“Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood … the people that you meet each day.”  Those familiar lyrics from the song by Sesame Street’s Ernie played along in my head every morning as my son and I took our 30-minute walk up and down the streets of our neighborhood.

As a new mom, I decided that daily walks would help me get back into shape. I needed the exercise, and my little boy loved riding in his stroller, kicking his feet, feeling the wind through his hair. It was a great time just to think things through, get away from the computer and telephone, and feel physically and mentally refreshed.

But those walks were good for me in more ways than physical health. They turned out to be quite a learning experience. Even though we took the same route every day, I learned something new with every stroll.

I met many of our neighbors, which made me feel more part of a community, not just someone who inhabits it. I met the ex-Marine—a crusty, thick-skinned man who turned into mush at the site of a baby. For the first time I met a retired neighbor lady two doors down who cared for her garden with the tenderness and tenacity of a young mother.

I watched with compassion as our neighbors several blocks down had to relocate their home and uproot their lives after a garage fire took away their earthly possessions. It was a terrible tragedy, but the hope rising from the ashes was that this godless couple began asking their Christian neighbors about their faith in God.

There were many small events that made me sad or grateful or even joyful, but a few memories of our walks made a bigger impact. Like the lessons I learned from watching two teenage boys, a nanny, and our neighbor in a wheelchair.

The Story of Two Boys

As the mother of a little boy myself, I worry about his future—the violence and sexuality that is aimed at young men in our culture. I want to know that the training I instill in my son makes a difference. I know I can’t control his life; parenting is more about faith in God than it is an issue of control. But I want to know that I have at least offered the skills he needs to survive this world.

During my walks, getting a glimpse into the lives of two neighborhood boys gave me a powerful reminder of the impact I could have.

Both boys lived in separate parts of the neighborhood, and as far as I knew, they didn’t know each other. But they looked similar in build and height, and were probably around the same age.

He rarely came out of the house

One boy was raised in a single-parent household. The mother was rarely at home. This young man dressed in basically white t-shirts and tight black pants with boots. His skin was ashen white from lack of sun exposure, exaggerated by his self-darkened shaggy hair. He rarely came out of the house, but when he did, he walked with his shoulders limp, head down.

That summer, the grass in their yard grew so high that a neighbor must have complained. The city code enforcer left them a warning. The grass remained as it was for another week when the code enforcer returned.

While the second notice was written, we watched from the window as the teen hastily, albeit half-heartedly, braved the afternoon heat (he’s never out before noon) and mowed the grass down to a reasonable height. Until the code enforcer left, at which point he stopped mowing.

To his credit, he (or someone) did finish it within a week. But the edges of the lawn, especially around the mailbox and walls of the house, were left with knee high grass still growing.

Finishing his chores

The other boy had shaggy hair too, but he wore it neatly and stylishly. His clothes fit well, and he stood with a quiet confidence. One morning we walked by around 8 a.m., and he was already up and dressed. He was washing and detailing his car, carefully vacuuming each layer of fabric. I was inspired to see a young man his age taking care of his possessions and finishing chores … and at 8:00 in the morning!

If that wasn’t enough, the next morning around the same time, he was working on a different car, with the same care as the first.

I had never met the second teenager, but I knew his parents. I knew his mom and dad were passionate about teaching him God’s ways. They worked hard to instill in him character, integrity, kindness, and responsibility. And what a difference it made!

Thinking about these two boys, I’m both saddened at the battle that young men in America face, and also encouraged to have seen a first-hand glimpse of the difference parenting based on godly principles makes in a child.

They need us to show the way to go

Even though we cannot walk the path for them, our sons need us to show them the right one to choose. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Lately I’ve been encouraged by Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The next generation of men so desperately needs biblical principles in their lives. If we want sons to be men of faith, integrity, goodness, bravery, we must not let fatigue or apathy smother our desire to teach them the way they should go.

Galatians 6:9 reminds us with a promise, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” We must continue to have faith in what the Bible has promised—there will be fruit.

The Nanny

It’s a privilege to be a stay-at-home mom in a culture built on the near necessity of a two-income household. I know handfuls of mothers who grieve every day, wishing they could stay home with their children, but feel they have no alternative but to work outside of the home. My heart breaks for them.

As a stay-at-home mom, I usually took my walks around the time everyone else was headed to work, and I found it tragically poetic that I passed by the home of a nanny about the time parents dropped off their children. I would watch as the mother hurriedly rushed her children out of the car and into the nanny’s arms. The children would turn and wave bye-bye to Mommy, while my son and I crossed the street and rounded the corner together.

Many of these moms drove up in luxury vehicles, and I wondered if they lived in an upscale part of town where my family couldn’t afford to live on one salary. I wondered how many of these moms told themselves that their work was necessary so their children could grow up in the best neighborhoods.

