In Praise of Neighbors

“Are the kids still up?” my husband asked as our van turned down the driveway.

I strained to see through the trees. “Everything looks black.” Our teenagers usually lit up the house, played loud music, watched movies and ate junk food galore in the rare event of our absence.

“Someone’s been here.” He pointed to tire tracks in the snow, illuminated by the van’s headlights. “What’s by the door?”

It looked like a big, bulging sack.

In the past year, reports of theft had mushroomed. I’d also just read one of my least favorite passages in the Bible: Judges 19. Maybe that’s why I approached the sack with such dread.

My husband reached inside and pulled out a dark lump. “Potatoes?”

The puzzle pieces came together later. As he guessed, our girls remembered seeing a neighbor’s vehicle that evening but hadn’t realized anything was left at our door: we’d been anti-robbed again.

Our neighbors bless our lives in lots of surprising ways. God has granted us favor with them. Homeschooling isn’t the only thing that makes us different from most, but in varying degrees many have come to accept us anyway. Though unsure what to make of our family Christmas caroling at first, a lot of them have really warmed up to our annual visit. We sing on their doorsteps bearing cookies and Bible tracts. Some invite us in to share Christmas goodies and catch up. It takes hours. Last year they sent us home with armloads of gifts.

We’ve hosted neighborhood summer barbecues, ice cream socials and a ladies’ Bible study, which weren’t as successful. We try to think of ways to minister to our neighbors, but we seem to be the ones who keep coming out ahead. When we’ve been sick or had nothing to drive, our neighbors have loaned us vehicles and plowed our driveway. We’ve cared for each other’s animals and plants. We’ve showed up with food and gifts when we’ve heard reports of celebration—and tragedy.

In one of my fondest memories, a group of us were wandering home from another neighbors’ outdoor wedding. As the sun set, our potato-gifting neighbor came by, driving a team of huge horses. I stuck out my thumb. He slowed, we climbed into his cavernous wooden wagon and he drove each of us to our homes. The wagon swayed as the slow beasts lumbered: washed red, orange and black in the sunset. The deserted road lay quiet except for the clop of the horses’ hooves and our soft conversation. I used to think of it as an Americana moment, a sampling of something that’s largely ceased to exist. But I think it’s bigger.

Our neighborhood isn’t perfect. We also suffer from modern ills. Sirens and flashing lights sometimes shatter our peace, attesting to the myriad effects of our sin. We may let each other down, but we may also go out of our way to help. Some of us alert each other when bad weather’s about to strike or the wild blueberries are ripe. We’ve shared recipes, advice, garden produce and meals. We might not meet often, but often enough to know we’re still there.

Heaven will be a redeemed extension of our neighborhood: a great multitude from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues praising the Savior who bought them with His atoning death. Because of Him, we’ll live together forever in perfect peace and love. I’m glad our neighbors have given us a foretaste. I hope we can give them a glimpse of what’s to come, too.

Too. Much. Stuff!

For generations, our generational farmhouse collected generational stuff, until little paths wound through it. My grandma dropped by shortly after my husband and I moved in. I was mortified, but all she reported to my mother was how nice the brown cloth looked on our table, the one spot I’d managed to carve from the clutter.

My fight to downsize had just begun. At first the stuff wasn’t only ours to ditch. Then we were so broke, we saved any stuff we might be able to use. Later we started acquiring our own stuff, usually at sales, often in bulk.

Homesteading required stuff. So did homeschooling. Finally, I reached my breaking point. But now I had children to contend with who naturally possessed the pack-rat ways of their forbears. Finances were still tight. When I did manage to pry something away from someone, somehow it usually reappeared.

Last year, everyone except our youngest got on board the declutter train. This year she’s also aboard. We even had our own sale. Though we still have too much stuff, we’ve tossed or given away boxes and boxes of what didn’t sell. Most hasn’t come back.

Sure, sometimes we miss something that’s gone. But each thing I get rid of is one thing less I have to clean or store. Ever. Daily we enjoy the extra time, money and space from having and shopping less. We’re also better stewards of our remaining belongings.

Huge amounts of stuff can cause clutter, wax old or become obsolete. We still use a wide variety of products, but we’re simplifying when possible and consuming without replacing. When we do stock up on our favorites, we try to purchase only as much as we can use before the next sale or shopping trip. We prepare a list and generally stick to it because we’ve learned that a bargain isn’t always a bargain. If we don’t love it or need it, we don’t buy it.

