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On the day we moved into the house I noticed him. He was sitting in his collapsible lawn chair, reading the paper and keeping tabs on what we were doing – and, he had quite the show to watch. You don’t move a family of five and two cats ten hours from where they had lived and not cause a stir in the neighborhood. It also was no secret who we were either. Word travels in a little town. When your husband is on staff at the Baptist church across town people seem to know who you are even before your whole family makes it into town.
He read some more. I could feel his eyes beating down on the back of my neck when I was hauling in boxes. I tried smiling at him when I came out the next time for yet another box. The smile was not returned – rather the paper quickly was pushed up to hide his eyes.
It made me feel a little weird. He seemed odd. I was pretty sure I did not like him.
We started making our new house a home. With three little ones, the yard was full of giggles and loud talking as the kids ran through the yard and played. Every day, the neighbor would come out, sit in his chair and ‘read’ his paper. I would watch from behind closed blinds as he eyed the children playing. Was he perturbed with them? Did he hate children? It almost seemed that way.
It made me feel even odder the longer it went on. I would smile and wave; but there would be no response on his part. He would just lift the paper up past his eyes and avoid eye contact as soon as I made an attempt to make contact with him.
I took to watching him. I would watch him while he was out. While he was hanging his laundry on the line. While he was taking out his trash. While he was washing his car. If I was outside I would wave and smile. There was never a smile returned and never a wave given in my direction. I was sure he hated me; and I was growing increasingly aware of the fact that I did not like that neighbor from across the street.
One morning there was a knock on the door. I went and opened the door to a police officer dressed to the hilt in his uniform - (gun at his side, badge on his chest and a complaint form in his hand). A complaint form from a neighbor, (the officer did not give names; but did politely pointed to the neighbor who just ‘happened’ to be sitting in his chair (much earlier than normal) ‘reading’ his paper. Seems the neighbor had called the police to let them know that our cat had trespassed on his yard and he wanted it to stop.
I was aghast at the complaint that had been filed and wondered almost aloud why he had not come over and talked to me himself; but I bit my tongue and kept my thoughts to myself. I thanked the officer for letting me know of the complaint and promised that I would make sure that our cat did not leave the house. I told him he could let the neighbor know that it would not be a problem again and to send our apology to the neighbor. I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
I closed the door and was completely and totally sure that I did not like that man.
I told my husband just *how* much I did not like him. He listened and told me I should send over a plate of cookies and introduce myself to him.
Cookies were baked the next day and placed on a plate. Under the plate I put an invitation to our church and had the children draw a card for the neighbor and set it under the cookies also. I then sent our oldest daughter over to deliver the peace offering.
I watched as she crossed the street; but I was watching more to see what he would do when she knocked on the door. I watched the interaction between the two to see if the man who never smiled – well, smiled.
He did – but only a little. I took that as a good sign.
Rachel came home and told me she had delivered the cookies and all was well. I figured that would be the
end of it and hopefully we would be able to build a relationship with this odd little man from across the street. I prayed that at least God would have him stop watching us. Always watching.
About ten minutes later the doorbell rang. I went to the door to find *the* neighbor standing on the doorstep. Plate in hand. I smiled as I opened the door and figured I would get a nice big thank you and I would be able to meet this man and have things not feel so odd.
I was not greeted by a smile. He held the plate out and said, “I came to return the plate; and this…”
It was the invitation to our church. It was also a gospel tract.
He held it out and shook it a little, as if to tell me to take it out of his hand as quickly as I could.
I tried to keep my composure and figure out what to say next. He beat me to the punch, “We don’t want you to sending over that kind of stuff to our house. Do you hear?” I told him sorry and took the plate.
Thanked him for returning it and muttered something about having a good day.
I closed the door and knew I did not like him at all. Not one little bit. I was going through all the reasons that I had for not liking him. I had compiled a big list and we had not even lived in the house a month.
As I tried to take a deep breath and will my hands to stop shaking a still small voice could be heard, “He needs a friend. He needs to see Jesus…”
I wanted to hang on to my hatred for him. Our cats had to find a new home because of that man. My children were always watched because of that man; and I always felt so odd when I went out. “He doesn’t need a friend,” I argued, “He needs a life!”
The urging inside of me would not stop. “Show him kindness. Show him Christ.”
I had a choice to make. Right there I could choose to hold on to my ‘right’ to dislike him. He *had* been quite a thorn in my side for the past four weeks; or I could choose grace. Forgiveness.
Is that choice ever easy? No; but it is always simple. Choose to treat him the way that God has treated me. With grace.
I wish every time I am given that choice I would choose grace. So many times I have chosen to hang onto the list – everything that person has done to hurt me. So many times I have made my life miserable in making that choice.
However, with God’s enablement I choose right then to allow Christ to flow through me and to love him despite his disposition - and his eagle eyes - and his complaints to the police. “God show me how to get through to him!” I looked at one of the kids who were standing close by – watching and waiting to see what Mom would say about the man.
It was not my words that came out; but gracious words from the Holy Spirit. “Kids, we are going to make this man our project. We are going to be the best neighbors he has ever had. It is our mission to do everything we can to make him like us.”
A plan was devised. Goodies would be sent over every week. If the children were out playing they were to wave and smile at him no matter what. If he was in need they were to go over and help him.
In about two month’s time, the kids had befriended the neighbor across the street. James had gone over and helped him carry in some groceries. Rachel had gone over and asked if she could help him hang his clothes on the line. I had taken over baked goods and even was invited in to see his wife (I did not even know he had a wife) who was an invalid and unable to leave the house.
Rachel went over and played her violin for them. We went over and a family and sang to them. We took over Christmas presents, birthday presents; and I was consistently baking things and sending them over with the kids.
In time, the invalid wife became sicker and sicker. When she fell and could not get up off the floor, it was our house that was called and Rob who went over to help the man help his wife. When she was sent to the hospital because her health was failing, we went up and sat with them, prayed with them and cried with them.
They became some of our dearest friends. The kids received birthday presents from them, Christmas cards and candy, and odd and ends of yard toys that he would find when out and about around town.
One night we got a call. His wife had taken a turn for the worst. He asked if Rob could come to the hospital and pray with them. (This was the man who handed back the tract from our church….) We headed up there despite the lateness of the hour. We watched with the family as she was taking some of her last breaths. Rob prayed. He presented Christ and salvation to them; and as I sat there and watched the interaction I marveled at how all of that would not have been had I held a grudge and not shown grace.
People wrong me all the time – I wrong others ALL the time (ask my kids). Every time I am hurt by someone else I am given a choice. Grace or Grudge. Never, in all the times I have had a choice, have I been disappointed when I chose Grace. Not. One. Time.
I thought a lot today about grace. God’s grace to me. How freeing it is to know that there is nothing I can do or say that is not covered by grace. God delights in redeeming me and showing me grace. I desperately need His grace and what liberation it brings to me when I know there is an abundant supply – more than I will ever need. He will always extend to me grace.
Oh, to have His heart; and to delight in showing grace to others! I fail so many times; but when I look back on the times I have chosen to extend grace rather than a grudge – I have never regretted it.