Two days ago, we invited a young neighbor girl to Sofie’s birthday party. We’re not having a huge party this year, but I remember being the neighbor girl that was excluded (read: purposefully not invited), so I felt a lot compassion for this girl.
Sofie and I walked over to her house to deliver an invitation. I’ve been a neighbor of the girl’s mother for 25 years, but I’ve never once set foot on their property.
The reason is rooted in a deep fear. Their family has more trouble than the rest of the block combined. The mom of this little girl grew up on this block and still lives with her mom who struggles with alcoholism, and as I recently found out, struggles with hoarding and other mental illness. There is often yelling, screaming, cursing, very loud music, etc. coming from their house. Unlike me, policemen often frequent the place, sometimes because of complaints, and often because they’re on their patrol route. I would bet that this family knows the names of more police officers than they do their neighbors.
All of those reasons are legitimate ones to keep anyone away, but maybe, I thought, all of those reasons were exactly why I needed to cross the property line. We walked up and handed the invitation to the little girl. She was delighted. “What does it say! Read it!”
These neighbors have known my name for a while now because they recently started attending my church. We talk for a few minutes when we see each other, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount that the girl’s mom would share with me this time.
She told me the heaviest thing on her heart. One of her dog’s, the one she brought home at 5 weeks old and who she had for 11 years and who always slept with her — her dog died a week ago, and the worst part is that she suspected that her pup was poisoned. And it was all so much to bear for her since her dad’s passing.
Wait. Hold up. Did you just say your dad died? Yes. On April 5th.
Her dad has had health issues, but he was almost always out walking. Did I forget to notice? The saddest part to me is that this family has been our neighbors for 25 years and we went four and a half months without knowing her dad died.
These past few days I’ve been humbled as I realize that I’ve been quicker to judge these neighbors than I have been to offer a safe place, or an ear to listen, or a card and flowers to comfort. There’s so much more — so much more hurt and depth and emotion to this story– this family– than I can share. But because I stepped over that property line, I was able to listen to a hurting woman who doesn’t have many (any?) friends and I had a little girl and her brother over for a play date to share our safe place with them in the middle of their hurting. This mama is a really good mom who is doing her best with what she’s been given. And those little kids, they’re the sweetest. They’re kind and polite and eager to please.
When God said to love our neighbor as ourself, he wasn’t just talking about the ones who are easy to love. He was talking about all of them, perhaps, especially, the ones who are hard to love because they’re the ones who need it most. He didn’t tell the Israelites to love the only their people, he told them to love the Samaritans, too. I think he means the same for me.