Better a Neighbor Nearby

“Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” 

It’s been nearly a year now since Shari invited all the neighbor ladies over for a party at her home. A party to say goodbye to me. I wasn’t the only one in tears that night. Honestly I was crying a lot last year. I didn’t want to move from our home or our neighborhood. But we knew God was pointing us in the direction of South Carolina, after a job offer had been made.

Twenty-six years earlier, Shari had greeted me with these words as I walked past her house, “I want to have a baby shower for you!” At that time as well, I was touched and honored. True to our neighborhood, the ladies came to Shari’s en masse, arms loaded with pink curly beribboned packages. As we sat around the cozy family room, little one-week-old Katherine was passed from mama to mama with all the oohs and aahs you might imagine. Shari had even crocheted a pink blanket for our baby girl.

Shari was the neighbor I really wanted to get to know over thirty years ago. We were busy women; she with three kids and me with eventually four. We’d hurriedly greet each other; she while entering her back door and me as I ran in and out of my front door. She always seemed to have her life together—she was continually planting something or painting something or engaged in a myriad of activities. I wasn’t sure if she needed or wanted another friend. Even that long ago, the neighborhood friendships were pretty well established and I didn’t know how we’d fit in.

There was no texting going on in the late eighties. One day I picked up the telephone from its base on the wall and called Shari to see if I could borrow some sugar. First of all, I needed some for the cookies I was baking. Secondly, it was a great opportunity to break the ice with my neighbor.

A cup of sugar here and there, neighborhood gatherings, chatting in the yard between houses, laughing together, sharing broken hearts and enduring long illnesses and deaths of neighbors who’d become like family. Those were the bricks gradually and carefully laid one atop another over a long span of time—forming a structure called friendship. After Shari became single and our kids were all grown, I’d occasionally ask her to share a meal or I’d walk over with a plate of left-overs. We’d take walks together and meet at restaurants for a late lunch after her pre-school teaching was over for the day. We’d go to movies and events; and she’s the one I’d call first when I needed a ride to the airport or the mechanic. I’d smile really big when I opened the front door to find a couple stalks of broccoli, some tiny just-dug red potatoes and long skinny green onions. I always looked forward to that little garden coming to life —I’d never seen someone have such success in a small plot of ground as Shari did.

A friendship doesn’t happen overnight. First someone has to make a move. Then come conversations with an emphasis on listening; hopefully many conversations; then you’ll become involved in each other’s lives. Finally, if everything goes well, the relationship will become meaningful and encouraging to both parties. The best friendships don’t need a lot of emotion to begin; just someone to take the first step. That step may eventually lead to an important relationship that you can’t imagine not having experienced.

You may say, “That’s all very well, but you don’t know my next door neighbor!” True; but just consider what your next step might be.

God tells me to first love Him and secondly love my neighbor as myself. Sometimes we just need to ask ourselves, “If I were that person next door in the same situation, how would I want to be treated?”

“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

Now, I’m preaching to myself as I’m again connecting with new neighbors. Beginning is the hardest for me. With God’s help, I’m choosing to say yes to opportunities even when it’s uncomfortable.

Maybe today you’ll look at your neighbors through a different lens; they aren’t there by mistake.

“We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our next door neighbor!”

G. K. Chesterton

 

 

Reaping Where I Didn’t Sow

I stepped outside into a beautiful April morning and did a little trimming in our mini-yard. Compared to the acre we lived on earlier, this yard is on the tiny side. I stumbled into a small spot in between our house and Debbie’s. There, hidden away, was the most beautiful profuse light-blush-colored rose bush.

I was reminded again:

I’m reaping things I didn’t sow. Several times in recent weeks that truth has popped into my mind.

In John chapter four, there is discussion about followers of Jesus reaping a harvest of new believers after other people sowed Biblical truth into their lives. Maybe we’ll reap people, too! But for now, I’m looking around and acknowledging the current gifts in my life that I didn’t work for:

  • The beautiful purple Clematis that previous owners planted. I’d never had success growing it!
  • A metal arch in our new yard with a vine growing over; something I had on my want list.
  • The fragrant lush rosemary and the light green shrub that’s good for cutting and arranging.
  • Daffodils that popped up out of nowhere; fun and spontaneous.
  • A  screened porch which we’ll really enjoy! Someone who never knew us built it long ago.
  • Miles and miles of walking paths in our new community which I love. I choose routes with views of the lake since I’m a bit obsessed with water.

It takes conscious work to focus on gains rather than losses.

