Next Door Blessings

lizard 2Around dusk, I ventured up the street to our neighbor’s house.  They are on vacation and we have been taking care of their lizard, fish, plants, mail, and newspapers.   We go up twice a day to feed the fish, water, collect newspapers and mail, and turn on/off the lizard’s lamp.  The lizard still has crickets hopping around so there is no need to feed him (or her, we don’t know) until he cleans his seven-day-old plate.  We love these neighbors.  I have known the husband since seventh-grade, but have really only had consistent interaction with him over the course of our decade in the neighborhood.  The recent interaction has made me wish I had branched out from my own group of friends in high school.  We love the way they live, the way they raise their kids, the way they have integrated their two different faiths, and the way they make you feel very important with every engagement.

Across the street from them is a retired couple who are also wonderful. They are Jewish.  The husband grew up as the son of a Rabbi.  There is a reason I mention their faith. It is Christmas Cookiepertinent and not just my attempt to convince you that I am open-minded.  In all of my adult years, they are the only neighbors who have ever brought us homemade – and decorated – Christmas cookies.  They frequently ask me about our church and our kids.  They are genuinely interested.

Across the street from us are recent transplants from Britain. They are very kind and respectful and join us in our skepticism of the local television weatherpersons when it comes tornado season.  They take refuge in our tornado shelter and, together, we attempt to estimate which of the broadcasters’ rants need to be taken seriously.  They are very smart. He is a physics professor at the local university. Regardless of actual intellect, however, all they have to do is begin speaking with their British accents and we automatically give them credit for great wisdom and discernment. It is like having sat in the living room with soccer goalMaggie Smith at Highclere Castle wondering for weeks afterwards if you were insulted or complimented.

On one side of our house, we have a neighbor with a huge soccer goal cemented in the front yard.  When we initially moved into our house, they invited our soccer-playing children over to use the net anytime.  I have always appreciated the eye-catching net for use as a landmark when giving directions to our house.  I don’t think the previous owner of our house liked the net, or these neighbors.  She repeatedly called the police when they attempted to cut the limbs from her old and gigantic tree which were resting on their vehicles.  The police would inform her that the neighbors were permitted to cut the limbs which were stretching over their property, but she continued to call and complain anyway.  During the first year living in our home, a devastating ice storm toppled that entire tree, causing a section of the trunk to fall and strategically land on three of their cars.  No insurance lawncovered the damage – ours nor theirs.  They never complained to us and have always been beyond gracious.

On our other side is a retired widow who has taught us the meaning of tenacity and determination.  She is always there to express concern and offer help.  She has admitted that one of her chief goals in life is to make me look bad, her strategy is to spend every day either re-mowing or perfecting her already perfect lawn.  Andrea, and the kids, often ask, “Why can’t our lawn look like that?” as we pull into our garage.  When the other trunk of our tree fell onto our roof, this neighbor climbed the ladder to our steep, and icy, roof to help me place a tarp over the holes caused by the fallen tree.

We are very blessed.

I often fail to recognize and appreciate the blessings we have on our street.  I often fail to look around and pay attention.  I often neglect to fathom these and so many other next door blessings.  I often let every nature of meaningless and trivial distractions keep me from seeing what is right in front of my eyes.

I am determined to pay better attention, I’m determined to see those blessings right next door….beginning today.

Paying Attention,

Rick

Canceling Church

trees in snow landscapeI did something yesterday that I would have scoffed at half a decade ago.  I cancelled church.  I sent out the email….

canstockphoto22576949No Worship Gathering Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Sunday, March 1, we will not gather for worship.  Even though I hate the idea of canceling our time together, a drive out to the church building convinced me it is the best decision.  While the main roads are sanded, the side roads, including 60th Ave. NW,  are still slick in most spots.  That combined with predictions of coming sleet confirm that the best place for all of us to be tomorrow morning is at home. Let’s all take a moment of personal worship, 10:30am tomorrow at home, and we will still be having corporate worship, only without the amazing coffee (no comments are welcome regarding my coffee)!   If you know of someone who does not regularly look at their email, give them a call and let them know to not drive out to the church tomorrow….however, do tell them to drive out next Sunday, March 8.

