In my last column, I asked readers to watch for God’s blessings in their lives, and I hope they've seen His hand working around them.
During my 45-year career, I have mostly worked in the two areas of legal offices and hospitals. Of course, God works in both settings, but most of the time, people in hospitals are trying to see God work in their lives, so it is often a more fertile field to plow.
Because I enjoyed the camaraderie I found while working in hospitals, even during my career in the legal world, I volunteered at the local hospital. I love my Lord and strive to love others in His name, so I was assigned to work as a volunteer chaplain.
I worked certain days of the week for a few hours after my daytime job. It was such a joy, as most patients admired my time sitting, chatting, and possibly praying with them. I met everyone from agnostics to atheists to Jews to Christians, but I only once had the opportunity to interact with a Muslim woman.
She was a dear child, or so she seemed to me, as she sat crying in the hospital chapel. I went to speak with her and found out that her husband had been admitted, and she was worried and alone.
When I inquired about her family, she said her mother disowned her because she became a Muslim, something she had to do to marry her Muslim husband, the man she loved.
My heart went out to her because she was experiencing the moment when people most need family close by. I still think of her many years later and pray that she found peace with her family.
She was originally raised in a Christian home but obviously had not committed her life to Jesus since she chose to become a Muslim. We talked, and she allowed me to pray with her. I held her hands, cried with her, and counseled afterward for her to reach out to her estranged mother and try at least one more time to come to a point that they could live with their differences.
I also told her a mother needs (and usually wants) to know when her child is hurting so deeply.
Thinking of that interaction, I consider now that if we cannot work out problems within our families – our flesh and blood - is it any surprise that, as a world in which we barely know our neighbors, we cannot find a common ground for peace? I suggest that everyone make volunteering a part of their lives because when we volunteer, we have moments where we can walk in another’s shoes, opening our eyes to what others outside of our safety circle experience daily.
These days, I volunteer at the local food cupboard. Everyone I meet shares a story, but only if I ask.
During my career, I was so busy working that I am sure I missed opportunities to learn about my co-workers. Are not many surprised by reading an obituary of someone we thought we knew considerably to find out so much more of their depth when it is too late to ask questions?
I think of my sweet, elderly friend, who told of often double and triple dating with Billy Graham and his wife-to-be when they were all young and recently out of college. What fascinating, lovely memories she had of that time dating her future husband. Those stories are meant to be shared and are a pleasure to hear, so then I take the time from my now not-so-busy retirement days to stop doing things and instead to learn about the people around me and what it is like to be raised in the city or country on a farm, in a mining town, in a foreign (to me) country, to immigrate, to learn a new language.
Life is exciting, but even more exciting when I share it with others and let them share their lives with me. Getting back to knowing my neighbors is probably the first step, and yet there is always an excuse – made up by me.
They are busy – they both work. They have children to take care of and don’t have time to come over. What if they follow a special diet? If I invite them, will they come? I will never know until I issue the invitation.
I live in Ocean City, where the building boom is growing swiftly. My neighbors come and go all day through their garages in the back of their homes, without me ever seeing them or having the opportunity to talk over the fence.
I live in an older, tiny home at street level, and the newer homes are 10 feet or more in the air. The front porches are at a different level than mine, so I have to make a point to listen to my advice and invite them over to learn about them and their children, opening my horizons.
Remember, I have excuses. I pray God will get me out of my excuses mode and into action mode soon. I’ll let readers know how that goes when I get around to acting on my conscience instead of preaching.
May God be with all this week who are watching for opportunities to listen and learn about their workers, friends, neighbors and even a stranger, who might turn out to be a new best friend.
ED. NOTE: Amy Patsch writes from Ocean City.