It is said that good fences make good neighbors, but I have to disagree. Ours was a bad fence, falling down in wind storms, leaning precariously into our neighbor's yard. Barely keeping the kids from wandering over whenever the thought occured to them.
This weekend, we began the somewhat daunting task of building a new picket fence from scratch and our closest neighbor decided to come by to help. We have a good relationship with all our neigbors, more or less. We never speak ill of them. We help out when we can. We lend tools and borrow them. We keep an eye on each other's homes when someone goes out of town. It is a real neighborhood. This neighbor in particular has been a blessing to our family. He son mowed our lawn for years. His daughter watched our children when they were small. He and his wife have always been exactly the kind of neighbors you dream about: quiet, friendly, curteous, helpful. We hang over the fence, such as it is, and chat. We sometimes share the occasional beer.
Neighbor and I were assigned fence post painting duty. We were using rollers to coat the posts with cream colored latex stain. We fell into a kind of rhythm, each of us leapfrogging the other to the next post... 24 posts in all, some in shade, most in sun(which seemed less of an issue for Neighbor, who is African American). I turned an alarming shade of red, even with sunscreen plastered on my face. But we kept at it, sweating and chatting pleasantly. And then, out of nowhere, with no warning at all, Neighbor turned the conversation to Jesus. He confided that he has been experiencing the dark night. He confessed that he hasn't been going to church lately.
I know that he is born again, so I was stunned to hear he was struggling. (Why that should be a shock, I don't know, having gone through it myself as recently as last Fall.) It just suprised me, I guess, that my neighbor and I would be comparing notes about our walks with the Lord. That we would have this thing in common. We talked for awhile as we painted. I listened to his story. I shared my own dark night experience. I allowed as to how I have come to feel that being a Christian isn't for sissies, and that putting your faith in God in the midst of the darkness is probably one of the hardest things we ever have to do. But I told him that I believe God is a faithful companion and that I suspected that he wasn't as alone on this journey as he felt he was. He concurred. I asked him to promise me that he would go to church today. I suggested that he might just need to hear what the preacher had to say. He promised to go. I said I would pray for him.
Which I did. All during the service at my own church this morning, I was praying for my friend and neighbor that he would feel God's love this day. And everyday.
Neighbor is off to Miami for a week, so I won't know how his Sunday morning at church was until he gets back. But God, in the mean time, keep him close.
And thank you, Beloved, for our falling down mess of a fence.