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Planting Mustard
by Gordon Lang
Not For Sale
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Living next door to the Harbingers was NOT easy! If it wasn’t one thing it was something else. Danny’s mind went back to the scene that had occurred last month when six-year old James had scurried into their neighbor’s yard in pursuit of his soccer ball. In the manner of children, James took little notice of the meticulous flower garden that adorned the side of the house – his only thought was to retrieve the wandering ball. That evening, just as the news program was concluding, Danny had answered the telephone only to be greeted with a tirade of how irresponsible his children were, and that he should be teaching them to have a little more respect for other people’s property!

Then there was the fiasco about the fence. In response to the complaint surrounding the errant soccer ball, Danny had decided to build a fence between the two properties. A hesitant call to the Harbingers regarding the feasibility of such an undertaking was met with the dour expression of – “well something had better be done to keep those brats out of our yard!” It wasn’t until the fence project was nearing completion, that he received a curt telephone call from George Harbinger informing him that the fence was six inches over the property line – and what was he going to do about it?! What could he do about it? After a number of calls to city hall, and a $300.00 bill for the survey, it was determined that the fence was indeed within the limits of his own property. As for the costs of the survey, George had reluctantly agreed to pay for half – but Danny hadn’t seen any cheque yet.

His reverie was broken by the sound of the Harbingers Doberman hound once again snarling and barking, straining at his leash, trying to intimidate some passing cyclist. Long after the presumed danger had passed, the dog was still complaining vehemently. It wasn’t so bad during the day, but when the dog decided that the wind blowing against the shed door at 2:00 AM was definitely an intruder, that was totally annoying. It didn’t seem to matter that the dog was being a nuisance to others, Danny was informed that he was ‘simply doing his job’. The children were terrified to pass too close to the fence, and the mailman had complained about the aggressiveness of the dog, but still, the Harbingers claimed it was their right to keep the dog for the purposes of protecting their property.

“Earth to Danny..!” the melodic voice of his wife, Sarah, drew Danny back to the present. He turned to acknowledge her presence – her face was a picture of concern. Had James gotten into trouble with the neighbors again? “Did you know that Doreen Harbinger was taken to the hospital early this morning? She was complaining of chest pains again. I hope nothing is wrong with the baby.” Sarah’s voice reflected an element of apprehension. Danny had forgotten that the Harbingers were even expecting an addition to their family. He shuddered to think about how the couple would cope with a worst-case scenario. Suddenly, George’s confrontational attitude was of little concern in the light of the awful possibilities.

The light was on at the Harbinger’s that night when Danny parked the car in the driveway. The look on Sarah’s face, as he shut the door behind him confirmed his worst suspicions. “They lost the baby this morning!” Sarah mumbled – it was plain to see that she had been weeping over the plight of the neighbors. Danny winced in emotional pain as he remembered their own struggle when Sarah had miscarried two years after James’ birth. At least they had a spiritual family then, from which they could draw strength in their time of grief - the Harbingers would not have such a luxury. As they stood in each other’s embrace, fighting their rising emotions, Danny mumbled a prayer that God would comfort George and Doreen in their grief, and that somehow the situation could be used for His glory.

“I took the last of that casserole over to George so that he wouldn’t have to worry about cooking supper for himself. He said that Doreen would be in the hospital for the rest of the week. Oh Danny, he looked so alone and confused. I tried to tell him that we understood his feelings, but I don’t know if he believed me.” Sarah’s eyes were brimming with tears now, and Danny shared her emotion as he wondered how to reach out to George with the love of Christ. He recalled their own disappointment and Sarah’s sense of personal failure at the loss of her pregnancy, and wondered how the Harbingers would survive the impending emotional storm.

The doorbell rang at 10:30 Saturday morning, just as Danny was making the final preparations for teaching tomorrow’s Adult Bible class. Slightly perturbed by the interruption, he opened the door to face a harried looking George Harbinger. “I am sorry to bother you, Danny”, his embarrassment showing in his tone of voice. “I’m supposed to pick up Doreen at the hospital in half an hour, and my car won’t start. I must have left the park lights on when I put it away last night. Could I impose on you to give me a boost?”

“No problem, George,” Danny replied, “I’ll get my cables from the garage and be right over.” As he headed for the back door, he winked at Sarah who had been listening to the conversation from the kitchen.

“Would it be easier just to take our van to the hospital?” Sarah suggested, “it would be much more comfortable for Doreen I’m sure.”

“I’m sure glad I’ve got you!” Danny exulted in his practical wife as he kissed her to show his appreciation.

George already had the hood of his car open when Danny pulled the van in front of it. “Hop in,” he invited as he held the door open.

“But I thought…” George stammered.

“She’ll be much more comfortable in the van,” Danny reiterated Sarah’s suggestion, “and beside that, I’m pretty well free for the rest of the day anyway.”

“You really don’t need to do that,” George began to protest, but seeing the resolve in Danny’s face, he reluctantly positioned himself in the driver’s seat and fastened the seatbelt. “Why are you guys doing this?” George stammered, “Sarah with the casserole last night, now you with the van today?” The wonder in his voice conveyed the fact that the situation was totally incomprehensible to him.

