Who is your neighbor?

Emily at 12 years old
Emily at 12 years old

The great philosopher, Bill Cosby, once said that you are not really a parent until the children start to outnumber the adults.

I have 7 children, so I guess I qualify as a real parent.

Bill Cosby also once said, “I have SIX children. The reason I have six children, is I did not want SEVEN!”

His loss. Our seventh child is named Emily, and there is definitely not another person like her in the world.

One Sunday in September of 2009 I was sitting in church with my family listening to a testimony meeting when I became aware that Emily, who was 12 years old at the time, was intently staring at me. Just as I was wondering what she was doing she whispered to me,

“Dad, for being really old, you aren’t very wrinkly.”

I smiled and said, “Yeah? But I am starting to get white hairs… and many of them have YOUR name on them!”

Emily frowned, then turned her attention to my hair and I turned my attention back to the testimonies. A minute later I felt this sharp, plucking sensation on my scalp. Poing! I turned to see Emily happily eying her trophy: one of my white hairs!

Once again I gave her a look as if to say, “What are you doing?!”

She explained, “I repented, so it is as if this one never happened!”

“Not to me!” I whined as I rubbed my scalp.

As hard as we have tried to teach and model the gospel in our home, in truth I think our children may have taught us more than we have taught them.

The last verse of the 4th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants reads, “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

Of course “asking” refers to prayer, but the verse says to do more than just pray: it tells us to “knock” — which infers taking action.

Tommy, Caleb, Jessica and Dad
Tommy, Caleb, Jessica and Dad

Speaking of knocking, I remember when our oldest daughter, Jessica, was 12-years old. (What is it about 12-year old daughters and their daddies?) We were having a family night on the topic of sharing the gospel — which consisted mostly of me sharing inspiring conversion stories I had been blessed to be a part of — when Jess said, “Dad, we should share the gospel with our neighbors!”

“Of course we should,” I replied in an academic, theoretical, abstract and completely oblivious way.

“No, I mean we should go across the street right now and you can share the gospel with our neighbors!”

“Yeah!” exclaimed 10 year old Tommy with enthusiasm unfeigned.

“Yeah!” concurred 7 year old Caleb.

If being outnumbered is the hallmark of a true parent, I was never a truer parent than I was at that moment.

“Uh…” I stammered, “It’s kind of late to be calling on our neighbors unannounced. Maybe we should visit them next Monday night for family night.”

Yes, I was stalling. In fact, I think I half hoped that if we stalled this, perhaps they would forget and I wouldn’t have to go through with it.

We came up with a plan where we would shovel their driveway during the week, then next family night we would pay them a visit.

When the next Monday came, I swung by and picked up a couple of pizzas — one for us one one for them. Of course, normal families would bring a plate of cookies, but according to the kids anything I might cook for them would seriously set back the Lord’s work, if not their health.

Meanwhile, to my surprise, the kids dressed up in Sunday best for the event, like missionaries.

After a prayer, we started our trek across the street: dad up front, 3 excited little kids right behind me. Trust me, as we crossed the street I was asking that I might receive. In fact, I think I was praying that they would not be home.

And speaking of knocking, I’m pretty sure that is exactly what my knees were doing.

Finally, we stood at the door and knocked. Nathan answered.

“Tom!” he said, surprised, looking puzzled at our spiffy appearance. “I’ve been meaning to thank you for doing our driveway this week.”

“Our pleasure, Nathan,” I replied. “I hope you haven’t had dinner yet because we brought you a pizza. We just thought we’d come by and tell you we love you, and really appreciate having good neighbors like you.”

From inside the house I could hear Katie yell, “Nathan, who’s at the door?”

Nathan, pizza box in hand, looked into the house and said, “It’s Tom from across the street.”

“What’s he want?”

Nathan close the door part way and replied, “He says he loves me.”

(Actually, he didn’t really say that — I just couldn’t resist the joke.)

In the months that came, we invited them to family and church activities. Likewise, they had us over for movies and we became more than just neighbors… we became friends.

Emily is right: I am really old, but thanks to the many great lessons I’ve learned from my kids over the years, I’m starting to get a bit wiser as well. For instance, I have observed that we Christians often use our faith to set ourselves apart from others, perhaps momentarily forgetting that the Christianity Jesus Christ taught was inclusive. In fact, many of us have social circles that rarely include significant time spent with people outside of our own faith.

Yes, we want to be in the world and not of the world, but we are also supposed to be the salt of the earth, and what good is salt that never makes it outside the shaker?

A certain lawyer, seeking to justify himself once asked our Savior, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29). The Savior responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

“… A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37).

What a charge and a challenge to all followers of Christ: “Go, and do thou likewise.”

Who is your neighbor?