Like a Good Neighbor…

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The State Farm jingle, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” was written by Barry Manilow in 1971. Can you hear it? Are you humming yet? And are you a good neighbor? Hmmm. Am I?

Not long ago, I attended two different churches over two weeks, and listened to two different pastors give two different sermons on—you guessed it—being a good neighbor. They both used the story of the Good Samaritan, found in the book of Luke. (You can read it here on Bible Gateway.) Thanks to Ty VanHorn and Jason Dohring, I came away with quite the bullet list:

  • Be living proof of a loving God to a watching world.
  • Be neighborly.
  • Don’t wait for someone else to be neighborly.
  • Share a card. Or a wave. (Or a text? Or an email? Or a cup of soup?)
  • Get messy.
  • Be inconvenienced.
  • Pay the price.
  • Pay attention.
  • Get involved.

And may I add a simple one? Be nice! My sister describes my husband this way, “He’s nice, but he’s not a wimp.” Being nice doesn’t equate to being weak. In fact, sometimes being nice—and being neighborly—means standing up in the face of injustice or unkindness and loving the less lovely. Why? Because we were loved first. As one of those two wise pastors said, “Being friendly takes little effort. Being a friend takes much.”

How have you been friendly, neighborly this week? We could all use a few good suggestions, so I hope you’ll post one here!

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A Cup of Soup

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For years this verse directed much of my life: “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward” (Matthew 9:41). A cup of water. How we take that for granted! I used to spend hours each week helping get clean water to those who need it most. While water ministry is still dear to my heart, most of that work is done by others who are much better at it than I. Now, however, I’m re-discovering the power of a cup of soup.

When was the last time someone rang your doorbell just to bless you? When was the last time you knocked on a neighbor’s door just to share a blessing? It’s awkward, isn’t it? We live in a scheduled world where busy people value their time and their privacy. (Or at least that’s the excuse I sometimes use when trying to protect my own.) Soup helps. Or muffins. Or … Somehow, it’s just easier to walk across the street and share yourself when you have something in your hands. So today I’d like to share a recipe with you. I call it “scissor soup” because most of the ingredients are simply dumped from a bag (opened with scissors, see?) into a pot. I hope you’ll give it a try. Have some for supper, then package up the rest in disposable containers. (In a pinch, Ziploc bags will work.) Then make your way to someone who could use a little love, and pass along a bit of your soup.

Just in case you need more encouragement, here’s another passage from Matthew, Christ talking in chapter 9. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Scissor Soup

6 cups bouillon, broth, or vegetable juice

1 bag frozen peppers and onions

3 bags frozen veggies of any variety

1 bag chopped cabbage or cole slaw mix

1 bag baby carrots or shredded carrots

1 cup salsa

1 can diced tomatoes

2-3 cans beans, rinsed.

1 can cream of mushroom soup (optional)

1 tsp. chopped garlic or garlic powder (optional)

Simmer until all veggies are tender (at least an hour)

 

Listen! Listen

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I grew up in a delightful family. My home was filled with lots of love. I remember spirited games of chess and canasta and paddleball (think racquetball on an outdoor court). We enjoyed good food, frequent guests, and plenty of laughter. Some of the laughter was over the same jokes enjoyed time after time.

When a new and uninitiated guest joined us, my dad would ask, “What’s that coming out of your nose?” After a moment of embarrassed confusion on the part of our visitor, he would continue, “Air! There’s air coming out of your nose!”

Then sometimes he’d say, “Listen! Listen!” After an awkward pause, he would add, “Somebody’s saying ‘Listen!’” We always laughed.

The other day, as I was thinking about my dad’s funny lines, the one about listening struck me in a new way. Taken more seriously, it comes out this way:

Listen! Listen! Because there’s always someone out there practically begging that you listen!

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately. Some of my hurting friends need me most as a prayer partner and a listening ear. In fact, I often have to remind myself that they need my ear but not my mouth, my empathy but not my advice.

Pride can lead us away from the smaller tasks the Holy Spirit hands us. Becoming a compassionate listener isn’t very glamorous. In fact, it’s a ministry of the nearly invisible. It falls into the “He must increase; I must decrease” part of the Christian walk. But it is powerful. It is a silent language of love. Today I want to encourage you to allow a part of your busy life to be eaten up by the gift of an attentive ear, because if you listen, listen, you will almost certainly hear someone crying out, “Listen!”

Generosity

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Would you agree with me that God is generous? While we don’t need to go any further than the gift of his Son to see his magnanimous nature, certainly the beauty of nature, his constant provision, and the hope of heaven further prove the point. We are called to be like him, which leads to the question, “Are we generous?” Am I? Are you?”

We live in a “me first” world, where more (for ourselves) is always (supposedly) better. The Bible teaches us to live counter to that culture.

  • It’s better to give than to receive.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Seek first the kingdom of God.

