“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” – John 6:66
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – Winnie the Pooh
A portion of this blog post has been tucked away on a tab on my computer screen since Oct. 30. I have written, edited, re-written and abandoned two drafts. I have re-titled it and tweaked it and scratched my head in frustration about the content, and yet the inspiration for the above didn’t come with any pre-packaged, words-flowing-out-of-my-keyboard sort of way. In the year and a half since I started Sparks Through Stubble, I was kind of…stuck, like a Pooh bear in the hollow of a tree. So I sat, and I thought about it from time to time, and I looked at the two very different quotes above, and I waited for the Holy Spirit to tell me what I needed to know. And He finally spoke up.
In the last week, I have had the opportunity to reflect quite a bit on my past life. All the way back to my childhood. Things I did, things I should have done, and things I could have done differently, too.
I was reminded of a woman who lived a few doors down from our house and a short time that I spent working for her after school. I was probably ten or maybe 12 years old when my mother volunteered my scant housekeeping skills to this woman, whose husband was away from home on his job, and who had some physical limitations that kept her bound to her recliner most of the day. I think I was paid 50 cents to be there after school daily to wash dishes, dump trash, fold laundry and do some light dusting and cleaning for her.
Things started out fine, and I was generally home by 5:00 p.m. – but as the days went by, the lady started asking more of me. Could I help her get some things started for dinner? Chop some vegetables and make a dinner salad? Yes, I could do that. Could I perhaps help her sort through her mail and make a list of what bills needed to be paid, and then maybe, if it wasn’t too much to ask, could I sweep the leaves off the front doorstep to tidy it up? Yes, I could do that, too. It didn’t take long before my 5:00 p.m. departure became 5:30 p.m. and then 6:00 p.m…and annoyance began to set in. Just as I was gathering up my things to leave, she would find one more thing that needed to be done. Could I sift through the pile of magazines on the floor and organize them a bit better? Could I throw in the next load of laundry so it could be washed by tomorrow? Could I dust off the television and wipe down the kitchen stove? Yes, yes and yes, I could do all of that – but my attitude was beginning to sour quickly.
By the end of the next week, I was resentful. I started inventing reasons I needed to leave right at 5 o’clock, and then I started making excuses about why I couldn’t stop by after school until at least 4:00 p.m. Homework, tests, other chores, a church or club activity, a date with a friend…soon, I told this woman that I could come every other day, and soon that turned into every third day, or maybe once a week. And then I told my mother, who started asking about my time commitment and lack of interest in the task, that I didn’t want to go two doors down anymore at all.
My mom looked at me thoughtfully and asked “why?” and I complained at length about being taken advantage of, that she didn’t pay me more, but yet there was always one more thing to be done, that there was always one last conversation with this woman as I was trying to put on my coat and head out the door. It was taking too much time. It was too costly for me, I felt, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. My mom listened and took it all in, and then after a minute she said:
“You know, the housework isn’t the real reason you’re there. She is lonely, and you being there gives her a little bit of company – a bright spot in her day. She finds things for you to do, because she enjoys having someone visit her. Someone to simply talk to.”
In a perfect world, I would have answered something like “Oh! Well that makes all the difference then!” and become fast friends with this woman two doors down. I would have written her letters and sent small gifts at Christmas time, and probably even taken my children to see her when I married and as she grew older.
No. None of that happened. I don’t recall exactly what I said to my mom that day, but it wasn’t affirmative and it certainly wasn’t Christ-like. I was done. Kaput. Not going back. Had better things to do. So, my mom, being the gracious woman that she was, went two doors down and relayed to the neighbor (when it should have been ME) that I wouldn’t be coming over any more. Beyond that, I don’t know what words they exchanged. From that day on, I did my best to avoid eye contact with this lady anytime I was out and about in the yard and saw her from a distance. Several years later, after I had moved away from home, I asked about her and was told she had passed away. I didn’t even know.
