Who’s My Neighbor? (Part 2)
… [Wanting] to justify himself … [Expert] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29–NIV).
Our next door neighbor is moving. Anyone want to be our neighbor? Come and check it out. I sure hope someone we like moves in! You can fix your house, but you can’t choose your neighbors and they can make all the difference in your lived experience (written by Cousin Donna–August 23, 2020).
We’ve likely all had them. At least, I hope we have. Those good neighbors whose presence makes us happy, whose absence makes us sad. Those salt-of-the-earth folks who are always willing to share a cup of flour or swap a recipe, mend a fence (literally, as well as figuratively) and fix a fractured relationship.
I’ve been blessed to have had quite a few in my nearly fifty-one years. Such people make a difference, have left an indelible mark. I’ve even blogged about some of those more recent “good neighbors”–some of the folks right here in the White Oak Community where our family has walked and lived for nearly two decades.
Growing up, our next-door neighbors were the Hardenbrooks. Reynold and Joyce raised a brood of half a dozen just outside our rural Ohio town. Their older children I didn’t know well, especially the two that happened to be boys. One of the older daughters often played guitar and taught my sister Katie and me songs of friendship, like this one about a dragon and a boy by Peter, Paul, and Mary.
Listening to her play and sing while sitting cross-legged on the family’s porch swing, her sisters joining in, taught me more about the harmony of life than she may ever know, and her melodic influence helped shape me.
Once, when I was only four or five, I stood up on that same porch swing, captivated by a caterpillar that inched its way across the cracked concrete. Leaning back for a better look, the swing tipped, and my head, too, cracked–leaving me with a concussion and a scar that tells the story.
One of the Hardenbrook sisters carried me the short, grassy distance home where I was placed in bed and given Tylenol by my worried mama, who offered many thanks to our “Good Samaritan” who’d taken the time to make certain I’d survive the ordeal.
And then there was that other “quarantine season” of my life. On the first day of summer vacation between my 5th and 6th grade years, while attending a slumber party at a friend’s, small red, itchy bumps manifested themselves upon my feverish, achy body. I was sent promptly home where Doctor Daddy diagnosed me with chicken pox. (There wasn’t yet a vaccine for that highly infectious illness either!)
For the next week, I was a hostage at home–coated daily from head to toe with a mixture of Vick’s VapoRub and cornstarch. Though the paste helped with the itching, it left me with that cold-chill menthol sensation and warranted being wrapped in a blanket and set in sunshine, even on a blistery hot and humid June day.
Because I was sick, I was unable to attend Amy Hardenbook’s wedding reception. The backyard fanfare felt like salt in my wound, a reminder of the fun I was missing. Thus, my good neighbor and her handsome groom, whom Katie and I called “Mr. Bob,” came to us–though they practiced proper social distancing, of course. (They did have a honeymoon to get to, after all!) Because we couldn’t dress up and gather with others on Amy’s lawn, we had our picture taken “quarantine” style–perching on our television antenna, the happy bride and groom posing in the foreground.
And then there was Jenny–the youngest of the Hardenbrook clan and my first ever best girlfriend. Only two years older than me, which was nothing at five and seven, we played endlessly in her backyard or mine, wearing a path between the two. She taught me more about the love of basketball, Velveeta cheese sandwiches, and Tang orange powder sprinkled over vanilla ice cream. We shared secrets, climbed trees, and generally shared the ins and outs of life as next-door neighbors for nearly fifteen years.
Once, her pet parakeet flew away, and a broken-hearted Jenny received encouragement from kind Katie. After receiving a scrape from a fall in the driveway, Jenny’s mama Joyce applied Merthiolate from a Johnson & Johnson first-aid kit they kept handy. Although a doctor’s daughter, I’d never seen this runny, red topical treatment, which came in a mysterious dark vile and was applied with a glass dropper. (To say I was fascinated is an understatement!) And that same “Doctor” came to the aid of 10-year old Jenny’s daddy when he suffered a heart attack and required emergency medical assistance.
Jenny wrote to me recently-
I think my dad’s heart attack was pretty bad, and if your dad hadn’t been right next door, I wonder what would’ve happened. We were very blessed to have your family living next to us.
On other occasions, especially as we grew older, the wounds couldn’t so much be seen. Rather, they were matters of the heart, where the best “balm” were kind words or even empathetic silence. Plenty of times Jenny and I lamented about the emotional chaos caused by opposite sex classmates–bearing one another’s burdens and lightening each other’s load.
Jenny invited me to vacation Bible school at her small church in a neighboring town, and I invited her to ours. There we sang Jesus songs with gusto and learned Bible stories that made a difference.
Stories, no doubt, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
I’ve been pondering this notion a lot lately, asking–like the expert of the Law in Luke’s passage–
Who’s my neighbor?
And while I know there’s much that Jesus meant when he told the story of a wounded man and others’ attitudes toward him (vv. 30-35)–a parable intended to be a timeless lesson for us all–maybe it starts with reflecting on some of those early “good neighbors” in one’s own life.
In truth, while Expert’s initial question had to do with how one might inherit eternal life (v.25), Jesus’ manner of doing things–his “get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter” methodology–was to bring to light not only how to earn eternity in Heaven but how one might truly live here. Now. Because, by living in this manner, one’s not only blessed with the promise of peace (despite the reality of earthy anxieties–Phil. 4:6-7) and joy (despite true heartache here–Ps. 30:5, 11-12), but he or she is blessed to be a blessing, as well. Hence, a healing balm in the lives of others prior to Heaven’s perfection.
And let’s be honest. So much of how we learn to live has to do with those who’ve influenced us along life’s well-worn paths–for both the good and maybe even the bad.
And Jenny, as well as her family–their friendship–were a balm in my life in many ways, for many years.
And maybe, just maybe, we were such in theirs.
As I ponder my cousin Donna’s words–the ones about hoping for a neighbor to replace the one who, because she was good, caused lament upon her leaving–I’m reminded of something from long ago.
As I said: Sometimes folks leave an indelible mark ...
Like the first time I met the Hardenbrooks and, in particular, a true friend named Jenny.
I was three, and my family had just moved to McMaken Road. My dad asked me to go with him, that we might introduce ourselves to our new neighbors.
Warmly, they invited us in and welcomed us to sit at their table. Though I don’t remember who all gathered that summer morning, only moments after we’d been offered chairs, a shy and sleepy-eyed Jenny, clutching tightly to a stuffed mouse wearing red corduroy overalls, rounded the corner of the kitchen.
“Jen, meet your new neighbor,” her sweet mama said, nodding toward an equally shy Maureen.
5-year old Jenny managed a smile, and that was that–because, so often …
That’s all it takes.
CHALLENGE: Read the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Ponder some of the neighbors you’ve had in your lifetime. How did they influence you–for the good? For the bad? Regardless, thank the Lord for each of them, and commit to apply the lessons they’ve taught you to those to whom you’re called to be a “Good Samaritan.” If there are fences to mend, do so. If you feel the tug to reach out, if only to say ‘Thank you!’–Do it!
As my wise cousin so aptly said–
[Neighbors] can make all the difference in your lived experience.
Dear Jesus, help me be a good neighbor to everyone–seeking not to hurt or take advantage of others like the robbers, nor feel pious or wary toward the hurting like the religious leaders. Rather, help me see the wounded with compassion and love, even if her injuries aren’t obvious with the eye or his pain appears too big to be bandaged. You are the balm that heals, Jesus. Please–give me more of You!