A truly generous life requires introspection. Gandhi said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Stop and think about that for a moment. Are there parts of our lives where even a tiny tweak toward simplicity might free up time or money that would make a great difference in someone else’s life? How much are we willing to do without for the sake of someone else?

Perhaps a trial is in order. Lent is coming (but any space on the calendar will do.) I’ll be giving up my beloved hot tea for several weeks. During that time, I’ll calculate the funds saved by that small sacrifice. Later I’ll send them to an organization that provides clean water in another country.** Will that small sum make a difference? Yes, it will, not to many, but to some. And some is far better than none.

Care to join me? Perhaps you’ll choose a different sacrifice, another beneficiary. Maybe you will be led to tweak your use of time instead, freeing up precious moments to serve or befriend wherever you are led. Let me encourage you, though: God wastes nothing. Whatever your sacrifice, he will use it. And you will be blessed.

‘Hope you’ll let me know how it goes!

**And if you choose clean water as the need you will help meet, consider reviewing one of these websites:

thewaterproject.org

charitywater.org

water.cc/h2oproject

saveadrink.org

How are you?

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We were in Delft buying, of course, Delftware, those blue and white ceramic pieces that say, “I went to The Netherlands!” It was late in the day, and the little shop was rather crowded, probably because their prices were so good. I waited in line at the counter, ready to pay for my Christmas ornaments, impressed by the excellent English of the clerk. (I had given up on learning any Dutch.)

When my turn came, I handed the young lady my selections, smiled, and said, “Hello, how are you?” Her response caught me off guard. With nary a hint of incrimination in her voice, she simply said, “May I ask you a question? Why do you Americans ask, ‘How are you?’ when you can’t possibly care how each person really is?”

I’m sure I hesitated a bit as I struggled to come up with a sensible answer to an excellent question. “It’s a greeting we use. We actually do try to care about the response.” (My answer was lame, but the best I could come up with at the time.) Here is my question today, though. Do we care about the answer? Or, in our hurried world, do we ask without thinking, and hope for a quick, “I’m fine. How are you?” so that we can go along our way without pause.

Pause. How often do we pause? How often do we probe a bit for the real answer to the “How are you?” question? And if we do receive an honest response, how often do we take time to listen, to follow up, to offer some sort of related service beyond a quick, “I’ll keep you in my prayers”?

I want to learn to pause, to mean it when I ask the question, to listen when I’m given an answer, to look into the eyes of friend and stranger alike and care. Please, join me. And if you are so inclined, tell me about your own “How are you?” encounters.

 

Care More

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When Steve and I drive to Galveston, one route takes us across a rather imposing bridge. That bridge looks overwhelmingly difficult and frightening as we approach it. Yard by yard, though, as we ascend it, it turns out to be quite manageable. Before too long, we are on the other side. This is how life’s difficulties look to me now. They seem impossible as we approach them, but in the moment by moment reality of facing them, they are doable. It was moment by moment reliance on our Lord that took me through this journey.

There are a few things I’d like to share with you, and remember myself, in order to better help any friends who walk this road in the future.

  • I never said, “my cancer.” Somehow those words, for me, meant owning something I was in the process of getting rid of. I said “my condition” or “I was diagnosed with” instead, somehow distancing myself from the evil within me. So, in the future, I will not say “your cancer” either.
  • A cancer diagnosis begins a surprisingly time consuming process of research, phone calls, and doctors’ appointments. It’s as good a time to bring a meal as the surgery/treatment phase.
  • That same busy process also becomes mentally overwhelming. I came to a point where I needed a week off from talking about my condition at all. I didn’t want it to begin to define me. My dear friends and family seemed to understand my need to change the subject or put off responding to their calls and emails.
  • A remarkable amount of current entertainment deals with death, or at least illness, and often cancer. Steve and I have even joked about the “Disney Death Syndrome.” How many popular kids’ movies begin with the demise of one or both parents, when, in reality, that is a very rare occurrence? How many children have, for years, harbored a fear of losing Mom or Dad because of the skewed perception brought about by even relatively wholesome entertainment? Happy movie recommendations were greatly appreciated both for my sake and for my husband’s. Two friends even brought by bags of carefully curated DVD’s.
  • Healthy food is a big help, and it need not be a complete meal. A few friends brought welcomed snacks and side dishes that were perfect additions to what others had provided.
  • “Let me know if I can do anything” is a great saying. “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” is a better saying. “Can I run any errands for you, or take you somewhere?” is terrific as well.
  • Cards, texts, and emails work better than calls and visits during those first exhausting days after surgery. Many of those who offered to visit in person or via phone wisely added, “if and when you are up for it,” making me feel more comfortable about turning them down if I needed to be alone.

And there you have it—the short version of my journal entries over the past two months. May you never have to walk this road, but if you do, may my words turn your eyes to the One who will provide all you need.

Next Week: Something lighter this way comes ( I promise).