I’m grieving the loss of my Favorite Neighbor, Jim. He died recently from his valiant battle with ALS. He was such a bright light in my life. We greeted each other with our formal titles whenever we saw each other outside. “Hey there, Favorite Neighbor!” We really were each other’s favorite neighbors. Jim always wanted to make sure I knew and believed it, and me too for him. Jim quietly radiated God’s love over the too-few years we were neighbors.
Jim and I became next-door neighbors when my husband and I purchased our home in the winter. Covered with a pretty blanket of Minnesota snow, were two acres of fallen trees, invasive species like Buckthorn and Box Elder trees, and vines that were thickly choking as much as they could reach. As I walked the property on a spring day, lamenting how much work it would be to clean this up, I met Jim. He spent the next half hour introducing me to the lovely wildflowers that speckled my forest floor. He gave me a new perspective. One that I dearly needed that day.
When Jim and Mary (his wife) learned I had breast cancer, they rushed over with a bouquet of flowers. I hung them upside down and dried them. They sat in a basket on my fireplace mantle for years to remind me of their kindness. Only when the color had faded away completely did I reluctantly discard them.
When my husband and I were being criticized and gossiped about at the annual neighborhood meeting, Jim and Mary defended us. They didn’t have to do that. We weren’t even there. They could have sat quietly, but they did not. How precious are people who will risk their own standing to be a voice for someone else? Precious indeed.
Over the years Jim and I would chat whenever we saw each other outside. Our pension for the outdoors made us fast friends. Eventually, I saw Jim less and less, as he worked through the tedious process of trial and error to finally be diagnosed with ALS. Our visits outdoors were exchanged for meaningful talks in his living room. Jim was a good listener. I could talk to him about anything. And, I pretty much did!
Jim, a retired journalist, listened quietly one afternoon as I read a piece to him that I had written. It didn’t take any courage for me to share my writing with Jim because of who Jim is; his character. A trusted friend. I knew he wouldn’t reject me. I knew I could count on him for honest assessment and feedback.
God gave me the courage and grace to talk to Jim about dying. His diagnosis seemed to eliminate all hesitation one may have to get right to the heart of matters. We had frank discussions about his changing mission and purpose in life to finish out his days suffering well, setting this particular example for his children and grandchildren. We decided “suffering well” meant letting people know when he was having hard days, living the good ones to the fullest, and praying for the future of his family.
I am so thankful for my final conversation with Jim. I will savor it in remembrance of him, with a grateful heart to God in heaven. I felt God prompting me to hurry to talk to Jim one more time. I asked Mary to send for me when it was okay to come by. Two days later, at 8 o’clock in the evening, she called for me to come over. Jim, Mary, and I sat down together in their living room together. (The very next time we three would be together would be when I sat with Mary at the foot of his bed after he had passed away.)
Jim with his CPAP machine on, and Mary poking a finger under the mask to lift it out so we could hear him, said, “I now call this meeting to order.” I shared with Jim and Mary how much their friendship and kindness have meant to me. We discussed at length the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the message it holds of inclusion. I told Jim how much it meant to me that he included me in his life. I laid my heart bare of my favorite ways he and Mary had walked with me in life.
Jim and Mary were surprised to learn their kindness is extraordinary. I find this is usually the case with people who have giftings they share with others. They tend to suppose everyone is like this. To those of us who aren’t gifted the same way, we immediately recognize their unique talents as “above and beyond”. Mary even said, “This is just what one does.” No, it was what one who is rich in kindness does. They can’t help but share it with others. What a valuable life lesson I’ve taken from them. Jim gave me his wealth of kindness,. I’m determined to take this inheritance from Jim and share it with others.
In our last meeting, Jim told me that he hoped to pay it forward in heaven. He told me he was going to ask God to bless me with my gardening and plantings. How absolutely lovely! I told Jim I hoped we could be neighbors again when I get to heaven, and he quickly agreed this would be ideal. I wanted to change Jim’s pay-it-forward plan to ask God to bless me with opportunities to plant Good News seeds in people’s hearts and minds, but decided against it. I feel certain now that Jim is seeing the glory of heaven, meeting Jesus face-to-face, he knows what to do.
At his funeral, a reading was given from Philippians 4:4-7. I never told Jim about my website or The Philippians 4 Project. Or, that what we do with this ministry team relates to exactly those specific verses. It felt like a final nod from a good friend.
I miss you so much, Favorite Neighbor. My eye has been trained to see beauty in messes through your patient mentorship. You’ve made me rich in kindness, and I will be paying it forward down here in your absence.