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Confessions of a Recovering ‘Bad Neighbor’

As a child growing up on a farm for the first seven years of my life, I hadn’t a care in the world. My days were spent running barefoot through wheat fields, chasing beautiful strutting peacocks and feeding scratch to our chickens.

We lived in a little red house with a large wooden porch and a barn nestled next to a busy highway on the outskirts of town. Being a young child, I was always told the highway was very dangerous. The extinction of my precious, beloved animals confirmed this month after month, year after year. It was even dangerous to pick up our mail. To retrieve mail we had to walk up a long cement driveway, open a large wire gate, then walk up another short hill. The mailbox sat on the edge of the highway with trucks and cars blowing past.

Occasionally, we’d bump into our neighbors riding their horse in the canyon, or picking up mail. My parents would chat for a bit about the weather, property issues and animal annoyances.

Hitchhikers were commonplace in the 1970s, and often came by asking for food and water. My parents rarely turned anyone away. We slept with our doors and windows unlocked most nights.

Which brings me to my point: my parents considered everyone a neighbor.

Consider that for a moment.

My parents rarely turned anyone away. Our home was a blessing to anyone who needed love, who needed a blanket, food or water.

My parents (middle and far right) during the 1970s with someone who started as a stranger in need, and later became a friend.

An old photo of my parents (middle and far right) during the 1970s with Dave. Dave was a stranger in need, and later became a friend.

#LWYL Revolution
Now as an adult, I look around my suburban neighborhood. The picturesque cottage homes sit tightly one next to the other. Lawns are neatly cut and the black paved streets are flawless. Yet, behind the doors there is happiness, laughter and joy. There is also anger, pain, sadness and depression. There are neighbors who embrace each other, while others won’t even wave.

The concept of loving our neighbors, city and community is a recent theme at Mariners Church headquartered in Orange County, California entitled “Love Where You Live” (LWYL). In a nutshell, the series cites the plethora of benefits to communities and the world if we loved our neighbors more. After all, would Jesus turn away from a friendly wave, or reject a complimentary plate of food?

No, He would not.

Please bare with me as this post is not one of being preachy, but rather a deep, personal inner reflection.

Evolution of the Bad Neighbor
During my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to live in a diverse number of areas – from the city, beach towns, farms, small towns, mid-size cities, mountain towns, to a suburban community. Even though each area had its own ups and downs, I feel that through the process I became somewhat jaded in loving where I lived.

The fear of going close to the highway mailbox had grown exponentially bigger.

For years, I lived in the city and I would pull my car into our condo garage and then quickly shut it to avoid talking to our neighbors. Another time, I recall driving home from a long day at the office, and impatiently honking my horn at the traffic on our urban street only to realize it was a fire truck with Santa greeting small children at Christmastime.

What had I turned into? Not a good neighbor that’s for sure. That little girl from the farm who gave water from a garden hose to strangers had faded.

Could she be revived?

Being a Good Neighbor, Again
After moving into the suburbs nearly 10 years ago, I was hardened and bitter. I had built huge walls to avoid developing relationships for fear of dangerous rejection and being hurt.

It has taken the encouragement of my social, extrovert husband and kids to pull me out of my shell. I am not saying now that I’m Mrs. Super Friendly neighbor, but I have taken chances to show my neighbors love. However, being a good neighbor has a deeper meaning than courtesies and friendliness. How about telling a neighbor you are praying for her during her upcoming surgery? Or, giving a neighbor a hug when you can see the type of day he’s having?

I now love where I live. It took the LWYL series to remind me of my roots of love and that same love that Jesus showed to complete strangers. Once again, my parents had it right: we should treat everyone like our neighbor.

What a beautiful, life-changing thought.

Do you Love Where You Live? Why? Why not?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

#lwyl

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Letting Go: A Story of Friendship Lost, Knowledge Revealed

I’ve had a post sitting in my draft (unpublished) queue for about a year now. The topic? My chronological history of failed, dysfunctional friendships.

Pretty intense topic, I know.

The “pending” post is a rather depressing story that hinges around friendship – in particular one friendship that I focused my energy on for more than 25 years. Rather than publish or regurgitate the post, let me start with the day it all began one rainy day after school in second grade…

The rain came down in pellets as we ran through the puddles. The plastic grocery bag tied to my head by the school secretary came loose. The bag blew away in a gust of wind.

blog-girls-holding-hands1We finally arrived at my house. I jiggled the front door. It was locked.

“Uh, oh,” I said to my friend.

“What are we going to do?” she asked.

Two latch key kids without a key. Not good.

“Follow me,” I said, while walking around the backside of my house into an unlocked storage room. The door leading to the main part of the house was locked too.

We peeled off our drenched shoes and jackets and held up in this dry, cold room until the storm passed.

