01292016_ShannanMartin_WalkWithThem

Back in August I committed to walking my kids to school {almost} every day.

In theory, my decision was as small as it sounds. In practice, it’s a total game-changer.

I feel a little embarrassed every time I bring it up, mostly because I keep bringing it up. From where I stand, my morning hair hidden beneath a sock hat and my industrial snow boots laced up over leggings that are technically my pajamas, this minor tweak to my routine has been revolutionary.

For the first three years in our new neighborhood, we drove most mornings to the school two and a half blocks down the street. We’d creep past huddles of neighbors making the short trek on foot, holding hands in the fall and umbrellas in the spring, layered except for their eyes in winter.  These were the neighbors I wanted to love. These were the ones we came to know.

For whatever reason, it took three years for logic to click into place.

Sometimes, the best way to know someone is to simply walk with them, even if just for a block or two.

The implications of this small decision continue to ripple out well past my original intention. Yes, our walks to school have narrowed the gap between us and our neighbors. Now, instead of zipping past them in the pouring rain or scarcely noticing them when the sun filters down through the Maples, our feet touch the same ground. Our eyes meet. We say hello, and sometimes more. In fairness, though, it hasn’t dramatically changed my relationships with my neighbors in any profound way. At least, not yet.

The greatest point of impact is within the pulsing, yearning chambers of my own heart.

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Every morning, by forced repetition, we step over the same curbs and pass the same, shy homes. There’s that awkward jog in the street where we look both ways before crossing to the other side. There’s the stretch of sidewalk that requires climbing crumbling stairs, and when we choose that path, our reward is buckled cement the color of dirt, tree roots popping up between the cracks.

I never really noticed the early morning clouds until this year. I never thought about the positioning of the moon just before daybreak, or the way I’m comforted by smoke curling out of thin, silver chimneys.

In order to love my neighbors more, I first had to know them.

And often, the surest way to know someone is to share their place, to choose it for yourself and feel the quiet ways it sets roots to your restlessness.

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Tomorrow I’ll board a flight with my ten-year-old son, Calvin, along with two other bloggers and their sons. We’ll fly to Ecuador with Compassion International and spend a few days touching our feet to their earth, watching the distinct ways the sun and moon hang above them. We’ll share their food and meet their eyes. For a while, our paths will intersect by inches rather than oceans. And with any grace at all, we’ll carry that proximity back home with us. We’ll nurture our little seed of neighborliness, we’ll pass it around.

Last week, after dropping my kiddos off at school, I headed back home, dodging sidewalk ice slicks by moonlight. A car eased up beside me, its passenger window rolled down, and I saw the face of my friend Jose, a high school student and community activist, my neighbor. “Would you like a ride home?”

I hopped in and we chatted for two short blocks. I’ve thought a hundred times since then about the way he’s teaching me through his consistent gestures of kindness and peace.

That’s the alchemy of entrusting ourselves to one another. It binds us together. It humbles us.

God could show me the fullness of His kingdom and the depth of His love on his own, but He often prefers to use my neighbors.

I can’t begin to guess what I stand to learn from my Ecuadorian neighbors. I know it might look small and feel big. Either way, I’m excited to pass it along, and I’d be honored if you would meet me at the table.

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  • Anna Smit

    Thank you for this encouragement to “walk together”. Such a simple decision, with a profound effect. Like my Dutch neighbors, I bike the kids to school (through the rain, wind and snow) and it’s also been a great opportunity to hear their stories and break the ice. But, you’ve encouraged me to look for other ways to do it…There are many things I’ve thought of doing, but haven’t. Thanks for this nudge to pursue these things.

    We sponsor a girl the same age as my eldest daughter through Compassion. How exciting you’re going on this trip with them. I’ll be returning to the link you shared. I loved following Bonnie Gray’s visit a few months ago.

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      Oh, I so love that you bike to school! I was looking at different “walk to school” pictures just yesterday and it seems this simple act is nearly universal. So neat to see the little differences along with the similarities.

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Shannan,
    I’m jealous…truly…I would give anything to be able to get on a plane and be able to wrap my arms around 33 orphans in Pakistan. Visas to this corner of the world are hard to come by and a blond, Christian, American in the Middle East…well you get the picture. I will pray for you and your companions. Yes, when we walk with others – especially those who live halfway around the globe from us – we see that there are more similarities than differences. We only get to know them when we walk with them… open our lives and dare to be vulnerable. God bless you on your venture…
    Blessings,
    Bev

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      Thank you for your prayers, Bev!
      And yes, vulnerability seems like a sure key for ALL of us.

  • T

    So fun to read this today…as I walked home from my neighborhood store, another shopkeeper asked me to tell him the Story! Seriously, he stopped me on the street! Pls pray for him and our neighborhood!

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      That is AMAZING!!!
      Thanks for sharing it here with us.

  • Anna finley

    So glad I’m just read this…need it and believe it….etc.etc..thx for posting it today…….

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      You’re so welcome. :) And thank you for popping in with your own sweet words.

  • Paulette

    I really enjoyed reading this after coming back from my morning walk. I started walking last year and look forward to it each morning. God has met me each morning in so many ways. I have also spoken more to my neighbour’s since we meet as I walk past their house. It’s amazing seeing the sun rise or the full moon before day breaks. Listening to the birds singing has never sounded so good as I imagine they are singing to me. It truly is amazing what God shows me on that daily morning walk. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      Yes, I truly “get” every word you share here. It seems so small, but the impact is profound!

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Shannan, how beautiful are the gifts God’s opening up as you are intentional about getting to know your neighbors. I have a long ways to go in getting to know, and to love, our neighbors well. As I walk a similar health path one of my neighbors did, we text more, and share snippets of life. She’s walked the path I’m beginning, and I’m truly thankful to have her encouragement, and her help. Your post challenges me to get to know others in our neighborhood better. I am going to begin praying for opportunities to get to know them better.

    Thank you for sharing a bit of your heart and the things God is doing in your heart. I hope your trip to Ecuador is/was amazing!

  • Joanne Peterson

    Shannon, Doing life together, yes, the realness, the vulnerability, the swing and experiencing their life, our life. This way a person truly understands and can love anyway, in spite of. Beautiful. An internet friend just mentioned this to me yesterday, and it’s true, the doing life together, caring and offering hard truth, and the crying, rejoicing, and the gratefulness of being able to do this together. Joanne

  • http://www.adandeliondiary.blogspot.com/ Mindy Whipple

    I love how you keep spurring us on…well, most of the time, you know, because it can get uncomfortable to get out of our comfort zones : )