, I married into this house in the middle of a college neighborhood where, on average, 75 people inhabit our one square block in ten addresses. I'd love to say that this was an altruistic, holy endeavor to share Christ with my neighbors. However, it was honestly an inspiration born of frustration and resentment toward my young up-all-night neighbors who never considered that the children (and working parents) next door might desperately need some regular sleep. The 2 a.m. chats and chides were taking a toll on me, my attitude, and my family as the idea of loving my neighbor devolved into "THOSE COLLEGE KIDS!" and, I'm sure, some equally kind names for me as the one who nagged them, and sent officers their direction."

How did you start/get involved?
"After a particularly rough year with the house of girls next door, I was visiting with one of only two other home-owners on the block about an inspiration I'd had to address the stress of the situation. We needed to know each other-- names and faces--as people (not labels). After all, establishing rapport and encouraging a sense of neighborliness could only help, right?"

"Well, we picked a date near the annual move-in event and the three of us pot-lucked at the edge of the alley with a bright umbrella and lawn chairs determined to make a few friends. That day, I met at least one person from each address and added several phone numbers to the map. Over the next several months, we actually said hello to neighbors! I know that doesn't sound very revolutionary, but being able to send a quick text to a young neighbor during a party yielded better results and less family stress that engaging the landlord or police."

"This summer we took note of new people moving in, introduced ourselves and greeted them their first week. My young sons and I often takes walks around the block and occasionally have cookies along to leave with neighbors we find out and about. And while our second attempt at a an alley picnic fell flat, the conversations we had making the invitations had the same effect. In fact, one afternoon as my children played in the driveway, a local salvager was exchanging old junk for new and animatedly telling us about his work. Travis, a college student across the alley, ambled out and generally in my direction. I thought he was coming to say to 'hello' until he got closer and quietly asked if the man was bothering us! Again, it was a small thing, but a milestone in not just acknowledging neighbors but caring for one another! 

"I am looking forward to (co)hosting another "Happy Neighbor-Day" later this summer and smile to think that my co-hosts might be the two young men next door who bring pizzas home from work, and the fellas across the alley who seem unusually excited about playing four-square on the concrete of our drive. Together we'll build a new sense of place: forming good neighbor habits, enjoying new friends, taking pride in our surrounds, and extending a bit more patience and compassion to each other as Neighbors."

Want to get involved? 
The thing I (Julie) love about this week's post is that we can ALL do what Kirsten and her family are doing. Getting to know your neighbors doesn't cost money, it doesn't require travel, and it doesn't require any special skills. And, most of us have neighbors.

There are lots of wonderful resources to encourage each of us to walk across the street, across the alley, across the yard.  Check out the ideas, printables and tips from the Neighborday website. I love the fun printable invitations! 

Dave Runyon's website on the Art of Neighboring is another excellent resource filled with inspiration and practical tips. Here is Dave's block party kit.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

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