Blessed To Be A Blessing

Blessed To Be A Blessing

It’s a good thing I like children 😊

This neighbourhood reminds me of what it was like when I was growing up…kids roaming around, playing road hockey in the street, skipping rope on the sidewalk, playing tag from backyard to backyard. Little boys making roads in the sandbox to push their Hot Wheels around on, while their sisters play with Barbies under the cool of the front porch. Bicycle races. Sharing drippy popsicle and secrets. You know, kid stuff.

My own kids did not have that in the well-to-do neighbourhood they grew up in, and that now seems to have become the norm. The only time you see hordes of kids playing together now is in the…ahem…less desirable areas, probably because they’re the ones whose parents can’t afford to put them in karate and dance class, or send them to summer camp or go away on vacation. They are more or less left to keep themselves entertained.

A shocking number of kids in our complex are growing up without adequate guidance and supervision. You can see it in the way they interact with each other and with those in authority over them. Some of them have learned to be manipulative to get their way; others are out and out defiant.

Please let me be clear, except for one obviously neglectful single mom (and don’t get me started on her because, frankly, I have a hard time finding the “best construction” for her actions, so let’s just not go there) all the other parents I encounter around here are decent, hard working people who care about their children. It’s just that life sometimes gets in the way of their making good parenting choices.

They have good intentions. You can see they want to raise up their children to be well-behaved and respectful towards others, but many of them simply don’t know how to go about it; they are products of their own dysfunctional upbringings.

Far more commonly though, these young moms and dads are simply tired.

See, you don’t live in a place like this if you have any other options. Most of these families are on the poor-ish side; the working poor. They have barely enough financial resources to keep them afloat week-by-week let alone cope with a minor catastrophe such as an emergency car repair, an illness requiring an absence from work, an unexpectedly high heating bill after a cold winter – you know, life.

They are weary and worn down by the day-to-day struggle of simply getting by. No, money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you groceries. It gives the impression that you are insulated from some of the more mundane crises that life tends to throw at everyone. When you have enough money, there is no having to choose between whether the rent goes unpaid or the kids go unfed because life has decided to play nasty. This is just reality for the working poor and don’t be fooled – it takes a toll on us all.

There is a community resource center here within the complex. They have quite a variety of regular programs geared towards supporting and strengthening the family and children, as well as ESL classes for new Canadians, community meals and food distribution (ie. mini food bank) Every Thursday morning, over seventy families from the community take advantage of the food distribution program – that’s roughly one-third of the residents in the area.

Sidebar: The people in my neighbourhood don’t know this, but I pioneered the food distribution program. Yup, true story. Well over 20 years ago, I became acquainted with the need here, and because my church was (at the time) closest in proximity to this neighbourhood, I brought the need to my fellow church members who responded enthusiastically. Food donations began pouring in; enough that we could put together, on average, six or so emergency food hampers each week, which I then brought down to the community centre where they distributed them at their discretion. From there it just kind of grew; other churches in the area became involved in collecting and donating food to the program and then the city brought the program under its Social Services division. It continues to be funded mostly by donations and volunteer hours, with the city providing paid staff to administer it under their Income Support umbrella. Although the program now technically falls under the purview of “big government” it is still largely a community based program, directed by community need and carried out by community members. It’s kind of the best of both worlds. Government assistance has provided a stability to the program that we simply could not have achieved relying solely on volunteer labour.

It’s been years since I was actively involved with the program so I really had no idea how big the scope of the program had become until we moved here to live a couple years back. I was kinda shocked and saddened that the need had grown to the extent it did, but at the same time I’m glad that the program has been able to successfully scale to meet the growing need. It’s not the same program it was all those years ago; it has evolved to meet the ever growing need. I can’t lie, in a strange way I find it gratifying that the foundation we put in place was strong enough to support growth. Bittersweet.

Anyhoo…this neighbourhood is definitely the most challenged one I have ever lived in, but it by far has the strongest sense of community I’ve ever experienced.

It’s hard to explain, but there’s this sense of we’re-all-in-this-together here within the community.

Here, it is still the norm for neighbourhood children to play together instead of isolating themselves in front of an electronic screen. Here, moms still congregate together for coffee on the front stoops in the morning. Here, neighbours still go next door to borrow a cup of sugar.

We babysit each other’s children so parents can go to work.

We share our bounty with each other; I love to bake and pass out cookies to the kiddos, while another mom shares out thick slices of fresh watermelon from her garden. Yet another mom stocks up on freezies and hands them out liberally to anyone who asks.

