My Neighbor’s Roses - A Poem and A Lesson

by Mary Stephens
Dec. 2017


My Neighbor's Roses


The roses red upon my neighbor’s vine

Are owned by him, but they are also mine.

His was the cost, and his the labor, too,

But mine as well as his the joy, their loveliness to view.


They bloom for me and are for me as fair

As for the man who gives them all his care.

Thus I am rich, because a good man grew

A rose-clad vine for all his neighbor’s view.


I know from this that others plant for me,

And what they own, my joy may also be.

So why be selfish, when so much that’s fine

Is grown for you, upon your neighbor’s vine?


by Abraham L. Gruber


When my family lived in Arizona we had a fenced yard enclosed by a chain link fence. In quite a bit of the fence there were wooden slats woven through the openings to give more privacy inside the yard. I loved growing flowers and shrubs at that time and I planted a lot of things in our yard. Among many other things, I planted hollyhocks and climbing roses along the fence.



Inside the fence.


The climbing roses eventually covered a good deal of the fence and were pretty inside as well as outside. The hollyhocks reseeded themselves outside the fence and at some point my dad told us to be sure to water the ones outside the fence too so that we could share a tithe of their beauty with our neighbors as well. Although I obviously knew that other people enjoyed my flowers, this was an interesting thought to me - the idea that we could "tithe" to others through the beauty of our own flowers. And, he was correct. I’m sure that various people enjoyed those flowers when they were in bloom as our street on that side was one of the main roads into that neighborhood.



Outside the fence from a different angle, and later in the summer.


In fact, I think we made at least one friend through those flowers. One lady in particular stopped to talk to us one day. I don’t even remember what her reason was for stopping the first time, but she was a Christian and she grew to love my mom. Over the years we were there she stopped from time to time to visit for a little bit. She was a real blessing to us on more than one occasion. We eventually found out that she had laid out a replica of the Garden of Gethsemane in her yard out in the desert somewhere, and in retrospect I’m sure that our flowering yard attracted her and she knew that she would find people there who would be like her in at least a love for flowers and gardening. Because of those flowers she found some fellow saints and was able to have spiritual fellowship as well. She was from Panama and I expect that it was a bonus to her to meet people who were used to interacting with international people.


Although we were not law keepers or torah observers, my dad is quite conscious of the principle that the tithe in the Old Testament was not so much about money as about things, especially produce of both plants and animals. He tried to give the first fruits of his garden away too, as long as they weren't too bug eaten or puny. He also shared the abundance - the extra - with people in our church fellowships and sometimes with his piano tuning customers. This was not accidental either. It was important to him to plant enough to have extra to share, still is in fact.


Do you share the flowers and vegetable of your life with others? Oh, yes, I mean the real ones; but also the figurative ones as well. There are many fruits from our lives that we can "tithe" to others and so give to the Lord.


There are musicians who sometimes refuse to share their ability with others in any way for purely selfish reasons. There are those who have artistic abilities who only paint or draw for their own personal enjoyment and never share it with anyone. There are people who have hobbies that might bring enjoyment or even help to others who instead choose to keep it all to themselves for their own pleasure.


As Christians we ought not to live like this. Those things that we have received freely - the ability to garden, musical talent, artistic ability, and many more - should be freely shared with others as well. These are not talents that we got by our own choice, although practice and effort certainly brings improvement. But, often times these talents were given to us without our knowledge either through early exposure or through an inborn skill.


In Matthew 10:8, Jesus tells His disciples, Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. He was speaking of these miracle works that He had given them to use for His glory. But, there are other abilities and works that we have received "freely", as it were. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 4:7, For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?


Yes, some people need to make a living from these skills. This is a legitimate use for them. However, even in that we need to remember to also give some of our talent away for the glory of God and to be a blessing to others. When we become focused on always getting our "money's worth" or exactly what we think we "deserve" for our efforts, we can fall into selfishness and greed. If we use our talents and abilities for purely selfish reasons, we should not be surprised if the Lord takes them away from us at some point. When we refuse to give what was given to us, we may find that the source is taken away.


Now, to be clear on one point, there are some parts of life that we don’t share. As it is mentioned in Song of Solomon, there are some “gardens” that should be “enclosed” and not open for all to see. Some things in life may not be meant for the blessing of all, but for those special few or that special one - our own family or our own spouse.


Another thing to keep in mind is that we are not called upon to give away those things that are needful for the survival of our own family. I have heard of people who were so pressured to give by their pastor that they actually gave away more than they could well afford and their own children suffered lack because of their generosity. This is not right. To give of your own provision when you only will suffer from it may be one choice you decide to make, but those who are dependent upon you for their provision ought not be made to do without the necessities of life because you’ve given away the things they actually need.


Mothers (and fathers) who spend so much time "serving the Lord" in one way or another that they neglect their rightful responsibilities to their own children are wrong. Wives who are too busy "helping" with church projects or other types of service to attend to the legitimate needs of their husbands are wrong as well. The same applies for the husbands who neglect their wives for the "ministry." I've heard of these things happening.

Jesus spoke to these problems as well. Matthew 15:4-6 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.


What they were doing was allegedly giving to God those things that should have been used to care for their parents. This is the same as telling your family that time, energy, or resources that you should be spending on them belongs to God, so they have to do without. That is not the kind of giving or "tithing" I am trying to encourage here. Please do not take away from those who rightfully have claim to your efforts by claiming that it's for God.


Can you think of some ways that you can share the beauty of life with others? Can you share some essentials as well, like garden produce or eggs or milk?


Are you a bargain hunter? Can you share that skill with others, or perhaps pick up an extra item or package here or there to pass on to someone else who may not be able to find those things as easily as you do?


If you sew you can find little projects to do with scraps or during sewing sessions - things that you can give to someone else for their pleasure and enjoyment.


 Some people are skilled at reading out loud. Perhaps you could make a time to read to someone who is struggling with their vision and finds it difficult to read now.


It doesn’t have to be complicated. There are many little courtesies like this that we have lost in our modern age of technology and constant demands for our time.

Acts 20:35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.


Jesus Christ said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I think that we sometimes miss the small and simple ways that we can give because so much emphasis is put on giving in the offering plate at church meetings. Let’s find ways to share the “red roses” of life. Let’s carry flowers to the neighbor and fresh fruit and vegetables to our friends - both figuratively and literally.


Luke 6:38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.


Graphics and photos by Mary Stephens.
Painting: "Auld Lang Syne", by Margaret Isobel Dicksee