“Because we’re neighbours” the words were out of Danny’s mouth before he gave them much thought. It was a perfectly logical explanation in his mind.

“But I’ve been so…” George groped for the correct word.

“Grumpy??” Danny tried to supply the ending to the sentence. “Listen, George,” he continued, “when Sarah told you last night that we know what you are going through, it wasn’t just an expression.” He proceeded to share their testimony of trial by the same fire, and how the Lord had been their strength when they needed Him so desperately. George listened with rapt attention, surprised at the similarity of their experiences, but profoundly moved by the difference in the manner of resolution for the two families.

“I would never have known”, George stammered, “you seem so ‘normal’” – it was the only word that came to his mind. “And you say James was born a few years later? That’s what scares Doreen the most – she’s afraid we won’t ever be able to have another child.” His voice quivered slightly as he expressed the last thought. “I’d better be on my way,” he forced himself back to the harsh reality of his present situation. “And thanks again for the use of the van.”

“Take care, George”, Danny admonished, securely closing the van door.“And George – we’re praying for you!”, Danny almost surprised himself with the afterthought.

“Yeah, thanks, we’ll need that!” George conceded as he turned to back the van from the driveway.

“God, be with them, comfort them, and draw them to Yourself”, Sarah breathed the prayer as she stood beside Danny, watching the receding tail lights until the van turned the corner.

“I should go over and see how Doreen is doing”, Sarah mused. It was Monday morning and they hadn’t seen any sign of life next door at all yesterday, but then, they hadn’t been home much with their normal Sunday activities. When George had returned the van on Saturday, he had advised them that the hospital had treated Doreen as an out-patient and sent her home with the direction to get plenty of rest. As she rang the doorbell it occurred to her that Doreen may not be up to answering the door yet. A pallid-looking Doreen hesitantly opened the door, and Sarah was immediately sorry for having disturbed her.

“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” Sarah stammered awkwardly, “I just wanted to check and see how you are doing.

Doreen offered an embarrassed smile. “I’m getting better,” she tried to sound normal, “but the doctor said I’ll need plenty of bed rest for another two weeks at least. We wanted to thank-you again for the use of your van, I don’t know what we would have done without it.” The look on her face registered emotional weariness and heart-felt pain.

“Can I make you some tea?” Sarah offered, remembering how soothing it felt during her time of grief. Not waiting for an answer, she made her way to the kitchen and began to search for the ingredients.

“Excuse the mess,” Doreen called from the living room, “I just haven’t felt up to cleaning the past few days.” The sink was almost full of dirty dishes, and the stove was spotted with left-over supper.

“Not a problem,” Sarah tried to soothe her, “I know the feeling.” Without another word, she turned the hot water tap to ‘on’, and began to arrange the dishes in the sink for washing. Within ten minutes the sink was empty, and the clean dishes were once again in the cupboard. Doreen sat, reclining on the couch with a cup of hot tea in her hand.

“I still don’t understand all of this,” Doreen began, not quite knowing how to broach the subject. “I feel like such a failure – like I’ve given George the ultimate let-down. He was so excited when I told him that we were going to be parents.” For the next few minutes the feelings that she had been so successfully hiding began to tumble from her mouth without any prompting from Sarah.

“Oh Lord, give me the words…” Sarah prayed silently. Then she began to share her own story with Doreen. She explained her feelings, her fears, and Danny’s reaction as Doreen listened with rapt attention. Every point she made, Doreen could identify with, until she came to the part about how the church family had given her so much support.

“That’s what I need right now,” Doreen admitted, “I feel like I’m carrying this all by myself. I know that George is disappointed – I don’t know if it’s more the situation or me that he’s upset with.” Sarah’s eyes brimmed with tears as she recalled struggling with the same questions. Over the next few days, Danny and Sarah took every opportunity to maintain contact with George and Doreen. Whether it was a friendly “Hi neighbor!” over the fence, or a simple telephone call to say “how are you doing today?”, slowly the walls began to crumble.

It was Saturday morning once more. The telephone rang as Danny was putting the final touches on his Sunday School lesson for tomorrow. As Danny picked up the receiver, the voice of George Harbinger didn’t wait for any salutations. “What time does church start tomorrow morning?” he asked determinedly. Danny almost fell over the end of the couch in his excitement. After he explained the normal Sunday schedule, he agreed to meet George and Doreen at the church in time for Sunday School. "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who planted mustard seed…" - the text of tomorrow’s lesson took on a poignant meaning, as Danny closed his eyes and prayed for God’s wisdom in sharing that lesson with his adult students.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Joyce Poet 28 Jun 2004
Mr. Lang, I asked God one day to expand my borders and His response to me was, "First, take care of what I gave you." I'd have to write an entire story of my own to explain this neighborhood to you. Let me just say that your story is exactly what I needed to hear. Bless you. Thank you for such an endearing inspiration. Treava
Deborah Porter  23 Jul 2003
Gordon, this was truly beautiful. It touched my heart enormously. It's so easy to shine a light for the "nice" people, but the prickly ones make it a lot harder. This was such a good reminder of the reward that comes when we shine regardless. With love, Deb


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