I moved out of state to be with my husband. He has a job which is a fantastic fit for him. After he moved, I focused on our daughter and her upcoming wedding for about a year. I also procrastinated and delayed my move as long as possible. Tom knew how difficult it was for me to leave family, friends and home so he never rushed me or insisted I leave Wilmington. He’s like that.

So often I think, “How would I survive without a relationship with God?” How awesome to have an easy flow of communication with the Father and the entire Trinity. When I don’t know the answer to a conundrum I chat with Him about it and if I really listen and truly want to know, He’ll speak. Not usually in an audible voice, but a voice inside that’s nearly as clear and certain as a human voice. That’s been my experience for the last forty plus years. When I went to Him about moving from Wilmington, He encouraged me to support my husband and celebrate him. I already kind of knew the answer, but this was a big deal and I needed extra confidence—knowing it was all part of God’s plan.

God knew, when He spoke so unmistakably, that four months after my move I’d still find it difficult to drive by our old house. That I’d still almost take the familiar path home and then have a heaviness come over me when I realized my mistake. That our granddaughter, at twenty-two months would say, “There’s Mimi’s house”, when we drove near our old street. Each time sadness breaks into my thoughts, I remember that I made the right decision. I’m so grateful for a Father who cares about all the details.

When I cut some of those beautiful roses, I tried carefully to avoid the thorns but a big one got me! I was both mad and determined. That pain wouldn’t stop me. I thought again of the parallels.

You have to press through difficulty or inconvenience to get at the reward. Pain is often the tool to spur me on.

C. S. Lewis says:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m such a wimp about pain. I hate it. But in retrospect I’m always thankful for what I learn during those hard times, and there have been quite a few of them.

I can’t imagine living several hours away from my husband. We’re having so much fun together– our marriage gets better and better.  God knows what He’s doing! I am blessed.

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

In our new neighborhood we have a lovely walking path that I’ve referred to as “hilly” and “good for the legs”.

Last week I took out an instrument of torture on the lovely path— the instrument I formerly referred to as my bike.

The lovely hilly path was today, Mount Mitchell, NC, as far as my heart and legs were concerned. Any pretense of fitness on my part vanished in thin mountain air.

My legs fatigued oh so quickly. How long had it been since I’d been in the saddle? Apparently quite a bit longer than I’d remembered!

As I huffed and puffed up the mountain  incline, in second gear, I was comforted by three thoughts.

  1. I know how to gear down and ride very slowly.
  2. I know how to walk the bike.
  3. If all else fails, I have my phone for a 911 call.

Then, I started to realize how my maiden bike ride parallels my current life story.

I’ve been permitted to gear my life down as I am gradually adjusting to our move and big life transitions. To be less busy and move at a slower pace. To focus on deep and important things; investing time in relationships with people and God. I may appear to be covering less ground, as a lower gear indicates, but, sometimes the progress is deep and unseen by others. Considering what I’ve acquired from this time, I have no regrets.

Even at a slower pace consistency creates momentum. “Slow and steady wins the race”.  One walk and conversation with my new neighbor. One letter written. One invitation for lunch to a single woman I’m getting to know. Baby steps count. Momentum becomes progress. Progress encourages me to keep going. Eventually my confidence is strengthened. I know I’ll fulfill my purpose if I keep going in the right direction. There will be habits and character created that will be with me for the long term. As I avoid obsessing over results, the results will happen.

I identify with Oswald Chambers’ take on purpose:

 “We have no right to judge where we should be put, or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for. God engineers everything; wherever He puts us our one great aim is to pour out a whole-hearted devotion to Him in that particular work.”  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”. Ecclesiastes 9:10

I can call for help when I need it! We lived in our home in Wilmington for so many years; longer than any other place. It has been very hard for me to adjust to not being there. When I think of going home I still think of that house. There will always be a map in my heart that leads to that special place.

Sometimes I need to share my feelings, however awkward I may feel, with another person. I’ve been encouraged countless times by loved ones who’ll listen and empathize. Life is never meant to be navigated alone! We need each other. I’m adapting to our new home in Columbia and I have joy and anticipation—knowing it’s God’s plan for us to be here. I couldn’t have done it without the support of people who care.

My husband says after about ten more bike rides, I’ll laugh at how difficult my ride was. I’m not looking forward to checking those off my list! I wonder, will I also laugh one day at how difficult the move was for me? We shall see! His point rings true.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

 

 

 

New Sight

One thing I’ll miss—my morning view.

A funny thing happened recently. I looked in the mirror two days after my eye surgery and saw an unfamiliar face looking back at me. I studied my skin with all its splotchiness and thought, “The sedation meds must’ve had some weird effect!” I couldn’t imagine why my skin had taken on a different color and older look. On the same day I noticed a Facebook update— the emoji colors were brighter and more vivid! Many things were taking on a new appearance. When I started noticing freckles on friends’ faces where I hadn’t seen freckles before I finally realized what had really changed—my eyesight!  I’d had brand new lenses inserted in place of my cataract covered lenses. I knew my vision was poor, but not until I saw clearly did I realize how skewed it had been.

