Friday, September 25, 2020

A Tale of Two Neighbors

[Warning: Rather long post. Sweet story. Likely to cause some misty-eyed reading.  Grab a tissue, a cup of tea and join me, won't you?]

In 1981, two frightened young adults moved to the mountains of NC.  Their assignment was to pastor a little church of thirty settled souls tucked away in a valley called Hazelwood.  (Don't bother looking it up.  The town was eventually absorbed by the larger adjacent town when the last "old timer" passed away.)

The second Monday morning after their arrival, the pastor took his youthful zeal and single-handedly began a door-to-door campaign.  He was intent on letting the neighbors know this church was ready to meet their spiritual needs.  He returned home at lunch time with shoulders slumped and heart heavy having knocked on every door in the surrounding few blocks.  

Again and again he had encountered one of two responses.  "That's a church?!  We thought it was a masonic lodge."  Or "Yeah, that's the church where the pastor ran away with the secretary."  Never mind the huge cross on the front of the building.  Never mind that the aforementioned incident had occured 25 years before.  

But the young couple knew how to encourage themselves in the Lord. Sunday after Sunday they trudged on.  They sang from the restrictive list of ten songs most comfortable for the inexperienced pianist. They coaxed the dying furnace into heating the building one more time.  They greeted; hosted; sang; preached; cleaned and smiled at even the most surly of members.  Week after week they worked to build relationships with the people entrusted to their care.  

Most of the congregation were at or near retirement age and the few younger women found the pastor's wife a bit odd.  She was a little too bubbly for their liking.  They deemed it unnecessary to include her in their circle of friendship.  So she became more and more isolated.  

The couple had been given the use of a rather ramshackle home on the church property.  To their left lived a single lady who frequently complained about the barking of their little dog.  Mrs. Sally Thomas* was very involved with her own church.  She made perfectly clear that she strongly disagreed with the doctrine held by the church the young couple pastored.  She was a formidable lady, indeed.

One morning an unexpected knock came on the front door.  Another older neighbor, with sparkling blue eyes and curly red hair met the pastor's wife with a smile.

"Hello," her voice was gentle and her accent told of having lived in that area her entire life.  "My name is Nell Cagle.  I live in that house across the road.  I've baked an apple pie for you."  She brushed off the appreciation of the young girl and declined her offer to come in for a visit.  After only a few more sentences exchanged, Mrs. Cagle turned and walked back across the street.

Over the next few months, Mrs. Cagle would periodically reach out to the couple.  "I've made beans and greens for dinner.  Would you like some?"  "My son came for a visit and we couldn't eat all this cake.  I brought you a couple of pieces."  When she found out that peach was the young pastor's favorite fruit, she suddenly began making peach preserves, peach pies and of course, peach cobbler.

The couple became as comfortable in her tiny living room and kitchen as they were in the homes of their own parents who lived hundreds of miles away.  Mrs. Cagle was a poet and an excellent seamstress.  Her creative handiwork was the livelihood for the dear lady who had been abandoned by her husband and left to raise a son alone.  Despite all the pain of her life, she held tightly to her joy and peace.

Eventually, the young pastors received an answer to their prayers for a child.  The wife hurried across the street to tell Mrs. Cagle their happy news.  The next week, their neighbor was on the porch with a big white box wrapped with a huge bow.  The wife carefully unwrapped the box.  She squealed with delight when she pulled out a stunning, custom made maternity dress.  Crafted of light blue fabric sprinkled with delicate white flowers, it fit her perfectly of course.

When the pastors finally brought home their baby girl from the hospital, Mrs. Cagle was one of the first invited to hold her.  She beamed with delighted as though the baby was her own grandchild. And of course, she brought over dinner.

The couple pastored that church for nineteen months then moved on to another assignment.  Saying farewell to Mrs. Cagle brought more tears than any other farewell with their move.  Through the years when they would go back to that little valley, they made it a point to stop and visit with Mrs. Cagle.  She always had a warm hug and a big smile for them.

Just this week, the couple returned to visit Mrs. Cagle.  It had been five years since they had been in that area.  A new neighbor gave them the sad news that she had passed away two years ago.  Frank and I got back into our car and swiped at the tears stinging our eyes.  

Yes, we were the couple who moved to Hazelwood as 22 and 24 year olds.  Of all the relationships we worked so hard to develop and maintain, it was dear Mrs. Cagle we stayed in touch with the longest.  She was the one person who reached out first, never asked for anything and always offered a word of encouragement.

I never again saw Mrs. Thomas* after we moved away.  But my sense of loss at the passing of Nell Cagle was deep, genuine.  Few people in the world ever knew her name.  She viewed herself as rather small and insignificant.  But her kindness impacted us for a lifetime. 

Perhaps you are one of many reading this post who view yourself as Mrs. Cagle saw herself.  Unknown, insignificant.  Maybe you wonder if your life and contributions make a difference at all. 

The answer is, YES!  You are probably impacting people in ways you could never fathom.  Keep caring.  Keep offering friendship and kindness. Keep looking for the best in others.  You will find what you look for and you will reap what you sow.

Mrs. Cagle could never have imagined her story encouraging more than a few dozen people at best. But here she is still impacting people even after her passing.  All because she wanted to be a good neighbor.  

May I encourage you to stop waiting to do something grand.  Choose to do the little things well and watch what God will do with your efforts.  

Did Mrs. Cagle's story resonate with you?  Do you have a similar story?  We'd love to read about it in the comment section.

*Sally Thomas in not her real name.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

Ungrateful Grouch

 (Warning: Honest look behind the facade.)