Be Safe,  Rick

In addition to the email, I sent out a text, posted it on the ‘closings’ feed on each local television stations, changed the outgoing phone message and finally put a sign on the church building door.  A great thing about having a small church is that it is easy to feel confident that you have contacted everyone.

For the remainder of my Saturday I lost at high stakes games of Monopoly and Risk with my kids, and called/lectured my kids that are away at college about the value of being safe when considering driving on the icy roads.

The entire day I comfortably rested in my decision to cancel church.

Four years ago I cancelled a Sunday gathering for the first time and it was anguishing.  I refused to make a call on Saturday, even though the weather made it obvious.  On Sunday morning I drove out to the church building at the edge of town to convince myself that canceling was the right decision, and then I paced the floors.  Our music team even showed up at the building before I finally decided, after hearing their harrowing driving experiences, I knew that I had to cancel our worship gathering.   Still, I worried, I worried what our church people would think, if the community would criticize, I worried that other pastors would judge, I worried it would make me look like a wimp.  Finally, my wife pointed out that the people that would still get in their cars and drive on the dangerous roads to the church building were our older folks who did not need to be on the road or sidewalks.

Still, in the years since, I have been hesitant to cancel church.  I watch the news feed to see if other churches are canceling in an attempt to justify my decision.  Still, I pace the floors and anguished over the decision.

This year was different, this year I made a quick decision, largely thanks to Ms. Barbara.

Ms. Barbara is a perfectly behaved senior adult in our church.  She endured a liver transplant and is still around over fifteen years beyond the medical community’s predictions of life expectancy.  She has diabetes, and countless other medical conditions and diagnosis.  She is known to my kids as the woman with the exploding toe; I won’t go into details except to say that the toe is not her only casualty to diabetes.  She is also the most polite and respectful person I have ever known.  She is always perfectly behaved and respectful to all.  I have a difficult time checking in on her because she always wants to know about my family when I am attempting to find out about her.  She is just that type of person.

Actually, she is perfectly behaved until she is a bit doped up in the hospital, especially days within a special hospital procedure.  She has had a lot of special procedures over the years I have been her pastor.  I love visiting Ms. Barbara within the pain medicine time period. During pain medicine time she is the person I always wish I could be.  The person that can say anything and get away with it.

On a hospital ststanwyckay years ago I told her that she was truly a ‘tough old broad’ in the example of Barbara Stanwyck.  She laughed.

On her most recent hospital stay I visited her room on Friday.  I got to her room at a moment of true chaos.  The weather was getting bad just as the meteorologists had predicted, and she had just finished her physical therapy following surgery after a very serious fall.  The nurse was on the phone with Ms. Barbara’s daughter attempting to explain the current situation while trying to get an oxygen count.  During all of this, Ms. Barbara noticed that her IV had come out and something was flowing out of her arm.  Everything was loud and busy.  However, not too busy for Ms. Barbara to yell at me as I walked into the door that I should not be out in this weather and that I need to cancel church for the coming Sunday.

“We have too many old people like me and they do not need to be out on the roads,” she yelled.

I stuck around for the chaos and as I left, after the nurse had loaded warm blankets on Ms. Barbara in an attempt to get an oxygen count, I was lectured again. Even as I was walking out the door she was still yelling that I needed to ‘cancel church.’

She was right and, as I drove away, I knew that I had to cancel our gathering on Sunday.  I had to because it was not about me, snow bridgeit was not about what others would think or how they could judge.  It was, and is, about what is best for the church, the people that are the church.  It was best that we all stayed home.

I didn’t need to pace anymore, I just had to keep my focus on what is right.

Stay Safe and Keep Focused, Rick