Finding Grace and Community in My Neighborhood

One of the many things that has changed since I became a Christian is my view of community.    Like many of us, I live far from my family (they are all in California), so I rely a lot on my community. Before I knew Jesus, when life plopped me somewhere, I lived by the motto: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Although incredibly true and grounding, this motto left me feeling purposeless. 

Now, when life plops me somewhere, I view it entirely differently.  I know that I have been placed by God’s intentional hands in this town, on this street, in this office, and on this particular commute for a purpose and reason.  

When Matthew and I were deciding where to buy a home, Wakefield was attractive as a small, manageable town with a price point we could afford, and a doable commute for both of us. The biggest factor by far, though, was that there were other CTK families nearby, and we knew we could be involved in a strong community group.

A Gift of Grace

When we moved into our home in January 2013, our neighbor Anne’s lifelong partner, Bill, was battling bladder cancer and was in and out of rehab. Anne, a Catholic and Wakefield native with one child (an adored golden retriever named Honey-Fitz), had been caring for Bill full time.  Like clockwork she would walk her dog and head to the rehab center to sit with him until late each night.  She’d visit mass often, too. The next day, the same routine would ensue.  I remember offering to bring my girls to visit Bill to see if it would lift his spirits, but Anne always politely declined. The girls and I settled on giving lots of drawings to Anne, which she would share with Bill. She said he loved them and that they made Bill smile.

Then the inevitable happened. Bill died in January 2014, but not before he professed faith and married Anne – all while he was on his deathbed. After her loss, Matthew, the girls and I would visit Anne often to see how she was doing. She was devastated of course – she lost the man she had been with for forty plus years. What seemed to hit her the hardest was that her routine had suddenly and completely changed; she no longer had Bill to visit each day.

Winter turned to spring in 2014, and we would again see Anne outside her home in the early morning as I brought my eldest daughter, Hannah, to preschool in her stroller. Whether in sun, rain, snow, or sleet, Hannah and I would wave, say hello, and then trudge the mile distance to preschool each day.  Anne quickly caught on to our routine and each morning would promptly be outside on her porch to greet us.  One day, Anne offered to take Hannah to school drop off and then me to the train so that we wouldn’t have to walk.  I declined, partially because Hannah and I had our routine (we enjoyed the morning walk) and partially because I didn’t want to be a burden on her. But Anne kept right on offering. 

Eventually, when it rained or snowed, I started to take her up on her offers.  And it was during our short time in the car that I began to realize that, to Anne, this was more than just helping us out; she really looked forward to seeing us and connecting with us. She didn’t hide her feelings either, saying, “How can you not smile when you see sweet Hannah smile?” Accepting Anne’s help was difficult at first. I felt that I should be the one doing something for her, not the other way around.  But this new insight – that we were indeed doing something for her –  changed my perspective.  I learned that accepting grace from someone else, allowing someone else in to fulfill a need that I have can open up an opportunity for a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

Fast forward to today, and Anne takes us to school and then me to the train every single day.  We’ve even added another car seat to Anne’s car to fit our littlest, Raeleigh, since she’s in preschool now as well. The girls enjoy pelting Anne with millions of questions, and telling her all about preschool and then yelling “Bye Anne! Thank you for the ride!  We love you!” Anne enjoys reminding them to grab their gloves, and to be careful not to slip on the ice.  This daily interaction with Anne has not only been valuable in deepening our relationship, but it gives her purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. She has said this in so many words herself. And although we do not technically need Anne to take us to school anymore (we’ve since purchased another car), the girls and I still all pile into “the little green car” to make the trip to preschool and the train.   

Matthew and I thoroughly enjoy Anne’s company and often invite Anne over for a drink in evenings. She’s like family – we tackled topics like faith, politics, and, of course, our kids whom Anne adores.

Taking Root

When we moved to Wakefield, it was hard to get to know our other neighbors. Not only was it freezing and people weren’t outside a ton, but folks seemed busy and uninterested in new relationships. Actually getting together with a neighborhood family seemed like a far off reality. Our need to connect and feel plugged in was fed on Sundays at church and meeting regularly with our community group.

Other than Anne, it seemed to take all four seasons to get to know any of the people on our street.  When the snow began to fall in early 2014, shoveling out neighbors was just the opportunity that we needed to make connections, and Matthew was always eager to lend a helping hand. Once the snow melted, and winter turned to spring, Matthew helped other neighbors with yard work, tree limb removal, and traded gardening tips and vegetables. We intentionally did a lot of inviting during our second year – we invited some kiddos from down the street to our daughters’ birthday party, and later that year we invited a few more families to a Fourth of July cookout. After many seasons, it finally felt like we were beginning to get to know our neighbors, and invitations to events became reciprocal. 

Our care for our neighbors continues to be a challenge. Matthew and I have to remember to not neglect Anne and continue to be intentional about incorporating her. For instance, when we were away for Christmas we completely forgot to call Anne to wish her a Merry Christmas. When we returned home, Anne said she almost called us, but then she didn’t because she didn’t want to bother us. I thought, she’s family, how did we forget to call family?  We apologized profusely.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives and forget about connecting during important dates. It’s even easier to stop asking the important questions that bring about a deeper relationship.

Community

Our CTK community group has been an essential part of our lives in supporting us, encouraging us, and challenging us on how we think about our neighbors. Our group talks a lot about how to reach our neighbors, and strategies for doing so in an authentic way. 

Our community group also tries to reach our various neighborhoods by rotating through hosting gatherings. In addition to our Fourth of July party, one family hosts a Halloween party and another family has hosted a backyard Bible club among other events. For each of these events, the host invites both their neighbors and our community group. During these times together, we have been able to deepen friendships with our neighbors and also provide an opportunity for our neighbors to interact with Christians. 

Another way to connect is to be open with our neighbors about our own deficiencies – we don’t have it all together, we struggle in our marriages, we struggle with our kiddos, and we struggle balancing life and work. We have found that this transparency invites others to open up about their need.  And who knows, maybe it will be a need that we can help with, like giving a couple down the street a much needed date night by watching their kids.    

Seizing the moment is also critical, especially if a neighbor is going through a tough time and needs someone to show up for them. And who knows, showing up for someone else just might take the form of letting them help you!

When Matthew and I think about continuing to grow and connect here in Wakefield, we’d like to be more intentional about inviting a family over to share an evening meal together. We’d like the opportunity to dig deeper beyond pleasantries and other surface-level topics that are so easy to come by in large group events. Getting to know the families and individuals on our street continues to be a long process, but we know God has placed us in this spot for a reason, and by God’s grace we will work faithfully to live the gospel in both our need and our service to our neighborhood.

**If you are not currently in a community group, check your congregation’s bulletin or website to find a group that meets near you.

Brooke moved to Boston in 2007. She was not a Christian, but came to faith over a several month process when a fellow graduate student invited her to church. She later went on the CTK apple picking outing with a friend, and met Matthew Huskey there. They began attending CTK Cambridge together in 2008 and were married in 2009. Brooke works full-time as a program manager at Ariadne Labs in Boston. The Huskeys have two daughters Hannah (4), Raeleigh (2), and are expecting another daughter in June 2016.