By DiAne Gates, Crosswalk.com
In our culture of 24/7 scheduled-to-the-max living, most of us only give our neighbors a wave or a howdy as we pull out of or into our driveways each day.
Being raised in the deep south, I remember evenings playing in the front yard with the kids next door or down the street while my folks sat on the front porch visiting with neighbors who were friends we knew and loved.
Love is built in relationships. Relationships take time. And most of us have a better relationship with the television screen in our front room than our neighbor next door. But this Christmas season, let’s learn how to establish some margins in our lives to fulfill God’s command… “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
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1. Everyone Loves Cookies—Bake 'Em and Take 'Em
Who remembers baking cookies with your mama and grandma? This used to be a yearly event during the Christmas season. It seemed to me that those two ladies in our family baked enough cookies to feed the world. And I helped make and deliver fragrant, warm packages of these sweet tidbits of love to all the neighborhood.
Yes, making, baking, and delivering takes time; time away from HD and your favorite chair. But the only things that are forever are love, relationships, and people. So how do we begin to insert some margins into our busy schedules? Planning. Make a batch of cookies one night rather than watching your favorite program. Then the next evening or morning, grab that plate of cookies, and take ‘em to the neighbor across the street or down the block. Ring the doorbell, take a deep breath, and smile.
I’m bettin’ the smile you receive will warm your heart and who knows what it will mean to those receiving your love offering this Christmas.
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2. Take a Good Look Around You—Who Lives There?
To have friends, you must be a friend. Take a look at the people who live on your block. Do you know their names? Do you see beyond their wave? What does the Spirit of God give you eyes to see? Behind their closed doors reside families with the same problems, maybe more, than you have.
Ask the Lord to give you insight regarding how you might help them. Oh, I don’t mean with money, although maybe they need that too. But are there obvious needs? Like a screaming-for-attention lawn? One of the men in our neighborhood randomly mows a lawn or two—just to be kind. He just mows the lawn—no expectations—no words—just being kind. You never know what an act of kindness will mean to someone who is struggling.
My husband and another neighbor make a habit of toting in the garbage cans of neighbors who work. Small? Yes. But one small act of kindness shows someone you care about them.
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3. Somebody's Gotta be the Block Captain—Why Not You?
A number of years ago our daughter died, leaving behind two small children and a military husband. After her funeral we brought the children home to live with us in Texas while our son-in-law completed his schooling.
We walked back into our house late that evening with a baby and an almost five-year-old after a long flight to find our neighbors had worked together to buy and set up a nursery—crib, diapers, and all the trimmings. Stocked the pantry with baby food and fixings. My husband and I stood in the kitchen, clutching the little ones into a group hug, and cried and thanked God for these sweet people.
When we received the emergency call we were in the middle of a garage sale. They had cleaned up the mess, restored law and order into a kid-free zone. All because one neighbor stepped up to be the block captain. If you ask, God may appoint you to be a captain in your block. Will you answer His call?
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4. You are Blessed to Bless—Someone Else
God is sovereign. My small mind had never given thought to the fullness of that truth, until our daughter passed away. I had never known grief, nor had I wanted to be around grieving people. But God had a plan. He opened the door and shoved me into becoming a GriefShare facilitator in our small town. After sixteen years I am still amazed how He plants each one of us in the particular city, town, neighborhood where we are to flourish and grow and represent Him.
Christmas is a difficult time for those who’ve lost loved ones. And every year God provides unique opportunities for me to be that conduit of His love poured out on those new to grief; sometimes just to be that listening ear and have the opportunity to point them to Bethlehem—to God in the flesh—our Lord Jesus Christ. The opportunity to pray for their comfort and healing. And to lead them to help others new to grief.
What has God allowed in your life this year to give you first-hand knowledge of how and when to become His special tool of help and blessings to others?
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5. Help Decorate the Tree
For a number of years after our daughter passed, a neighbor who would soon become a dear friend, offered to help me drag out the Christmas tree and all the decorations and dress the house for Christmas. We’d both lost children; her son died a number of years before our girl did. She knew the heartache and trauma that banged a chaotic symphony in my head and heart each year as the holidays closed in.
