Lauren Gaskill has a lot going on: she’s an inspirational writer, editor, Christian speaker and food blogger with a passion for inspiring people, and helping others overcome chronic illness, grow in their faith and experiment in the kitchen. Her blog, Making Life Sweet, is delicious; I made her her Pumpkin Chili and it was amazing! But all her pursuits still left time – no, necessity – for getting to know her neighbors. Enjoy Lauren’s story.
I’ve never been extremely close to any of my neighbors.
Growing up I became friends with a few here and there, but this was mostly in a casual, surface-level sense, not in a let’s-get-together-and-talk-about-life sense. (AJ Ginther, if you’re reading this, you are the only exception.)
When I moved to Ball State University to study journalism after high school, I was excited for the opportunity to have new neighbors and hoped to get to know them better. Unfortunately this did not end up being the case because I lived in one of the newer dorm rooms, where the doors shut automatically. You might not think doors would have a big impact on getting to know your neighbors, but it did. None of us had cars or easy access to purchase doorstoppers, and so it remained a closed-door community. This made getting to know my hall mates difficult if not impossible.
Every now and then I crossed paths with people on the way to the bathroom or my next class, but whenever I started a conversation it never went past the “How are you?” stage.
Luckily I was able to make close friends through the Honors College, or otherwise I don’t know how I would have fared freshman year. Things didn’t get any better sophomore year. I moved off campus into a small apartment with a few friends and to be honest, I don’t think I ever saw some of our neighbor’s faces. Junior and senior year proved to be no different.
You can imagine why, when it came time for my husband and I to buy our first home after college, I prayed fervently for God to change this trend. God, you know the desire of my heart and how much I long to be in community with those around me. But I need your help. God, in our new neighborhood, would you please create opportunities for me to get to know my neighbors on a deeper level? I want to make a difference in this new place we are calling home in Savage, Minnesota. I want to make relationships. Please, Lord, pave the way to make this possible.
One afternoon shortly after we moved in, I was sitting outside reading when I heard the soft murmurs of a baby nearby. I glanced up from my book and noticed a woman rounding the corner of the townhome building with a one-year-old on her hip.
“Hi! Who’s this sweet little guy?” I asked.
“This is Derek, and I’m Traci,” she said. “We’re your next door neighbors.”
“Oh wonderful! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you!” I smiled.
For the next hour we sat in the grass and talked about our backgrounds and how we both had come to reside in the Creekside neighborhood. Derek crawled around in the grass, smiling and laughing randomly at different points in our conversation, as babies often do. It was a picture-perfect August day and the start of an incredible relationship with my new neighbor.
This is not to say we instantly became best buds. In reality, we didn’t end up getting close until spring and we started to talk outside more often. But gradually, as we both invested more time into getting to know each other, our conversations grew from surface-level to deeper discussions about life, love and faith. During this time I learned that even though our ages differed, Traci struggled with many of the things I struggled with. Knowing this comforted me and it felt great to have a next door neighbor and friend who I could relate to on some many levels.
We began to help each other and encourage each other through tough times.
As the months went on we started going on walks after work, having dinner together and hanging out in one another’s homes. More and more I looked forward to going home after work, not only because I would get to see my husband, but because our neighborhood had become an oasis — a community where I felt like I belonged.
Then without warning, after calling the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area home for one-and-a-half years, my husband and I learned his employer wanted him to relocate to Des Moines. We are now set to move by later this monty. Though we are very excited for this new opportunity, our hearts will grieve deeply over the loss of our neighborhood and our dear friends, Traci and Derek. To think that while our house was on the market, Traci let us use her home to make dinner… neighbors like that are rare and it will be so sad not to live nearby!
Our year-and-a-half in Minnesota taught us so much. It taught us how to create a home from nothing. It taught us how to live in community. But most importantly, it taught us the value of getting to know your neighbor. We may be moving away but I know without a doubt that Traci, Derek, Alex and I will remain friends throughout life, wherever the road may be.
You know how they say you never realize how good of a thing you have until it’s gone? Totally cliché I know… but it’s true. The way I see it, Traci and Derek were an answered prayer, a gracious gift from above. As Alex and I look to the future I can only hope that we will be able to get to know our new neighbors in our apartment in West Des Moines.
Sure, getting to know your neighbors can seem daunting or exhausting but at the end of the day, it’s an invaluable experience — something I would encourage everyone to do. Getting to know my neighbors for the first time in my life changed my outlook on community and altered the way I lived.