Love your neighbor.

Reflections With Robert - Between Waking and Sleeping - August 3, 2020

08-03-2020

I hadn’t been sleeping well recently. For many nights I a row, I lay awake at night tossing and turning for what seemed like hours. It persisted each night until the 5:30am alarm went off and inevitably I was still awake. If you’re a human above the age of - oh, I don’t know- a few minutes old, you're probably familiar with the dreadful real-life monster that is insomnia. For some of us, such restlessness can be attributed to school-related anxiety. For others, hunger is to blame. Perhaps yours is caused by work or a strained relationship. For many years the bane of my nighttime existence was a toddler who would wake up every…single…night; and not just once, but two or even three times per night. Whatever the root, a night of unwelcome sleeplessness is never fun at all.

In the middle of my bedroom is a window with an air conditioner. Much to my chagrin, the hastily-installed unit has an inadequate tilt to it. The creators of the unit must have experienced this problem firsthand because they went out of their way to address the issue in the user manual. They did not address the issue once or even twice, but multiple times in the very same manual. Little did they know that I would be the one installing the cumbersome unit all by myself while dangling halfway out of a two-story window one scorching afternoon, so adequate tilt was not exactly a priority in the heat of the moment (pun intended?). Therefore, my only goal was to get the awkward install over and done with so the room would no longer be an uninhabitable furnace, but an igloo fit for penguins.

Fast forward a couple of months and I’m happy to inform you that the room is no longer suitable for a Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego reunion tour. Sadly, though, we swapped the fiery furnace for what seems to be a lively aquarium or, better yet, a wall-mounted monument to the whale that swallowed the prophet Jonah. For as soon as I laid my head down to sleep at night, an incessant bubbling sound reminiscent of an orca’s active blowhole decided to make its nightly appearance, all caused by the collection of condensation in the bottom of the air conditioning unit. You see, the reason you need a tilt on the thing is so the condensation drips out of the backside without forming any puddles within the unit itself. Otherwise, when the blowing air collides with the condensation puddles, you get a horribly annoying sound that would give the prophet Jonah nightmares for weeks on end. 

There’s a reason people keep aquariums in their living rooms and NOT in their bedrooms. For hours I would toss and turn as dreams of sunbathing turtles and vacationing rainbow fish filled my head, wondering if it would be easier to just get out of bed and tilt the noisy thing or use a vacuum cleaner to suction the water out at 3:30 in the morning. Meanwhile, my sleep-deprived mind was filled with songs from the musical Hamilton (a recent pastime enjoyed by my daughter and I) and images from Be A Good Neighbor Week. All sorts of projects were there: garage painting, wheelchair ramps, yard work, roofing projects… eventually, a family of four would enter a dream, all joyfully painting a fire hydrant. Their entrance was always impeccably timed to a refrain of “raise a glass to the four of us; tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” while accompanied in time to the bubbling from Nemo’s aquarium.

And so it persisted night after night after night after night. Perhaps it would have been more annoying if it weren’t so oddly awe-inspiring. I mean, how could you not be inspired by a personalized rendition of Hamilton set to images of kids painting houses around the neighborhood?

Truth be told, Be A Good Neighbor Week had such a profound effect on me that it really did keep me up for nights on end. Although I didn’t have much of an opportunity to dig in and volunteer that week, I did spend each day running around from project site to project site in a hurried attempt to collect images and stories of volunteers and recipients in the middle of it all (you can view daily recaps on our YouTube channel here). Never in my forty-one years on earth did I imagine I’d be gifted with such an honor. Truly, it was a storyteller’s dream come true.

However, every good story seems to have a villain. Without one, where is the struggle? The villain, in this case, was the conflicting noise trying very hard to disrupt all positivity and hope in my sleep-deprived head. Maybe you felt it too that week: the constant anger and hatred on full display on social media; the countless friendships destroyed over face mask regulations; the chaos of differing political views in this heated election year. I tried my best to avoid the noise but part of my job is handling all social media accounts for NeighborLink, so avoidance was futile.

The stark contrast could be perfectly described with the title of a well-known Charles Dickens novel: A Tale of Two Cities. For on the one hand we had selfless concern for neighbors, all brilliantly portrayed in Be A Good Neighbor Week. The other side was quite the opposite: it was the dark side of the digital realm, those dangerous alleyways inhabited by Facebook, Twitter, and company. In my sleeplessness, I lay awake each night grieving that both must exist within the very same cities, townships, neighborhoods, streets, and sometimes even houses. Why did life have to be like this?

Laying awake, I wished that I could invite each person in the middle of an argument to a roofing project, or a fire hydrant painting, or a wheelchair ramp install… but then, as I rolled from side to side in a vain attempt to find that perfect position to lull me back to sleep, I realized that I very well could do just that. I can invite everyone to come along for the ride. I can invite them to view what it’s like to volunteer at NeighborLink. I can remind people of the most important ideals in life. And if all of those fail, I can simply choose to be an example by word, deed, action, and response.

