Network Blog

Would You Consider Opening Your Home?

My greatest incentive to cleaning and decorating during the holidays? Why, having friends and family over, of course!

The other night my husband and I went door to door passing out 41 invitations to each house on our street for my annual Ladies’ Christmas Tea. I usually have this on a Friday morning a few weeks before Christmas.

This year we are in a new neighborhood but, already I’ve heard from several neighbors who are excited about getting together. We’re exchanging “favorite books” this year and the women are talking amongst themselves as to what their favorite book has been and who might like their book. One of my neighbors told me this morning how grateful she is that we are all gathering together as new neighborsand even more importantly, as new friends.

Our other neighborhood tradition is hosting a Holiday Open House. (And we’ve intentionally chosen to call it a “Holiday” Open House as we’ve had several Jewish families join us over the years. We’re certainly not “anti-Merry Christmas” but we want to include as many friends and neighbors as we can.)

We’ve hosted these two gatherings for many years and the Open House is one of my children's favorite traditions. Everyone contributes in some way. Whether it’s helping to bake or clean, making place cards for the food, sharing their toys with other children, or greeting guests at the door, everyone gets to participate.

We invite everyone we know to come, including neighbors, co-workers, friends from past duty stations who now live nearby, church friends, gym buddies, the kids’ school friends and their families, cashiers we’ve met at local stores, the mail carrier, the office workers at places we frequent, etc. (Keeping these thoughts in mind: there are many other events going on so not everyone we invite will be able to attend, but they will feel special having been invited. We set the time for a two-hour block – the amount of work it takes to clean your home and open your doors is the same for a few friends as it is for lots of friends; you might as well make the most of your time and invite lots!)

We bake/prepare 5 or 6 food items (think super easy: meatballs in the crockpot, cookies, crackers with a cheese ball, mini quiches, pretzels with dip. Costco is a lifesaver here!) On our invitation we let friends know they’re welcome to bring a favorite finger food to share. A few will be relieved they can come and not have to bring something while the majority are happy to bring a dish. We usually have much more food than we would ever need.

One of my fondest memories is after everyone has left and we, as a family, sit around and talk about the people we are privileged to know and love. We talk about observing the different conversations that took place, the friends we knew in Norway who were in a lively conversation with the single mom who lives next door to us, the letter carrier who didn’t know anyone, but who left with the name and phone number of a church member who’s invited them to church next Sunday.

We recount God’s faithfulness to us and are grateful for the privilege of simply inviting friends and neighbors in and watching Him work.

This season, would you consider opening your home to even a few friends and neighbors? Inviting “everyone you know” may sound intimidating to you, but what if you invited the neighbors on either side and perhaps the ones across the street?

It’s not too late to write out a few invitations and get them out. And if your calendar is full, consider an “After Christmas Open House” in January, when things quiet down and people still need to feel appreciated and loved. 

Michele Husfelt serves as a ministry assistant for NorthStar Church Network and heads up our Neighboring Initiative. 

Just What is the Key to Great Neighboring?

She didn’t plan to be known as the lawn mowing lady. It just kind of evolved.

Having new neighbors who moved from Egypt, who had never owned a lawnmower, she seized an opportunity to help them out while enjoying one of her favorite stress-relieving pastimes.

She offered to mow their lawn.

Initially, they were reluctant to accept. They anticipated cultural differences when moving to a new country, but really, what kind of American walks up to your door with a lawn mower in tow and wants to cut your lawn? What were her motives? What did she want from them?

Obviously, they would need to pay her, they thought. But when she wouldn’t accept payment, they became even more perplexed.

She mowed their yard. And made new friends.

Quite divinely, another family moved in a few doors down, this one from Ethiopia. So she seized the opportunity to mow another yard and make another friend.

Karen is a busy mom and wife and works part time. She lives in Northern Virginia where the pace of life is frantic and one rarely has time to look out for anyone except themselves.
 
She and her husband, Jim, were at church when they heard a sermon called, “The Art of Neighboring- What if Jesus Meant to Love Your Actual Neighbors?”