I share that story because I needed to do that, for myself. It’s easy to recreate what really happened, or, soften the edges of our memory with a shaded pencil and think that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I didn’t act like that. But I did. In and of itself, the above story is just one example of the many times that I have fallen short of behaving like a daughter of the King – one who is called upon to lift others up, ready to serve others, willing to feed the poor in spirit. Missed opportunities to share the love of Christ and show it to others who cross my path. Overlooked possibilities to practice humility, patience, charity and kindness.
But wait, there’s more.
Thinking back on this exchange today with my Mom, I recalled all of the times that my mother would bundle us children up to go visit someone who was elderly, infirmed, had lost a loved one…someone who would simply enjoy a visit, and someone to talk to. Most often, I recall Christmas visits to neighbors and friends across town, but in thinking about it, I know there were many Sunday afternoons spent visiting others, too. If it was Christmas time, there was always a plate of cookies involved, which was a delightful task as a child – helping Mom bake them, adding frosting and sprinkles, carefully wrapping the festive plastic plate with clear wrap and taping on a bright red bow tucked up against a hand-printed name tag. Propping them up in boxes in the back of our station wagon as we departed the house. Spilling out of the car and up snowy steps while carrying that plate proudly into the house we were visiting. Cookies! Crumbly, buttery, smashed frosting, sprinkles-falling-onto-the-floor cookies. Such a simple thing. A humble gesture of friendship. And a reason to visit someone who needed a hug, or a kind word, or just someone to talk to.
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
Winnie the Pooh got it right when he said that. He would have been more likely to offer up a honey pot than a plate of cookies, but he would have been quick to make the offer (and accept a cookie.) And Pooh was always one to be moving around outside his comfort zone with Christopher Robin and the friends of the Hundred Acre Wood.
Christ urged his disciples to step outside their comfort zone, too. They weren’t carrying plates of cookies, but something far more important and urgent – the message that the Messiah was here, and He was moving among us. Come see, they told the crowds. Come see and believe.
Christ didn’t wait though. He came to the crowds. The poor, the oppressed, the house of Mary and Martha, the tomb of Lazarus. Offering food to the hungry, blessings to the little children, living water to the woman at the well, forgiveness and mercy to the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery…the list goes on and on. The Bible tells us that there are so many stories of Christ’s mercy and actions during His short time of ministry here on earth, that they couldn’t possibly all be written down. In my youth, here I was complaining about an hour a day at the neighbor’s house taking too much of my time. That it was too costly. Yet Christ paid the ultimate price for my sins with His life, and made every minute count in the days leading up to the Cross. Seeking out others. Reaching out to those around Him. Always giving of Himself.
What is the true cost of doing the right thing when it’s measured against the yardstick of your life? I can’t go back and re-write that story with the woman two doors down. I have many more where that came from. I can only ask the Lord for forgiveness, for the opportunity to see what the Holy Spirit needs me to see at this point in my life, and resolve to do better. To be in the scriptures, reading about the life of our Savior, and model my life after Christ. There is no one else I can turn to. Jesus is the one who has the words of everlasting life, and he challenges me to look at old issues and sins and places I’ve fallen down while trying to live a holier life, and to concentrate not on what’s behind me, but the road in front of me. To live in the present moment, and make better choices.
And that brings me back at the end of this long-overdue post to the chubby, hug-gable golden-colored bear who loves his honey pots a bit too much, and loves his friends even more. Winnie the Pooh has taught me a lot about how to live life, too. He had a way of looking at his present situation through a honey-coated lens – not because he was daft but because that one thing was consistent in his life (there was honey, and he was often hungry) so it was what he knew. And thus it was his gauge for his surroundings, as he tells Christopher Robin on a warm summer day in the House on Pooh Corner:
“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”
“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best-” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have; and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying, ‘Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.”
What do you like best in the whole world? It’s pretty simple for Pooh here; he had honey, and friends. We have friends, and we know how to bake cookies (or buy them at the local bakery, don’t be intimidated by your baking skills – substitute! improvise!) Take time this holiday season to carry your favorite little bit of something to someone who needs it – even if they might not know it at the time. Share with them the everlasting words of life and tell them you’re praying for them. Invite them to attend Christmas services with you. Make it a hummy sort of day for them, and you’ll be blessed too.
Have a wonderful, peaceful Advent, friends.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta