After Emmylou started reading The Little House on the Prairie books, you can imagine that it didn’t take me long to purchase the entire TV series on DVD so that we could begin watching the stories as we read them. Let’s just say that we took family movie night to the next level.
On the evening we watched the very first episode, we all piled into mom & dad’s bed with our popcorn & drinks excited to embark on this new adventure together. The girls squealed with delight as they finally met their beloved characters “face to face.” Names & personalities on a page now had actual faces & mannerisms & funny clothes. And words & ways of talking that seemed so foreign in print now became real as their environment came alive on the screen. (As any literacy specialist will tell you, context goes a very long way in aiding comprehension).
And this mama’s heart swelled with pleasure and a deep gratitude to be able to share this precious memory full of valuable life lessons with our little family. That is, until the kite went careening into that huge tree on the hill. Because I knew what was going to happen next. And after that. And after that. Perhaps because I had seen this as a child (and who knows how many times since then), or maybe it was just my keen adult inference skills but I saw the end of the episode flash in my mind. And it took every ounce of strength (of which hours in the gym could not help me muster) to not completely lose control of my emotions.
And then to make matters worse, I had to watch the darn thing slowly unfold with no power to stop it or my blasted tears. Not that I would really want to stop it, because it is the perfect picture of my soul’s desire. But sometimes my frayed edges and dreams are just a bit too loose, raw, and overwhelming. And small children & a sweet husband have no idea what to do with a basket case of a mama in the throws of a torrent of joy-filled agony. With ugly crying to go with it. Snot bubbles and all.
Because they saw him in his broken, desperate need. And they came.
As those men from all walks of life began making their way across the dirt roads of Walnut Grove to come to the rescue of their neighbor, I felt myself unravel just a bit more. And I caught a glimpse of heaven as men formed a chain & stacked grain and in so doing became the very embodiment of Christ here on earth. The Church.
While my slightly bewildered family looked on, I shed tears of longing for what has been lost since the prairie (and the fall, for that matter). Our love for our neighbor. Our sense of duty to one another. Our willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. Our ability to see another person’s need above our own. And our belief in the call to be our brother’s keeper.
You know, the Greatest Commandment. And the second which is like it.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew ww:36-40).
Which reminds me of something that I read recently in The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon (more of my thoughts on this book next time we are together):
“I have come to believe that as followers of Christ, one of the worthiest endeavors we can undertake is to take the Great Commandment seriously and learn to be in relationship with our literal neighbors. We all need to get back to the basics of what he commanded: love God and love others. Everything else is secondary.
When Jesus was asked to reduce everything important into one command, he gave us a simple and powerful plan that, if acted on, would literally change the world.
This simple plan also offers a us a different kind of life. It’s a way of living that make sense and brings peace to people’s souls. Whenever we center our lives around the Great Commandment and take very literally the idea and practice of loving our neighbor, there’s great freedom, peace, and depth of relationship that comes to our lives. By becoming good neighbors, we become who we’re supposed to be. As a result, our communities become the places that God intended them to be.”
Heaven on earth.
“The mission of the church is to teach the world a new way to be human” (Michael Frost).
The kind of humans that see a man who has broken ribs desperately trying to keep both his word & his oxen and drop everything they are doing to come to his aid by stacking the grain and holding a “ploughing contest” on his land.
The kind of humans that see the single mom struggling to maintain her lawn & her life, or the elderly man living alone since his soul mate left this world without him, or the family that seems to have it all together but is actually on the verge of falling apart, or the daddy diagnosed with a debilitating disease that prevents him from providing for his family, or (insert the real names of the real people who live next to you).
Love your actual neighbor. As yourself.
May we bring life on the prairie and in the garden back to our world by being in relationship with & living for others. The others right next door. With one number different in their address. And a world of hurt on their shoulders.