But did any of them realize that their children weren’t growing up in the best neighborhoods? Those children were growing up right here in our neighborhood, just down the street from my son and me.

Missing the milestones

One morning I was close enough to see one of the babies. She was barely 6 weeks old. I remember holding my son at that age, watching him sleep. He was still so helpless—not even able to hold his head up.

It struck me that I would miss all his “firsts” if I had to work and leave him with someone else. That someone would see his first smile, hear his first gurgles and coos, help him with his first steps. As I walked, I was filled with empathetic sadness for this mother, who would miss all of those wonderful milestones.

Sometimes I longed for the lifestyle of two incomes—eating out at the nicest restaurants, shopping without budgeting, traveling to exciting places. The taste of the “good life” would linger on my tongue.

An honor and privilege

But the nanny reminded me each morning what an honor and a privilege my life as a stay-at-home mother really was. No amount of money could compare to the satisfaction of raising my children at home in the arms of the one who loved them more than anyone else in the world.

I realize many women need to work to help provide for their family. But I also know that others could stay at home if they were committed to making the choices they would need to live by one income. If you are one of those, consider talking with your husband and learning more about what the Scriptures say around finances. Some resources are Family Financial Workbook: A Family Budgeting Guide, by Larry Burkett; and Financial Peace University (https://www.daveramsey.com).

The Neighborhood Hero

Our neighborhood was full of interesting people, each with his own story to tell and each with a lesson for me to pass on to my family. But the most inspiring person we met was an African-American paraplegic man who lived with his lovely wife just a few blocks away.

Almost every morning we saw him dressed in a suit as he loaded into his van and drove himself to work. He honked and waved with a smile, and sometimes he stopped to say hello. I noticed that he had a bumper sticker on the back of his van that read, “I love swimming.”

I was inspired just by the fact that this man was not going to let his handicap steal his life away—he carried himself well, kept a pleasant disposition, and apparently had a passionate hobby.

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An Olympian

Then one morning we walked by as usual and his wife helped him into his van, but this time he stopped us. “Just a minute,” he said, “I have a present for the baby.” He motioned for his wife to get it from the house. She came back with a gold medal from the Paralympics.

“One day when he grows up,” he said, “tell him a U.S. Olympian, the man in the chair down the street, said that he should always do his very best and can accomplish anything.”

I couldn’t believe he wanted to give his medal to my little boy. He assured me it was his to keep. Maybe he didn’t have children of his own. Maybe this was his way of leaving a legacy. But one thing I can assure you—my son got the message.

I was so honored to have that man as my neighbor. Not only was he kind to my son, but he also wanted to be a mentor to him—an example of someone who could accomplish great things despite the obstacles. If only more men took the responsibility to be that kind of example to the little boys all around their neighborhoods, what a different world this would be.

A new perspective about my neighborhood

When I first came home to care for my family full time, I remember a subtle fear about being in the house all day without the protection of people always around. My husband instructed me to keep the front door locked at all times. I would peer out of the shades from time to time to see why the suspicious people across the street were being noisy. I was often afraid to check the mail at dusk, not knowing who was watching me. In effect, I was a prisoner in my own home, held behind bars of insecurity, anxiety, and the unknown.

Those walks opened my eyes and gave me a whole new perspective on my neighborhood. Not only did my fear dissipate, but I also felt more secure than ever. After nearly six years of living in the same house, I finally became a part of a community—a neighbor.

The Bible has a lot to say about neighbors:

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).

Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:24).

Let each one of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Romans 15:2).

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

A good neighbor

Can it be any clearer? Of course, the word “neighbor” is meant in a much broader term, but it still applies to the people who live all around us. It’s important to be a good neighbor.

I don’t know the national statistics, but it seems to me that more than ever people are like I was—afraid of their neighbors, locked in their homes as prisoners, or just too busy to get to know the families that live next door and down the street.

I have to admit, it’s not easy in a world with random school shootings and unexplained murders by seemingly normal church-going people. Our imaginations can run wild with fear.

It’s wise to keep our eyes open in the community for suspicious looking activity, and as parents, we must consider the safety of our children. But I believe it’s time to start reaching out to those around us.

Of all the things I discovered on my walks through the neighborhood, this was the most powerful lesson: I need to interact with my neighbors to love them and be loved by them. Could it be that our enemy, Satan, whom Jesus calls “the father of lies” (John 8:44) has exaggerated these fears in our minds to keep us Christians from fulfilling the second greatest commandment?

Let me encourage you to get involved in your neighborhood as well. Like me, you never know what you might learn. Smile and wave hello, learn names, stop for a brief chat, admire their homes, their lawns, their lives. Get out of your house and bravely knock on your neighbor’s door.

It’s a lovely day. Why not go on a walk yourself? I can promise it will be worth the effort.

Copyright © 2018 by Sabrina McDonald. Used with permission.