The former hairdresser who lives across from me does my hair, and in exchange I do her nails.

We swap outgrown toys and children’s clothes with each other rather than put them into an anonymous donation box – there’s always someone here who could make use of them.

A fair number of families – roughly a third, I’d say – don’t have a dad in the home, but the ones who are step up nicely for the fatherless ones. Dave down the block scavenges old bikes and fixes them up for the neighbour kids. Sergio, who has 5 boys of his own, is always willing to include other kids, inviting them to play ball or play in the pool or whatever. He helps out another neighbour by walking her older children to school each day so she doesn’t have to drag the little ones along with her.

I could go on and on here, but the point is, in this neighbourhood where financial resources are always in short supply, we act as resources for each other.

We’re all in this together.

My own place in this neighbourhood has become that of “neighbourhood Granny”.

My friends and neighbours call me The Child Whisperer. I’m not making this up. For whatever reason, kids listen to me, lol! Don’t ask me to explain it…they just do. I suppose having raised three of my own and now having nine grandchildren that I am semi-parenting, I’ve developed some skillz. I am much more patient today than I ever was with my own kids. Plus, I have an excellent role model in my own mother, the Original Child-Whisperer, who relates to children with a perfect blend of love and firmness. *shrugs*. I just emulate her and it works.

Now, I should make it clear that I do not intervene unless I am asked to – I would never presume to usurp parental authority – instead, I prefer to quietly model effective discipline with my own grandkids as an example for other moms and dads. If they ask me – and sometimes they do – How do you get your grandkids to do as they’re told without shouting, threatening or spanking??? – well, then we can have a conversation. It pleases me to be a resource for my neighbours, to assist them in the job of raising their kids. Isn’t that what grannies do? We are done raising our own kids but we have wisdom to share with those who are in the trenches, raising their own. We stand back, observing, assisting, encouraging the next generation of parents.

It doesn’t “take a village” to raise a child, but it does take a family. I am blessed to have a pretty functional family – I am close to both my immediate family as well as extended kin. We stick together and take care of one another – we’re all in this together – but I recognize that not everybody has that.

When your own family is – for whatever reason – not available to you for support, it’s natural to want to surround yourself with surrogates, to find some support and encouragement from others. I have so much support and encouragement from my own family that I can well afford to invest in others, equipping them to be able to turn around and invest in their own families. I know I can’t “fix” all the problems in this community, nor should I. That’s not my job. My job is to love them, one small act of mercy at a time. And there is more than enough here to keep me busy with that.

I mentioned in a recent post that at one time I desired to be a deaconess, a full-time church worker who serves others through acts of mercy, in Christ. I have never lost that desire. Though I do not have a call from the church to serve in this way, in my heart, I AM a “deaconess”, one who shows Christ’s mercy; I am simply serving my wider community as opposed to a church community. A servant-at-large, if you will.

I don’t work, I don’t have many obligations on my time beyond a couple hours at the Breakfast Club each morning. My days are wide open and unending before me – what else should I do with my time?? I can think of nothing better than serving my neighbour, literally.

I’m blessed to be in this position, I know. How many wives have husbands who are willing to support them financially so they can stay at home and hang out with the neighbours all day?

Mine does.

He works so I don’t have to – this is his contribution to our neighbourhood. If I worked, I wouldn’t have the time to do this. Further, if I worked, we wouldn’t HAVE to live here. It’s rundown, it’s noisy with kids running around everywhere, there’s way less privacy than hubby is comfortable with – it’s all the things he hates. Yet he sacrifices his comfort for me, and ultimately for this neighbourhood which I have become such a part of. That’s a pretty significant contribution. I recognize what my husband does as the blessing that it is, and I admire the heck out of him for it.

I did not think of living here as “a blessing” when I first moved here. In truth, if I had had any other better option, I would have taken it. I tried not to think of it as a defeat, to just accept it for what it was, but it was hard to shake the sense of loss I had in having to move here. I had lost my home, many of my belongings, and most of the wealth we had accumulated over the years.

Before I moved here, that’s what blessed looked like to me. In our blessing, we could afford to be generous to others, and indeed we were. It was a thoughtless kind of generosity, though. We had so much it didn’t really hurt to give. Generous, yes. Sacrificial? Not so much…

Our circumstances are much different now, and we have had to exercise some creativity in finding new ways to be generous, to bless others out of our abundance. What once was so abundant – $CASH$ – is now in short supply. I can’t just throw money at problems anymore.