The timing of my new physical vision was not lost on me. My surgery occurred at the very time I was packing for a move from our long-time family home to start a new life in another city. I looked into the mirror, trying not to be completely saddened by my image and said, “Lord, what other more important things have I not seen clearly?”

Growth implies change. Change doesn’t come easily for me. I need to remember that since I first began to follow Christ, my primary goal has been to grow in my faith; to be fully surrendered and aligned with His plan. Did I believe my growth would happen without experiences and surroundings changing? I’ve encountered plenty of change in my life; and our home and community were great sources of comfort during the changes. Now I see that even the absence of those comforts is incentive and impetus for growth. I recently read, “No beginnings without endings. Growth brings change.”

Gratitude isn’t dependent on circumstances. While reading the New Testament I noticed that Jesus thanked God when there wasn’t enough. In Luke 9 Jesus is concerned about feeding the 5,000 men and their families who had come to hear him teach. He asks the disciples to give them something to eat. Since they could only come up with five loaves of bread and two fish they were at a loss as to how they could feed all those people! Jesus, without hesitation, has all the people sit in organized groups. Then He proceeds to thank God for what clearly was not enough! As He gave thanks for the very small amount, there was enough food for all the folks with twelve to-go baskets of left-overs! What do I have in my hand that seems like not enough? How can I thank God for the not enough and watch Him create abundance? He’s done this for me many times!

I need to keep Jesus ever present in my mind. One day while I was taking a walk I asked God to show me, practically, what keeping my eyes on Him meant. I had the idea that whenever anxious thoughts would come, I’d imagine a looming image of Jesus in my mind overshadowing those worries and causing me to think of Him instead of the anxieties. I’m very visual and I think God obliges me often when I need a specific application. His Presence and influence is vast enough to overshadow circumstances. He’s always with me.

I need God to lead my life, not my feelings. My feelings and emotions are important and valid but they are not what I need to base my decisions on. I hear him primarily through reading Scripture, and He speaks to me in my thoughts. Many times I also hear him speak through other people. One day a dear friend spoke clearly into my life during a near melt-down. I’d thought, “I can’t do this!”  She confidently spoke to me, “Number one: you CAN do this. Number two, picture yourself happily in your new home doing things you enjoy. Number three; picture how your life would be if you stayed here rather than joining your husband in his new community.” I already knew what I was supposed to do, but I needed encouragement! Her words put hope in my heart and there was no doubt Who the Source was!  After following Jesus for over 45 years I recognize when thoughts line up with His Truth.

This morning in my prayer time I felt like the Lord said, “You were made for this.” I share that with you, my friends, because I believe you also, were made for whatever the this is in your life. If you know Him you will never be alone. He will never fail to lead you in the way He has for you to go. 

 

 

Strength Training

Strength Training

Clearly no one desires difficulties in life, but I’ve heard lots of folks say that they’ve benefitted from the challenging experiences they’ve lived through. I know I have. I can look back and see how my character was honed through the trials  in my life.

Peter Marshall tells us,

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” 

Growing stronger spiritually and emotionally  parallels with strengthening our bodies.

“When properly performed, strength training can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being, including… improved joint function, reduced potential for injury, increased bone density, increased metabolism, increased fitness, … etc.”  Wikipedia

I keep thinking about lifting weights and doing planks. It’s a shame that my ruminating hasn’t strengthened my body one iota. I’ll develop  habits for awhile, then I get busy or bored and the routine flies out the window. That kind of exercise isn’t fun for me. It takes effort and pushes me beyond where I’m comfortable. I like my comfort.

When I was growing up I was always riding my bike or walking. I never thought of it as exercise. It was my transportation. We weren’t a particularly athletic family. I got a message from my parents that if something is hard you should quit. Don’t take risks. Stay safe. Stick with what’s easy on your body. Don’t “overdo”. Rest.

Physical strength training is crucial and I know it’s something I need to incorporate more into my life. Now, however, I’m focused on the stretching and strengthening of my faith muscles. I’d prefer lower impact training that allows me to follow my familiar routines–to find my way around in the dark when I need to. I want to grow as a person; as a Christ follower, but I don’t want the growth to be painful. Always to love more and emulate Jesus, but not to make major changes. Such as looking for a place to live amongst strangers, in a new area; while losing the secure place I’ve lived for so long.

