by Sarah Quezada, South Atlanta neighbor
This past Valentine’s Day, my husband greeted me in the morning, holding a sandwich of glue traps with a still squirming mouse caught inside. We’d been tracking this uninvited house guest (we named him Lester) since at least last summer. I’ve never been happier to see a dying mouse in my whole life.
But it also amused me that this discovery was made on Valentine’s and would turn out to be the only gift my husband had for me. After all, we’ve also been together eleven years now. It’s not that the romance fades exactly, but it changes. And our acts of love look a lot less like candy and flowers and a lot more like taking off work to sit with a sick kid so the other can make a meeting, packing lunches every morning, and spending countless evenings hunting a stubborn mouse who just won’t leave.
The honeymoon may have ended, but the love continues.
It may be a weird comparison, but I think the same is true in intentional neighboring or urban ministry. My husband and I bought our house and moved into South Atlanta eight years ago. We couldn’t wait to paint the walls, build a firepit, and invite our neighbors over for a potluck. It was engaging, exciting, and fun.
Then time passed. What do you mean no one will deliver pizza to this neighborhood? Why are school-aged students walking the streets during the school day? A kid sold us a stolen bicycle. A neighbor’s party kept me awake for hours two nights in a row.
Small annoyances, really, but they can wear on you sometimes. But other times there are more difficult circumstances like break-ins or gunfire. Pretty soon the idyllic visions of neighboring fade into the ins-and-out of daily life lived in close proximity to other people. People who may be different than you. People who may live differently than you. And the honeymoon of intentional neighboring soon comes to a close.
It’s then that we lean into Jesus’ example: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” He came to live among us - not for a couple weeks or to complete a pre-planned mission - but to share those ins-and-outs of daily life. For years. He experienced all the indignities of being human, and he nurtured meaningful relationships in all circumstances.
Yes, sometimes living in a neglected neighborhood can be hard. Sometimes it’s tempting to imagine the ease and convenience of a far off location that’s not right in front of you. The grass is always greener, they say. But living in the neighborhood - similar to marriage - continues to teach me about commitment to solidarity and enjoying the joys.
I believe the Bible invites us to live in solidarity with those on the margins. We see Ruth and Naomi, walking together through loss, bitterness, and the unknown. We see David and Jonathan staying committed to each other in the face of death. Jesus suffers the lonely walk to the cross because of his love for humanity. When we face challenges in the community, we experience frustrations and sorrows together, as neighbors.
Our shared life means we can also celebrate the joys together. A new grocery store. A reduction in gunfire. Community events in the local park. A neighbor who brings over cookies to share with your kids… just because. It’s a joy to live these ins-and-outs of daily life together, even if sometimes we get too busy to recognize it.
I’m grateful for the eight years I’ve lived on my block. I’ve seen transformation in the community. I’ve watched neighbors’ lives change over time. I’ve witnessed playful boys becoming kind young men. It’s a joy to go the distance. The romance doesn’t fade exactly, but it does change.