the "love our neighbors" project

So, we got back from Cambodia on July 17th, and it’s really no secret that I landed back on U.S. soil pretty darn sure that I could think of nothing more PERFECT than moving our family to Cambodia permanently. That country, those people, grabbed my heart and still haven’t let go.

If I had the time, I’d read back through my journal from July 17th on and give you a little timeline of when I decided that okay, maybe God doesn’t want us to move to Cambodia. Maybe he wants us to serve the people of Cambodia from here in Columbus, Ohio (and take trips there any time we possibly can).

And maybe, just maybe, he has a pretty radical plan for us right here in our own city, our own neighborhood.

There’s our new church (more details later) and my (and Nina’s) reading buddy and a couple other cool things in the works, but I kept feeling like there just had to be something I could do in our own little sub-division. But what?

A brief overview of our neighborhood: we’re just one big oval and a small circle. 130 homes if I had to guess. Built around 1990. 1400 sq ft average. Lots and lots and lots of different countries and religions and colors represented. Columbus address (and taxes) but Westerville City Schools. Pretty quiet and mostly crime-free (except for the cars that got keyed–Gabe’s included–a few weeks ago). Lots of kids.

At the beginning of the school year, God dumped one really cool opportunity on my lap. One neighbor with four kids needed a place for her youngest, an 8-year-old boy, to stay from 7:20 (when his older sister got on the bus) until 8:10 (when he got on the bus) each weekday morning. She asked me if I could do it (her son, A, and Ava are in the same class in school), and I said yes. She asked me how much I would charge, and I said nothing.

I’ll be honest. At first I thought, “Poor me, inconvenienced every morning, blah, blah, blah.” Thankfully, God grabbed me and shook me, and I got over myself right quick. And, oh my word, A is a complete angel. And he gets along with our girls beautifully. And it’s so completely normal now that I feel like he’s one of my own kids. Such a blessing.

So, fast forward to 9.20.10 when I wrote in my journal, “God, I want our family to reach our neighborhood for you.” Then 9.21.10–“God, show me your vision for my neighborhood and community.”

Then on 10.07.10, an idea. “Lord, I got this idea to do Cans for Cookies. Invite all our neighbors over to bring cans for the food bank in exchange for some cookies. Meet neighbors. That sort of thing.”

Then I started jogging again in the mornings (after taking about 16 years off). Gabe measured my “course” for me. One lap around the ‘hood = .37 mile. I typically do 6 laps (or zero). I like to pray while I run, and I started praying for our neighbors. And my idea for a neighborhood gathering kind of gathered steam.

On 10.13.10, I sketched out a little “invitation” to hand out, and after that, I wrote, “Lord, will you bless this? I’m really excited about it. And you know what? Even if no one shows, we took a step of faith, right?”

Then on 10.27.10, the day before Trick-or-Treat (I know, I know, we Ohioans are Freak Shows who Trick-or-Treat on the closest weekday to Halloween), I got a crazy idea. Hand out the invitations as we walk around trick-or-treating! Except wait. I haven’t made any invitations. I haven’t even picked a date. I’m not even sure I’m really doing this–it’s just an idea, right?

I felt God’s nudge to go for it, and it was strong. So I chose a date, typed up some invites, and printed them out (3 to a page. so they were small and manageable) on blue, yellow and white paper I had lying around.

YOU’RE INVITED! To the 1st Annual Cans-for-Cookies Neighborhood Bash!!

WHO: You! And your family!

WHAT: Bring a can of food or two for W.A.R.M. (Westerville Area Resource Ministry), eat some yummy homemade cookies, and meet your neighbors!

WHEN: Sunday, December 5th from 2-4pm (come and go as you please)

WHERE: Gabe and Marla Taviano’s house (our address)

WHY: Bless people in need and get to know your neighbors!

HOW: RSVP if you want, so we’ll have enough cookies. (my e-mail address) Just walk, run, drive, bike, rollerblade or skateboard over to our house anytime between 2-4pm. We’re looking forward to meeting you! Feel free to e-mail with questions!

I probably handed out 40-50 while we were trick-or-treating and got a really good response. Sure, some people looked at me like I was a nutcase, but several people said something like, “Wow, this is really cool. We’ve lived here for five years and really don’t know anyone.” A couple people said, “We’ll definitely be there.”