When appropriate, we keep just pictures of projects, mementos and so on, preserving memories without mass. If gifted with stuff we don’t want, we attempt to find someone who does or donate it to the secondhand store. We present our youngest with choices: Put away your favorite stuffed animals/toys/books, etc., and those your room can’t fit we’ll give to a child who might really need them. (This works beautifully when her room is messy. I come armed with a bag or two, and soon it’s clean again.)

I still hang on to stuff I shouldn’t, especially when it’s connected with people I love who are no longer here. But we’re all realizing that things aren’t people. As Luke 12:15 teaches, life doesn’t consist of possessions. And sometimes, too much stuff stops us from spending time with those we love who are here. Even God.

Now our house takes less time to clean and is cleaner overall–which also contributes to my peace of mind, because not every unexpected visitor is as gracious as Grandma.

First Things

One Sunday we actually made it to church early, and an elderly saint asked how homeschooling was going. I admitted that some days we didn’t seem to accomplish a thing.

“Did you read them the Bible?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Then you did accomplish something.”

The truth of her words resonated, strengthening with time. At first I clung to it: if I read the Bible to my kids, we had accomplished something that day after all. Decades later I realize that not only did we accomplish something, but often the most important thing.

Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee.” Who doesn’t want to avoid sin, or at least its consequences? And who doesn’t want that for their children?

We encourage each family member to spend time in the Word early and as able. My husband and I like to review memory verses before praying together upon waking. Scripture has a way of purifying our thoughts, even to pray. It tames me, saving me from who knows how many missteps or hasty words, especially if I meditate on what I’ve read, savoring it throughout the day as my necessary food.

I try to start my morning with a good literal translation like the NASB or the beautiful tried-and-true King James. Asking the Holy Spirit to help me understand and apply what I need, I usually read one chapter in the New Testament and three in the Old, which more than takes me through the Bible each year even with missing a day here and there. I often ponder or pray through portions significant to me, emailing to my college daughters those I pray they’ll find relevant for their days. If my remaining child at home is up, I read her some of my chapters. If not, I may review old verses and learn a new one then or as breaks during the day. After the evening meal, my husband reads us a chapter or two. Lately, we’re memorizing the same chapter and making review a fun nightly competition that our youngest often wins.

The Bible is complete for all ages. Our youngest finally realizes that her questions are usually answered a little later on in the same challenging verse or in the next verse. We do take time to discuss, define and apply as needed, comparing verse with verse for further comprehension if necessary (which helps the antsy ones of us develop patience). We’ve done this for so many years that now, when we face something, a pertinent Bible verse or two usually springs to even our nine-year old’s mind.

This thought lends urgency to the issue, but it’s actually true in everyday situations, too: if the Bible suddenly became inaccessible, how much would we and our children still have available?

Dear Father, please give us and our families a love for You, your Word and each other. And let us not merely be hearers of the word, but doers.

Social media after all?

With two of our daughters at college and only one left to homeschool, I have a bit more time. I don’t want to cheat our youngest out of the childhood our oldest ones now extol, but I still love to write, so I decided to revise the manuscript our eldest asks to hear every time she comes home. It’s called St. Mom’s Box of Secrets, a Christian romance like those I used to write for Multnomah, except this one features a homeschooling family a lot like ours. It takes three days to read aloud, and sometimes I question investing so much for an audience of one, but she’s my daughter. Besides, while she listens, she deep cleans the house.

I settled down for exactly one cozy wintry morning of revising when contacted about a writing opportunity. Since hearing the details alone required a two-hour commitment, I decided to ask my husband’s advice as a fleece. Family life has taught me that babies cannot be relied upon to perform on command, even when it only entails their usual behavior. On the other end of the spectrum, I rarely assume how my husband will respond, even after thirty years of marriage.

Long story short: he said yes. While I loved the writing this new venture demanded, I was tentative about entering the arena of social media. And when I say arena, I do think of the Coliseum and how Christians of old fared. In this age of rage, there is a correlation.

Up ’til now, I’ve avoided Facebook, Twitter, etc., though I use Messenger to contact our girls and others when necessary, since most people seem to prefer this mode of casual contact. It is nice to see our daughters’ faces while we talk, and I’ve been known to touch the screen.

Publishing has changed a lot in the two decades since I was involved. So have I. Through God’s great grace, I’ve shed my youthful restlessness and become a content homebody. Every year just makes me more thankful to Him for our family and homeschooling. Probably because of that, my love for reading and writing nonfiction keeps increasing as well.

So here we go. My current mission is to write a blog per moth, with other additions. As a test flight, I first drafted one then outlines for 14 more–and had a blast. Putting up this site was less fun, but I don’t expect everything to be cake. I just want to do what I’m supposed to, and for now, this looks promising. I hope you join me on the journey.