I woke up last Thursday morning feeling something that I hadn't felt in quite a while: I had soundlessly slept through the entire night. The same was true on Friday and Saturday. Although I’m sure it had something to do with the disappearance of the mysterious bubbling sound, I’d also like to think it had something to do with the peace I’d found in choosing to do my part in making my city, township, neighborhood, street, and house a little better with each new day that's granted to me. It will take real, hard work but it certainly makes falling asleep to the tune of a Hamilton song much, much easier to cope with.

4th Annual Be A Good Neighbor Week Recap

07-30-2020

Being a good neighbor is….
Encouraging and building others up;
Carrying the burdens of the weary;
Looking after one another;
Recognizing vulnerabilities and stepping in to help;
Building long-lasting relationships;
Living in community with each other.

This is exactly what NeighborLink does on a daily basis and last week was no exception.  During the week of July 20-26, we hosted our fourth annual Be A Good Neighbor Week. Be A Good Neighbor Week was created to build deep, meaningful, and diverse relationships that provide more life-giving benefits than anything else in which we could ever invest our time.

What did Be A Good Neighbor Week look like? It looked like fire hydrants and houses being painted by children; like wheelchair ramps and a complete roof replacement built by thriving communities of friends; and, like yard work and gutter cleaning completed by businesses and organizations from across Northeast Indiana. By the end of Saturday, Be A Good Neighbor Week looked like more than 100 volunteers from across the city of Fort Wayne completing around 50 total projects for their neighbors in need. And that right there is what we mean we we say NeighborLink exists to encourage neighbor-to-neighbor expressions of God’s love.

Some of the major projects that volunteers completed last week include a complete roof replacement for our neighbor, Doug. Doug’s roof was in desperate need of repair as it was very old and causing significant water damage on the inside of his house.  Volunteers from Faith Baptist Church came out in full force to help Doug for three straight days to get his roof in top-notch shape. Doug’s next door neighbors and family even came out to lend a hand after seeing all the work being done. The excitement on-site was so infectious, his neighbors couldn’t wait to be part of the team that saw the project through to its end.

Fort Wayne’s Youth For Christ City Life ministry showed up to help Paul and his wife, who have lived in their home in Southeast Fort Wayne for over 30 years. Paul has underlying health issues and their home really needed some help. This group of young volunteers value their community and are always seeking ways to be difference-makers to the world around them. They painted the exterior of Paul’s home and stained the deck to keep it protected from the elements and well-maintained. This is what loving your neighbor is all about. 

The Carpenter’s Sons volunteer group built two wheelchair ramps during Be A Good Neighbor Week to help some vulnerable neighbors gain better and safer accessibility into and out of their homes and garages.

Several volunteers from various YMCAs across the Fort Wayne area, as well as groups from Three Rivers Wesleyan Church, Ruoff Mortgage, and Northeast Christian Church, took to the streets to help paint fire hydrants and complete yard work projects. Each was a great act of service that has helped beautify our community. To those who came out, your efforts made an incredible impact in the lives of those you served.

Neighboring Productions was also in full swing, capturing the entire week by filming at several project sites each day. They were able to talk to volunteers and neighbors in order to bring each day’s events to viewers online.  Make sure to check out each day’s inspiring highlight video by following the links below:

Day One:  Monday

Day Two:  Tuesday

Day Three:  Wednesday

Day Four:  Thursday

Day Five:  Friday

We are so grateful to all of the families, individuals, and staff who came out last week in support of Be A Good Neighbor Week. Please know that everyone involved made a significant choice to use their time, disrupt their schedules, and step outside of their comfort zones to help in ways that may not feel natural. For that, we say Thank You and encourage each of you to build on this experience moving forward. We would love to help you in your volunteer journey. So feel free to reach out to us in any way.

Thank you for your support and heartfelt compassion for our beloved community. Each moment spent and every act of kindness displayed still resonates with long-lasting impact from where we stand today. But let’s not make the good news end right there…. We can choose to love our neighbors today and each new day, because Be A Good Neighbor Week truly never has a beginning or an end. 

 





Reflections With Robert - The Greatest Art - July 13, 2020

07-13-2020

“The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others.”

Vincent van Gogh

Arguably one of the most recognized and posthumously commercialized paintings of all time, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night transcends art itself. Composed in 1889, Starry Night incorporated elements and techniques that van Gogh struggled with for years. To van Gogh, each color was a concept unto its own. For instance, the color blue represented the vastness of eternity. The color yellow signified divine love. With this in mind, Starry Night takes on a whole new element of meaning. In it, we see a village sprawled across a hill-laden countryside. The primary light illuminating the quaint village below is yellow- the divine love of God penetrating the deep, eternal blues of heaven. By contrast, the church in the middle of town is devoid of light and life. The artistic statement was not accidental. 

