Friday, October 19, 2007

Community

Love your neighbor as yourself, does not mean to love only when you like your neighbor, or only when your neighbor shares your parenting style. It does not mean to love only the one who greets you with a smile, or who happens to look a lot like your own family. No. I have been taught, this year, that loving your neighbor starts with recognizing a wayward boy and inviting him to come play at your house. It means worrying about the children of a man who is ever-inappropriate in his conversations with you. It means availability in the good times, so that you can be there for the emergencies.

It also means praying for the one you find distasteful, looking for ways to bridge canyons between you, and drawing appropriate boundaries while still inviting her into your life.

Seven months ago a woman I barely knew across the street slammed into the worst Life experience a woman could handle. With five children to care for, a full time job to balance and a newborn still on the breast, she woke up to find her husband dead by his own act of violence against himself. God drew me to that family 5 months beforehand, and I had been seeking opportunities to put our children together for play time. Now, because of a slim foundation, I was able to carry a hot meal across the street, offer babysitting and be present for a family in great need. The suicide of my own famly member & friends allowed me the empathetic voice to bond us closer.

Fast forward to today. We have, since that tragic day, built great friendship. We have gone on long walks in the woods with our children, talked outside for hours, and shared meals. So, when there was a banging on my door this weekend, and a frantic cry for help, it was easy for me to pick up the phone and dial 911 for a mother panicking for her baby, who was seizing, and colorless. Then, it was easy for her to trust her children in my care as she went with the ambulance to the E.R. This is the Work of God!

Look left of my door and there is another family--the children are almost never outside, but when they are we always smile, wave and greet them. The mother is the fastest talker with the strongest accent that I have ever had to translate in my head in my life! Their father is lascivious. But, because I have reached out, we have talked, we have even shared a meal, I found her girls knocking at my door two weeks ago when they arrived from school before their mother got home. For the five minutes before she pulled in, we waited on my lawn. When she had a babysitting emergency, she called on me, and now, I will have her daughters at my house one hour every Monday. This is the Work of God!

To my left is a wonderful single mom who has a lot of heartbreak from her divorce--we discovered early in our neighborly relationship that she is a Believer in Christ, and it has been wonderful to know she is beside me every day--a neighbor I have gone to for a cup of sugar, and with whom, now, I will share biweekly Bible Studies!

But, to the right of my door, where once a family lived who reflected our family's values and culture, their renters are nothing like us. There is a struggle here, for me, with healthy boundaries balanced with love. Our children have been taught differently how to speak to adults, how to behave with each other, and the proper way to use their voices. They eat sugar as a daily treat, and the TV is always glowing through the window. There are only colorful plastic toys within, and most of them are small and breakable. We simply do life differently.

BUT, it is that family that has been placed in my life for this time. One day, as the Lord prepared my heart to have an open door policy for the afternoon, I took in the little girl for indoor playtime followed by dinner. We ventured off to the playground afterwards, where her mom eventually came to retrieve her. It was there that I realized why the Holy Spirit had put a Good Attitude in me that day--because there had been some fighting at home that wasn't meant for little ears. By stopping my sense of being inconvenienced or annoyed by the ever-present door-bell-ringing neighborhood child, I was able to be available to a stressed-out, exhausted mom who's in physical pain from a recent surgery!

So, I have to always remind myself that it is by actively loving others that my love of Christ is proven. I understand, fully, what He means when he says to be careful how we treat strangers, for in entertaining some we may have entertained angels. Or, that however we treat the least of these is how we treat Him. If I shun one neighbor, but embrace the others, despite their differences or similarities, I've completley missed the point of the Love that was granted to ME, an undeserving human being, myself! I am, often, a downright mean human being, but God loves me just as I am! And, I have a lot of pretty bad habits, but God takes me even with all of those annoyances. I have a forgetfulness about things I've been taught and things I've learned--sometimes my character isn't changed, though it should be. Still, God is patient with me.

So, how dare I pick and choose which neighbor to love? In small townhouse communities like mine, ALL are my neighbors, and all should be loved with Christ's love, no matter how they disturb my personal world, or rock my little planned-out day. In the end, it is that moment that matters more than my schedule, and that person who matters more than my agenda. Lord, help me pray for your patience, your eyes, your hands of availability. THANK you for the orchestration of this day, and for the way you helped me build a trusting foundation with the family across the street--strangers who have turned to friends!

Who is the neighbor He's drawing you to? It may be the one you are most repulsed to be around, or the one you trust the least. Start today with prayer for that person, then ask Him to help your eyes be open to the possibilities!

Mark 12:28-31 New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

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