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A Neighborhood Divided: Years of Friends, Months of Loss, Weeks of Grief

A Neighborhood Divided: Years of Friends, Months of Loss, Weeks of Grief

When we moved out of Baja and back to Cali, I wasn’t what you’d call… excited. Besides the whole experience feeling anti-climactic (we already lived in SoCal once), track houses aren’t really my jam.

Apparently, the neighborhood cookie-cutter fairy put all of our floor plans on a blueprint and the creativity stopped after five. Five similar shapes, five coordinating paint schemes, and that was it. 

Match-y match-y ain’t my style. Plus, I didn’t see a whole lot of ministry taking place between getting the mail and pulling in trashcans.

I don’t mean to sound like a whiner. I’m truly grateful for Model #3 to call home and know millions around the world would die for an opportunity to have this much space. 

But in all honesty, I thought living in the forest… or on a small farm… or in an old historic house with rattling pipes… or something more rustic… would be so much cooler than the land of concrete and stucco.

But this is where God clearly opened doors and had us land. So I sought contentment and looked for ways to settle in. The closest thing to be a part of was our neighborhood, so I started there.

Knock-Knock, Ding-Dong

My first experience in meeting our new neighbors didn’t come by standing in our driveway and waiting for someone to emerge; I would’ve been waiting for hours days. It came when I passed out invitations house-to-house with the woman next door.

Twenty-one times we knocked on doors, rang bells, and invited strangers to a BBQ. Some were timid, some excited, all curious, but the experience taught me a couple things: 

  • Humans are weird.
  • Everyone likes to be invited. 

The turnout was mediocre, but rich conversation flowed and strangers connected. For the past three years we’ve repeated the trend: invite, chat, eat, bond. 

No, we’re not all best friends. But of the eight families we know the best, picking up groceries, carpooling, mowing, listening, and exercising together has become the norm. We also watch out for each other’s kids, have driveway dinners, dog sit, buy fundraiser goods, celebrate new babies, and welcome visiting family. 

We’ve walked with each other through the surprising loss of jobs, the extreme loss of motivation, and the heartbreaking loss of pets.

And then we lost a human.

December 2020

A girl with special needs three doors down, who dealt with persistent aspirating, had an episode too violent for anyone to save her. And just like that, she was gone before we saw the ambulance out front. 

And suddenly, our street felt dark.

Two weeks later, a kind man, five doors down (barely middle age), laid in a hospital bed and fought Covid over Christmas. His wife and kids couldn’t see him, near the end they couldn’t talk, and then he died… alone.

And then last month… a funny guy, the neighborhood walker, straight outta Brooklyn with gold chains to prove it, got sick and died before we even noticed he wasn’t walking anymore.

I can still hear his thick New York accent. “How you doin’?”

Last week I texted another neighbor directly across the street. Her boyfriend got Covid a month ago and fought hard. “Hey there. Ed still fightin’ strong?”

She texted back immediately. “Unfortunately not. He passed last night.”

Okay, Lord… I’m Listening.

What do you want me to do? How do you want me involved? How can I comfort, encourage, listen?

“Loving your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 22:37 isn’t just a suggestion. It’s actually a command.

And let’s be real… understanding that string of five words doesn’t exactly require a Ph.d. Jesus basically told us to figure out how we want to be treated and then do the same to others. 

What does this look like though? To treat others with respect, yes. To give more unconditional love, of course. 

But how does it tangibly look? To show up with treats? To mow someone’s grass? To be an inviter? To pull in trashcans?

Yeah—go do things like that.

These decisions shouldn’t produce a bunch of stress though. Trying to figure out if your co-worker prefers banana bread over pumpkin bread and then worrying you chose the wrong one? I get it; my brain works like that too. 

Let’s not go there. If someone showed up with a baked goodie just for you, would it matter if it wasn’t your fave? No, you’d probably just be stoked that they thought of you.

Would you like it if someone sent you a sympathy card when you lose a family member? Then do that for someone else. Would a meal take a load off your plate? Take a load off someone else’s.

How would you feel if you drove in your driveway to trimmed shrubs? A mowed lawn? Raked leaves? A bag of groceries? Has a neighbor ever offered to pick up something at the store for you? It feels amazing! Go do the same. 