Do you have a neighbor who has suffered loss? Perhaps even during the past year. It’s gut-wrenching for them to go to the mall after Thanksgiving—the music, the decorations, the joy, etc. Why not ask that neighbor to go shopping with you, then have lunch or dinner afterward? Grieving folks are looking for a time to smile, maybe even laugh. And for goodness sake, don’t be afraid to mention their loss, and know it’s comforting to have someone to cry with you.
Ask God to reveal someone in need of your comfort before Christmas passes and the hole in their heart may shrink that Christmas. Your love will soothe their pain.
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6. You May Have Hungry Neighbors
Our neighborhoods are diverse—even within blocks of each other. We live in a small rural town just outside Dallas. But even in our community, there are folks who need help, especially at Christmas. I don't know if you’ve noticed, but prices have not tumbled in 2017, and it costs more to feed, clothe, and provide Christmas for kiddos. It’s great to help kiddos across the globe, but how about the little ones you see on their way to school or in the grocery store each day?
Several years back I read a book about Christmas jars; wonderful book and a tremendous idea. Begin earlier in the year filling a large Mason jar with change—stuff it full. Put a bow on top and place it in a gift bag. On Christmas Eve place it on the family’s porch you’ve chosen and ring the bell. The choice is yours—stay or leave. Imagine the joy of an unexpected Christmas jar, on your porch— full of pesos. With a few bills stuffed inside, there’s enough for groceries.
You may never know this side of heaven, just how much it means to a family to realize someone cares about them.
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7. Nothing Warms the Heart Like Chicken Soup
If you’re like me, and have more time and imagination than money, a big ole pot of homemade chicken soup heals whatever ailments your neighbor might have. As the days grow cold and dreary, the labor of cutting up vegetables and chicken and making a pot of soup warms your heart as well as your neighbor’s tummy.
And for those of you who sew, the addition of soup bowl potholders and a few jazzy soup bowls makes the perfect gift for seniors and large families, because part of you goes with this gift. You cared enough to purchase the ingredients and make this delicious meal—a gift that keeps on giving.
The challenge for all of us during this busy time of year is to purposefully plan those margins in our days to allow us to make and take the time to fulfill the acronym JOY—Jesus first, others second, yourself last.
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8. Families that Play and Pray Together, Stay Together
With the increase in technology, we’ve reaped the decreased recognition of the need for family time. Everyone is in their place with an iPhone or iPad or laptop filling their minds and their margins.
This year I got an idea from a Texas magazine that I adapted into gifts for grandparents to use with their grands—a new Tic-tac-toe game. I purchased wood slabs and burned the classic frame to use for this game into the slab. Then took wood rounds and wood burned x’s and o’s into them, sealed all of the slabs and rounds with lacquer so the game could be used in or outdoors.
Perhaps there will be precious memories burned into the hearts and minds of these kiddos and their papas and nanas of those loving times spent together.
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9. An Enormous Gift of Love that Only Requires Your Time
A special needs child, an ill or injured spouse, or aging parents who need special care, require huge amounts of time and diminish their caregiver’s freedom. I’m sure we all know families who struggle with these difficult situations. What better gift of love could you give than to offer your services to sit with the child, spouse, or parent so their caregiver or givers might have the opportunity to run errands, go to a movie, or out to dinner?
All of these gifts shout "I love you" to the recipient. Don’t be timid about offering. If it’s a close friend, you might write a fancy note indicating this gift is for however many hours you want to give.
When our grandchildren lived with us after the death of their mother, a number of our friends gifted us with time away. And our son and daughter-in-law gifted us with an overnight time out during those difficult days. What a tremendous gift of LOVE!
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10. The Best Gift of All is to Bring Your Neighbor to Jesus
People’s hearts are more open to a spiritual evaluation during the Christmas season. Hard hearts are softened by actions and reactions toward them. The message of the Baby—born to die so we could live—lights the fire of hope in despairing hearts. What better time to ask them to attend your church’s Christmas service?
Coupled with an after-church lunch or dinner presents the opportunity to share what Jesus has done in your life. As the world grows darker, like Jesus said it would before He returns, the light He brings to your life will shine as an example of His power to change lives; their lives.
Time is short. We never know what another year will bring. Make the most of every door our Lord opens for you … and for your neighbor. Pray for them. Love them. You might be the only person on this earth who cares. You were created for such a time as this.
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