You know that gut wrenching feeling when something you hoped for and was 100% certain about, doesn’t happen? It feels as if the ground under your feet gives way and you can’t breathe.
On 16 December 2007 my husband Louis, (then fiancée) got a call to say that the post at a big Church group that he applied for, had discussions and several meetings about for months and basically just had to sign the contract for, was not his anymore as the company unexpectedly filled it internally… The Lead pastor’s words over the phone were “If you are holding your breath for this post, don’t, it has been filled, sorry…” He was supposed to start there as the new Youth Pastor and we already started to imagine how our lives would pan out: Living in Pretoria, close to several family members on both sides, my hubby being the Youth Pastor at church, and me volunteering at a performing arts ministry while also working part time as a teaching assistant for the time I needed to finish my teaching degree.
So all of a sudden here we were… the breadwinner jobless …hopeless and almost aimless.
The light at the end of the tunnel disappeared…
My hubby really thought that, after six years volunteering at the same performing arts ministry as me, he would be going into full time ministry, working at a church…
It felt as if the light at the end of the tunnel didn’t only disappear, it was almost as if we had to search for a whole new tunnel altogether.
After weeks of phoning around to see if he could get a job at a media company (he has a degree in media and business communication), he finally got a job offering as a travelling cameraman at a TV-production company for an Agricultural TV show in Johannesburg, about 100 km from Pretoria.
We decided to relocate to Johannesburg after our wedding in December 2008 as I then also completed my studies and could search for a post as a qualified teacher. We also wanted to live closer to Louis’ work as he was already traveling extensively.
So, suddenly I was in a new city, in a new job, in a new complex with 40 flats and without my husband at least five days a week as he traveled all over SA.
I knew no-one.
A few months into 2009, Louis and I decided to join a cell group through our church. We met several lovely couples that evening. Imagine our surprise when we found out that Christiaan and Suretha not only lived in the same area as us, but actually only lived a few doors away in the same complex! We quickly became very good friends and now only live 2 blocks away from each other.
One day I walked past a neighbour’s kitchen window and smelled the most amazing Asian food! I remember knocking on her window saying that the smell took me straight back to 2003 when I worked in Taipei, Taiwan! She immediately gave me a taster and that is how I came to love Wan and her cooking! During our time in Linden Hill Gardens, Wan, on several occasions blessed us with her amazingly delicious meals!
On another freezing winter’s morning on the way to the car park I bumped into a single mom and her beautiful little Grade 1 girl. The little girl’s smile was contagious and her mom had such gentle eyes. We greeted each other friendlily and went our ways. Little did I know that these two would become like family! Leanne and Kristin are two of our boys’ most favourite people in the whole world.
Several doors down the passage I saw an intriguing dark haired woman moving in one weekend. When I walked past and asked her if she would like some coffee…. she said she’d already opened a bottle of wine! Later that day I left a bottle of red wine and a slab of chocolate in her windowsill with a welcome note. She came to thank us later and gave me some of the bead necklaces she was wearing when I commented on how lovely they were. Needless to say that that was the start of endless visits and heart to heart talks to and thro… sometimes even in our PJ’s. We were so comfortable in each other’s homes, we shared countless bottles of wine, to not even mention the tasting of each other’s food and the lending and borrowing of the most interesting ingredients for our dishes. Dedré is still a good friend and in my thoughts when I’m busy with one or the other exotic dish!
Gerhard and Mari lived a couple of doors from us and I still remember the day we bumped into each other in the parking lot, asking how things were going. We shared our exiting news with them only to hear that they had the very same news! We were both pregnant and our due dates were only days apart. And so started an amazing time of sharing pregnancy joys and frustrations as well as sharing maternity leaves! How great it was to have someone to message in the middle of the night while being up feeding the little ones.
We shared a bathroom shaft with our next door neighbours Felix and Nikki. I will never forget the nights when we would hand each other cramp medicine through the bathroom windows when both our babies would be crying of cramps in the middle of the night.
One evening we had a complex get together in Dedre’s flat. All the young moms had their Baby Monitors with us as our little ones were sleeping only doors away in their own beds. A new tenant accidentally locked herself out of her flat with her 18 month old baby boy sleeping inside. My hubby helped her break into her unit by breaking the glass above her front door and climbing through. That is how we met Noeline!
I am very tall. Imagine my joy when I saw another very tall lady in the passage one afternoon. She bought a unit two doors down. I remember telling her that it was so nice to have another tall person in the complex… to which she remarked: “Why do short people always say that…?” Claudia quickly became my go to person when I needed tips on where to buy long enough pants, big shoes and how to make meatless dishes!
Louis and I have always said that we have an open door policy, and that people are always welcome in our home. This was especially the case while we lived in Linden Hill Gardens as we regularly had coffee and/or wine sessions at our place. After a while everyone we knew in the complex knew each other. We quickly got used to seeing each other on a daily basis, standing and talking in the passage for hours, sometimes it even ended in shared dinners. We also had communal gardens and when someone was enjoying the outdoors, it only took a few minutes for everyone to be outside. We loved spending time together. We shared each other’s highs and lows, joys and sadness. We started to have monthly get-togethers. We also went away together one weekend and spent a lovely time at a game farm. On mother’s day one year we had our very own “pop-up-coffee-shop” in our living room! We invited all the moms in the complex we knew and the kids helped us to make the food, made menus and actually played waiters for the afternoon!
You might ask me why I’m sharing all of this as it really doesn’t have anything to do with you. Well, I’m sharing this with you as it changed my life.
It taught me that strangers could become friends if you are the first to say hello, the first to help out, the first to share a meal, the first to open your doors and the first to open your hearts. I learnt that people come out of their shells if you extend a hand of friendship first. I learnt that God uses people in our lives during different seasons, and that although all of these friendships don’t always last, they mean the world to you at the time.
Our five years at Linden Hill Gardens were incredibly special. Ironically, we had moved from wanting to be pastors in a church, to being friends in a community. Not all of our friends were or are Christian, or even religious for that fact, but they all ministered to us. We hope and believe that the time we spent with these amazing individuals revealed something of who our God is. A seed of His character was planted in all our hearts, it gave us a glimpse into His heart for people…even if it were only the acceptance, joy and friendships experienced within our awesome community.
I know it was out of the ordinary to be so close to your neighbours. In reality, close knit communities are not always the case.
I wish it was though…
Isn’t it time we all became more willing to help, more willing to share, more willing to greet, more willing to smile and more willing to live life together, rather than living life alongside each other?
Just a thought.
Linden Hill Gardens, the complex where we made incredible friends.
Our last braai at Linden Hill Gardens as tenants, before we moved to our new little place.