Monday, September 8, 2014

Love Your Neighbor

We had a little adventure the other week where two (or three) stories collided:

Story 1: We live in a neighborhood with 100's of homes, and have been trying to be a little more assertive meeting and getting to know our neighbors. It's hard because most of the time we are home, we are exhausted and interested in quiet, uninterrupted family time. None-the-less, we believe that we should have an impact in our neighborhood and that we should tangibly "love" our neighbors. There's a particular house on the next street over that I have taken note of for years. Perhaps it's strange, but I know who the woman is who lives there - I've seen her family members (people I know) coming and going and have put two and two together. I've also observed her as I've driven by the past several years - her bumper stickers, her aesthetic tastes - and thought, "she seems like a phenomenally interesting person, and I should totally stop and introduce myself to her". But I've kept walking, or running, or driving by, and I still had not met her. One recent Tuesday, I was out to lunch with some co-workers and there she was - at least I was 95% sure it was her. We made eye contact, and I did the "do you recognize me?" eye-brow lift. She clearly did not, so I didn't risk embarrassing myself making an introduction in case it wasn't her.

Story 2: That same Tuesday, after a long day at work and a short dinner break at home, I was preparing for a wedding-planning meeting with a couple who I had been counseling. They were scheduled to arrive at our home in about 10 minutes. As I relaxed upstairs for a few minutes, casually perusing the daily Facebook fodder, I noticed it was National Dog Day or something similarly ridiculous. I thought, I'll join the mayhem and posted a lovely post about my pup, Prada. I stated that she was a wonderful dog, hardly causing any trouble for anyone as she spends a good 22 hours a day sleeping! In a hilarious twist of irony, at the same moment my post was arriving on the world wide web, my dog was running out our front door, as the couple arrived. We live in a "must have leash" homeowners association, so our dog doesn't know what to do if she's not on a leash...and she split! No looking back! She just followed her nose and was off on her joy run!

We checked the houses she typically visits when she runs away, but saw no signs of her, so with great shame, I hopped in my car and started the awkward creeper drive around the 'hood to look for signs of her. Fast-forward. I was making my second loop and returning to my home, dogless and unsure of what to do. As I crested the hill, there she was, on a leash, held by none other than the neighbor I mentioned in Story 1. I couldn't believe it. I stopped my car and the further-awkwardness ensued.

First, I introduced myself and said, "this may sound terribly odd, but I think we ate lunch at the same restaurant today...and also, I know who you are...and also, I've been wanting to meet you for several years!" She laughed (thankfully) and I further explained my comments. After that brief exchange, she explained to me how my dog ended up on her leash. It turns out that she is a self-proclaimed cat lady. She takes care of making sure the lingering neighborhood felines are fixed and fed. Her elderly mother lives with her, and she had just explained to her mother that she was going to go let one of the cats in the house. As she opened the door, MY DOG ran in their house instead, still following her nose and heading straight for the dish of cat food, which she quickly inhaled. The mother said "well that's not a cat"!

We ended up connecting on Facebook after the entire incident, where my new acquaintance gave me her contact information and suggested that we meet at that restaurant for lunch sometime. I think I'll arrange that very soon!

As I re-tell the stories, I can't help but laugh. But I am also reminded of my need to be more pro-active in getting to know the people I come in contact with on a daily basis. If I say I believe Jesus is who he says he is (and I do), then I MUST - as a primary priority - care about every person around me. "Saving" them is not my responsibility. Loving them is. I need to be better about reaching out a friendly hand. Or maybe I just need to let my dog loose more often...

What about you: Who do you "pass by" every day? Do you need to stop and introduce yourself? Do you realize that any/every interaction you have with someone may be their only exposure to God - as He shines through you? How do you show that you prioritize the commands and example of Jesus to love your neighbor? Your brothers and sisters in Christ? Your enemies?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What's that smell?

On Fridays and Saturdays, I head out to a old railway-bed-turned-running-trail to "run". It's my treat to run there on the shaded, flat, peaceful trail compared to dodging school buses and angry morning school traffic around our hilly neighborhood the rest of the week. Because I'm not much of a runner, but merely a "runner", I become quite the heavy breather at times. I'm always a little embarrassed when I pass someone I know on the trail because instead of smoothly saying hello it usually comes out like more of a cough or spit as I gasp for breath. Okay, I'm not that bad. But I do breath heavy enough through all orifices that take in air to notice many distinct smells.

Muggy days are especially interesting. In addition to the freshly cut tobacco in the field next to the trail, and the freshly paved parking lot at the adjacent sports facility, you can smell the baking "road apples" from the horses who walk the trail, as well as the cows chilling in the field along another section. There are distinct smells in distinct locations. The worst is a chicken barn after crossing the first roadway. That's the section where your drive is tested as each breath of putrid fowl-ness (get it?) seems to steal more oxygen.

One very strange thing I have noticed, however, is how pleasant most of the people I pass smell. Strange, right? I don't know if people perfume up before they run, or if they have some Old Spice body wash action going on, but you inevitably get that windy waft when you pass them by. And when you're huffing like me, you can't avoid a whiff. Today I wondered how awful the whiff I'm wafting must be...maybe that's why people shower before they run...common courtesy?

It got me thinking about the aroma that I'm wafting in a spiritual sense. The word aroma appears a lot in the Old Testament, typically connected to the system of sacrifices that produced an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Things change with the New Covenant as Christ fulfilled the Law and instead of the system of animal sacrifices, we instead become living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). Instead of burnt animals, vegetables, or grain, our lives should produce an aroma; an aroma that is pleasing to the Lord, and an aroma that captures the attentions of others breathing in the air around us (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

What are you wafting? What whiff are those around you getting? Is your life producing an aroma that is pleasing to the Lord? Are people blessed by the aroma your life is producing, or are they gasping for air and wishing they had taken a different route around you?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Get it RIGHT!

Tomorrow, the mechanical tech will visit for the third time - maybe THIS time he'll get it right and fix our air conditioning. I still haven't figured out why I'm responsible to pay for something that he has yet to actually fix.

As I wait for the cool evening air to replace the stagnant, sticky air of the day, I can't help but recognize the first-worldness of my discomfort. How quickly I can complain about a lost luxury, forgetting that it's just that. A luxury.

I know people personally - I have friends who aren't confident they will be able to feed their children tomorrow; who are praying that they won't get sick because they have no access to healthcare; who will spend a massive amount of energy to retrieve a tiny bit of fresh water miles from home today. But I'm feeling 'hot'! Poor me!

I don't know why God chose my birth place, but I know that there is a great responsibility that comes with the bounty of these circumstances. It's not my place to determine anyone else's convictions, but I'm trying to live more simply, to be more aware of the plight of the poor and destitute in my community and in the world, and to give and serve in ways that help them. I guess I'm saying that I'm thankful for the occasional discomfort.

What about you? What's your latest complaint? A lost luxury? Or something a little more "relevant"? How's your gratitude? What are you doing with your bounty? Should you give up something today to help someone else?

Philippians 2:14 - "Don't grumble...ever" (DK version)