What kind of neighbor are you?

Do you know your neighbor? Do you? Do you know what’s going on in his world? Do you know the difficulties she faces? If they were in an emergency situation, could they come to you and ask you to watch their daughter for a couple of hours?

wilson_fencePerhaps you say hello when you walk your dogs in the morning.

Perhaps, when you meet across the mailboxes in the afternoon, you chat casually.

But do you know your neighbor?

I can’t say that I really do. As I get ready to leave this home I have lived in for three and a half years, I find myself convicted. I don’t know my neighbors–not really. We’re friendly. We say “hi” and “how are you,” but with the exception of one (and I’m so glad we became friends, Tianna!), the truth is, I’d be hard pressed to tell you their names.

Shame on me!

My whole life I have dreaded living what I have coined the “treadmill existence.” To me, this is the daily grind. We wake, we go to work, we come home, we sleep, we wake, we go to work . . . over and over again.

To avoid this, I thought I needed to do something exciting. I needed to live overseas and be a missionary. Or I needed to be a best selling author. Or I needed to find something other than this ordinary, soccer mom (or in my case football/gymnastics mom) existence.

Ironically, God seemed to determined to keep me in that soccer mom sort of existence–and if so, either he was okay with the treadmill existence–or (much more likely) I was missing something!

No, huge surprise here, but I now realize, I had it all wrong.

themostinterestingmanintheworld_1426The treadmill existence is not about the job we do or where we live. It’s not about a great list of accomplishments or a wall full of awards.  You don’t need to be the Dos Equis’ most interesting man alive to get off the treadmill.

It is about our mindset. It is about seeing the opportunity for the divine, for change, for influence in every moment.

Perhaps it’s a little easier for me to see this than most. Being a psychology professor, I see how the impact of what I teach has the possibility to change lives, and it transforms the way I look at those moments in the classroom. They are loaded with possibility, potential. What I say today has the potential of altering the course of a life (in a positive way, or possibly, even in a negative way–very humbling thought!)

But the truth is, every moment of our lives is filled with that same potential.

7089479-business-woman-rushingThe other day, I was cleaning up after my work out at the gym. I was in a hurry. I was running late for a conference call, and I needed to get ready to meet one of my friends for a night out. Just as with my neighbors, though I’m friendly with several people at the gym, I don’t really know anyone by name or well, so nothing should have gotten in the way of my mad dash for the door.

But there was this woman, a woman I had never seen before. And she sighed. Not just the “I’m tired” sigh. Not the, “this has been a really long week sigh.” No, this sigh was something different, and I couldn’t resist commenting on the weight of her sigh.

She responded that her workout had knocked her on her butt.

I made some comment about that being the sign of a good workout.

despairTo which she responded, “No, you don’t understand. It literally knocked me on my ass. I have MS. This is my therapy, and I can’t even do it.” And she sat down and started to cry.

I didn’t know this woman. If not for my inane comment about her sigh, I would have walked right on past, and never known the despair that was eating her up inside. I would have made my conference call, hung out with my friend, and this woman would have left with her burden of despair still firmly on her shoulders. Instead, I found myself with an opportunity of helping a fellow human being. It was time to get off the treadmill.

I didn’t know this woman, but I knew her pain. And I knew that I needed to stay and listen, and offer what comfort I could, conference call be damned!

That moment was one of possibility. It was an opportunity to be God’s hands’ extended. And I could easily have missed it.

How many times have I missed those moments, caught up in the hustle and bustle of the treadmill life, the relentless daily grind? How often, with my eyes focused at the task at hand, have I missed the divine, the chance to get off the treadmill, and to make a real difference in someone’s life?

Too often I fear.

Which of my neighbors has cried out to God for help? And I could have been part of the answer. Who has needed to know that they aren’t alone, but I’ve been too wrapped up in my own world to see?

I despised the treadmill existence, and yet I have had opportunity to get off that treadmill,  time and time again, but I have been too blind to see the opportunity.

In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg put it this way:

sonrise-burning-bushAnd Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Everything turned on Moses’ being willing to turn aside–interrupt his daily routine to pay attention to the presence of God. He didn’t have to. He could have looked the other way, as many of us would. He would have just missed the exodus, the people of Israel, his calling, the reason for his existence. He would have missed knowing God. But he didn’t miss it. He stopped. He “turned aside.”

I don’t want to miss the reason for my existence. I don’t want to miss my calling because I can’t see what’s right in front of me.

I need to live my life in this way. I need to have my eyes open so that I see the burning bush moments, the moments when I get to be the arms, and the voice, of God.

I need to get off the treadmill.

And it starts with seeing.

