James 4:14 – What is your life? It is even a vapour that vanishes away.

Late last year I wrote Home Before Christmas. It tells the story of a visit I made to my hometown in the wake of my Mother's passing.

I grew up on a short side-street of a dozen houses. There are just a couple of the original families left. The rest have died or moved on.

Now the problem — from a child's point of view — in growing up in a neighbourhood like that was that you had a dozen sets of parents. When you did something wrong, even at the other end of the block, the bad news got home before you did, and you were in trouble on your own doorstep. Don't talk to me about fibre-optic cables. The Mother Network had them all beat for speed and information transmission, decades ago. I was too young to understand and appreciate a neighbourhood full of caring people. It was also a simpler, gentler time.

One of the things I did do, while I was down there, was to make contact with two sets of my old neighbours. In one case, a stop in for a cup of coffee at Norm and Margaret's turned into a couple of hours, as we remembered the happy times and got caught up on what everyone had been doing in the years since, who was working where, and who married who and so on, down to the grandchildren.

My best childhood friend was driving me to the train station, to return to Toronto. As we were driving down my old street one last time, Norm was working in his front yard. I said "Hold it," and hopped out of the van. I ran across his lawn — he used to hate it when I did that as a child — over to him. I said goodbye, and told him again how great he looked. He said, "We'll see ya again, real soon!"

It was not to be. I sent them a Christmas card, and all during the holidays, I told myself that I must get a letter off to them, telling them how much I enjoyed our visit. One night, when I came home after work, there was a voice-mail I didn't want to believe. It was one of my other neighbours, calling to tell me that Norm was dead. Felled by a heart attack while shovelling snow. Gone to be with his Lord in only moments.

A minister friend of mine used to say "Most of us have no idea how much pain each of us is carrying around inside. If we did, I think we'd all be a lot more gentle with each other." Amen to that! As I've walked with the Lord these years, heaven knows my discipleship is nowhere near what it should be, but one thing I have tried to do is practice random acts of kindness. A kind word to someone. A "thank you very much for your help" to a frazzled store clerk. A card, or some candy on a co-workers desk. You know as well as I do that there are all sorts of unkindness in this world. Let's swim against the tide.

When I was growing up, we used to celebrate the Victoria Day Canadian holiday with a block party, including fireworks. My old neighbour used to organize it all. This year, there's more of the old block in Jesus' neighbourhood than down here. And my old neighbour is up there. All I can say is that it must be one eternal block party. I wish I'd sent that letter. But at least I stopped to visit and say goodbye when I had the chance.

Prayer- Lord, help us always to remember that the word of Scripture reminds us that "The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from every eye." (Isaiah 25:8) and that "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy." (Psalm 126:5) Help us to remember and give thanks for the lives and work of Your servants, whom we knew on this Earth, and to pray for comfort for those who loved them and remain behind. Amen.

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About the author:

Bruce M. Dinsmore <dinsmore@pathcom.com>
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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