Numbering our days

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." - Psalm 90:12


That's the number of days Clint and I have been married. Thanks to a handy application on Clint's iPod, I can figure out the number of days I've been married, the number of days I've been alive, or the number of days my children have been graced with life when there have been times I've wanted to bring them to a quick end!

But thinking about all those numbers, the verse from the Psalms popped into my mind. "Teach us to number our days....". I'm sure the Psalmist was not talking in a literal sense, but rather figuratively. Why? I think there are several reasons:

1. Because we need to realize the brevity of life. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 39, "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath." Open your palm and breath out onto it. That is the length of our life in God's eyes. Wild to consider, isn't it? Yet we think we have all the time in the world to do the things we dream, want, and desire.
2. Because we need to learn to make the most of our brevity. When we realize the short span of our lives and purpose to make the most of it, then we gain the heart of wisdom the Psalmist is referring. Who wants to waste their life on foolish things? If we spend our lives piling up material possessions, trying to accomplish things that are not meant for us, or living selfishly, we have lived life in vain, foolishly. Paul exhorts us in Ephesians that that is not how we should spend our time. He says, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise (foolish) but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (5:15-16).
3. Because we need to be people of purpose. Someone who is diagnosed with a terminal illness does not leave the doctor's office and return to work. They go home and begin living out the last of their days loving on their family, spending time with them, and enjoying and doing those things they never took the time to do before with what time they have left. Why do we wait for the end to start living? We need to spend each day we are given purposefully living out our priorities in life. How do we do this? Colossians 3:2 offers some help, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."

This is not meant to be a morbid post, but one that just makes us stop and think for a minute. Is there something you have always wanted to do, but have put it off thinking there will be time for it later? Maybe the time is now. None of us is promised a tomorrow, but we can promise ourselves to make the most of today.

Will you?

Love Your Neighbor

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"Love your neighbor as yourself." - Leviticus 19:18

"Lord, who is my neighbor?" - Luke 10:29

Who is my neighbor? Good question. I honestly didn't know who my neighbors were until a few days ago. That was when my neighbor across the street decided to introduce herself to me...

Kayley and I were pulling into our driveway last Tuesday evening and the garbage bin was blocking my space. I asked Kayley to get out and move it so I could pull in, and being the gracious daughter that she is said, "I'd be delighted to Mother!" and jumped out of the car. Not. Rolling her eyes at me and sighing deeply, she got out of the car and trudged over to the bin. A few seconds later, I heard a loud voice. I looked to my left and noticed my "neighbor" unloading her groceries and speaking to Kayley rather harshly. I know my daughter is not perfect, but there is nothing she could have done in those few seconds outside the car to cause such an outburst from this lady. I pulled my car in the driveway and decided to find out what was going on.

Trying to be cordial, I walked towards my neighbor and said, "Excuse me?" I guess that was not cordial in her book because she stomped over and began yelling, I mean YELLING, at me. In German. When she stopped to breathe, I asked her to speak in English. Then she continued her tirade, telling me how rude we were, that we had lived her for so many months and never came over to her and introduced ourselves, how we never made eye contact, or even attempted to be neighborly. I honestly did not know what to say since I was taken aback by this verbal rampage, but it really didn't matter because she wasn't about to let me talk. She had something to get off her chest and she wasn't stopping until she had it all off.

When I was finally able to get a word in I told her that I was sorry, but we don't speak German and were therefore limited in our communication. Well that ticked her off even more. She screamed, "ALL Germans speak English!" Wrong thing to say to me! After struggling in this country for 10 months with language issues, I knew that wasn't true and I retorted, "Oh no you did-n't!" (Okay not really, but it would have been funny to say). But I did respond, "You may know how to speak English but you choose not to. How am I to know whether you can speak it or not?" She didn't like that answer either and shouted that language shouldn't matter and for all she cared we could just "go to H---", and then she walked off.

Lovely -- I'll make sure to thank the neighborhood association for this welcoming party!

As she slammed her front door on us, I just looked at Kayley and she looked at me and we turned and went inside, anxious to share with Clint what had just happened. After we told him, he was just as shocked as we were. We could not figure out what set this lady off and we didn't understand why she chose now to express her feelings. Plus we were at a cultural crossroads. In America, when someone new moves in, it's the neighbors who come over and introduce themselves and welcome you to the neighborhood. Perhaps in Germany the culture was different? Yet, how were we to know that and how could we explain and justify that to her?

But after dinner, that's exactly what Clint decided to do. He put on his boots and announced that he was going over there to talk to her and explain the misunderstanding between us and our cultures. I heard what he was saying, but I just couldn't believe it -- he was going over there to apologize to her! If anyone should be apologizing it should be her. I didn't do anything wrong! I was the one who was verbally attacked! It didn't matter what I thought though, my husband the peacemaker walked out the door and crossed the street.

The girls wanted to know all that was being said, so they spied from the balcony. We could hear their voices but didn't know the exact details of the conversation. A few minutes later, Clint returned. "We're having tea at their house tomorrow to discuss this," he said. Excuse me? What is there to discuss? She yelled at me for no reason and now I have to go to her house and discuss this? Who decided this? Obviously, she did.


I spent the next day trying to pray and asking God to help me extend grace to this woman. No one has ever really yelled at me like that and I was having a hard time getting over it. Plus I kept wondering if maybe she was right. Had I been rude? Should I have made more effort? Maybe I needed to look at this from her point of view, instead of stewing in my own hurt feelings. Regardless of who was right and who was wrong, I knew I couldn't live with hard feelings against this woman, my neighbor.

The Bible says that we should do our neighbor no wrong (Psalm 15:3), that he who despises his neighbor sins (Proverbs 14:21), and that we should make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19). It was there in black and white and I couldn't ignore it. And although I was thinking of neighbor in terms of one who lives nearby, maybe God was trying to remind me and show me that neighbor can mean anyone I come in contact with. Perhaps my "literal" neighbor was just the starting point. I decided I had to be the bigger person and take the high road. Or God's road, so to speak. So I did -- I made brownies and we rang her doorbell at 7.30 that evening.

Much to our surprise, she wasn't home! Her husband came to the door and in his broken English explained that she wouldn't be home for another hour. Clint and I tried to talk with him for a little while, but we could tell that he was struggling to find the right words so we told him we would try to get together another evening and to enjoy the brownies. When we returned home, I couldn't figure out why it all turned out like it did, but I knew that the important thing was we were obedient to what God's word directed us to do. That's all we can do.

Funny thing is, the next morning as Clint was leaving for work our neighbor was getting into her car and eating a brownie! In her defense, she did leave a note in our mailbox saying she was sorry she missed us, but that weekday evenings didn't work for her and she would try to come over on the weekend.

We have yet to see her, or my plate.

I don't know why all this happened and played out like it did. It all seems strange to me. Why yell at someone, invite them over, not be there, then eat their offering and never show up again?



Or maybe just a lesson in loving your neighbor that we all need from time to time.