We took nothing. We didn’t have the capacity to come alongside a neighbour in need, so I inquired with another neighbour, who was coming out of her own struggles. Katie* had just separated from her husband and was feeling lonely, isolated and empty—she had too much ‘blank space’ in her calendar. I had been connecting with her, listening, being present. We went on walks, and I started inviting her to community initiatives and neighbourhood activities that she had previously shown no interest in. She showed up! Her participation lifted her spirits and opened her eyes to all the people around her, including ‘a neighbour in need.’ Shabu* was an 80-year-old recent widow whose 50-year-old son with Down Syndrome had also just had to be moved to a group home as she could no longer care for him. She too was lonely and especially so during our long cold winters when she did not feel comfortable going out. Her daughter who lives in the States emailed me and asked if I could help her find a ‘social service’ to assist her mother. I said, no; That is what neighbours are for!
I then asked Katie if she would be willing to connect with Shabu on a regular basis. She thought it was a great idea! Shabu, like Katie, needed company, as well as assistance with getting to various appointments, gardening, and occasionally basic housekeeping and yard work.
Katie started stopping in for tea with Shabu. Shabu invited Katie to concerts and a free weekly art class. Katie planted sweet peas, other flowers and herbs in Shabu’s garden. A mutually enriching relationship is developing for which both are very appreciative. While we are still engaged with both of them, they are now there for one another—it’s not up to us!
Alongside, I have the opportunity to talk with them frequently about love of neighbour, about Jesus who not only taught this posture and practice but lived it and, about how the goodness, generosity and care they are experiencing is a sign of the God of love at work.
Shabu’s daughter emailed me. Somehow, thousands of miles away God was also at work. She explained that after reading our neighbourhood newsletter, she had ‘been moved to google’ my name and started reading some of my articles. She wrote (shared with permission):
I had an “aha!” moment when I realized my parents and brother have been happily hanging out at block parties and BBQs at your home. They even shared with me that Karen is a pastor, and you have become someone they respect and like a lot — all this despite the fact that both my mom and dad had negative experiences with Christians when they were fairly young.
Long story short, both my parents raised my brother and me to avoid all organized religions and to distrust anyone who claimed to be a minister or priest from God. They were extremely skeptical and resistant to talk of religion or spirituality. (The televangelist scandals in the 80s didn’t help with this.)
I now realize that thanks to your prayers (and the prayers of Christians who live right next door to me), my spiritual labyrinth brought me on a 20-year journey through yoga, Zen Buddhist practices, Vipassana meditation, a year-long project on silence, and finally to entering the Church.
…I think the experience of converting from atheism to Christian might be difficult to understand for Christians who were raised in Christian families.
… Anyway, I’m just writing to thank you both for your discipleship, for gently and slowly showing my family the love of our Lord, and for embodying the Incarnate God who walks among us daily.
My mother has started to text me asking me to “pray for _” which was a huge surprise, since our family NEVER spoke of prayer growing up.
…Each of these baby steps is a miracle!
May we continue to ‘take nothing,’ discover we’re on holy ground and see that “each of these baby steps is a miracle!”
*(names changed to protect their privacy)