I just felt completely giddy the rest of the night and all the next day. No one has e-mailed me yet to say they’re coming (and 2 people let me know they already have plans for that day), but I’m not giving up hope.

Then Nina and I walked around our whole neighborhood this afternoon and put invitations on every single mailbox, so everyone’s covered. And now we just sit back and pray. And ask God to nudge people to come. And bake lots and lots of cookies (we’re going to deliver them to neighbors in the event that no one shows).

Are we feeling a little proud of ourselves for this step we’ve taken? Hardly. This is the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere, and there’s really no excuse at all for us not reaching out and loving on our neighbors more than we have. If this doesn’t “work out,” we won’t lose heart. It was a step. And we’ll keep taking them.

I thought it was cool that I “happened” to read these verses this morning from Galatians 5–“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (v. 13-14)

I’d LOVE to hear about something you’ve done/plan to do to love on your neighbors. And PLEASE, by all means, steal my invitation and do the same thing in your neighborhood this holiday season!

29 thoughts on “the "love our neighbors" project

  1. Donita

    I love your idea!
    We’ve lived in a cul-de-sac for 10 years. I can say that we know the names and some general info about the 12 families here. But I would also admit that I don’t know much else about them.
    We have hosted block parties a number of times with moderate success (but always a lot of fun).
    I have also let God prompt me to take meals to a specific family periodically. Usually just the other half of a batch of soup or some of the food from a block party when they couldn’t attend.
    I totally agree with your sentiments that sometimes we worry about doing something “important” in lands far away when there are also often important things to do next door.

    I saw Radical in the ads…and it reminded me that I have been “avoiding” reading The Hole in our Gospel for months now. I think I better read that before purchasing Radical.

  2. Dina

    Glad you took God’s nudge to heart! I’ve been sitting on my idea, Hotcakes for Humanity, for a year now and although I’ve had a handful of neighborhood parties at my home, this one has not yet happened. This post was the nudge I needed to get my planning in gear. I hope to do it over the holiday season when Ali ( is here. She said she’d do a charity ship presentation, why not for our neighborhood! I’m off to email her to be sure she’s ok with this… 😉

  3. Catherine

    What a wonderful idea!
    Praying the Lord blesses you with a great response from your neighbors. My family has lived in our current home for just over a year and really only know 1 family in our neighborhood … this might just be something we could do to get to know our neighbors. Thank you 🙂 .


  4. sandee

    I read Ann’s post today…where she says: ” I want to go do something real, get my hands dirty, be part of the army pushing the earth hard and changing the world, be a radical and give away my life for something big. In this daily, bloodied battle, I forget that here is always more than it appears. That here is a always a trench too.”

    And it made me think of our radical journey and are call to where we are too….thought you might like to read it.

  5. meghan @ spicy magnolia

    We recently made loaves of pumpkin bread for our neighbors, which I think you read about. It takes a lot of intentional energy for me to reach out to people I don’t know very well, but I’m so thankful when I do. I want to love our neighbors well!

    Hugs to you!!

  6. Leigh

    This is such a cool idea, Marla! I’ll be praying that you get a good turn-out, that neighborly relations are nurtured, and that God would use it all for His glory.

    I live in a duplex among 5 other duplexes. There’s not much neighborly acknowledgment but I’m praying about how I can reach out, even if they’re not receptive to it.

  7. Rachelle

    A few days ago I told Clyde I had this idea to start a once-a-month dinner thing for our neighbors, my nearest neighbor is 3 miles away! However, I don’t want this to be some scheme I cook up, so I’m going to sit on this until God says, “GO”. It’s hard though, to know when God is telling me to do something and when I just have a bright idea…

    This morning I took a loaf of banana bread to a single mom and her daughter that just moved nearby.

    Love your heart Marla!

  8. Claudia Porpiglia

    Not sure I can tackle the cookie idea this year but there is something I already do on a random basis. When I cook a stew or soup, I make extra and then take it to a neighbor…unannounced. It has been neat to see the response and the way it opens doors.

  9. alittlebitograce

    ooh, i love this idea! we held neighbourhood bbqs throughout the summer, celebrated thanksgiving with some of our neighbours, and thrown a birthday party for someone who was newly arrived with very little in the way of friends or family here. it’s fun getting to know our neighbours. 🙂

  10. sandee

    I love this. Can’t wait to hear how it goes. I like out in the country, one 2 acres…I only have 3 neighbors in walking distance….but you did make me think of seomthing I could do. ONe neighbors son is at our house all the time, but the other two, I hardly ever see them. We are going to make Thanksgiving goodies and take them to our 3 neighbors…yea!