“I’m hungry,” complained my friend.

“Me too,” I said.

I scanned the metal wire shelves. Then, I spotted the gold mine of goodies: Zingers.

Hostess Zingers are in the same “rot your teeth and damage your intestinal lining” category as Twinkies and Ding Dongs. They are sinfully delicious and exactly what two little girls needed on a cold, rainy afternoon.

Sitting on the floor, we tore open the clear plastic wrappers and began giggling. I cherish this fond memory for so many reasons.

This was my first real friend after moving from our family commune farm outside of town. I had finally made a friend from the “outside world.”

It was also the day I decided this was my new best friend for life. We shared so much in common.

We understood each other.

Over the years, we remained friends – even though we both moved across various parts of town. When we were finally at the same school in sixth grade, our friendship picked up where it left off from years earlier.

Just like old friends.

A Decade Later…
That old friend of years gone by stayed true for a while. Over the next decade, though, we grew apart. Our values changed. Our lives changed. We changed.

We finally parted ways more than 10 years later. We let go of our relationship.

Now, why do I bring up my friendship issue?

The other day in the car my husband and I were talking with our daughters about friendship – its value, importance…and then my husband turned to me and said point blank:

“Do you miss her? Do you think of her and wonder how she’s doing?”

I knew the “she” he referred to immediately. I wistfully stared out the window. I flashed to that rainy afternoon of giggles and Zingers.

“Of course I miss her. I wish her the best life,” I said.

I began to think about my unpublished negative dissertation of friendship, and what a “Debbie Downer” I’ve been when it comes to friendship. And, how much I’ve been holding inside.

Friendship Checklist
I had this mental checklist in my mind of what friendship means. This list is unobtainable and unrealistic, and has contributed to the building of my walls. If I don’t let anyone in, I won’t get hurt.

Kind of like the lyrics in the Dusney movie “Frozen…”

 “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know”

The truth is I have many wonderful, caring friends. Naturally, I will always hold close memories of my old friend. They are a part of me. This was part of my growth along the journey.

And for the first time in forever, I understand friendship comes at different levels – at different times. I slowly feel my walls coming down. And, I’m ready to let them in. The cold and rain never bothered me anyway.

Are there friends that you’ve let go? Do you feel at peace? How do you define friendship? Have you redefined your definition of friendship over the years? If so, how have your friendship requirements evolved? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 Unknown-2

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Staring Down the Handball Slaying Giant: Battling the Fear of a New School

I froze. Paralyzed with fear. I scanned the playground. I knew not a face. Not a giggle.

Balls bounced. Kids screamed. I slowly walked towards a recognizable object: a weathered bluish gray handball court. On the court, a taller, bigger girl thrashed the ball over the head of the smaller girl.

images

Could I take on the handball slaying giant? I decided to take on the big girl.

I waited in the line with the other future victims. I watched in utter disbelief as the giant mocked her latest victim. “Grand slam, sucker!” she taunted.

I swallowed hard. I looked at the others waiting in line and felt some warped sense of camaraderie. This was good…I could maybe make a new friend by being a looser, I thought to myself.

Turning around to the grassy field behind me, I saw the overweight yard duty walking toward a group of boys who had piled on top of each other. With a blow of her whistle, she dismantled each boy one by one like she was pulling apart a group of hyperactive puppies.

The Commonality of Pain
I thought about my old school that was in the “better” part of town. The school was full of doctor and professor kids. The tone of the old school was reverent compared to this less affluent one across town. In an older, more run down neighborhood, this school had a higher number of working families.

Frankly, coming from a commune hippie farm and working family myself, I actually had a bit more in common with these kids. They were full of real life, real battles. However, many of these kids were angry. They appeared rough and tumble – some neglected, foster kids, latch-key kids, abused kids… But, I saw through their pain – as I, too, had my own anger and frustration from the pains of life.

This would be the second of five schools I would attend in my childhood and teen years. I was scared. Scared of the unknown. My parents uprooted us from our beautiful, close-knit family hippie farm to move into the “city.” We moved from rental to rental. Growing up, I had the “fear of the unknown” taste in my mouth for several years.

The reason I’m even thinking about this is that the same unknown taste of fear in my mouth has returned. My two young daughters will be starting a new school in the fall. Like me, this will also be their second school. They are moving from their familiar, small-classroom atmosphere at a private school, to our local neighborhood public school. Deep inside, I am scared for them. They, too, will have to face all the same “new” elements at school – new kids, new playground, new classrooms, new teachers…

Facing My Fears
Back at the handball court, I stood with strange kids at a run-down school about to take on the bully giant. I was scared in a thrilling way. I envisioned myself winning the game. The group of girls in line would crowd around me with high fives and pats on the back. I would be the winner and have a reputation of strength and coolness at my new school. But if I lost the game, I’d end up at the bottom of the dog pile of boys on the field crying out in pain with a broken leg. I’d sit on the side of the playground and be mocked as the “loner, weirdo.”

