Friday, May 04, 2007

Neighborhood Struggles

This is the post about which I feel the absolute worst. I feel that I mishandled the occasion, got caught off guard and boy, it's one of those events that you always look back at and just--cringe. Today I found that the person who read the most of my blogs ever clicked out at this one. I guess I lost any credibility by its being here. But I also feel at this point that it would be kind of dishonest to remove it. What a mess. I still don't know exactly what I should have done unless it was to offer to pay to have the thing repaired--maybe just what they were hoping we'd do--at least, I do wish that we'd have grouped together and prayed before I went out there half-cocked and shot my response from the hip.
Boy, the struggles of being a neighbor. I vaguely remember a poem I can't currently find, that tells how the writer would love to serve Christ on a faraway shore, but his struggle is in loving the neighbor next door. It does sober me, and hits home far too often!
Last night in the midst of a Bible study at my neighbor Stacia's house, Gary and Katie knocked on the door. Gary was perplexed to say the least and wanted my help. I think things would have gone better without me there; at least I would have been happier to miss the whole thing, and I'm not at all sure I did the best that Jesus would have had me do.
It turned out that our Hindu neighbors were saying that Tim had pushed a hole in their garage door. Tim denied it, and I believe him. All the kids who were visiting the neighbors, however, claimed it was all Tim's fault. They had been inside the garage, and he was outside. The door was down; I had noticed it over the past few months buckling and sagging as I drove by into the cul-de-sac, and so I think it was already in trouble when Tim came upon it. He had a rubber snake in his hand (this is where I think he could have used better judgment; this family from India hates and fears snakes even though we've reassured them that the only snakes around here are garter snakes which are non-poisonous, and one of which Tim removed from their garage in times past, much to their amazement and awe at the time--still, Tim should have left his rubber snake at home last night). He pushed it through an already-existing opening in the garage door, presumably to tease the girls inside. The garage panel was pushed outward when we came to discuss it with the parents.
The father challenged that Tim had broken their garage door (which was not so much broken as misadjusted and out of place), and said that all the kids had said that Tim was at fault. Well, I know when Tim is lying, because he can't hide a smirk, and he can't look me in the face. This time, though, he looked up at me, exceptionally sad and dismayed. He said he didn't do it and I believed him. I also know that the previous Sunday, when I was home from church and not feeling well, I'd seen their daughter ringing doorbells and running off, and she denied it. In fact, she and her friends tried accusing Tim of it; only he was at church, so that didn't work.
So anyway, the father was appalled that I believed Tim over his girls and their friends. Never mind that the door was pushed outward, and not inward, and that there was an opening to begin with that should not have been there if the door had been maintained.
The frustrating thing is that Tim has been a friend to their girls and their little toddler boy when no one else was, when they first moved in. The girls would have birthday parties and Tim would be the only one to respond to the invitation. He invited them to his birthdays as well. When the little boy was bored because the older kids ignored him and no one was watching over him either, Tim would play with him on the sidewalk. The family seems to have forgotten these things. Now the kids gang up with other kids in the cul-de-sac against him, and make one accusation after another against him. Tim is the only one who doesn't have any siblings out there playing, and the only other homeschoolers are a couple of tough boys who are older than these other kids. Tim is also the youngest other than the two toddler boys on the street. It all makes him an easy target. Tim often comes in distressed by their behavior; still, a half hour goes by and he goes out to try to play with them again. He's more persistent and more forgiving than I am.
So last night, these neighbors made their accusations and then would ask Tim a question. He would get two words out and they would interrupt him. Finally they said that they weren't accusing him (what?) and that all kids make mistakes and do things wrong. They said he could come back again, only be more careful next time.
I told them that I guessed we were at an impasse. It looked to me like it was safer to just not have him be on their property at all. They looked surprised and said it was okay, he could come back. To be accused again? No, I think it's better that he stay away. And I don't think he should play with these kids. The accusations are going to get more sophisticated and more damaging.
I went back to my Bible study with Stacia, only since the study focused on judgment and hypocrisy (Romans 3), I felt that I had ironically gone out and been a hypocrite. Why not be maligned? Why not be insulted? We had defended Tim, who had been unjustly treated; only I felt that I should have instead done something to make Christ known to them in the process. Still, I can't picture them being receptive. Stacia looked at me and asked if I was alright. I told her some of what was whirling around in my head. She asked, "What would you have wanted to do? What result would make you happy?" I wasn't sure, really; it was hard to say, because I was so unsure exactly what would have been the best possible result, and how possible it was to help them understand, but above all, how to handle it in such a way as to please God.
This morning Tim went out to work off some energy so he could focus on his homeschooling. Their little boy was out there alone, and asked Tim to play with him. Tim said he'd better not, and went home. The boy followed him, and asked him why he wasn't being nice. Tim just said he'd better go home, and the little boy left.
I have sighed many times today over it. My mind still works overtime on the subject. I have prayed for them many times before that and today, prayed for the ability to love them anyway if only from a distance, and for the right attitude and the right things to say if and when I should encounter the opportunity. Still, it seems I won't be able to get much across, because they talk faster and interrupt if they don't want to hear something.
There seems to be a disconnect between Tim's willingness to be a friend to them and their response. The little boy very clearly doesn't make the connection between their striking out at Tim and Tim retreating from them. I doubt that the others in their family do, either.
So it is. Ideally, missions work sounds glorious. I'm sure it's more gritty in actuality. When strangers become neighbors, the rough edges can cut like one of those lawn-edging machines; personally, I doubt that I'm cut out for missions work. I don't know how to even work with the neighbor in my American cul-de-sac. I am gaining a higher regard for those who have accomplished so much with their unbelieving neighbors, and for missionaries living in other lands with strangers, whose foreign ways predominate and where the missionaries are already outnumbered and at such a disadvantage.

1 comment:

J.OTIS MERSTER said...

That's one heck of a messy situation. I wish I had some kind of advise or wisdom to share, but my own neighbors are perplexing enough. Isn't there a saying, "Each neighbor has enough trouble of his own."?