Ever since moving back to Arizona in ’97, we have lived in the same neighborhood; quite a feat these days. Only a few houses were finished back then, and the desert seemed to begin right where our yard ended.

We had met on rare occasions, as our homes were being built, these strangers who would become our neighbors. Everyone seemed friendly enough as we tried to imagine what our new lives together might be like. We laugh now about those early assessments, when the kids were kind of squirrely, and it was easy to prejudge.

Move-in day boasted one hundred fifteen degrees and by the grace of God didn’t leave any of my siblings or their families with heat stroke. Sweat saturated our clothes and streamed down our faces much like the comical gags you see on TV.

Real love helps you move in, expecting nothing, even when it feels like you are moving into hell itself.

At last, I was back after living in Korea, Texas, New Mexico, Idaho, England, and nine years of freezing in Illinois. My husband was far less enthusiastic than I, since this move required that he commute to work. After dutifully following his “career” all over the world for seventeen years of our marriage, I was going to raise our family, near family. He was still going to be happily flying to destinations most folks dream about, so I wasn’t feeling that sorry for him.

So fast-forward to now. Our neighborhood is complete, and some homes have even had multiple owners. Those original neighbors we met so long ago are still here becoming more than just neighbors, they are friends. We occasionally host each other for meals, look after home and herd, and have watched our small children morph into young adults. We have laughed, cried, and supported each other through scorpions, javalinas, teenagers, roaming coyotes and the rare tarantula. (Yes, all those wild creatures are properly lumped together.) Standing collectively we have cringed as each new child received their driver’s license and drove off alone for the first time.

We come from a variety of faith backgrounds but share a common belief in taking care of our homes, families and neighbors. When news of my impending surgery reached their ears they snapped right into action providing us with meals, cleaning help, prayers, encouragement and hope. Even through this personal challenge I was given a gift to slow down, reconnect, and really appreciate the folks who have been beside us all this time. For years it seemed we were simply “waving blurs’ as we hurried in and out getting kids here and there. Our neighbor across the street will always recall fondly the time our family came home from a vacation in those early years. She happened to be watering her plants as our suburban pulled into the drive. Exhausted, frenzied children poured out of every opening. Finally emerging, our youngest daughter looked over at her and sighed, “That’s right, Mrs. Cross, the freak show is back!”

These strangers are more than neighbors and greater than friends. They have become like family to us. God placed us all together so many years ago, in this space and time and we have been touched, helped, loved and accepted, nurtured and embraced by each other. Isn’t that what we are all called to do, as we build here on earth strong families, communities and nations? Mutually respecting and treating each other with kindness as brothers and sisters in humanity and children of the most-high God.

Our little freak show is the fodder of many neighborhood tall tales, and a catalyst for lots of laughter. Looking back we all smile recalling those long lost days, yet, look forward to new adventures too.

Look around the world. Who is your neighbor? In God’s family there are no fences or boundaries, so reach out and make someone’s day brighter like so many others have done for you and me. For their love and generosity I am immensely grateful and forever changed and we all must go and do the same.

Barbara Lishko  is blessed to be a lifelong cradle-Catholic. She and her husband Mark, have been married for 30 years, and have five amazingly talented young adult children who are an abundance of inspiration for her weekly columns. Through her experiences as a wife, mother, and full time youth minister she shares her unique humor and insight with her readers. God continues to abundantly bless her life by allowing her the honor of serving as a tiny instrument in His Almighty hands. Barbara is a past recipient of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Service Award given through the Diocese of Phoenix. Visit her blog at https://pouredmyselfoutingift.wordpress.com