Reaching out to our neighbors

So here's the deal: I am an introvert, but I also have a desire to connect on a meaningful level with people. Connecting with folks on a level that goes beyond the surface is essential for me to feel good about life. Conversely, I happen to be terrible at small talk. I'm the person who goes on and on about the weather because I don't know how to do small talk. In large groups, I'm the awkward person who either is super loud (seriously, why do I lose all ability to control my voice in social situations?!) or who takes the conversation to a new level of weird or inappropriate. Now that I've thrown all that out on the table for you: I'll add that in three weeks my family is hosting an old fashioned ice cream party in our driveway for our ALL of our neighbors...who we don't know.

I can only picture how this will go...and this picture IS NOT PRETTY. So...why are we doing this?!?

A few months ago I listened to an episode of The Simple Show podcast where host, Tsh Oxenreider, talks with Sarah Harmeyer about her non-profit organization, Neighbor's Table. In a nutshell, Sarah realized one day that though she lived in her neighborhood for something like a year, she didn't know any of her neighbors. In the podcast, she explains that she is an introvert who maintains a busy schedule, but she found herself challenged to connect more with her neighbors. She set a goal for herself to have an insane amount of people over for dinner in a year. Because she has a small house and lives in a warm climate, she had her dad build her a big farmhouse table that she could set up outside to feed her neighbors. Throughout that year she met her goal by hosting several dinner parties at her house. Eventually, she turned this into a non-profit. She and her dad make and deliver farm house tables to families and help these families plan their first dinner party to connect with the people around them. Her mission of connecting with her neighbors was so compelling to me.

When my family and I moved to Grand Island this summer, we created our family mission statement and decided that we wanted our house to be a place of respite for people. In the process of writing a mission statement, we identified the gifts of each person in our family and made a commitment to use our gifts to serve others. I love planning, K loves helping and serving others, J is charming and great at meeting new people, and my husband has the ability to strike up a conversation with a stranger and make them feel at home. The ice cream social for our 'hood seems like the perfect opportunity to put our gifts to good use.
This is a nice picture of people enjoying one another....hopefully our ice cream party will result in jovial selfies like this.
Next, this soiree is a great opportunity to be relational with folks...and I know I am a painful introvert, but I also know that humans are made to be relational. Brene Brown, a writer, researcher, and speaker with a PhD in social work states, "Connection is why we're here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering" (8). I've noticed this to be so true now that we are in a new town where we only have one set of friends. We know this process well since Nate and I have been nomadic since we married 10 year ago. Each time we've moved, we have left behind some kick-ass friends. I want so badly to be able to call my friends Kristin or Becky and go on a run with them and get lost in conversation. I want to talk with my friend Jenny about everything we heard on NPR or meet with my writing group and commiserate and celebrate our roles as mothers. I want to have coffee with Amee because she is such a great listener and an even better hostess who makes me feel like I never moved out of her basement. And I want to put my feet up on Bob and Shannon's kitchen table and talk and drink the night away. The older I get, the harder it becomes to make good friends, and I feel that hole deeply in my life right now. Maybe we won't gain any significant relationships from our attempts to connect with our neighbors, but maybe it will help me feel more connected in this new town because it still doesn't feel like home.

Beyond the selfish reasons, our neighborhood outreach will allow us to be the hands and feet of Jesus (I'm pretty sure Jesus would've served his neighbors ice cream if he could). In my limited frame of reference, I've noticed that many Evangelical churches expect people to come to the church but aren't doing near enough to bring the church to the people. I'm feeling convicted lately that Christ followers need to engage in their communities beyond the church walls. Investing in people is essential. When people know we care about them, and when we are around them enough so they can see Jesus (not to be confused with moral superiority) displayed in our own lives, they will be more willing to learn about this Jesus-dude.

My husband and I are doing a book/Bible study with another couple over the book, You and Me Forever. In it, Francis Chan (a pastor and writer) claims, "[...] a marriage cannot be healthy unless we are seeking His kingdom and righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). Being in war together is what keeps us from being at war with each other" (97). The context surrounding this quote discusses the importance of honoring Jesus' last direction in Matthew 28:18-20---making disciples of all nations. I think the concept of being in war together to stay out of war with one another can be applied to families. When a family decides to pursue furthering God's kingdom together, perhaps the family will achieve a greater sense of unity. Our little ice cream party for the neighbors has already done more to unify our family even in the initial planning stages as we've set a date, made the invitations, and talked together about why we're doing this (to meet and serve others and show Jesus' love).

The party at the end of the month may end up as one big ball of awkward, melting ice cream. But it also may end up in helping us cultivate relationships, develop a sense of community, and ultimately, helping people know Jesus. I'll follow up with a post about how our own little version of Neighbor's Table plays out.

Works Cited (I know, I know...I'm such a nerd for including a works cited): 
Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly. New York: Avery, 2012. Print.

Chan, Francis and Lisa Chan. You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. San Francisco:
       Claire Love Publishing, 2014. Print.

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