In a world that feels increasingly disconnected, it’s time for us to get back to the tangible life of caring for those we can reach out and touch. No matter where you find your feet planted, the neighbors right around you are God’s gift for you to love. If you’re a farm girl like me, or a city girl like today’s guest Alexandra Kuykendall, you are uniquely placed to offer a hand to help, or simply arms to hug. Emmanuel, God with us, came in the tangible. Jesus’s incarnational life demonstrated how to love in physical presence because this cannot be duplicated through a screen or a swipe. Our gestures do not need to be grand because God’s grace and provision is grand enough. We simply need to be ready to offer what we have out of gratitude for what we’ve already been given. It’s a grace to welcome Alexandra to the farm’s front porch today…
Every store I walked into, I was approached with the same innocent question: “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
Half the time I was able to muster an answer before the tears started again.
“Something black. Not sleeveless.” Sometimes I’d say, “For a funeral” to give the general picture.
Naturally the salespeople all assumed I was shopping for myself. In every store the response was like their initial question—the same.
“Oh, I’m sorry. What size are you?”
That’s when the tears would come if they hadn’t already.
“Oh no. It’s not for me. For my friend. Her husband died. I need to find a dress tonight. The burial is tomorrow.”
The weight of this job felt unbearable.
How did I get here? I kept thinking. I don’t know how to buy a dress for a widow.
How do you choose what someone is meant to wear to her husband’s funeral?
Earlier that afternoon I’d stopped at Heather’s house. Her sister had flown in from the other side of the world. Family friends from states away were arriving, bittersweet reunions taking over her little house.
All I wanted was to be helpful in some way.
Heather and I weren’t the closest of friends. We’d met when our oldest girls started soccer together at the rec center. We had a genuine connection, but the busyness of multiple kids and life as soccer moms kept us from seeing each other beyond the school playground during the rush of pickups.
We’d reconnected in the last few weeks. Her husband, Jon, had been hospitalized unexpectedly, and I’d been helping her with childcare while she was at the hospital. When I learned he had died, my grief for her—now a widow with three young children—made me want to rip my heart out. It felt unbearable.
And so I wanted to do something.
“What are you going to do tonight?” I’d asked her.
“Well, we might go to the mall.” She looked like she hadn’t slept in a week. She probably hadn’t.
“Does that sound good to you?” I couldn’t imagine it would, but maybe distraction was what she was looking for.
“No,” she answered. “My mom needs a few things.”
“I can take her. Or get whatever she needs. Just tell me.”
She looked away.
“What are you going to wear tomorrow?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I looked in my closet, but I don’t know. I should wear a black dress, right?” She paused. “I don’t have anything like that.”
“I’ll go to the mall,” I said. “I’ll find you something. You stay with your mom.”
How could she possibly spend tonight at the mall? It was the most no-brainer offer I could ever make.
She didn’t want to put me out.
Are you kidding me? I wanted to scream. I resisted the yelling and reassured her I wanted to do this. Truly.
I got her sizes and preferences. She needed two dresses: one for the burial and another for the memorial service.
Other moms in the neighborhood had already started an email thread about ways to support Heather. I proposed the group pool money to buy these outfits for her; they agreed.
And so I walked from store to store, crying my way through the mall, buying dresses, jewelry, shoes, knowing I could return what she didn’t like. Heather deserved to put on something special for these occasions.
Considering her reality, my task seemed both frivolous and important. A dress? Who cares when her whole life just got upended?
And yet because I was at arm’s length, not part of her inner circle, she didn’t need me sitting with her. People had traveled from across the country and the world to do that.
She needed practical help. She needed two dresses.
Standing on Heather’s porch, I knew I would do anything in my power to help her. I couldn’t offer what she really wanted, to bring her husband back, but I’d asked questions and heard a need.
I was willing to have repeated uncomfortable conversations with well-meaning salespeople. I could deal with the reality of my neighbor’s situation, accepting what I could not change, to offer a few beautiful things on some very dark days.
The final instruction we receive in 2 Peter 1:5–9 is to add “love” or “generous love” to all the other practices. Love is the cherry on top after we do the hard work of getting to this point.
When we’ve humbled ourselves, asked questions, truly listened, stayed in uncomfortable situations, dealt with our neighbor’s reality, and allowed a friendship to grow, love and generosity are appropriate (and usually welcomed).
When we give freely, we aren’t holding back. We aren’t worried about whether there will be enough to go around.
We are living from the perspective that every good gift is from God ( James1:17), and so we can hold it lightly and offer it back to God to be used for his purposes.
That night as I delivered my shopping spoils and Heather and I shared more tears as she held up each dress, we moved one step further into friendship.
Giving freely, when done in the context of the other practices, has a way of binding hearts, because it is done out of seeing and knowing the person right in front of us.
But what prompts us to give freely?
Often we feel compelled out of compassion or genuine care for our neighbor.
The underlying spirit of giving freely, generously, is gratitude.
As Christians we give because we’ve been given to.
We know grace is a gift, and out of appreciation or gratitude we are compelled to give to those around us.
Not because they’ve earned it but because we know every good thing we have belongs to God anyway.
Alexandra Kuykendall speaks on issues of how faith impacts everyday life. She is the Co-Founder of The Open Door Sisterhood, a community of women working to be world changers for good right where they are. She co-hosts a podcast and retreat under the same name.
Her newest book Loving My Actual Neighbor: 7 Practices to Treasure the People Right in Front of You offers beginning steps of how to better love the people right within arm’s reach. Following practices outlined in the first chapter of 2 Peter, Alexandra lays out the framework for where to begin. From practicing humility to listening with understanding to being generous in our relationships, Loving My Actual Neighbor offers practical, start-now steps readers can take to love their neighbors.
With her approachable, friendly tone and down-to-earth advice, she has carved out for herself a place in the hearts of readers, who will be thrilled to extend her commonsense approach into this sphere of their lives.
[ Our humble thanks to Baker for their partnership in today’s devotion ]