Apparently God likes change. He seems to plunk us down in strange uncomfortable circumstances where life doesn’t flow naturally and easily. And maybe we can’t even find the toothpaste.

I think of the great heroes of our faith who gave their lives to pave the way for us. The patriarchs, the prophets, the disciples, as well as modern day leaders. Why shouldn’t I be pushed and prodded beyond comfort to attain greater depth and purpose? When did I get the idea that growth is easy?

My dear parents loved routine so much. I would roll my eyes and say to my daughter, “Please help me stay flexible and not get stuck!” Here I am, totally understanding how they felt. I’m not as rigid with daily schedules, but, inflexible about moving? Yes, same.

So that’s what has me lamenting today. The tension between comforting sameness and change which will undoubtedly bring desired growth. Prayers are often answered in ways we didn’t imagine when we prayed, “Please change me, Lord”. “Help me to be more loving— to be less selfish.”  Thus, the transitions that have unwittingly come upon me.

Today I’m thankful for the still small Voice. The One who never fails. I sense Him saying to me to take a step in the direction I know to go. I won’t “feel it” yet, but as I go it will eventually become more and more natural. Stay focused on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Consume the Bread of Life; the Word, like my life depends on it because it does. Spend time with caring like-minded friends.

I recently heard someone say, from a cross-training perspective, when you’re exhausted you’ve used 40% of your capacity. A similar truth can surely be applied to our emotional and spiritual selves! I now know that our muscles, whether physical or otherwise, will not strengthen without going beyond the comfort zone. I still have 60% of my potential remaining!

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.

Charles Spurgeon

 

 

 

 

How to be Strong

How to be Strong

I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,

When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.

I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.

I never set out to be the strong one.

When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.

My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.

Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.

Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.

Another clue that I was holding it all inside.

I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such  difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.

When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.

Evidence of storing the pain away.

Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.

I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!

I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.

Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16

 

 

 

 

Ruts

rut1
rət
noun
plural noun: ruts
1. a long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.
2. a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.

I like ruts. Sameness, ritual, routine. I don’t tire of the same coffee, the same neighbors, same food. I like living in the same house where our babies learned to walk. The house Tom built.

My father used to tell me the horrifying story of driving his daddy’s car in the rural Ozark hills when he was eight years old. He told us about picking up his “girlfriend” for his eighth birthday party. He could drive somewhat safely because of the ruts in the road. They kept him on course. There wasn’t fear of veering to the right or left; the ruts kept him engaged in the familiar way.

I relate to the rut concept so much these days. For me it’s not unproductive or dull that I’m feeling. It’s safety and comfort. I’ve lived in the same home for about thirty years and I’ve learned how I fit here. I’m content with my roles as neighbor, mom, Mimi, and friend. I’m pretty sure that I’d stay right here in this house until my last breath if God and Tom hadn’t intervened. Stay happily, I might add.

The only thing I like more than sameness is a looming sense of what I call God’s Purpose. Since I was spiritually awakened and enlightened as a teenager many years ago, my daily prayer is for guidance into the plans and calling that God has assigned me. A pursuit of this Purpose has carried me through joy, heartache, divorce, longing, poverty, marriage, grief and celebration; always with a deepening sense of His reality and nearness in my life. At this point, with my history, I’d be foolish to disregard His leading even if it’s opposed to my comfort and desires.

Ruts can be good for specific reasons. Say, for instance, there is a project that requires your full attention or a discipline that needs to become a habit in your life.

I read a book about habits— The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. One of the most impressive examples given was the story of Michael Phelps’ training practices. For many years he’d gone through precisely the same daily and hourly habits that eventually brought him to record-breaking victories in the Olympics.

At some point, however, a person may need to take the steep climb out of the rut that’s unknowingly been created. Could there be a new unexplored road ahead?

Living in what we call Christianity—following Christ—calls for attention to His ventures. On the one hand, the not knowing can be rather exciting. On the other hand, for some of us, the not knowing what’s around the next corner can be quite terrifying.

This is where I find myself today. Change brought on by Tom’s job in another state. I’m pursuing another life and home because I know my place is with him.

Countless times I’ve been grateful to God for leading me. When life is most difficult, I’m most desperate to hear Him speak. Through the Holy Spirit, if I take time to be quiet, He never disappoints.

I know with all my heart I couldn’t have survived this life without the friendship and closeness of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit. The Bible is alive and fresh each day and gives us everything we need for living life fully. I can never thank Him enough.

Screwtape, speaking of God says, “Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.” Screwtape calls God’s propaganda an “appalling truth”. “He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself–creatures whose life on its miniature scale will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.” The Screwtape Letters  by C.S. Lewis