I swallowed deep again. “You’re up, new girl,” announced the handball slayer.

I took my position on the right side of the court. I started off easy, then executed a few babies (a small bounce that requires the opponent to run closer to the wall) and finally a grand slam that placed the ball directly over the head of the slayer and out of reach. I felt elation and relief.

I had won.

The slayer cursed a few choice third-grade words, and claimed I cheated. I held the ball tight to my chest in defiance. The next girl came to the court ready to play. I smiled, and she smiled back. I had made a friend even during this time of unknown.

Now, I have to allow my children to face the unknown. To stare down their own handball slayer. Maybe they’ll loose, or maybe they’ll win. But as I always say: “When you loose, you actually win in the game of life, which is full of beautiful, sometimes painful, wonderful change.”

 The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

 

 

 

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BFFs for Life

Editor’s note: Whether you have a sister, brother, or a close friend, I hope you take the time to appreciate your BFFs (“best friends forever”). I dedicate this post to my sisters – Terre, Michelle and Karla. I love all our moments yesterday, today, tomorrow and always. Chance Made Us Sisters, Hearts Made Us Friends.

Now as BFF adults, me with my sister, Terre.

She slid open the unlocked window in the dark of night giggling as she fell on my bedroom floor. Slurring her words, she asked if I’d ever had a scrooge driver drink. “Uh, no,” I replied sitting up groggily in my bed. She collapsed in the make-shift bed on the floor of my room. I slowly put the blanket over her as she drifted off to sleep.

I was only 12, but I clearly remember the days when my older sister (from my mom’s first marriage) would come home after a night of partying and sneak through my bedroom window. In the morning, I would make her favorite hang-over remedy – toast with butter and a cold glass of milk. It sounds like such a small job – caring for a family member, who was going through an experimental growing stage (in this case, the taboos of drinking alcohol under the age of 21). But these were the times that I really bonded with my older sister. I kept her secrets. I fed her much-needed nourishment. We chatted. She could drive.

Sisterly Learning Lessons
Around that same time, I finally felt like my older sister was viewing me not as the annoying little sister (being six years apart), but as someone she could confide in – a friend. For a short while, she was temporarily camping out in my room until her apartment was ready.

Most sisters would be so bugged that they had to share a room, but my older sister was (and is) so cool. She never judged me. I never judged her. I also got to witness some of the pain she experienced, and I tried to learn from both her mistakes and accomplishments. I am so very thankful for those moments – as they taught me so much.

Sisters Forever
Now with two daughters of my own, I can’t help but witness their sisterly love on a daily basis. An example of this struck me the other day when I found a note that my older daughter had written and left in my younger daughter’s room. The handwritten letter was full of love and encouragement before my little one’s dance recital…

Caught off guard when I found the piece of paper folded crookedly in half, I opened it and read the note, my eyes filling with tears of joy. They have each other forever. Not just as sisters but as friends.

The Three Musketeers
I would be remiss not to mention that I also have two younger sisters (from my mom’s second marriage). Growing up, we were the three musketeers – me being the head musketeer, of course. Not only did I have instant playmates, but I often took the role of caretaker as my mom worked six days a week as a hairdresser. Most of my summers were spent caring for my two little sisters. By the tender age of eight, I was cooking, doing laundry, arts and crafts, walking to the rec center, the pool, matinees… This was a tremendous amount of responsibility for a young girl. But I wouldn’t take back those moments for anything. In my own way, this was how I showed love for my two sisters – by caring and nurturing them to the best of my ability. I also now cherish this time as some valuable on-the-job “pre-mom training.”

Me with my fellow sister musketeers, Michelle (middle) and Karla (far right) in the early 1980s.

Friends for Life
For the most part, sisters share a special relationship. When my husband and I were in the midst of discussing whether to have a second child, I recall visiting my two young nieces. I asked my younger niece who her best friend was, and she told me quite simply that her older sister was her “BFF.” During our stay, I observed them interacting in the pool, laughing and playing together. I longed for my daughter to have this type of close sisterly relationship.

My wish came true when our second little girl was born. And now, my two girls play together and love each other (when they are not arguing over a toy). I love it when they wake up in the morning and run to each other with a big hug and tell each other, “I love you, sis.”

As adults now, my sisters and I will always have a unique connection. We are more than just sisters though, we’re friends for life. I know that my two daughters are following the same path – caring for each other, never judging one another, and learning from each other’s mistakes. But most of all, I hope they appreciate the moments they have together as sisters – and eventually as friends for life.

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