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Tea with My Neighbor

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I heard footsteps behind me. This was a first. Although there were twelve apartments in my complex that shared the common clothesline, I hadn’t seen anyone here since arriving in my new home several weeks ago. I peeked from behind the sheets and towels I was hanging and saw a woman about my mother’s age.

“Hello,” I ventured timidly. While not usually a shy person, I often become nervous around new people.

She seemed a bit surprised to see me but rewarded my efforts with a soft spoken, “Hello.”

I introduced myself, explaining that my husband and I had recently moved into the top right apartment. Her name was Elaine and, as it turned out, she and her husband lived in the apartment below.

“You don’t sound like you are from around here?” she asked me.

“No, I am from the States. My husband and I were recently married, and I just moved here,” I explained. I was done hanging my laundry and though anxious to talk more, I wasn’t sure what to say. I picked up my basket, “Well it was nice meeting you.”

“You too.” Elaine replied.

It was the end of January 2009, two months into my marriage, and one month and three weeks into life in a new country far from places and people that brought me comfort. Already I was learning an extremely valuable lesson about marriage and its limitations — that I could be sharing life with my best friend and yet I could still feel deep gut wrenching loneliness. Somehow being married didn’t fill all the empty places in my heart.

My married life in South Africa began in a rather melodramatic fashion. Thinking back on those early days, it seems as though it could be the plot line of some bad straight-to-DVD movie:

  • No job (I didn’t have a work permit)
  • No phone (it took about 3 months for the phone line to be connected after we requested it but thankfully there was a cell phone)
  • No cell phone minutes (very expensive for the casual conversation, but at least I could reach my husband in the day and my mother could call me)
  • No car (OK, there was a car, but I didn’t know how to drive it)
  • No Internet and thus no email
  • No television (which was a choice)
  • Most importantly, no friends

Although I did have a friend or two outside of my husband, the no car and no phone made it very difficult to connect with them. The only thing that saved me from endless days without hearing the sound of another person’s voice was the radio.

Each morning when my husband left for work, I was confronted with another long day of silent thoughts and unexpressed words.

In that isolated state, I focused on nurturing my relationship with God, and I tried to be thankful for my lonely days because it gave me a real opportunity to depend on my Lord and be still before Him. I saw with even greater clarity how many blessings could not replace the true blessing of knowing my Lord.

Between my morning walks, the less than two hours it took me to clean our apartment and do the laundry, the time spent preparing dinner, the books I was quickly reading and my quiet time, the days still seemed long. I realized early on that I was craving human interaction as evidenced by my willingness to talk longer than normal with the check out girl at the grocery store or the random person who admired my American accent.

What I needed were friends, and I was unsure how to proceed with this. I recognized how friendships can start with a simple conversation with a stranger like Elaine, but it was not as clear to me how to nurture a budding friendship along. In the past, new friendships seemed to grow organically from being in a place where everyone was looking for a friend: first college and then later graduate school. Even at other lonely times of life, it was still easy to reach for the phone and speak with a familiar voice, so needing to know how to nurture new friendships seemed less important.

After that initial meeting over the laundry, I would periodically run into Elaine on the stairs, at the clothesline, or near the complex gate. We would exchange pleasantries, and I would leave the conversation wishing we had more of a reason to talk longer.

During a cherished cell phone call from my mother, I explained that I wanted to grow a friendship with Elaine, but I was not sure what to do. I wanted to ask her for tea, but I was worried that she might decline. My mother encouraged me out of her own experience — 35 years earlier she married and moved to Alaska from Jamaica, similarly to the way I had married and moved to South Africa from Alaska.

My mother told me that for every five initiations of friendship, you might gain one friend. The odds didn’t seem so great to me, but I was encouraged that a rejection of a tea invitation certainly didn’t mean I wasn’t able to nurture a friendship. So by the end of the week I gathered my courage and invited Elaine to my apartment for tea. I held my breath waiting for her reply.

To my delight, she said she would be happy to come!

I had a lovely time getting to know Elaine (and her husband who crashed the party). A few weeks later, they invited me for a morning drive to show me some of the highlights of Cape Town. A friendship had been initiated, but I realized nurturing the friendship would involve continuing to step out of my comfort zone and extend another invitation to Elaine.

Nervous feelings and pictures of rejection entered my mind again. To my delight, Elaine again accepted my invitation, this time to lunch. During that shared meal, I started to think that perhaps God had brought each of us into the others life because we both needed a friend.

Over the months I have had tea with Elaine and her husband several times, and they have had tea with me several times. I have brought them cookies or slices of cake that I baked, and Elaine has graciously offered to give me rides during the day if ever I needed one. We continue to meet on the stairs or at the clothesline, and I no longer wish the conversations were longer because I know that God has grown these chance meetings into a friendship and thus soon enough we will be getting together for tea.

God saw my lonely heart and used Elaine to show me how I can reach out and nurture new friendships with others. So while Elaine was the first friend I reached out to, God continues to bring new relationships into my life that can and have grown into friendships in much the same way as my friendship with Elaine has developed.

When I think about the friendships and acquaintances that God brought into my life since moving to South Africa, I see tangibly how God deeply cared about me in my lonely place. He gave me the confidence to nurture friendships because it brings Him joy. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 25:16-17:

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.

The Lord answered my cries of loneliness and truly has been gracious to me by showing me how to nurture new relationships.

Even still with a wonderful husband and a growing circle of friends, after all this time I find myself experiencing occasional bouts of loneliness. For me it is a reminder that nothing but Jesus will ever satisfy or completely fix loneliness. I should not get so caught up in the gift of friendships that I lose sight of the Giver of friendships. As I have tea with my new friends, may I remember the importance of having tea with my Savior.

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Patrice Gopo lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and her daughter. She enjoys glimpsing God’s divine hand in the everyday moments of life. She is passionate about writing, community, justice, and poverty alleviation. Each year that passes she is amazed to see how God connects these passions in ways she could never ask for or imagine.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Tea with My Neighbor

by Patrice Gopo time to read: 5 min
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