I walked into the post office to grab a priority mail shipping box and immediately realized I'd forgotten packaging tape. Dang it!
I'd brought the stack of books I needed to mail, but without the tape, I'd have to go home to package and prepare for shipping.
As I stood in line to mail other items, I overheard the lady in front of me share a bit about an act of kindness she was doing for others.
After she finished paying for her shipping, I stepped in the lobby, and mailed my other packages. As I walked out, there she stood putting stamps on her envelopes.
In that moment, I was grateful I didn't have packaging tape. I gave her a copy of The Giving Challenge and shared how I'd overheard that she was working on her own act of kindness. She was surprised and appreciative of the gift.
Sometimes when our plans don't work out, there is a reason why and maybe, just maybe, we can find an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge a fellow giver.
For over twenty years, I've had a dream to walk out my back door and be able to hit a running trail.
Two years ago, I came one step closer to living out this dream. My husband and I bought a home on ten acres of wooded land. We hiked through trees and thicket and tied bright orange ribbons on trees, so the contractor we hired to cut the trail, would know the path to take.
After months of back and forth, the big day arrived. I couldn't wait for the contractor to zoom through the woods on his machinery, and within days, I'd have the path of my dreams.
But after one day of working, he encountered a muddy section of the land, where he would need to cross to get to the back half of the property. He committed to returning when the ground dried up.
You can guess where this is going. After going back and forth for months, trying to get the contractor to return, he stopped returning calls and texts. I complained about this guy for nearly a year. And then I decided to stop complaining and figure out, without big machinery, to cut the darn trail myself.
My husband taught me to use a weed eater. Yes, embarrassing as it may sound, I had never used a trimmer. I had no idea trail building would be so laborious. I'd worked for an hour and no joke, the progress I made was only mere feet. My goal of two miles would take longer than anticipated.
But the more I worked in the woods, the more I enjoyed the work. I became grateful that my contractor bailed on me, because now, as I ran the trail, I discovered that God had given me everything I needed to do the job myself.
Okay, okay, so what does this entire story have to do with loving your neighbor when it is difficult?
As I worked my way to the back half of the property, I discovered the neighbors that butt up to my woods, had been using our property as their dumping grounds. And I'm not just talking about grass clippings, I'm talking about old Christmas trees, bushes and scrubs they'd pulled out of the dirt, landscaping concrete, and the list goes on and on.
We put up no trespassing signs. We talked with them about illegal dumping and trespassing. And when all else failed we called the police. The property was ours that we intended to use, and they were destroying it.
Do you think any of that stopped them? Nope! As I walked back there to continue work on the trail, I must route around the damage they've caused. I am steaming mad! At one point, I considered dragging all the crap they've put onto my property, back onto their property. But then I realized, I'd then be no better than they were. "Stephanie, is this how you love your neighbor when you are mad? Seeking revenge?"
Nope, so I left the piles of mess.
But friends, it gets better. Not only do they dump their waste on our property, but they also hit golf balls; not one or two, but tens of balls on our property. And you might think, "Stephanie, what's the big deal with golf balls on your property?"
Nothing if I'm leisurely walking through the woods. But as I'm running through on the trails, I risk turning an ankle, or worse, falling and crashing into down trees or branches sticking out of the ground. It's dangerous!
Over time I've amassed quite the pile of golf balls. One day, I thought, "I'm going to throw these golf balls in his yard. Hopefully, they tear up his riding lawnmower."
Sad but true, my friend. These are the thoughts that ran through my mind.
No joke, as I picked up the balls to start throwing them back, I turned around to see a heart (ugly as it may be) in the tree. I smiled, nodded my head, and whispered, "Message received God."
I dropped the golf balls and snapped a picture. I also leave the pile of the balls off on the side of the trail and add to them every time I go out on the path and work. They are a reminder to love my neighbor, even when it is difficult.
This past weekend I celebrated 12 years at Cisco (the big tech company, not food). I took time to reflect on how I got there, and at the end of the day, one pivotal decision, led me down the path of where I am today.
At the time when the opportunity opened, each day I found myself velcroing a bulletproof vest around my chest and holstering a gun on my side. My days as a police officer seem so far away, almost like they never happened.
I wasn't seeking a new job or career. I'd spent seven years chasing down the dream of being a police officer. But sometimes God opens a door at unexpected times.
I remember making a pros and cons list. So many fears swirled in my head about leaving the comforts of law enforcement to go work in an industry where I had zero experience.
Doubts and fear crept in and just as I was on the verge of closing the door, I had a heart to heart conversation with my shift partner. Long story short, I realized the fear and doubt I felt, had nothing to do with the new job. I was overwhelmed with the thought of letting down my current employer. What would people think of me? How disappointed would they be that they invested a lot of time and money into my training and I chose to walk away.
This revelation was powerful. At the end of the day, I need to follow the path I thought God was leading me down and do what was best, in the long run, for my family.
I took a step of faith, and after thirteen interviews, I landed a new job. Was it the right decision, only time would tell, but after twelve years, I can now look back and say with 100% certainty, God had a plan. But it required me moving forward into an uncharted territory.
I wonder where my life would be if I hadn't taken that step of faith? Only God knows.
Is there an opportunity that you are facing, but the step of faith seems scary? Is there a door that has opened, but you are hesitant to walk through? Here's my suggestion, don't focus on the what-ifs and the twelve steps ahead. Focus on getting through the first door and keep moving through the doors as long as they stay open. Pray, and seek God's will for your life and he'll lead you to unexpected places, you never dreamed of or could have imagined.