By Karen Ward Robertson
I stole a box of crayons from the shelf at the neighborhood market. I already had new crayons, but my friend at kindergarten was using a baggie of old, broken crayons borrowed from an older sister. It seemed wrong for a little girl to not have a shiny, new yellow box of crayons. Wanting to right such a tragic wrong, I stole some for her.
Linda never knew of my faithful good deed, however. My mother discovered my wrongdoing before I could sneak the new crayons off to school. We returned to the small town neighborhood store that very day.
She marched me straight up to my neighbor, the cashier. I apologized for my crime and returned the crayons.
It’s what Christians do: we right the wrongs, especially the wrongs we’ve done ourselves. It’s what a good neighbor does.
It was one of my earliest attempts at learning how to be a good neighbor.
Finding Neighbors at the Store
In a city as large as the one where I live now, we really don’t have a neighborhood market like we did in the smaller town of my childhood. Yet, even though I drive several miles to get to the store, I always find neighbors there.
Fred is the name of the man who greets me every time I walk into the store. His friendly welcome inspires me. I thanked him one day for his cheery attitude and asked him if he was a Christian. He lost his faith during the war, he said, but as a child he believed. I asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee, and we shared a cinnamon bun and our life stories.
It’s what Christians do: we seek the lost sheep. It’s what a good neighbor does.
A frazzled mom with a screaming toddler glanced at me apologetically, sorry about the noise. I smiled and said, “Being a mom is hard. But it’s important. It matters what you do. Raising a young family is very hard, but very important.”
She was exhausted from a morning of mishaps. She needed a break.
“Can I buy you lunch?” I asked.
After lunch and encouragement, the young mom and child were refreshed and ready to tackle life again. She and her husband had recently talked about the need for a church but felt overwhelmed, unsure how to get involved in one. I connected her with a Christian who attends a church near her. My friend was delighted with the opportunity to mentor a young mother.
It’s what Christians do: we see the need; we meet the need. It’s what Jesus did, going from neighbor to neighbor seeking the lost.
Helping Neighbors at the Store
Swollen, aching feet dragged her through the market. Arthritic hands dropped a 2-page shopping list as she struggled to move a box of produce.
I picked her list up from the floor and moved the box. “Could I fill your list for you? I’d be glad to do that,” I offered.
“Oh, no, sweet potata girl,” she laughed. “The good Lord gave me eight kids and more grandkids than I can be countin’, so I guess he’ll just keep me spinnin’ on forward. It’s a long line of hungry folks I be feedin’. You got your own work. God will get me through.”
By the time I left the store, she had collapsed with exhaustion on a bench, cart piled high with bags of food. Eyes closed, silent tears trailed down wrinkled brown cheeks.
“I care about you,” I told her, sitting down on the bench beside her. I handed her a handkerchief.
“Oh my, sweet potata girl! That’s a lovely old hanky! Now I’m just fine. I’m tuckered out is all.”
As she wiped her eyes she shared her family’s story. Divorces, custody battles, drug addictions, prison heartbreak and little children with no place to go but to their old broken-down granny. She told me how grateful she was for a country that helped with food stamps, prisons that helped folks get straight, teachers that hugged learnin’ right into kids. Loving people blessed her life daily.
I helped her into my car, loaded the piles of groceries into the back seat, and phoned her neighbor who had forgotten to give her a ride home.
“Why do you call me sweet potata girl?” I asked, once she was settled into her house. She rested at the table taking some medicine while I put away the groceries in her kitchen and created an impromptu tea party.
“Been a lot of times with nothin’ to eat but a sweet potata. It was a blessin’ from the Lord on them days. You can live a right long spell on a sweet potata. Lotta people don’t see the blessin’ in hard times. I learned from my own granny that hard times is blessin’ just like good times. You been a blessin’ to me, sweet potata girl. I was frettin’, but God sends help ever’ time to me. Ever’ time. Now you be rememberin’ that from an old woman, sweet potata girl. Ever’ time.”
I’ve never looked at a sweet potato since without praying for her. What if I had simply noticed her but not offered help?
It’s what Christians do: we encourage the weak and weary. It’s what a good neighbor does.
Being a Neighbor at the Store
“I couldn’t believe he was just sitting there,” a woman remarked to her husband as I was leaving the store. “He ought to be arrested.”
Outside the store, the world was filled with loud booming music. The closer I got to my car, the louder it became. A large man sat on the trunk of the car next to mine in the parking lot. Worn and bedraggled, he sat slumped over a radio, scowling. His shoes banged against the old beat up car in time to the music.
“Good morning,” I greeted, putting my groceries in the trunk of my car. “Do you need help?”
“What?” he asked, sliding onto the pavement beside me.
“I asked if you need help,” I repeated.
“Oh,” he chuckled. “I thought you said you needed help. I’m glad to help.”
I handed him my laundry detergent to lift into my trunk, then handed him a bag. “Thanks,” I said, grinning, “Always glad for help. I thought you might be locked out of your car or need a ride or something.”
“I’m locked out, but my friend’s coming. Thanks, though. It was real nice of you.”
“I’m a Christian. Glad to help if I can.”
He nodded. “Me too. Got saved in prison. I just got out.”
I smiled. “That’s great! Prison is rough. I go to a women’s prison on Monday nights with my husband to have chapel service with the ladies. I’m glad you’re out. Are you doing OK?”
He was gracious and turned off the music so I could hear him better. We introduced ourselves and I shared one of my granola bars with him. We enjoyed visiting while we waited for his friend. What if I had ignored my brother in need?
It’s what Christians do, helping the brokenhearted. It’s what a good neighbor does.
As a Christian it’s my job to notice people, but there are times when I seem to notice no one at all, times when my moments are self-oriented rather than people-oriented. I get sidetracked and my focus moves away from people to daily routines and tasks, the business of survival. But at what cost is my preoccupation with self? Every day as I go into the world, my mission is the same as that of Jesus, to seek the lost.
Who is my neighbor? Most of them I don’t know yet, but God puts them in my pathway, one need at a time, one neighbor at a time. I pray every day that I will notice people. I ask God for conversations with people that can lead to relationships, opportunities for walking alongside people, loving them like Jesus did.
It’s what Christians do, loving people. We go from neighbor to neighbor, meeting needs. It’s just what we do.
Karen Ward Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.