We've lived in this house for almost ten years. That's a real record for us. The next most lengthy occupation was eight years in Asheville, NC.
Our home is modest by most standards. We're situated in a small grouping of homes with our very own cul-de-sac at the end. Our little association opens into a larger community of "neighborly" people.
For nine years, I've been walking down our street, out to the larger community, looping around and back home. Almost always the same route in the mornings and a bit different trek in the evenings.
My walking habits have varied through the years. Intensity and frequency depends largely on how close I might be to a wedding or reunion.
Oddly, I seldom ever take Gracie with me. "Tho' she be small, she thinks she be mighty!" And she has no hesitation picking fights with larger dogs lounging on their own piece of lawn.
Over the years, the girls and Frank have teased about my habit of waving or chatting with neighbors as I've passed by. Truth is, they've been ruthless in their teasing based on a "greeting gone wrong" experience.
It happened while we still lived in NC. I was urging them all (once again) to say hello when they spotted neighbors outside their homes. At that very moment a teaching opportunity arose. A man we seldom ever saw, stepped out onto his back porch.
I nodded at my little family with the all knowing mother nod that says, "Alright! Watch and learn."
The man next door reached over for his newspaper then stood up and looked directly at us. He paused for a split second. Perfect!
In my sweetest, most cheery southern-esque drawl I loudly chirped, "Good Morning! How are y'all doing?" (More mother-knows-best nodding ensued as we awaited his response.)
Imagine my shock when the fella scowled, growled something unintelligible, and shuffled back into his house. The dismissive slam of his porch door sent a clear message, "Leave me alone, you nosy lady!"
We all stood with eyes wide in disbelief. Suddenly, Frank and the girls burst into gales of uncontrollable laughter. He pulled my forlorn self into a comforting bear hug.
That one incident continues to lead to family members waving randomly at walls or fences and crooning, "How are y'all doing?!" Then everyone bursts into laughter.
Okay, I get it. Not everyone wants to be friendly. But I haven't let that one little obstacle stand in my way! My calling is clear - greet the neighbors and let them know you want to connect.
So as I walk, I wave and talk to those showing any interest whatsoever.
But I also pray. I pray over the homes of people I don't even know. I figure that if the Lord brings the house to my attention, there's a reason. The occupants may need courage or hope. Their marriage may be in trouble or their children may be struggling. He knows.
Believe it or not, when I say hello, some neighbors still give a response similar to that of the guy in Asheville. Some people hear me but turn and walk in the other direction. Some wave in return but quickly look away indicating to me, "Don't talk to me!"
I inadvertently called one neighbor "Steve" for a while. He stopped me one day and snapped, "KEITH!"
"What did you say?" I asked with my biggest, engaging smile.
"My name is KEITH! Not Steve." He glared at me.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Um, I'll try to remember for next time I see you, Keith. Thanks." I walked away a little hurt and started repeating for myself, "Keith with teeth. Keith with teeth."
Word association games help me remember names. "Keith with teeth" worked beautifully. And about six months later, my short chats and quick hellos yielded a great opportunity. "Keith with teeth" had a serious family need. (Apparently all our nearest neighbors refer to Frank as "The Preacher.") Keith asked that Frank and I pray for his family.
We stopped and prayed right there in the driveway!
One of the "look away" fellas finally waved last year. I considered that as another major break-through. Then about six months ago, we learned his mother had died and that he felt totally alone.
It hasn't led to dinner yet (he turned that invitation down.) But he does greet us first now. Some of our Sunday evening strolls have turned into lengthy conversations about hunting or fishing or travel; whatever is on his mind. And he even went so far as to tease a little recently.
I have a list on my refrigerator of all the neighbors I can name. It reminds me to pray for them.
Faith is a special needs student I met on an early morning walk. Extremely shy, it was hard for her to look at me the first few times I said hello.
But eventually, I would round the corner and find her waving eagerly and calling out, "Hello! Hello! How are you?" She would almost bubble. Faith and her family moved away this summer. I find myself still praying for her as I pass her former home.
Who knew that just walking could yield so many opportunities to let people know they matter? Oh, wait. I think there was Someone else who discovered this form of ministry long before me. Like 2000 years ago.
Try taking a look around your own "neighborhood" with new eyes. It doesn't matter whether you're more comfortable with Hello! Hi Y'all! Howdy! or a simple Good Morning! The important thing is that you just walk......and find a way to let others know you care.