Janice felt her mouth water. A juicy steak with a loaded baked potato and a crisp salad smothered in blue cheese dressing, all washed down with sweet tea. Yum! After months of dieting, she had lost 40 pounds. Today was her reward—lunch at her favorite restaurant, with no limits on anything!
Dressed in designer jeans and a new silk shirt, Janice jangled the keys happily as she headed for the car. Uh, oh—Mrs. Anderson was working out in her yard again. The elderly lady always had a disapproving stare for Janice, whose yard was woefully neglected. Maybe she won’t notice me, Janice thought. Oh, look—she’s trying to move that big, heavy planter.
Janice hesitated, then called out, “Mrs. Anderson, do you need help?” Here it comes, thought Janice—the disapproving stare. But there was vulnerability in her neighbor’s face.
“Sure!” Janice replied.
“Good thing you’re dressed for yard work,” Mrs. Anderson pointed out. Janice gaped at her for a minute, then muttered, “Isn’t that a lucky break?” She leaned over and tugged at the planter. It was heavy, but she thought she could drag it to the shed. Maybe she could even keep from getting her new clothes dirty. Together they managed to wrestle it to the shed, but they needed to lift it up over the sill. Janice grimaced as she gripped the rim of the pot, and heaved. It wouldn’t budge—was it caught on something?
“Here, let me help.” Mrs. Anderson said. She slid the blade of a shovel under the pot and shoved down on the handle. Janice was unbalanced by the sudden move. She tumbled backward, and landed on her rear in the dark shed, with half the dirt from the big pot in her lap.
“You’ve dumped out my dahlia bulbs!” Mrs. Anderson started raking through the heap of dirt on top of Janice. With resignation, Janice helped her to scoop the dirt and the bulbs back into the planter, then got stiffly to her feet.
“You look a mess,” Mrs. Anderson observed. “Go get cleaned up, and come back over. I’ll feed you lunch for helping me.”
“Oh, no, I can’t,” Janice started to explain. But then she noticed that vulnerability again, and maybe a hint of sadness. Could her crotchety neighbor be lonely? “Well . . . I could come over for a little while.”
Mrs. Anderson’s face brightened. “I’ll have it ready in 20 minutes. Don’t be late.”
When Janice arrived, the kitchen table was set with cold fried chicken, potato salad, and cornbread. “Have a seat,” Mrs. Anderson said. She had filled her own plate, and started to take a bite.
“Do you care if we say grace?” asked Janice.
The older woman looked startled. “I guess not.”
Janice bowed her head, and thanked the Lord for the beauty of the day, for the food before them, and for her neighbor’s hospitality. When she had finished, Mrs. Anderson pinned her with another of her stares. “You go to church, don’t you? I see you leaving early every Sunday morning. Where do you attend?”
“At the church across the street from the Hilltop Shopping Center.”
“I used to go when I was a child,” her neighbor replied. “But my Harold, he didn’t believe in church.” She fixed Janice with another stare. “Do you do strange things at that church?”
“No,” Janice said. “We sing and pray, we listen to a sermon that’s based on the Bible, and we take communion. We just worship God. Would, ah, would you like to come with me tomorrow?”
“Yes, I would,” Mrs. Anderson barked at her. Janice was a bit startled at the turn of events, but then, she smiled at Mrs. Anderson. And Mrs. Anderson smiled back.
Later, Janice reflected on the afternoon as she stretched her sore muscles. She’d missed her long-anticipated lunch, her new clothes were ruined, and a bruise was forming on her right hip. But the day hadn’t been that bad—her new relationship with Mrs. Anderson brought a warm glow to her heart. Pretty surprising, that helping a crotchety neighbor could be more satisfying than a medium rare T-bone with all the trimmings!