  11. Jen Hanson

    I love this!! So much fun!!!

    Devin and I started (last year) an annual “Elf Party” tradition where we watch the movie “Elf” and ask all of our friends to dress like Christmas elfs and bring something to spread Christmas cheer to those in need. Last year it was a toy drive for kids in the cancer ward at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, this year it’s going to be either a canned food drive or a “bring $5 and we’ll buy a family in poverty a goat” kind thing. I’m so excited. (By the way, my husband has a full Buddy the Elf costume that he put together with thrift store finds.)

  12. Aimee

    What a great idea! I will pray it goes well and the God will give you lots of opportunities to share Him with your neighbours.
    A friend of mine, Nicole, over at has ‘Missional Motherhood Month” in November, where people write (anonomously thsi year) about how they as mothers are seeking to be mission-minded. You might be interested in reading some other ideas people have written there, or even writing to her about your ideas.

  13. Jennifer

    What a great idea! We’ve been convicted that after three years of living here, we hardly know our neighbors. Wes and I have both started being intentional about walking/running the same route every day with Charlie (our German Shepherd) so that we run into the same neighbors. We’re surprised to see how many people will come out of their houses just to get a good look at how big Charlie has gotten! I had a long chat the other day with a woman a few blocks away from us and visited with her daughter a few days later as we walked by again. No real in-depth relationships yet, but this is how it starts!

  14. Marla

    I love it!!! I wish I could figure out a way to do something for our neighbors. We live in a very Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and most of them follow strict Kosher guidelines so that meat and cheese cannot touch nor items to make things with can touch. We have been loving on our next door neighbors for a long time now and they have decided to move to Israel and are leaving next week. I love their family to death and their 5 kids get along so well with my two! Good neighbors become like family. They have learned to trust us with their kids. The mom just had hernia surgery unexpectedly two days ago and they leave for Israel next Wednesday!! Yesterday I just went and spent time talking with her and listening to her for about 2hours while the kids were still in school. I should have been home working but felt that I needed to be with her. The other family down the street that is close with them invited us to a goodbye party for the neighbors on Saturday night. We are planning on taking them out to dinner once all their stuff is packed in a container and have asked them where a Kosher restaurant is near by. They have decided just to rent their house rather than sell so I am praying that after a few years maybe they will come back. The one thing you can pray about is their hearts. The mom said to me she feels like she doesn’t have a purpose here and feels like something is missing. Pray that I find the strength and courage to show her what she is really missing! It is so hard b/c I don’t want to push them away. My daughter is really upset they are leaving b/c she plays with the little boy next door who is just her age and we had been talking about them going to kindergarten together next year and now it won’t happen. I am going to continue to love on them and the other Jewish neighbors as best that I can.

  15. Laura

    Marla that’s such a cool idea. We live in the country, so not a lot of neighbors, but there have been a couple (who have a son owen’s age and a newborn) across the street for 6 of the years we’ve lived here. We had never even met them! Across the street! Last spring, our boys ended up on the same T-ball team and it turns out THEY ARE AWESOME. The boys are best buds, our husbands (both Jason’s, both called J) couldn’t have more in common, and of course the wife and I have a blast together. And now we’re moving! Boo! So I assure you we won’t let that happen again, and your idea is so awesome. I will pray that you run out of cookies (I meant that in a good way, like your turnout will be so incredible you won’t have to deliver any!!!) and be sure to let us know how it goes. 🙂

  16. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    I’m sitting here grinning like a crazy lady. You know i LOVE this idea!! I cannot wait to hear how it turns out, and yes, I want to borrow it for a similar something right here on our little street!

  17. Bethany Peters

    This is such a cool idea! I can’t wait to hear how it all turns out! I think it’s also a great idea to pray for your neighborhood while you run. I should start walking around my block and praying for my neighbors and asking God what I can do–if I should have some kind of block party or something else.

    Right now I know God wants me to do something about our neighbors but I’m not sure what it is yet. I am following John 15–abiding in Christ and praying and reading His Word and asking God to show me clearly what He wants me to do and to give me the willingness and strength to obey once He tells me.

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