That, too, has been a blessing. It’s really challenged me to “think outside the box” and find creative ways to love my neighbour, to ask myself, What is my duty, according to my vocation of neighbour, to this person in front of me? What do they need right now, and how can I best serve them in it?

By centering my creativity on what I know God would have me do, it takes away all ambiguity and frees me up to boldly do it.

It has been a blessing to get my eyes off of poor l’il me and onto the needs of my neighbour, whose needs are no greater, nor any lesser than my own. We’re all in this together, right? This is not just how God created us – to serve one another out of the abundance of Christ’s love – it’s how he takes care of us as well. God daily cares for me through the hands of others. How then can I refuse to do the same? If I ignore His prompting to serve others, I am quite literally staying God’s Hand, preventing it from distributing his blessings to those who are in need of them. Just how wicked do you think I am, lol. No, I am blessed so that others may be blessed.

God’s greatest blessings to us often come disguised as the humblest of gifts.

The manger looks pretty humble, but in it lays the Saviour of All Nations.

The Cross doesn’t look like a gift at all, yet hidden within it is the one Gift we all truly need.

So it is with the good gifts He gives us; within humble adversity He hides even greater blessings.

I say “hides” because to the unbelieving world adversity does not equal blessing; it is only through the eyes of faith that the blessing is revealed.

Look, I’m not suggesting y’all go out and seek adversity, okay?

This is not a “thing” to “be done”. That’s missing the point.

Seek adversity for God’s blessings; check.

No.

Adversity will come, of that we can be sure. We need not seek it out as if that were a sign of righteousness.

This is about standing firm in God’s promises, that under any circumstances, it’s ALL blessing. Eyes of faith cannot help but reveal this, if only we would not avert our eyes from it. Eyes of faith see past the outward circumstance and remain firmly fixed on the promises of Christ.

I have called you and placed you within My Body and promised that I would never leave you, never forsake you. My promises remain sure, so expect to be blessed – just try not to be too surprised in how the blessings come. Often, my richest blessings come in the nastiest packages. Don’t worry about what it looks like, just trust that I am blessing you in it. If you need it, I will also reveal some signs to you so that you may know it is my blessing – though those too may come in a way and at a time you may not expect. The point is, no matter what it looks like, you can trust Me. I will find a way to keep you in Me so that I can keep blessing you. O my child, don’t you know that this is what I long to do for you? To lavish you with my love and shower upon you gifts, the greatest of which is my Son, through faith in Whom I promise to keep you until the end?

When adversity came calling it left me shellshocked and bewildered. I won’t lie, it really threw me for a loop, so much so that I questioned a lot of my core assumptions.

But I am still here.

I am still standing, miraculously, in faith. The devil fought hard; Jesus fought harder.

There is still adversity in my life, but faith remains. Faith that assures me I lack nothing, in this life or the next, and frees me to go forth and do what He has made me to do – love and trust Him and love and serve my neighbour – trusting that He is able to use it all.

So here I am, neighbourhood Granny, deaconess without a call. Faith insists it’s all blessing.

I can live with that.

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This Is My Neighbourhood. These Are My Neighbours

This Is My Neighbourhood. These Are My Neighbours

So, my current living arrangements are a bit unusual.  For the last two years, my husband and I have been living with my son and his children in their home.

My husband and I are basically starting over.  We’re living in the very same housing complex that we did when we first got married and started our family.

We lived here for four years the first time around, then bought our first home close by in the same neighbourhood.

It was not the nicest complex then, and not that much has changed; this is still a troubled area.  Everybody here has a story, and sadly, many of them are living in the pain of their pasts.  

The people here are vulnerable in every sense of the word.

Some of my neighbours prefer to keep to themselves.  Their body language speaks, Stay away; you keep your distance and I’ll keep mine.  Others though, seem starved for some interaction – a polite smile on a friendly face is enough to invite conversation, and they will stop and tell me their life story.

As I get to know them, people tell me stuff, personal stuff that I have no business knowing.  Stuff that breaks my heart and makes me want to despair that humans could treat each other so shabbily.  As if other people were mere commodities to be consumed until they have served their purpose and are then discarded.
I have pain, they tell me, over and over again.  Give me compassion, their eyes beg, validate my pain, my right to have sorrow over this…but do it in a way that doesn’t take away my victimhood, don’t make me look at my own part in the choices that brought me to this place, because on top of everything else going on I can’t bear to look.

I can understand this so well.  I’ve felt this; lived this. They long to hear to sweetness of the Gospel, but are terrified of being crushed by the Law.  They may not know it, but they do.

