A few weeks ago we got new neighbors across the street. Mike and Amy bought the house where the previous neighbors (wonderful people) kept their lawn "just so" with every blade of grass right in it's place. Joe, the previous owner, was so picky about the yard he didn't even allow his wife to help him do anything. So there he was, out there all the time working in that yard. He was retired, and had the time. His yard was the envy of the neighborhood.
Joe would often encourage me in my little attempts to do something with our yard. They really were little. I'd weed for a while, mostly in the dark, after I got home from work. I'd do just enough to keep the home owners association off our backs. Joe would come out to take his trash out at night and see me there. He'd remark about different things I could do to improve our grass or our beds. I'm sure he might have commented to his wife in private, "You know honey, I really wish the Shrodes would do a little something more with their yard..."
But we didn't. For the past two years, our yard just survived. Well, some of it actually didn't survive...like most of our neighbors yards, all of the smaller plants and shrubs died in the frost of the uncommonly cold winter two years ago. Only the larger palms and an oak tree remained. We threw all the dead stuff away and left the beds bare. With my busy work schedule, I kept the basics done so we wouldn't get written up and fined by the homeowners association. (We live in a neighborhood where they are really strict about everything from your yard being just so to your mailbox being spotless white, to a whole host of other stuff.) The grass was always cut, edged and blown, the weeding done and the mailbox bleached. But that was it.
Then something inside me happened regarding the yard. (This is another blog for another day.) For now I'll just say that my thoughts toward it completely changed. Something I used to hate and not have any time for became something I focused on. In one month I planted 25 various plants and shrubs and meticulously weeded the entire front. (I'm still getting the huge beds on the side and back in shape, and I have about 15 more things to plant out front before we're totally done.) I've taken the time to hand-water areas I think might need special care if the sprinkler system isn't reaching them directly enough.
A lot of people have commented about our yard the past month. Last Sunday my friend Lisa stopped by and asked what kind of plants I put in our beds. She likes them so much she wants to do the same in her yard. And our new neighbors who just moved into Joe's house with the "perfect" yard? The first thing they said when I introduced myself was, "Can we just say how much we have been envying your yard? Your entryway is just...WOW." I couldn't believe I was hearing this from the people who now have Joe's old yard.
My goal in life hasn't been to make people envious. In fact, the Bible says it's wrong to envy. But as I thought about the conversation with my new neighbors, the Lord spoke to my heart and said, "it takes WORK to develop something that people are envious of. Nothing happens overnight. Nobody was envious of your yard before because you put nothing into it."
Envy in the majority of cases is wrong. But I believe envying Godly character or such related things may have value if it spurs people on to pursue what is good - what is right. Hebrews 10:24 says, "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works."
I was reminded that if I want to have a marriage that lasts, one that motivates others, I have to work on it. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment! I have to work on it when I don't feel "in love". I have to push harder when I'm tempted to quit.
If I want children and a family that motivates others to work on their own -- I have to work at it. I have to work when I'm mad and tired and frustrated, and when we're getting on each others' last nerve. I have to apologize and hug, and seek to understand.
If I want friendships that motivate others to cultivate great friendships, I have to put in the work. It takes the work of understanding and listening and giving and more. It takes my willingness to take the time to write or call, or set the date and time to get together for coffee and conversation and actually follow through.
Yards really aren't going to matter in the grand scheme of things, although I was tickled that my neighbors have noticed all the long hours I've been putting in to bring beauty to ours.
Other issues like faith and family and friendship do matter in the long run.
All of us are called to build our own legacy and that means different things, not a copy of what our neighbor has. At the same time I believe it's a good thing to greatly desire what others have when it comes to Godly character and development.
May others see our personal relationship with God and say, "I want to know God like that!" and pursue Him.
As we all work hard at the things that count, may we stir people be motivated to put in the time and effort to experience blessings themselves.