Our New Normal

Is it normal to lose four neighbors in nine months? I guess it depends where you live. But this is all new for our little suburban street in SoCal, and we barely know what to do. This next-level loss caught us all off guard.

These neighbors who lost family members have had their homes divided. They gained an empty seat at the table… an extra car in the garage… a void in the family.

Our neighborhood feels connected and divided all at the same time. And though I have zero clues about how they feel, I want to be a listener. And a learner. How can we be a light in their darkness?

Those who lose members of their families deal with so many aspects of pain and grief. But if they have intentional neighbors, loneliness doesn’t need to be so high on that list. So I write this to remind myself:

  • Knock on the door
  • Be okay with the awkward
  • Shut up and listen 

Have you lost a loved one lately? If so, I’m sorry for your loss. I pray you have neighbors who reach out. 

None of us ever know what’s coming tomorrow. May we all be the kind of people who step up and show compassion.

In memory of these souls:

  • Emily, 25
  • Mike, 52
  • Fred, 79
  • Ed, 54
Still can’t believe we’re missing 3 neighbors from this picture. Emily in wheelchair. Mike behind her. Ed in striped shorts. We miss you, amigos.

“Go often to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

“All will concede that in order to have good neighbors, we must also be good neighbors. That applies in every field of human endeavor.”  -Harry S. Truman

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Working Moms: Killin’ It?

Almost a month into my new job and I’ve collected just enough data to tell you what I’ve learned about being a working mom in the States. It’s complicated.  Being a working mom in Baja looked super different for many reasons, most of which revolved around flexible hours and not having to tell anyone when… Continue Reading

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My 2018 Favorite Christmas Gift Ideas

  I couldn’t find a “Favorite Things” list for normal people with normal money, so I made my own. Unlike Oprah, my favorite gifts for Christmas don’t cost the same as a car payment or mortgage. Grouped from the five-dollar range to a fifty-dollar max, I did all the scouring so all you have to… Continue Reading

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Back to Work, Back to Reality

  His calm voice sounded kind, but his words surprised me.  “We’re spending too much and not bringing in enough. I think we need you to start working.” My husband was right, mostly, but the hardest part of his comment was that I already feel like I work. I wish my writing provided a full-time, regular income,… Continue Reading

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Lord of the Flaws

  Though some exasperated parents might joke about dropping their sassy Tweens on an island, I’m fairly certain no parent would want the experience to resemble William Golding’s version.  My son brought home his 7th grade required reading list last month. I scanned it, unfazed until I reached the one title that zipped me right… Continue Reading

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Tips & Tricks from My Classically-Trained Le Cordon Bleu Neighbor

  In 2002 I spent my days chasing a toddler while my friend Jen chased a dream to culinary school.  Fresh out of high school, she donned a white coat, white skull cap, and jumped into chef training at none other than Le Cordon Bleu. Eighteen months later, after cuts, burns and hundreds of food victories,… Continue Reading

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A Loss, a Baby & Secondary Infertility

  After five years of marriage, my husband and I decided we wanted a baby.  Sad to say, I don’t recall checking with God much about this, but He didn’t send a concerned email so I laid my clothes on the bed next to Doug’s and bam—prego. Phone calls, nursery plans and a roomy pair… Continue Reading

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Family Dinner Questions w/a Side of Candlelight

  “So…? How was your day?” “Good.” “Anything fun or different?” “Nope.” If this riveting dialogue plagues your family too, take heart and read on.  Spreading a sheet or blanket in the family room and turning dinner into a picnic sounds so quaint, doesn’t it?  Photo by not brittany shh pls on Unsplash   Mostly,… Continue Reading

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I Met 19 New Neighbors! It Was Weird.

  It started five months ago with the people who share our fence. They were nice and we were new, so the conversation revolved around our dogs, mail for the former owner, and if the HOA is strict about paint colors. They are.  Handshakes and names quickly moved to swim invites and baked goods, with… Continue Reading

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The Day I Deleted Her

  Just because two sets of parents are good friends doesn’t mean their offspring will follow suit. So was the case with Chelsea and me. We saw each other every summer at Mount Hermon and ran through camp together while our parents hung out and caught up. It took 358 days to bring us together… Continue Reading

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