Friday, July 25, 2008

Who is your neighbor?

Yesterday as I was reading 1 Cor 5 I came across a couple of interesting verses. I Cor 5:9-11

" I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy, and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate wit anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat."

I have gone to church all my life. My list of denominations that I have called home is vast- baptist, catholic, nazarene, non-denominational, pentecostal, post chapel. We have seen lots of the christian life in the many years of our raising and faith walk. All too often there has been an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) message of "don't associate with those kind of people" - meaning folks who do not go to church. Yet here Paul is saying that it is not the unchurched who struggle with sin issues that we are to not associate with- rather it is the those who claim belief in Christ but are stuck in bondage to a sin issue.

I have come to realise that we all struggle with sin issues. That we all are struggle with a some kind of idolatry, immorality, greed and/or selfishness. Often we mask it a bit more when we are in the church decieving ourselves but oftne not those who watch our lives. Christ calls us to total surrender and disclosure, no more deception. He doesn't require it of the unbeliever, he accepts that they are blind to their sin and walk in it openly often enough. It is not a relationship breaker, rather it is a reason for relationship. He desires those who need Him- it is why He came - not for the saints but for the sinners.

A few years ago I evaluated my life and relationships and realized that all those I called friend were folks who went to church. I was challenged to consider how I can be salt and light to folks who already place their trust in God. I began to adjust my thinking. I now delight in getting to know folks who dont go to church, who walk a different path. I have learned to relax a bit about differences and outward appearances.

When I ask the question "who is your neighbor?" i am serious. I tend to be a shy, quiet person in large gatherings yet I am a gal who loves to live in a neighborhood- one where we know our neighbors. We live on a residental country road of about 20 houses. I have lived here 2 years and have met folks fromabout 3/4 of those houses. Many I have an ongoing relationship with, others it was a brief encounter, just enough to know a name and establish a bit of contact. I think of my neighbors often, praying for them and considering ways to love them well.

I grow a vegetable garden for a few reasons. I love fresh tomatoes, so do my neighbors. I enjoy squash , so do they. I think I am the only one with a garden on the street this year, so I share and use that as a bridge for relationships. Last year we shared some veggies with a neighbor who we had limited contact with, , within the hour the husband came and extended an invitation to my husband for a visit. We now have more contact and an ongoing relationship. I thank God for the garden and offer its harvest as an offering for His kingdom.

Many of the neighbors are brothers in the faith. Some are not, some it is unknown where their faith walk is. We try to love them all the same. Jesus does. Where sin abounds we understand the root of it, we dont condemn them, we love them. where differences in lifestyle occur we acknowledge that with our children and establish what is truth and what we believe to be proper yet we continue to love and be open to relationship.

I live far from my church, so far that it is often disstractor from attending more than twice a week ( I really am a homebody). My fellowship is not so much with church folks, it is more with my neighbors. I have struggled with that a bit,having thought it should be the other way around, but have settled it in my heart. We live here to be salt and light, blessing and encouragement to those around us.

When I am with the body I encourage and connect but God also has other folks he wants me to shine before and glorify Him. I call them neighbors and friends, they tell us that we cannot leave ... "we dont have permission"... "you better not move". I think it has been worth the risk to reach out, to know who lives next door, down the street and who moved into the new house. It is nice to know who I wave to, and to have them wave back with genuine care as we pass by. It is a blessing to pray for the parents, children and deployed spouses of my neighbors.

Who is your neighbor? Who is waiting to be known on your street? If you are lonely perhaps part of the solution is in reaching out to your neighbor? Perhaps your neighbor is lonely for your fellowship and relationship? One never knows what blessings getting to know the one who lives near you might bring. I'd love to hear of what blessings you have found in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We praise Him after the stormy day!

Wow- what a day we've had here in Toney. It started as a simple day at home waiting for the A/c guy to diagnose what is going on with the a/c. It was all that and more.