Seeing our neighbors and their pain. Seeing our coworkers and their struggles. Seeing the needs of our community and stepping out of our daily grind enough to be the one to meet those needs.

Our society, according to a recent gallup poll, is one third Christian. Nine out of ten Americans say they pray everyday. And yet, we are notoriously bad about living with our heads in the sand, being too consumed with our own lives to see the struggles of those around us.

handsThis is what Jesus means by reaching the lost–and most of us are failing.

It is time for us to embrace our purpose. To see that each moment is heavy with possibility. To get our heads out of the sand, and to see.

Will you join me?

We don’t want to miss our burning bush–because that is what it’s all about.


Live Life with Your Arms Wide Open

            We’ve all been hurt. Sadly, it’s often the people we love the most and trust the most who end up hurting us the most. What we do with that hurt can actually be more harmful that the hurt itself.

            So many of us leave a trail of broken relationships in our wake. We’ve been hurt or we’ve hurt others and rather than working through the conflict, we let the relationship go. Sadly, it’s easier to let go than resolve the conflict, even if it is a mother, a brother or a best friend. What we often don’t consider is how every broken relationship, every unresolved “betrayal,” changes us forever.

            Many of us build walls around our hearts. In theory, the walls are supposed to protect us from getting hurt again, but in reality they do more harm than protection. It is these walls that keep us from living and loving to the fullest. When we allow the pain of our past to impact our present by putting us in protection mode, we are the ones who lose.

            For years I lived with walls around my heart. I was so scared of getting hurt that I didn’t let anyone close enough to hurt me. I was lonely and longing and I began to realize that not only were the walls I had built keeping the harmful relationships out, but also the very ones that I longed for the most. You see, the thing about walls, they keep people out, ALL of them.

           With lots of prayer, journaling and tears I tore the walls down.

            Some of the best friends in my life (including my husband) entered my life shortly after this. I would never have allowed those relationships if my walls had still been up; they were far too risky. Every one of these friendships was well worth the risk!

            I’ve been hurt over the years now that my walls are down. One friend hurt me repeatedly. But the thing about letting your walls down, well, they are DOWN. At least for me, it meant living my life with my arms wide open. Despite getting hurt, I can’t help it, I love unreservedly and I forgive without question, sometimes again and again.

            Recently I was going through an especially dark time and I called one of the people who is on that top tier of people. I was at my wits end. I was near to despairing and I needed to know someone loved me and I needed empathy. What I got was something very different.

            Instead of getting love and compassion, I got judgment. I was told that it was my fault, that all these bad things totally out of our control that were happening to us were somehow our fault. I was told that there must be something wrong with us that made us a target for all the bad things that happened. I was not only hurt, I felt betrayed.

            I didn’t yell or get angry. I didn’t defend myself. I listened and I let go, determined to not talk to this person until I received an apology for the truly terrible things she said. This wasn’t the first time she had hurt me and I have always forgiven and let it go despite the hurt she has caused, but this one . . . well, when I needed her the most she made it abundantly clear that she did not intend to be there for me.

            So I built a wall, for the first time in years, and I waited for the phone call of apology that would bring the wall down. But the phone call never came.

            I’ve spent the last 2 ½ months debating what to do. I don’t want to be a door mat. I don’t want people to think that they can treat me like crap and that I’ll just come back for more. I don’t want to be weak. BUT, am I willing to lose this relationship because of my pride and just because I’m right? Is it really worth that?

            I couldn’t get around it. Despite how justified my reaction might be, it is not worth losing the relationship. The wall has to come down. I have to call her, even if I never get my apology. It’s the right thing to do, even if I don’t like it.

            As I came to this decision I had an epiphany. In every single relationship we have, we are going to hurt people. We don’t mean to, we don’t want to, but we are going to do it despite our best efforts. It is part of being human. So often, those we love the most, we fail the most.

            However you feel about the Bible, you can’t deny the truth of grace. Grace is given, not deserved. I need grace from all the people I have hurt, as unintentionally as it might have been, I still hurt them. I want their grace. I need their grace. As much as I love my children, it’s inevitable, I will hurt them someday, maybe even fail them in some way. I need grace.

            If I want to receive grace and forgiveness from others, I also need to give it, freely, even when it isn’t deserved, because the very definition of grace is that it is not deserved.

            So how many times do I forgive my brother who has hurt me, seventy times seven. I forgive without fail. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. Withholding grace does not punish the one who doesn’t receive it as much as it hurts us for withholding it. We become stingy and small of spirit. We become jaded and stunted. Grace is as much for us as it is for them.

            So I will swallow my pride, pick up my phone and CALL. I will live my life with my arms wide open. It’s worth any pain that comes my way.