Driving home that afternoon, they began to evaluate the vast needs of the neighbors God had purposely placed in their little utopia. “What are we doing to be intentional to love our neighbors?” they asked each other.

Mowing yards is just one tangible way Karen is loving her neighbors. Not expecting anything in return, she has reaped more benefits through the conversations and friendships that have blossomed from her initial offer.

Her Ethiopian friend has been back home visiting family for the past two months but she let Karen know she is welcome to use her driveway should she need extra space. She keeps in touch with her via email and often reminds her how much she looks forward to having tea together when she returns.

Karen and her husband have taken other steps in reaching out and creating community. Flyers in hand, they visited each home in their neighborhood and handed out invitations to a “Cupcakes and Ice Cream” social. They set up a table in their driveway, a safe space that can be less intimidating for a first-time gathering— plus you don’t even have to clean your house!

Realizing it was the middle of Ramadan, many of their neighbors did not come. However, they soon discovered this was also part of God’s plan. With “only” three families showing up, and drizzling rain, they found themselves inside with plenty of cupcakes and ice cream. These new friends ended up staying 3 hours, enjoying great conversation and laughing the night away.

Several families who were celebrating Ramadan made a point to let them know they look forward to the next gathering.

Karen and Jim are currently planning another neighborhood event. They’ve found that using holidays already on the calendar gives them a ready-made schedule and makes for a great reminder that it’s time to gather the neighbors once again.

Whether it’s a block party or mowing a yard or having tea with a neighbor, Karen and Jim say that intentionality is the key to the art of being a great neighbor.

Posted by Michele Husfelt with

What Not to Say to Your Neighbors

One of my most vivid memories of a neighbor who made a difference comes from our time living in South Carolina.

My husband was deployed and I had four children under the age of seven. I wasn't feeling well, the car broke down that day and had to be towed home from an hour away.

It was about 6:00pm when I finally crawled to my bed; I can’t remember a time I was so sick. I couldn’t even think about how or what to feed the kids. The five-year-old would have to be in charge that night, I’d decided.

JoLynn lived across the street and attended our neighborhood Bible study. She had three young boys and her life was crazy busy. We knew each other through casual conversation and by virtue of living in close proximity on a military base.

I would not have answered the phone when it rang, except I thought it might be my husband calling from Timbuktu (or wherever in the world he was). And I thought that in between throwing up, I could tell him thanks for leaving me and all God’s children at this particular time. (That’s how we affectionately refer to our funny kids.)

It was not my husband; it was JoLynn and she could tell I was not doing well.

The next thing I know, I could faintly hear her coming into my bedroom and whispering to me that she was taking my four children, six-month-old included, to her house for dinner and to spend the evening.

To this day, every time I think of an example of a good neighbor, I think of JoLynn. I think of her actions and her words; however, I also think about the words she did NOT say to me.

I recently had an unexpected surgery and was in recovery mode for a few weeks. This is a text message I received from my friend and former neighbor, Kathy. “Hey, we are going to send dinner over tomorrow night. Would you like pizza or something else?”

Here’s what Kathy and JoLynn did not say: “Hey, sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. Let me know if you need anything.”

Think back to the last time someone left you with those words. If you’re like me, you probably think those are nice words, but they are void of any real meaning.

As neighbors, and friends, let’s move from “let me know if you need anything” to looking to see what the need might be and being proactive to meet that need. Perhaps next time we see a friend in need, we might say, “I know you haven’t had much time with your husband lately. I’m going to feed and entertain your children for a few hours this weekend. What time works for you?” Or, “I’m bringing you a treat from Starbucks this afternoon. What’s your favorite drink?” Or, “I made an extra dish of spaghetti for you tonight. What time would you like me to bring it over?”

If the need isn’t obvious, then write a card or bring a cupcake or flowers, something that says you care and are thinking about them. And just maybe leave the meaningless words at home this time.

Don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to God. -Hebrews 13:16

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