Amidst doing laundry I went to check on the dryer outlet. Last week I updated the dryer venting by installing a dryerbox in the wall behind the dryer, and then rerouted the venting pipe using dryer-ell's this time instead of conventional elbows. Huge difference and I am thrilled with the air pressure leaving the house after 20' of pipe. Today I wanted to check to assure myself again that all was really fixed. As I checked on the exhaust I noticed lots of "mouse dung" on the bricks underfoot, it wasn't there last week, and I was puzzled. I soon realized that it was bat guano and there was a group taking a snooze in the eaves of an unfinished overhang.

My daughter, the animal adventerer, came out and we checked out the bats that had wedged themselves into the small dark spaces and under the shingles overhead. My mind quickly formulated a plan to eliminate and keep them out until the guys who are about to side and soffit the house get to the job. Yet the beady eyes and icky beings of bats were there and I did not want to look at them, so I felt I would have to wait until dusk. Later as I watered the plants it occurred to me that maybe the bats would not like a shower and choose to leave. I quickly set up the bat roost shower and sure enough they did not want to stay and left for a dryer sleeping location. What we thought was 4-6 bats, it turned out to be 12- 15 or more. I ducked down as they flew passed the stream of water in search of dryer resting places so I didnt get an exact count. Two were reluctant, but departed soon after my daughter's gloved hand and poking stick approached them. I love a brave animal relating daughter because I am not so.

We "guarded" the area from reinhabitation until it was curtained off with screening, ductape and staples to hold it all in place. We hope that they do not return, but should they we will again offer them a drink and shower and let them know that it is daily available until they give us a bad hosting rating. I felt triumphant to have helped them relocate so quickly and inexpensively- a neighbor had an attic infestation and it cost them $$$ to get rid of the bats and bat bugs that roamed their home.

If that wasn't enough excitement the day continued on with two mighty rain, hail, lightening and thunder storms. We were again given an opportunity to camp at home as the power was out. It was kind of fun to stop life and play monopoly with my youngest in the dim light. Amidst the gaming I heard a "whoosh" sound- a 30 ft tree chose that moment to lay down on the lawn. It was a perfect drop- it just laid straight down parallel to driveway and fence. It looked like a professional tree surgeon had supervised the job- and so God did!

This weekend we will again have a family work day as we divide up the downed tree and our neighbor will join us as he begins the first warming of the wood in his life. The next will come with the moving of it, the splitting of it and then the burning of it! He smiles in delight at the thought of the warmth that it will provide for his family and savings at the propane truck visits.

We praise God for His protection from the storm, for the guidance of the tree, for the secure house and home. We praise him for a cool day, so we will sleep comfortably even though the a/c repairman never made it out- hopefully tomorrow. We praise him for rainy days to enjoy, neighbors to share it with and the blessing of rain in abundance.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

God's forsight was seen today

For months I knew this day was to come. At the start I longed to deny its need, but alas the day came when the brick foundation wall had to come down to make room for repairs of rotted wood. Months have passed since then with the wall repaired and the bricks from the destruction cleaned of mortar.

Today was a true work day at our house. The boys worked on moving wood to new location for future pole barn building. My husband worked on closing in a side of the screen porch as it will soon become a 3 season room. My task was to begin to rebuild the brick wall that circles the house. In many homes it covers the cinderblocks. In ours it covers some of the foundation and then rises a bit more over the wood before the siding takes over to cover the exterior walls of the house.

As we mixed the mortar and I prepared for the job ahead I reflected upon how over 28 years ago the God of the universe looked forward in time and knew that I would need this skill. As I quickly set to work, with ease of knowing what the task ahead needed for tools, procedure and completion I marveled at how easy it was to lay a course of brick because it was a familiar skill, even after all these years.

Between my junior and senior year I spent the summer on a mission trip in Rioacha Colombia helping to construct a two room schoolhouse. At that time it was a huge step of faith as I was the girl in the family that longed for the inside jobs and cried as I worked hauling leaves and hating every moment of it. I recall standing by the cement mixing station, having finished mixing mortar and marveling that I was there and was there with joy- knowing it was a working of God in my life. That summer I laid brick, hauled sand and did any work asked, without tears or pity parties that I had at home. God had changed my heart.

