[Guest Post by my friend Sarah Beckman. Today she released a new book called “Alongside: A practical guide for loving your neighbor in their time of trouble” and its awesome. I asked her to share a story she told me recently, I hope it blesses you to continue to live an invitational life. If you retweet this above pic, tag @sarahbeckman14 + @steveryancarter + #alongsidebook you will be entered to win a free copy of her awesome book!]
It was a regular Wednesday afternoon. But that April day was different, because the sun was shining, and after a long, hard winter, the kids were outdoors basking in its rays. And then the brightness and joy of the day were shattered with one phone call.
Our neighbor across the street, John, had died suddenly while playing golf on a business trip. In an instant our little neighborhood world was enveloped in darkness. His compelling smile, his jolly laugh, the way he lovingly opened the car door for his wife, Deborah, the hours spent playing catch with his son in the front yard—all flipped through my mind like a slide show.
As I stared across the street at the manicured yard and impeccably painted grey house with white trim, the perfect picture on the outside was incongruent with the now tragic reality on the inside.
All I could think was what should I do? What do I say?
In moments of great loss and sadness most of us ask ourselves these same questions. And how we answer them is of the utmost importance.
That day, I braved the walk across the cul-de-sac to my grieving neighbor’s door. I didn’t have long to decide, and my uncertain mind wished my sure-footed legs hadn’t taken over. I didn’t know the now widow very well, but I did know she didn’t attend church or speak of faith at all. But as someone who professes a belief in Jesus and who wants to follow his command to love others, I knew I didn’t really have a choice.
I knocked. And when the door was opened I entered in, trusting God to equip and provide for me even though I knew my own strength and abilities were meager at best.
But that’s just the thing. God does profound work with our simple acts of obedience.
Over the days, months and years that followed, a few of us stood in the gap for Deborah and her family, offering both spiritual support and practical help. We had been given a holy opportunity to be the literal hands and feet of Christ to someone in their darkest hour. I intended to make the most of it.
Right after John died, we did piles of practical things—made vats of coffee, cooked meals, cleaned up dishes, wrote obituaries, picked out flowers, chose funeral clothes, answered the door, wrote thank you notes and made picture boards.
That summer Deborah’s son started a lunch counter in his garage, and we bellied up to the white, plastic, wobbly tables to eat chicken salad sandwiches and hot dogs with chips more times than I care to count. When Deborah wanted to keep busy that fall, we signed up to take ballet class together.
I wasn’t overt about my faith, but I might have tipped her off when I prayed out loud with her in the kitchen the day her husband died. But the mere act of continuing to serve and love her through that dark time with no agenda was likely a greater message than any words could speak. And when she saw my family leaving for church every Sunday and Wednesday night, I guess she noticed.
One day hot July day the second summer we sweltered in her son’s make shift garage restaurant Deborah said to me, “I know your family goes to church every Wednesday, and I was wondering, would you be willing to take John with you?”
“YES!” was out of my mouth before I could even finish chewing my lukewarm hot dog.
Several months later, John was asked to play in the youth band at church on Wednesday nights. He had a great love for playing guitar, but outside of lessons, the only audience he had was a few daring folks who’d venture into his dark basement cave to hear him.
The night he was performing the first time, Deborah came with me to church. As we sat eating dinner in the multi-purpose room together before the service she leaned over to me and said, “I never understood how people could call a place their ‘church home’. But now I do.”
Later as she watched her introverted son perform on stage, she leaned over to me and said, “I never thought this day would come. I can’t thank you enough for getting my son out of the basement.”
When I walked across the cul-de-sac that April day to comfort a grieving neighbor who I hardly knew, I never would have known what was to come in the years that followed. Two years after her husband died, Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years after that, she passed away.
I spent countless hours with her in those last months planning her funeral, writing letters to her kids, crafting her obituary, and even giving away her precious belongings. She wanted my Pastor to perform the service and he visited her regularly.
I had the holy privilege of holding her hand by her side and quietly praying as she took her last breath. And when I delivered her eulogy, it was as a dear friend—not just as a neighbor she hardly knew.
All because of the incomparable power of God displayed through my small steps of obedience.
Question to Ponder: How can you come alongside a hurting friend and love more like Jesus today?
For more practical ways to walk with those you love through the rough patches of life, you can pick up a copy of Sarah Beckman’s, Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial, which releases February 14, 2017. www.alongsidebook.com
Sarah Beckman is an author and speaker, living in Albuquerque, NM with her husband, Craig, of 24 years. They have three delightful children ages 15, 17, and 20. Her experience on both sides of the bed—both being helped and helping others—provides her authentic viewpoint for her book, Alongside. When she’s not writing or speaking, you might find her in the kitchen creating something to share with a “neighbor” in need. She has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also works as a communications coach and corporate trainer.