Friday, April 25, 2008

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

If you have ever read the little blurb on my profile you will know that I am an idealist struggling to live out my values. I am terribly excited to be a wife and mother. Its funny, my husband keeps on looking at me and asking "When are you going to snap? I think of you as my splatter paint personalitied, hippy wife but now you have a Fly Lady journal, you keep the house clean and you're content to be a stay at home mom!" I realized today that being a stay at home mom in today's culture seems like the hippy thing to me! In today's women's lib culture this way of life is RADICAL, COUNTER CULTURAL, and something deep in me rejoices. I feel in a tiny way that I am connecting to the strong, adventurous women of our countries pioneering past who had to grow their own food, can things, sew their clothes, make their cleaning supplies, make all of their food from scratch, live on a dime. They all worked, and worked hard, but they weren't usually working outside of the home. Today so many people think of a stay at home mom either as an unintelligent, unmotivated, and unsophisticated mess, OR, as a snooty, country clubbing, latte drinking, (perhaps even husband hopping?) spoiled human being who contributes in no way to society. But, once someone has committed to many of the ideals espoused on my blog and others similar (natural living, healthy eating, frugality, simplicity, generosity, etc.) neither of those remain options. In reality this community of stay at home moms tend to be empowered and informed, creative, industrious and compassionate women.
Wooohhh... ok, time to get off my soap box. Sorry.
I love being a stay at home mom, but I don't want to become insular, ignoring my "neighbor" in need because I am so engrossed in my own family. Recently I applied to volunteer with a local ministry to refugees but something got stuck in the wheel and the process moved very slowly. In that time it hit me that my "neighbor" in need, can be my ... drum roll please... neighbor! Who of us live in places where no one around us could use help financially or emotionally or in some other way? Why don't we start by caring for those directly around us? I'm not saying that we should only do that as I am aware that there are some people in the world who probably would not end up getting cared for properly in that system since some whole countries are in deep need. But still, it is a good place to start.
Since my husband and I have chosen to keep our housing costs as low as possible right now we are in an apartment building where many of the people are below the poverty line and on some sort of government assistance. We realized that when our next door neighbor generously offered to take us to all the local food pantries etc. obviously assuming that we would need it. She taught us about generosity by giving us all of her son's outgrown clothes. I recognized some ugly pride in myself when it was very hard to accept them from her. A little voice in me wanted to shout, "No, I'm WELL OFF, I'm choosing this life right now, it hasn't been forced on me. I should help you, not the other way around!" That moment humbled me as I realized how far I still need to go in becoming a true servant (quite, quite, far really, just ask my husband, or my son once he learns to speak in sentences!) I have in turn had many chances to return her kindness; filling up a gas tank for her when they were out of money in between pay days, taking her son to school when their car was broken or she was out of town helping a friend who was having custody problems with her child, and trying in my broken and stumbling way to explain to her that Christ was the reason for my actions. I have no idea if she was able to understand me, or if she cared, but I am glad that I said it. Especially now that she was just arrested for drug use (turned in by her husband) and her kids were taken away. We don't really understand whats going on there, but need to figure out how to help.
Our informer was another neighbor we have recently met. A round little African American girl who showed up at my door the other day to borrow some milk to make her macaroni. She then asked "If it wasn't too much trouble could she come in and look around?" and then "My mom doesn't get her government check until the end of the week. Could I have some change to go across the street and get some snacks from the vending machine for school tomorrow?" I gave her the change but then asked her if she couldn't possibly get something healthier for her snack. She said, "Well, I get chips, they're healthy right?" When I shook my head she asked, "Should I get HoneyBuns? Would they be healthier?" I sighed and smiled and doled out some of our precious fruit for her snack. I then made a decision. I asked her if she would like to come over a few times a week to help out a bit with my chores and watching my son in exchange for healthy snacks, ( I thought it might be good for her character and her pride to have to work a bit for her food.) She's lonely and jumped at the chance and we have now been doing that every day this week. Yesterday she helped me make soup for dinner (she loves to cook) and took out my trash. In return she got two clementines and celery sticks with all natural peanut butter. Her mom also stopped by during the day for some cinnamon so I got to talk to her for about half an hour after giving her our extra jars of spices that we were given by my grandparents. She talked about her church downtown and her desire to have her daughter take music lessons. She ranted about her ex-husband who wasn't sending child support and the government who only sent $224 in food stamps every month. She wondered if I could take her daughter to her saxophone lessons across town once a week.
All of this has led me to ask more questions and work through more heart issues. The hard thing about giving to neighbors is that you can't "leave them at the door" like you could with other ministries. You go home to them every night. They can knock on your door and ask for more at any time. I am learning to give more, but I am also learning boundaries. Yes, if I have two of something and you are in need I will give my extra. (But, why is she in need when we make do with a $160 monthly food budget (and that's with a 25% increase in the past few months), and she gets $65 more dollars a month for a family the same size?) Yes, you are lonely. You can come spend time with us in the afternoons and "help out." But, no, you can't stay all afternoon, we need some alone time. And yes I do now lock my doors since I know people around me know we have a MacBook etc, when before I didn't lock them. Is that wrong? should I trust more?
I don't know.
I am sorry that this was such a long post, but I have a lot going through my head that I wanted to share. Does anyone have any advice for me? I know Christ says I am to "Love my neighbor as myself." So pray for me as I dive into figuring out what that looks like!
And, I will keep sharing esp. as we begin our Thursday night neighbor dinners where we hope to get to know a new neighbor or two every week!


Jill and Alec said...

Hello my lovely friend! I love your heart and I am continually challenged by it. Alec and I want to live simply, frugally, but in the light of the decisions you both make, we look like spoiled rich brats!!!! I'm coming to see though that I can never compare myself with someone else's situation, whether richer or poorer. As you have said many times, it's my heart that must change and then the fruit will follow. I too feel the strain of, how much do we trust, how much do we protect our "stuff"?
We should get together sometime this weekend/next week. I've got an itch to start growing things!!

Love you to pieces!

BessieJoy said...

This is amazing! I loved, loved, loved reading this! This is the type of service I truly believe Jesus wants for us! Yes, it will look different for each of us but may God bless you! And your son is already so blessed to have a mother who will be living out her faith in shoe leather!
You've been a blessing to me today!