After intentionally cutting off his own ear during a hallucination, van Gogh admitted himself to an asylum with the hope of a lasting recovery. Shortly after arriving, he somehow found inspiration to finish the work that had confounded him for so long. Starry Night was finished in the early days of his stay. Overjoyed with his success, he took a drastic turn toward recovery. However, it didn’t take long for his demons to return in full force. After wrestling with depression, sporadic hallucinations, and recurring bouts of suicidal thoughts, van Gogh took his own life in July 1890.

The only things I remember learning about Vincent van Gogh in school were his brilliance on the canvas and the grisly story of his intentional self-mutilation. Little was ever said about the rest of his life, including the depressing fact that he only sold one painting in his entire life. Likewise, I never even heard that a few years prior to painting Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh forsook the nobility of his birth after finishing his studies in Bible school. Preeminent in his mind was a desire to serve the poor and needy who dwelt in the shadows. After years of trying to awkwardly fit into the upper-class life inhabited by the London elite, van Gogh decided to follow his heart. In 1879, he departed London and moved to Belgium where he became a full-time missionary.

Upon arriving in Petit-Wasmes, a small coal mining village, van Gogh moved into a spare room at the back of a baker’s house. It was right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of town. However, Van Gogh’s heart was drawn far from the city proper and down the hill where the soot-covered miners worked and lived. After seeing the poverty and squalid working conditions the miners lived and worked in, van Gogh returned to his room each day and spent the rest of the evening tearing his clothing into long, rectangular strips. The next day, he would return to the poverty-stricken area down the hill and bandage the wounds of the injured coal miners. 

One night, van Gogh arrived home with nothing more than his pants and shoes on. Every other item of clothing had been donated to the poor or cut into bandages to help the wounded. Seeing him in such a lowly state, van Gogh’s landlords approached him with disappointed concern. “Monsieur Vincent,” they inquired, “why do you deprive yourself of all your clothes like this - you who are descended from such a noble family?”

Van Gogh’s response was simple and to the point: ”I am a friend of the poor like Jesus was.”

For his landlords, it was the last straw. Unable to comprehend why a person of nobility would willingly sacrifice everything he owned for the sake of the poor, they contacted his elder church leaders, begging them to take matters into their own hands and rescue the foreign missionary from his delusions of self-sacrifice. 

Van Gogh moved out of the baker’s house and far from the upscale side of town. Instead, he migrated toward the impoverished poor who resided down the hill. A few days later, an explosion rocked the local mine. Van Gogh made straight for the disaster, working tirelessly to rescue the wounded and trapped he had come to befriend. When he noticed how overwhelmed the doctors were, van Gogh took one of the injured under his wing for more than a month. Thanks to van Gogh’s care, the miner recovered. The incident made him something of a beloved celebrity among the poor. Soon after, the locals of Petit-Wasmes began referring to the artist-missionary not as Monsieur van Gogh but as The Good Samaritan.

Around this time, church leaders from abroad showed up to investigate the concerns addressed by his old landlord, the baker. After searching all day for van Gogh, they found him sleeping in a crowded room with the poor and impoverished miners he had come to love and serve. Confused as to why the missionary would stoop to such a low, unseemly level, the elders forcibly removed van Gogh from his ministry at Petit-Wasmes. When he arrived home, van Gogh was fired from the ministry altogether and labeled an embarrassment to the church.  

Life would never be the same for Vincent van Gogh. Although he never lost his faith in God or his passion for the lost, the weak, the hungry, or the poor, he lost all faith in the organized structure that the church had become. He found it ironic that the ones whose job it was to reach out to and care for the poor were, in fact, nothing more than modern day Pharisees who would rather pass them by on the other side of the street. 

In the waning months of his life, van Gogh would brilliantly capture his frustration in Starry Night. It is no mistake that the central church is lightless and void while the town is illuminated by the one true light from above. To van Gogh, it was the only light that could truly change people, cities, and the world he lived in.

A few weeks before his death, van Gogh’s thoughts returned to Belgium. He had always considered his time among the poor and needy of Petit-Wasmes to be the most meaningful of his life. In his personal apartment at the asylum was a painting studio. As he sat down to paint one morning, images of the miners he had come to love came to mind. Each brushstroke took on a life of its own. With more than 2000 works of art to his name, he had never painted one like this before. By the end of the frenetic session, a painting stood before him that would be easily recognizable to anyone who had heard of the famous Bible story it portrayed. 

To van Gogh, it was more than just a Bible story- it was his story. Portrayed in the image was his greatest passion of them all: the wounded, impoverished, and helpless of the earth. To van Gogh, loving them was the greatest art of all. Standing back to observe the finished work, he was reminded of a better time in a better place in a land so far away from the asylum where he lived, painted, and died a few weeks later. 

He called it The Good Samaritan.


“I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals. 

For there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, 

however solemn and imposing the latter may be - 

A human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, 

is more interesting to me.”

- Vincent van Gogh




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