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One of my neighbors makes food for us consistently. At first it was a great mystery to us:
“What is the green stuff?” Okra.
“What kind of meat?” Lamb.
“How do you use this spongey-bread-type thing?” With your fingers. With your fingers.
You can eat everything with your fingers.
Sometimes the facts get lost in translation, and we don’t really know what kind of meat it is or what the ingredients are. What we do know is that it is not pizza, or cheeseburgers, or steaks. We are not in Iowa anymore.
More important than any ingredient or smell, however, is the heart and message behind the cooking.
She offers it to us. We thankfully, humbly receive it. She is the giver; we are the recipients.
Two-way relationships are vital in the world of neighborhood ministry & missional living. Which means sometimes it’s better to receive than to give.
We are not the rescuers, reaching down to others. While we have certain attributes to offer, like the ability to speak English, the opportunity to have an education, and numerous connections in this community, a true relationship includes meaningful giving and receiving from both parties. What that really means is, it is absolutely necessary to intentionally value the individuals around us.
My neighbor has talents and individual resources beyond my comprehension. Just because they don’t always fit naturally into the Western priorities and standards doesn’t make them any less notable.
She is a survivor. She has birthed more children than I have, and without pain killers, far from any hospital, crouched low over the African soil – all after a day’s work. She has crossed an ocean and arrived in a strange land with light bills and driver’s licenses. She has striven to understand a new life, with a strange white neighbor lady who goes running when nothing chases her, who lets her husband cook and clean, and sits at the computer for hours. Her kids speak an unfamiliar language and represent a way of life which she struggles to understand at all. The skills she learned under the African sun, like grinding corn and cooking, are not recognized here amidst drive-thru lanes and frozen meals. Yet, she presses on.
She brings us the letters she can’t read. My husband fixes their computer, windows, plumbing. We pray with her before appointments, clear their driveway, give rides and more rides to their kids.
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And, she brings me food. This week, she made us supper twice.
Tonight I could get supper on my table in less than a half hour; my cooking is simple, efficient, and very Western. Thus, her gift comes in an unlikely form, seemingly out of the scope of our life, or needs, or priorities. Yet, in order to truly value an individual, we must acknowledge her contributions.
And so, I choose to appreciate the long hours my neighbor has taken, the cost of the meat she bought, and the care she took to make us something. I need to value it if I value our friendship at all. She wants to give, and the real beauty of the two-way relationship happens when I choose to receive with humility.
This article first appeared at Front Porch Inspired. Used with permission.
Anne Dahlhauser blogs at Front Porch, Inspired about surrendering everyday living for sacred purposes. She and her husband, Jay, are founders of a ministry called The Bridge, focusing on missional living, training, and intercultural relationships. She holds an MA in Teaching Languages (English and Spanish) and is a lover of words and the Word, culture and communication. Jay and Anne have four young kids, a front door that can’t stay closed, and an abundance of messy, holy chaos at their neighborhood center/home in Iowa – of all places.