I live in Southern California where supposedly people don’t have time for one another and neighbors don’t know each other’s names. Yet that has not been the case in my experience. As the years go by and my relationships with my neighbors deepen, I feel the power of the Gospels even though more than half the neighbors don’t attend church to my knowledge.
I can feel the love; the love is here.
This week my neighbor Bob died. He was more than my neighbor and landlord. He was my friend. I rent the house behind his and for six years he has asked me every day how I am and how my day was. He has taken me to the airport when I go on trips, fed my cats when I’m away, hung pictures, assembled furniture for me from Ikea and left pumpkins or poinsettias on my doorstep depending on the holiday. Bob wasn’t trying to seduce me or date me. He simply cared and included me in his family. I now consider his daughters and girlfriend like family.
At his memorial service today I felt the power of a neighborhood where some people have known Bob for at least twenty years. One couple at the service shared that they have been bringing him food weekly during his cancer treatments and were just planning next week’s meals when they heard that he had passed. My other neighbors who hold an annual pumpkin carving event the weekend before the holiday reflected on Bob’s life last night. Bob loved this neighborhood and the neighborhood loved Bob.
While family and friends are vital and important, sometimes the people with whom we have the most regular contact are those whom we live right next door to because physical geography connects us to others. For instance, everyone at the coffee shop down the street knows I’m the odd woman currently studying Hebrew (who doesn’t dress up to do so) and I know everyone else at the coffee shop and what they do while sipping their cup of joe. This is neighborly love.
Today at the service, I was able to lead people in prayer and to utter the Lord’s name but I grow weary of the church congratulating itself so much on its good deeds while failing to notice all the good deeds happening sometimes without literal knowledge of the gospel. There is neighborly love still alive and well in Southern California and yes, the Good News is here for God is love. And I feel so very blessed by this love for money simply can’t buy this kind of community. And at the end of the day, when we’re outcasts and oddballs, it’s so nice to be somewhere where everyone knows your name and has your back.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-10 is probably one of the most well known verses from the bible and one of the most cherished even if one isn’t religious. We hear it at weddings and at funerals; we see its words printed on greeting cards. “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven: A time to give birth and a time to die…” Yet what people often fail to realize is that the verse that follows, Ecclesiastes 3:11 is a buzz kill to these poetics. Basically, the speaker of these words believes there is an appropriate time for every aspect of life but that God doesn’t let us in on the secret. Only God seems to have a sense of this timing while we human beings either screw things up or miss the boat altogether.
I can relate to this hypothesis. Goodness knows I’ve been off on my timing in life. I met someone I could have been happy marrying yet let the person go because the “timing” wasn’t right. And now of course I’m still single some twenty years later. I waited one extra day to see my mom when she was released from jail instead of seeing her on the day she got out only to never see her again – she took her own life before I could give her a hug.
However, every now and then we get it right. Today I just heard word that a dear friend of mine passed away. Losing a close friend to death never feels “right.” Yet this time, I got my timing right. Because he had cancer I visited him in the hospital every time I had a chance and always before I left for a week of teaching out of town. This time, I visited him on Saturday; boarded a plane on Sunday. Thank goodness I had a chance to see him before my trip.
For everything there is a season… Bob, we will be mourning you. But this time, God revealed the perfection of his timing – he had me meet you at a time when I really needed a good neighbor and friend. You were part of a season that will remain a part of me forever. God bless you. May this be the season of homecoming for you.
I’m a big proponent of balance and yet lately I’ve been a wee bit off balance. I’ve been spending so much time writing, studying Hebrew and oh yeah – working for a living – that if you were to draw a picture of me, my head would be greatly out of proportion with the rest of me. It would look like my head was a big pumpkin and the rest of my body super skinny because all of my energy and passion has been going into mental channels. But that doesn’t bode well for long term. (In fact, I’m super behind on blog posts because who has time to blog when engaged in such “erudite matters?”)
Well today I decided it was time to get a little back into my body and a little out of my head so I paddled out in 55 degree water temp and a blanket of fog. And of course, in complete harmony with my being out of balance in my life, my balance on the board was off at first too. But then suddenly, cowabunga! My balance was back and I was catching waves. Hooray!
Now the good thing and bad thing about surfing is that it is relaxing. So much for studying Hebrew at the moment. I’m ready for a nap. But that is okay. My balance and my mental health are back and that is all that matters at the moment.
For the last few days San Diego has been drenched in spectacular sunlight. In my humble opinion October is the prettiest time of the year here. Tourists often come in May or June expecting paradise only to find overcast skies known as May Grey or June Gloom but when it comes to October, now we’re talking paradise. The sky takes on a blue of astonishing clarity and the sun is mild yet warm. The colors seem to pop in vibrancy and in my neighborhood Halloween decorations appear on the lawns and porches of houses reminding us that this fantastic weather will last a little while longer. Then Thanksgiving and Christmas will bring a shift causing me to be cold in my house unless running the heat and to wear leggings for four months until Spring returns.
Now in my opinion the best way to experience this weather is to be out in it on a surf board and I feel like a sinner because I haven’t paddled out once in the last few days in this splendor. I should soon and not take it for granted that the sun will shine like this everyday. Instead I’ve been inside writing daily for hours grateful that when done I can go out and walk for long stretches at sunset when the sun has its final glorious curtain call or steal away for a swim stretch break. San Diego, I love you. I think I would have been miserable in Seattle.
My bible has the Apocryphal in it, books I’ve never read but today I happened to randomly open to a passage in 2 Esdras that immediately stood out to me. It read: “Then I woke up, and my body shuddered violently, and my soul was so troubled that it fainted. But the angel who had come and talked with me held me and strengthened me and set me on my feet” (5:14-15). I skimmed along and found myself struck by another passage not too far below. “After seven days the thoughts of my heart were very grievous to me again. Then my soul recovered the spirit of understanding, and I began once more to speak words in the presence of the Most High” (21-22). Now because I’ve never studied this book anything I say about these passages will result in complete proof texting, i.e. lifting the passage out of its original context and meaning. I know that the author of the book expresses a crisis of faith provoked by the destruction of the second temple and that it falls under apocalyptic literature but that is about it. Nonetheless, I found myself stirred by the words today as I applied them to my context as opposed to the original one.
I relate to these words because whenever I am processing something deep, I tend to get sick. Or inversely, whenever I happen to get sick and run down, I end up processing things deeply. And the last week or so I have been sicker than a dog. Although I am finally starting to feel better, I am still not 100%. I have no energy to exercise and continue to sleep way longer than normal.
It would seem that the Lord is working on me – stirring things up from my past to heal and bringing changes in my faith as well. My writing has been fruitful – I am done with three chapters of my book but that too exhausts me and stirs the pot. However, it is a comfort to know that our souls can recover “the spirit of understanding” and that after being knocked down silly with grief or sickness or weakness, an angel can talk to us and restore us to standing.
Thank you 2 Esdras for speaking to me today even if I have potentially distorted the true meaning of your text.