Spring in Arkansas is heavenly. Nancy and I were walking around the neighborhood enjoying the redbuds, azaleas, and dogwoods set among the oaks and pines in our neighborhood of old cottages and grand homes. It is a blessing that our neighborhood in a large city is surrounded by a pristine park.
We enjoyed the house up the street with the lovely garden and birdhouses. It sends a warm greeting to would-be visitors both human and avian. We enjoyed the big, new house with the tasteful style.
We passed the old rock house at the end of our lane and the familiar feeling of longing erupted again. A magical house! What a joy it would be to own it and fill it with color and adventure. I was sorely tempted to have a full-blown fit of coveting.
But our souls have wisdom beyond our thoughts. My impulse at coveting got sidetracked by heavenly sense. What would I do with the vast spaces in that three-story house? How would we heat them, furnish them, and use them? Would the magnificent house fill the measure of its creation by hosting just Nancy and me?
I was reminded of the revelation that eased into my heart recently when I was negotiating with the Lord for more resources. Father whispered: “I will give you all the resources you will use to bless my children.”
I had to smile. I knew that my first interest in that grand house—and many of my other requests—was blessing one particular child of His: me. I was not seeking to bless His children in general.
I am grateful for a Father who is not corrupted by my self-serving visioning. Our current house is pretty ordinary. It is small by today’s ambitions. We have tried to make it warm, welcoming, and creative. But it is modest.
Nancy and I continued our walk through the neighborhood. We stopped at the gully with the grand trees and the occasional flood of water. What fun it would be to build a home nested in that heart of nature! “And it might be done economically,” I try to convince myself.
On the corner we admired the tastefully updated cottage. If the owners were to sell it, it would be hopelessly beyond our means. Good taste is expensive. And it is easy for appreciation to mutate into yearning.
Nancy gently nudges me forward. We pause in front of our neighbor Elizabeth’s house. She is one of the most amazing people we have ever met. She does beautiful tailoring. She works tirelessly in her yard. She cooks magnificent meals—that she often shares with us. Amazing for anyone. Especially for an 87-year-old widow.
For the four years we have lived in the neighborhood we have enjoyed being friends with her. We have helped her paint most the rooms in her house. We have replaced batteries in smoke alarms. We have fixed the drain under her sink. We have fixed light fixtures. We have puzzled over the igniters in her gas stove. We have mowed her lawn and trimmed her hedge.
This is no one-way street. She has taught us, cheered for us, cooked for us, and kept us company. Virtually every week for four years we have gotten together for a house project, to go out to dinner, or to cook hot dogs in our back yard. For a person who does not weigh 100 pounds when carrying the groceries, she has a remarkable appetite. When Nancy, Elizabeth, and I go for big burgers, we always order two. Nancy and I share one. Elizabeth eats the other single-handedly.
A Style All Her Own
Elizabeth is remarkable not only for her industry but also for her sense of humor. Her Scottish accent enriched her clever statements: When I was obviously pondering another helping of a delicious meal she cooked for us, she would whisper: “You’re at your auntie’s and she’s blind.” Or after we helped her with her yard, she would enthuse: “I feel like a dog with two tails!” Of a trip to visit family, she reported, “On that airplane I felt like jumping up and shouting ‘hooray.’ But I just sat there like an old lady.” When returning from a visit to family, having been given several gifts, she observed: “My bag was packed like a dog’s breakfast.” Appreciative of small pleasures, she once declared: “I lit the heater and took a bath and oh! I wouldn’t call the queen my cousin.”
Since she immigrated to the states from Scotland right after the war, she has a different take on many issues where we have developed hardening of the categories. For example, she continues to be dismayed that so many poor Americans go without medical care. In her homeland, it is not so.
A Model for Us
Elizabeth is both one of the most and least educated people we know. She never enjoyed the luxury of getting much formal education. Though she was a bright and promising learner, her family was painfully poor. So she reads and re-reads every work of great literature in our community library. She probably has read more books than anyone I know.
Life has always been a struggle for her. The poverty of childhood was hardly relieved in adulthood. She struggled to furnish her home and care for her children. She even gathered up dust in the alley to use as topsoil in her yard. And she clipped grass runners to transplant to bare places. When one of the neighbors pays tens of thousands of dollars for landscaping, it seems almost vulgar when Elizabeth is out in her worn work dress, planting sprigs of rescued grass.
The Joy Then Is Part of the Sorrow Now (from Shadowlands)
We sigh as we reflect on the blessing of Elizabeth. Her family is now hauling her furniture to Memphis. Her hopes for a leisurely retirement have been rudely blasted by a final illness that offers her only a few weeks of painful reflection before departing to the next life.
So we return home from our walk both sad and grateful. We are sad for Elizabeth’s pain. And we miss her terribly. But we are grateful for her grace, her spunk, her wry sense of humor, her graciousness, and both her spoken and unspoken expressions of appreciation. We are grateful for the opportunity to love her and be loved by her in return.
Big houses don’t seem so important when we cherish the things that matter most. Coveting is subdued by love. Rather than a bigger house, maybe we can make better use of the house God has given us—the house that gave us Elizabeth as a neighbor and friend.