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Welcoming Without Her

May 20, 2012

Sydney was one of the best I’ve ever seen at approaching people at church and making them feel welcome. Upon moving to Charlotte, we visited many many churches for a period of years before finally settling on Hope Community, where we have been for nearly 10 years now. During this time, Sydney was appalled at how many churches we came and went from without being approached or welcomed by anybody. So, once we finally settled on Hope, she was relentless about identifying new folks, and seeking them out. However, it was more than just a duty, or a response to knowing what it feels like to be a visitor herself. There was something innate in her that constantly wanted new connections. She looked at new relationships with a sense of excitement and intrigue, a tendency she credited to her dad, Robert, who also has a gift for connecting with strangers.

I was blessed so many times during our marriage by simply riding in her wake, and meeting and connecting with folks I never would have been able to on my own. One sad but true lesson that I learned occurred when we lived in a townhouse in Dilworth, when we first moved to Charlotte. Sydney wanted and needed to connect with the neighbors, and so she proposed that we go door to door and introduce ourselves as new to the complex. I outright refused, and couldn’t imagine doing such a thing. So, we lived there for six years, with only limited connectivity to our neighbors, and never a real sense of community.

Towards the end of our time there we went to a new membership class at Hope and met a couple we instantly connected with, Claire and Grant Jordan.  At the time, they had a newborn son, and Sydney was pregnant with Vail. We hit it off as if we had known each other for years. Well… as we shared more about our lives, it turns out we could have. For several years Claire and Grant had lived two doors down from us, in the same townhouse complex in Dilworth. Sydney vaguely remembered their dog, but we never even met.

Now, ten years later and seven kids between us, the Jordans are still walking through life with us. They named their youngest daughter “Sydney,” and remain one of the families I don’t know where I’d be without. I continue to view those “lost years of relationship” as God’s clever joke to remind me how much is at stake when I shirk relationships.

So, in the past few days, a couple we loved, Peggy and David Chapman, moved out of the house across the street and a new, younger couple moved in. I have seen them outside once or twice and have felt a conviction to reach out and meet them. Whether it is my conscience or the Holy Spirit, I don’t know, but I experience it as a direct prompting from Sydney. It is her speaking to me, encouraging me that there is something of value to experience and take hold of there. I know she is right, but, oh how I wish she could do it herself – just like the old times. She is so much better at it than I am, and she would relish the opportunity. And suddenly, out of blue I realize that I miss her so deeply.

And then I remember, what I’ve had to face over and over, in so many different situations in the past nine months. No, she is really, really, really gone. She is not here to talk about how things will be different with the Chapmans leaving. She is not here to process what the new neighbors are like, or what connections we may have with them. She is not here to thoughtfully create or find an appropriate welcoming gift. Oh, what a sad waste of an opportunity; this kind of thing is so right up her alley. And, sadly for everyone, our new neighbors will never know her. They will not get to feel the warmth of her smiling face walking towards their front door and making them feel, really really feel, cared for. They will identify us as the family who have lost a wife and mother, and any sense of Sydney, they will only experience as a piece of history, far removed from the current state of the neighborhood.

But, I can say, on another level she does live on. Her prompting will not let me rest until I load the kids up, take them to Harris Teeter and find some flowers, or a plant for our neighbors. Apart from being what God would want me to do, this honors Sydney by loving others, and models for the kids who their mom would want them to be. Hopefully, I learned enough in my thirteen years of marriage to her, but I confess it still feels awkward for me. Welcoming without her feels like dessert without sugar.

From → Stories

  1. Sadee permalink

    This is so, so beautiful, Todd. What a honoring tribute to your beloved Sydney. Praying for you and your new neighbors…..and I am so confident they are going to adore you guys!!!

  2. God played a joke on us, too. Right before we moved from our first house in Greensboro, we finally met the couple behind us whose dogs had barked at ours for the entire 6 years we’d lived there. We LOVE them and are now great friends, but we regret that our inwardly-focused attitude prevented us from a lot of fun together with them. It has been a great lesson. Of course, your story is much different because now you have to plow that row on your own. But, it is so awesome and wonderful to know that you are growing yourself because of your adorable, amazing wife. Thanks again for sharing your precious heart with us – you, yourself, are an inspiration to hundreds of others.

  3. Nancy Teague permalink

    Todd, you never cease to touch us all with your insight and wisdom learned from a true love and a heartbreaking loss. Hugs from the Teagues

  4. Peggy permalink

    What a blessing it has been to be your neighbor.

  5. Barbara Guller permalink

    This touched me so deeply. I believe that we keep a part of the person we lost alive by intergrating the best of them into ourselves, exacltly what you are doing.

  6. Linda Ford permalink

    Todd, you do not know me, but I am a friend of Sarah and Robert in Raleigh and have prayed for your family all these years. Your writings have touched me deeply, and your gift of words and expression of feelings is profound and truly a gift from God. My mother died much too young too (from a medical mistake), though not as young as Sydney, so I share in a small way your grief. We have new young neighbors across the street from us with two little ones, and I actually have a gift for them, but have not made the time to take it to them. You have prompted me to do it today. Your family will continue in my prayers, and I look forward to more of your writings. I hope putting your feelings into words brings you some comfort, and they are indeed a blessing to all who read them. Linda Ford

  7. Stephen Medlin permalink

    Todd, invite ’em over to your front porch for Thursday night!

  8. Emily permalink

    The day Sydney greeted me at Hope was honestly one of the first times I actually felt cared for and noticed in any church in Charlotte (after 20+ years). I remember it distinctly – her warm smile and sweet manner. She really did have a gift of welcoming people and making them feel loved. Thank you for writing this beautiful post. It has inspired me to finally get out and get to know my neighbors (even as awkward as it might feel at first) – I hope others are inspired as well. Love to your sweet family.

  9. julie silander permalink

    Todd – This is so great. It immediately brought to mind one of my favorite Keller sermons, in which he talks about the essence of “two becoming one flesh.” We should be different/changed because of marriage. We become different people as a result of living life with our spouse, for whatever time we are given together. What a beautiful illustration of how you’re a different man because of Sydney. And ultimately, because of the molding, shaping, hand of the Father. Thank you for sharing this glimpse of His handiwork.

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