BY MICHELLE WILLIAMS, GRACE ATTENDER & BLOGGER
Can you cling to something without even knowing it? I think so. In my case, I clung to anonymity for the longest time. See, the opposite of anonymity for me would have been building deep and meaningful relationships with neighbors. I lived in 2 houses without really getting to know the neighbors around me at all. It’s not that I meant to have it that way, it’s just that striking up new friendships can be difficult. It’s often unclear how personalities will mesh, it can feel awkward, and it can take a lot of time and effort. And if something goes wrong, you’re pretty much stuck with those neighbors. It’s definitely a foolish excuse, but anonymity can offer a sort of “social safety net.”
In 2012, my husband and I were living in our second house (where we avoided our neighbors) when tragedy hit my family. My dad took his own life after a brief period of questionable mental health and behavior (read more here). Life was turned upside down for me. But people came out of the woodwork to support us, and I’ll never forget something that my parents’ friend said at his funeral. She stood up in front of everyone to tell about what a great neighbor my dad had been to them for almost 20 years. It struck me because she was right—my dad didn’t know a stranger, he was always helping our neighbors with household projects, and he had even installed a gate between our yard and hers so her kids could come over to use the pool anytime. He was the kind of neighbor anyone would hope for, and man was I falling short of the example he’d set for me.
I knew I needed to be a better neighbor moving forward. Not only as a way to honor my dad’s life, but to enrich my own and set a good example for our growing family. We moved to Westfield the next year when our son, Cooper, was 2 years old. I was determined to get to know our neighbors at this next house. But as fate would have it, I was scheduled to fly out to Denmark for work less than 24 hours after we moved into the house. I wasn’t there when most of the neighbors came by to say hello as my husband moved in the boxes. I inadvertently found myself in a situation that would require me to put myself out there awkwardly to meet the neighbors. So with a full-time job, a young child and a household to attend to, I lived a few more years in anonymity. Because anonymity felt so easy and safe…
Fast forward to 2016—that spring, Grace Church does its first church-wide 40-day prayer challenge. I remember praying to become a better neighbor and to build more friendships within our neighborhood. Our son was now 5 years old, and we had welcomed our daughter, Veda, in 2015. I wanted so badly for them to have friends near. I knew that something had to change.
Although nothing of note happened immediately following the prayer challenge, about 2-3 months later I joined a new social media platform called NextDoor. In between complaints about rabid coyotes and speeding cars, I spotted a post from a young mom with a 1-year-old daughter who wanted to meet up with other moms for a neighborhood pool playdate. I decided to put myself out there and accept her invitation. That’s what started the snowball down the hill.
At our second pool playdate, Anne and I realized that not only were we neighbors, but we were also both attending Grace Church! She’s since introduced me to several of her neighbors (many of which are also Grace attenders, since it was a neighbor who invited them). Later that year, we joined Real Moms together where we met yet another neighbor and started many other blossoming friendships. Meeting Anne was like hitting a vein of gold.
At this point, I knew that God was at work. He’d heard my prayer and was answering loud and clear. But He didn’t stop there. He also went to work in a few 5-year-olds right under my nose. On a hot August afternoon, all of our family had gathered at our house to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday. Our niece, Gabbie, tiring of playing with her brother and cousin Cooper, exclaimed, “I want a girl to play with!” So Cooper, always ready to jump on an opportunity to be helpful, looks over the fence and says, “I see a girl—right there!” And that’s how we met our next door neighbors—Zoe being “the girl.” God showed me just how easy meeting the neighbors could be through my 5-year-old son. Seriously. Just go say hi and invite them to eat a cupcake. I realized that I just needed to do life more like a 5-year-old and quit making such a big deal about things!
Soon after Cooper and Zoe started kindergarten, we learned that Zoe’s classmate, Drew, was moving in across the street. The 3 kids have been inseparable ever since, and all of us parents have followed suit. Now we all spend many a Friday or Saturday evening together—and I expect these friendships will last a lifetime.
Sadly, one of our neighbors lost her dad suddenly in early December. I've been able to walk with her during this difficult time and am very thankful to have established such a good support system with each other over the last year. I can't imagine going back to living the anonymous life after what we've got now...
I could go on and on about all the neighbors we’ve met since that prayer challenge. I can’t even count. But I can count on the fact that our kids will have a slew of friends near as they grow up. And I can also count on the fact that taking the bold step of letting go of my foolish anonymity filled me with a greater faith than I could ever imagine.
Take A Bold Step
What is God calling you to? If you aren't sure or don't know where to begin, can I offer two suggestions:
1. Come to church. Maybe you need a space to hear from God. That space can be found at one of our 3 campuses. If you don't attend Grace or come regularly, I invite you to make it a priority. Come spend time worshiping our great God and hearing sermons that will point you in the right direction.
2. Volunteer somewhere. Grace has so many ways to get involved! You can check out the serving page for a list of places to jump in. If you're not sure where to start, just contact us and we can get you connected with the right person!