Still Warm (Lessons in Caring for Your Neighbor)

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”

Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper

During the Christmas season I was at the restaurant, working on a project and full of the familiar feeling that I won’t be able to meet my deadlines, that I’ve taken on something bigger than myself. As I was in the booth with dread weighing me down, an elderly woman and her child were seated beside me, the young boy was maybe 6 or 7 years old and was in a wheelchair, evident that his legs wouldn’t work by the way they twisted and bent. His grandmother, or mother unlatched the bottom footrest on the wheelchair and pushed him up to the table and I watched out of the corner of my eye.

I think when we see someone who has been crippled by life we can’t turn away, I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s like watching a train wreck and as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to think of it with a little more grace. The Lord has been moving in my heart and I’ve been trying (and failing) to listen to Him, but there was a time not so long ago that I would see people in need and turn my eye to them, I’m sure that if at the moment of writing this post I would still turn away because my work and my business are far more important to me than anything else. That can be easily known in how I treat my loved ones when they interrupt my precious writing time.

See, there is a pretty thick line between purpose and love. Life long we’ve had to choose between career or family, this is especially true for women, where their home life and the decision to become a mother is compared to their professional accolades. It’s so prevalent that it’s engrained in our minds, and this divide is illustrated with a sort of sick beauty in my own life. I strive to work and provide for my fiancée so that she can be free of the owrry of work, and I know that on some level she would be happy to not have to go to work every day, but I also know that she sometimes feels cooped up when she has nothing to do all the time, so the fact that I want to be a bread winner gets tangled up across that thick line between purpose and love. It’s deeper than that, though. Much deeper.

As I sat at the restaurant that night I ended up overhearing some of their conversation, and the boy said something that I want to hold on to forever.

All of Nature:

The kings of the forest and the plains do not consider the hands of time.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV

I’ve dedicated eight years to honing my craft and becoming an author. That has meant endless hours of time sat before my laptop scraping my head trying to figure out where to go next, what to write next, who to talk to next. I am pressed for time all the time because I was given a great fear in my youth… the fear of time running out. Which means that I am dedicated to working until I am physically unable to do so. I believe that this whole writing gig is divinely inspired, that it is my calling from God. Because of that I want to be sure to glorify Him with everything I create. When I was little, my mom would tell me that God didn’t call us to glorify him perfectly, it wasn’t our goal to create this perfect and incredible thing to give to God, and believe me I’ve tried. What my mom’s lesson really taught me was that God doesn’t care about the perfect grammatical content. He doesn’t want us to use intellectual language for the sake of making something sound better. He doesn’t want our song to ring in perfect pitch. He wants us to make a joyful noise. It doesn’t have to be on key.

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Psalm 100:1-2 ESV

I’ve been writing for my whole life, and seriously doing so for the last eight years or so, and as I’m writing things I’m thinking back on all of the things I could have done had I not been cooped up in my office working blindly on books that I was never going to release. I’ve missed out on relationships and laughter and joy and comfort. I’ve waylaid time to be supportive and to strengthen bonds with my friends and my loved ones. I’ve abandoned those I’ve cared about in their time of need because I was so infinitely obsessed with work. My desire to create the perfect thing, swallowed me whole. Because of this, I’ve developed a fear that one day I will run out of time.

But I am the only one worried about this. Not one animal in all of creation is concerned with getting to their meetings on time. They are unconcerned with the passing of the days and they are not afraid that one day they will die. It is a fact, and a simple one. They know that there is little that can be done about their lives, so they do what they were created to do without complaint, and without struggle.

So then, why can’t I do this work without worry? Why must I live day to day in a whirlwind of feeling pressured and late and without time? Is it because I am set apart from the animals? Is it because God set me apart from others? I don’t think so. The King knows when the clock will run out, and He kept that knowledge a secret because he knew there would be men like me, who are not concerned with the journey, we are concerned with getting all of our work done on time.

The Greener Grasses:

No lawn grows without work.

So I know my purpose, today at least. God called me to write, but what else has he called us to do? Chiefly, He called us to love. From this side of the fence, love seems far away from purpose.

“But… I have so many things I need to do, so many bills to pay, so I must work as hard as I can for as long as I can and due to that, well, God I don’t have time to love the way You call me to.”

Have you ever tried to tell God what you were going to do? Has it ever worked the way you thought it would?

I think in these times, when I am looking over to this perfectly manicured field of love beyond the tall picket fence, I am jealous, because if I could just love as much as I need to love, I could do everything I needed to do. I could love when love was needed and I could work when work was necessary. I wouldn’t have to run back and forth and make myself late for every scene.