Fast forward 28 years and I am again playing in the "mud"- laying bricks and finding joy in it. I thought of how gracious God was to prepare me for today all those years ago. How only He would know the skill needed today and the confidence that I would have to procede. How it would bless my husband to see me exhibit the skill and knowledge of the task, relieving him of it. I heard the pride in his voice as he spoke to a neighbor of the task. I thought of how I was living out Proverbs 31:17
"She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."

What a blessing that God would allow my arms to be strong for the task- recently I have had struggles with pulled muscles and pain in the tendons yet today I was able to lay 3 course of brick without struggle.

Often I think of how I expect to see God in the big things of life, not in the mud. Today I saw Him in the mud, in the joy of the moment prepared for in years passed. I thanked him for the training sessions in Colombia so I was ready in Toney. It made what could have been stressful and uncertain or costly (hiring a mason) a morning of joyful productiveness! Thank you Lord for strong arms. Thank you now for rest!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Life unexpected

This past month has been full of the unexpected- some good, some not so good, but all of it life in full color.

Saturday I noticed the plant upstairs needed watering, but decided to wait. Sunday morning I took it my unconsumed water- a blessing to the plant and possibly the lifespan of our house. What I met in the hall was a strange "electronic" smell that I was unable to find the source of. My husband soon investigated and we eventually found a battery charger, plugged in and in the midst of a meltdown- due to "regular" batteries. Had we gone to church without the trip upstairs I don't know what we would have come home to. I am thankful for the trip upstairs and a nose that works.

We made an unexpected trip to the North east-" home"-we had relatives who were ill and we realized it had been too long since we traveled there. The drive went well, the beauty of the eastern passageway one I had forgotten. Even Penn. roads were not as bumpy as I expected. I anticipated much discussion of politics and weather- the norm. Rather we saw and heard the bitterness of the lives lived as consequences for past choices came home. How sad and grievious it was to watch those you love walk through suffering that stemmed from a life without the Lord. How hard it was for me, how much harder it must be for God who longs to care for them yet they continue to walk in independence. I went with one expectation, I came away with new reality, a much sadder one, and no rose colored glasses to shield my heart from its reality.

My mom lives in a "cabin in the woods". I have always loved to go there, and each time I visit I enjoy it more. This past visit it was like a cool brook to my thirsty soul. I longed for peace and tranquilty, for rest after so much busy going. It delivered it again with cool green places, with the joy of a grandmother enjoying her grandson by sharing a game. Productive work that replaced occupation alone. We traveled and did a "tourist tour" which I was uncertain of but found it very enjoyable. We were able to picnic for lunch until the rain chased us to the cars. It was nice to share time and life with many family members and have some "girl time".

As June passed I found that I was slowly resting up from the busy season passed. As July comes it has an openness that is nice. I am finding time to make visits that have been put off. We start the day with a few hours of chores and tasks then have a slower pace. Our list of "to do's " has shrunk as soon a crew of men will decend and repair the outside of the house and rend it greatly "maintance free" so the fear of more wood rot will no longer be in the back of our mind. At this point we are in prep mode for the change- not a project we expected 2 years ago when we moved here but one we decided was wise to embark upon at this time to save future battles with house issues.

The garden is blossoming, the beans and squash are abundant. The tomatoes slow to ripen but soon will be overwhelming me with work. I have revisited a blackberry patch from last year, this years rains have brought plump berries so I was able to make jam for the first time with blackberries. I find that again I relive my childhood as July comes and I go out early to pick berries. Each morning it is fun to explore what is ready to pick for fresh enjoyment.

I never expected the life I live. I don't know if I had a vision of what my life would be, but it is in so many ways richer than I ever imagined. I am able to spend time with those I love, enjoy digging in the dirt- ha! what a change for the girl who once cried because she had to do outside work, now I often outwork my boys outside. It is a quieter summer with my daughter away, but even in that is good as I look down the road toward the days when she will be a phone call and letter away rather than a seat away at the table.