So many of my neighbours have truly been victimized; they’ve had traumas perpetrated upon them, things that have so skewed their view of the world that their capacity to make healthy choices is diminished.  Worse, some of them aren’t able to distinguish what a healthy choice looks like, much less apply it to their lives.

They’ve heard about Jesus before, of course, but what He offers seems so distantly related to what they live every day – the forgiveness of sins doesn’t even register on their radar.  

Even the most casual mention of God, faith, church brings out the suspicion.

I once casually mentioned to a neighbour about needing to get my grandkids ready to go to church.

You don’t actually believe in that bullshit, do you?  It comes out sounding partly disdainful, partly incredulous.

Yes, yes I actually do, I say with a chuckle.

You know, no one has ever asked me why I believe…they usually just launch into a big explanation for why they don’t.

The Church just wants your money.

The Church is full of hypocrites.

The Church is so judgmental.

The Church is not for me, they tell me, over and over again. Your God is not for me.  

It’s a paradox.  Their hearts are so bruised and tender, and yet so hardened towards the very Balm that would heal them.

And what can I do?  Do I argue with them and tell them they’re wrong?  I’m sure that would go over real well.  Do I keep my mouth shut while they slag all over my Lord, mischaracterise Him and profane His name?  That’s tough to take, it makes me angry and sad at the same time.  It make me want to shake them and say This Jesus that you think you know is not the Jesus that I know, not the Jesus that the Bible portrays!  

But I keep my mouth shut.  This is not the time for me to talk, not yet.  This is the time to listen.  I’ve learned you only get so many chances with these people; the ground needs to be well prepared before I even attempt to plant a seed.

So I listen to their objections (rejections, really) to God and faith and anything that has to do with church; I listen and I try to understand and empathize, to hear their stories from their perspective as people who have been broken by others and are trying to make sense of it all.  I try to give them what they need in the moment – someone who will listen to their tale of woe without judging them.

It’s tricky.  There’s a fine line between being non-judgmental and being an enabler.  I don’t pretend to have it all worked out – I just do the best I can, in the moment. 

I am acutely aware that their greatest need, the one that I long to tell them more about, is their redemtion in Christ. 

Redemption!  What a wonderful word!

I long to tell them that this mess of a life that they’re living has already been redeemed; that the ashes of their ugliness have already been exchanged for beauty. That everything that they’re looking for is found in Christ.

Not judgment, but grace, mercy, and peace.  Forgiveness for the wrongs they have done and for the wrongs that were perpetrated against them.  

There are moments – just moments, when they have laid their souls bare to me and the unspoken question is left hanging between us – If your God is so good, how could He have let these things happen to me?  Why on earth would I ever put my trust in THAT?  

I will only have a moment to respond, to get in a quick soundbite before the conversation will shift away to something less uncomfortable for them.

How do you tell someone in a sentence or two how sorry you are for all that they have gone through, how it grieves your heart that they have suffered so and that they shouldn’t have, that it was never meant to be that way among us?  That I understand how crippling it is to carry around not just the guilt for my own sin, but also the weight of the anger and bewilderment and sorrow of the sins that were committed upon me?  That I can’t figure out how to reconcile myself to people like that, much less to a God like that?  And that in the end I found that I couldnt and that I had to let God be reconciled to me?   And that in doing so, letting myself live in that reconciliaton, that I finally found my peace?

How do you get past all their assumption and fears and pain, and communicate ALL THAT in the few moments you will be allowed?

Slowly.

Patiently.

Moment by moment.

It’s not always easy to know what to say in those moments.  

I can never know when their hearts are prepared and the soil is ready, so I want to make the most of the moment, say something that matters, that speaks to where they are in this moment and turns them towards their Saviour as well.

I’m chuckling here, but plenty of the seeds that I’ve dropped have not so much fallen on stony ground as they have been spit back at me!  But not all. Sometimes, something appears to penetrate the soil.

Just a tiny little seed. In itself, it seems so insignificant, so ineffectual. It’s hard to trust that something so small could do the work of bringing about a healthy, flourishing faith.  I want to push the moment I have been given because I fail to trust that this tiny seed is enough.  I want to take the moment back into my hands and make more out of it than I have been granted.

At these times, the words of Paul often come to mind:

Apollos planted, I watered, but God gave the increase.  

These words ever draw me back to trust in His sufficiency.  I have done what I could in the moment that was given me. There will be others who will also faithfully make the most of their moments.  And God will use it all, for to Him is given the increase.

That’s how we do evangelism in the ‘hood, yo. 

Slowly, patiently, moment by moment. 

And above all, trusting that God is able to use it all.

Yo.

😉