When I was a teenager, our neighbors across the street asked me to take care of their dogs and their lawn while they were on a camping trip, and every day they asked me to go over and water and feed what needed water and food three times a day. They were gone for a week, and we worked it out so that they would give me $50 for taking a few minutes out of my life. At the same time, I had put off a list of chores that my parents had asked me to take care of, mostly easy things like mowing the lawn and cleaning up the dog poop, easy enough to do, but I was in school for eight hours a day and found it difficult to balance all of what I’d signed up for.

On the other side of the fence, I cared for their pups and their lawn, and back at home, my loving father helped pick up the slack and took care of the dog poop in the back yard. He helped me mow the lawn so that I could have a moment to myself, knowing that I was trying to do it all even then. I think he and my mother knew what they were in for then, as their son is an adult now and is still trying desperately to manicure two gardens with only his hands.

But winter always comes, and duties will always change.

Keeping People Warm

When others are shivering, our coats are no longer our own.

So I lived my life that way, juggling the demands of both purpose and love, crossing the fences and streets when I needed to do so, seeing the neighboring lawn grow brown, the pets grow sickly. I would spend some time with love and spend some time with purpose and all the while I would dance over that bold line.

I did this so long that I didn’t know how to do it differently. I assumed that my calling meant I would spend the rest of my life needing to separate my work with my love. I would schedule time to see my friends, I would schedule time to write. While I was with my friends I’d think of a brilliant idea for a book, and by the time I’d gotten to my meeting with my laptop, I’d have forgotten it. Choosing to pound away at something that I had been working on already instead, I’d get a call from a friend asking to spend time with me, and I would ignore it, cursing at my phone because I needed to be left alone.

Then, last Christmas, a young boy was talking to his guardian at the restaurant and said something that blurred that line for me forever.

“My other classmates do their work, and that’s good, but they don’t keep anybody warm.”

I listened to him speak with wisdom far beyond my own understanding and sat in my booth in silent awe for a while. I sat on that thought for a long time, wanting to write this post, but during the Christmas season it wouldn’t have been about love and purpose. It would have simply been about purpose. I think that God was reaching out to me, to break a new idea into my thick skull, one that I had pasted over with plaster years ago.

See, when I began working on this post last month, I had a very different thought in mind. The verses I’ve marked down regarded the works, compared to faith, and what it meant to follow Christ’s teachings about doing good works for the sake of the Lord, versus doing them because we were commanded to.

Since then, I’ve come to see it in a new light. Perhaps the same thing, but my perspective has changed.

Yesterday, I yelled at my phone, because it was ringing when I was working, and I was frustrated because I had work I needed to do, but my fiancée needed me too. When I turned around and saw her standing behind me in my office, she cancelled her call to me and shock set in as I realized how brown my neighbor’s lawn had gotten.

Who Split Time in Two:

The Son of God provides two hands, for time, for help, for love.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh[b]
    and refreshment[c] to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV

The thing about purpose and love… it’s a battle that all of us fight. We all have something that we want to do, accomplish a new task because it’s a new day, but love is there too. Love should be there. We shouldn’t feign love to serve our purpose, and we likewise shouldn’t neglect our purpose to show nothing but love. See, these things were created and split for a reason.

If I do only offer love to the world, but don’t support my own home, what good have I done then?

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8 ESV

But If all I do is work, and do not show love to those who need it, what good have I done then?

10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:10 ESV

But it is impossible to balance these things. It is impossible for us individually to jump between the love we must show the world, the support we must offer our household and still accomplish all of our own projects and tasks and vice versa.

So, for those who criminally overwork themselves as I do…

Consider this year, offering your warmth to others. It’s okay to get all of your work done, but don’t forget to keep others warm.

I for one, am thankful that Jesus has blurred that line, has broken that fence, and has made both yards my home. I serve an amazing God, and He has allowed me to break my limits and be better, to acknowledge the failures of my own life, He has offered me a woman who supports me in all things that I do, and I cannot stress the importance of that.

I hope that one day, I get to see these projects come to fruition. I hope that one day soon, I get to see yours too. Until then, I will be writing and singing and praising God with imperfect praises, because imperfect as it may be, it is the best that I can offer at this time. I will get better, and I will sing louder, and I will always, because of the aid Jesus has given me, will love more and more and more…

…until love and purpose eclipse and become all that I want to be.

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