I have BEAUTIFUL pictures to show you of the reno work my husband has done on our kitchen.  Unfortunately, they've foisted a new format on me for the blogging site I use.  I'm totally dumbfounded as to how to add the pictures with this new set up.  (Deep Sigh of DIS-contentment.)  Back to school I go.

But since I've already launched into this confession, I might as well complete it; even though helpful pictures aren't unavailable at the moment.

The work we've been doing for almost three months is nearly complete.  (Cue cheering friends accompanied by loud marching band music and poppers filled with confetti.)  I could not be happier with the outcome.

Frank even tackled the installation for the decorative tile I had chosen as a border.  He did a Great job! Because the extra cabinets are on the opposite wall, I wanted something to tie the room together.  This bit of tile does it beautifully, in my opinion.  (And since I'm the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, that opinion matters very much.)

In the middle of it all, we've tried for several weeks to take a day trip to the beach.  This FL native needs to dip her toes in the water, walk on the sand and smell salt air occasionally to feel rejuvenated.  But each time we've had it planned, a complication has come up or we've opted to work on the next phase of the kitchen, instead.  

This actually ended up being a good choice because we finished the bulk of it just in time to welcome surprise guests this past weekend. Whew, was I ever thankful.

The countertops are spectacular.  The new lighting over my sink and under the additional cabinets is spectacular.  We have to demonstrate the lighting to each newcomer.  That's when you know someone is genuinely excited about a renovation project.  The dimmer switches provide lovely ambiance and make me feel "grown up."

So, how can someone with so much "marvelousness" that they've waited/saved/worked years to experience be even remotely close to acting like an ungrateful grouch?  I was wondering the same thing when I realized my attitude this morning was moving in that direction.

Let me explain.  I've always been a frugal person.  Some might even call me a tightwad. But that's okay because it's been a blessing with the life-style we've chosen to lead.  

Our life is full of amazing people and miraculous provision and unbelievable opportunities.  (Notice that list does not mention huge financial prosperity.)  That's why it's good I've always been frugal.  God has graced me to stay content with the things we COULD have not bothering to compare or focus on things I knew were only wants and not necessities.

One of my favorite scriptures has long been, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." I Timothy 6:6.

However, it seems we all get tempted in areas of life we think we've mastered. A caution to the wise here.  I hit just such a temptation this very weekend.

Missionary friends were going to meet me for lunch in a different part of town.  Being unfamiliar with the area and not wanting to be late, I left early and actually arrived with 30 extra minutes.  What to do?

I had noticed signs for an estate sale going on near there so I decided to run in for a minute.  Estate sales are always interesting and I hoped to snag a piece of my elusive Willow Ware dishes.  

Imagine my shock and awe upon walking into the massive home that was being sold for more than five times the value of my own.  It was an architectural masterpiece everywhere you looked.  The architect had carefully created each room to enjoy a view of the lake. I tried not to leave my mouth hanging open.

The entryway led directly to a living room area with large pieces of surprisingly comfortable furniture.  The baby grand player piano provided joyous renditions of Christmas music to boost each buyers' mood.  

My breath caught in my throat when I realized the living room furniture, which looked like furniture Frank and I like, did not have a sold sticker.  In fact, it was reasonably priced for the quality and condition of the three pieces offered.

Suddenly, I WANTED that living room set.

I could see it gracing my own living room.  I could envision our children and grandchildren sprawled out on the pieces laughing, talking.  Of course, the music made it easy to imagine Christmas morning with presents and wrapping paper and people scattered everywhere. 

Now, I NEEDED that living room set.

It was time to meet my friends so I dashed out to my car but not before snapping a couple of pictures to show Frank.  I also asked if anyone else had enquired about the set.  The salesman said some were looking but there were no holds.     

I managed to calmly enjoy my time with our friends.  Then connected with Frank.  

We got back to the sale as soon as we could go together.  You already know the next part - yes, it had sold.  Yes, I was disappointed.

Frank chatted with the salesman (because that's what Frank does) and discovered the sale was truly sad.  The couple who built the home and moved in with such joy were divorcing and moving to different cities.  So sad.

The rest of the story hit this morning.  I had slept well and woke at my normal time.  But even after breakfast and my devotion time, I felt agitated. I was even short with Frank as he was getting ready to leave for the office.

"Sheri!  What is wrong with you?!" I wondered aloud to Gracie.  She had no helpful response.  I pondered my attitude while starting the laundry and cleaning the shower.  

Suddenly it dawned on me.  I was in a foul mood for no other reason than that I had WANTED that living room set and it was Gone!  

Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit this to you, Dear Reader.  But it's never a good thing to put ourselves or another on any sort of pedestal.  We ALWAYS fall.  And this morning, I took a royal tumble.

This is embarrassing for several reasons:

    1. I already have so many new elements to be thankful for in my kitchen.

    2. The last sermon I preached highlighted the importance of Appreciation.

    3. The living room set was a THING, not a person to merit that much emotional energy.

    4. It totally surprised me that I could be so greedy.  (We're usually the last to know about character       flaws, aren't we?)

Ah, Friend.  If you're shocked or appalled, don't be.  I'm working through the journey just like everyone else.  And for those who would offer excuses on my behalf, please don't.  I know how dangerous a small root of greed (or any other vice) can be if not dealt with quickly and harshly.  

So, I'm calling myself out right here on Embrace the Grace.  I started the day as a Greedy Grouch - because of a couch.  (I couldn't resist the rhyme.  It was sitting right there.)  With confession and prayer, I hope to end the day differently.

Thank you for reading to the end.  Thank you for loving me in spite of myself.  Thank you for being an honest sojourner right along with me.  

Blessings for your week!

How about you?  Any recent realizations about your own heart that surprised you?  We'd love to pray for one another and find encouragement together if you want to share in the comment section.