Who is your Max Farmer?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a women's retreat here in our backyard--not literally but figuratively. I joined 600 of my closest friends for two-and-a-half days of nourishing our minds, bodies and souls. What a welcome respite to end the dreary month of January. I knew nothing about the speaker, the format or any other details before I forked over my $155 (isn't that a steal for two nights in a luxury hotel plus meals) and clicked "register". Truthfully I was more excited about spending time away from boys, having someone else prepare my meals and pick up my dirty towels and relishing some girl time. If I knew what I was in store, I would have gladly paid twice the amount and dragged a few more friends along with me.

I've only experienced hearing a handful of speakers at various women's events over the years.They have all been gifted, engaging and inspiring. However, the lovely lady who addressed us at each of the four sessions ranks right up there with Beth Moore as one of the most gifted speakers on the planet. She was passionate, energetic, self-effacing and hilarious. Her name was Lori Salierno. Her resume boasts a B.A., a Master's and a Doctorate but her legacy will be how she has let God mold and use her to change lives. And, over the short weekend, she surely changed mine. A story she shared on the last day was the one I was most impacted by and have re-told to anyone who will listen. Now that you're logged on, I have you captive too. Read on. I promise it will be worth it.

Disclaimer: I am completely going by memory so the story will not be completely accurate but my hope is that the spirit of it will inspire you.

Many years ago when Lori and her husband were newlyweds, they bought their first home in an Indianapolis neighborhood. After a week of waiting to be welcomed by her new neighbors with chocolate chip cookies, Lori decided to take matters into her own hands. On a Saturday morning she left the house with a pencil and a piece of paper and told her husband she was going to meet their neighbors. At the first door she knocked on (next door), she was greeted by a grumpy old man who exhaled his cigarette smoke in her face as he grunted in response to her enthusiasm. I think I would have called it good and went back home. Not Lori. She made her way around the entire cul-de-sac of 10 houses and returned with her mission on paper: praying and being light to her neighbors.

As the days and weeks went by she continued to pray for and love on the man next door Max Farmer. (isn't that a great name?) Day after day, when she drove in and out of her driveway, Lori waved and yelled "Hi Max!!" and "Bye Max!!!" to which the only response was his trademark grunt. One day she sensed God was telling her to follow up her prayers with doing a good deed for Max. Looking over at his house, she noticed the grass was unusually high. Next thing he knew, Lori was powering up the mower and cutting Max's front yard. He came out and yelled at her that he didn't like little girls mowing his lawn. To which Lori replied "You'll get over it!" and kept plugging away at the task at hand. A few weeks went by and one Saturday morning the tables were turned. Max was out returning the favor. So, of course, she had to go out to her porch and yell, "Hey! I don't like old men mowing my lawn!" I'll let you guess how he replied.

After the job was done, Max joined Lori on her front porch for a glass of ice water. He told her "I never liked you and I never was going to but, ya know, you kind of grow on a person." Lori chuckled and responded by telling him, not only how much she loved him, but how much God loved him as well. Shortly thereafter Lori and her husband moved away from the Midwest. Several years went by when Max tracked Lori down and excitedly told her he was "head deacon" in his church. Lori's persistent, unconditional love of her neighbor softened this hard, cynical man's heart and made a believer out of him. Her face shined as she shared this anecdote with us. Life continued for another couple of years when Lori got a phone call from Vicki Farmer, Max's daughter. Lori excitedly inquired about Vicki's father to which she replied, "He died on Monday." After offering her condolences, Vicki went on to tell her that although she was not into God or church herself she was calling to reiterate her dad's last words to Lori. She said "Before my dad took his last breath, he said 'find Lori Salierno for me and tell her that I am going to Heaven and I'll be waiting for her there.' I'm calling to tell you that."

Is that beautiful or what? I, myself, do not have a perfect history when it comes to loving my neighbors--especially those who have done or said hurtful things to me or my kids. I am not proud of that. Tune in tomorrow where I will share with you a tangible way God used me today to redeem where I have messed up.