I should preface this story by telling you that I’m a country girl. I grew up in the country. We didn’t have any neighbors next to us; we had corn fields and fence rows. And, while we did have a neighbor across the street, we were separated by our huge front yard, and the road, and lots of trees, and their front yard, and their trees. You get the idea.
My husband and I moved into our current home in the month of November. It was cold. Everyone in our new small-town-neighborhood was safely inside. I recognized that since we had a corner lot, most of our yard was on the side of the house. I realized that my “back yard” all fifteen feet of it, directly overlooked the neighbor’s yard and their shed. I just didn’t think it mattered. And it didn’t, until spring.
As it turns out, that yard was something of a party place. There were crowds of teenagers and young adults (mostly male) hanging around all the time. In fact, I couldn’t really enjoy my own yard because of the smoke and language coming over the chain link fence that stood between us. To top it off, suspicious stuff happened in that shed. I knew because when I was standing there, doing dishes in my sink, looking out the window, I could see things. Things like people constantly coming and going, to the point that they wore a path to the shed, and sometimes I even saw sketchy packages and money exchanging hands.
If all this wasn’t enough, those same smoking, partying, and possibly drug handling boys would pee behind their shed. “Behind” is a relative term, because although their friends couldn’t see them, they were in full view of their innocent, suddenly surprised, dish-washing neighbor. That was the last straw for me! I wanted to call the police…my husband wanted to be good neighbors.
Thankfully, one day during dish-washing, when a young man got the urge to take a leak, my husband opened the window and yelled, “Hey, we can see you!” That got the boys’ attention. After that they went under the tarp which was over the shed when they peed. I still knew what they were doing, but at least I could only see their feet.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35
These words are so uncomfortable! What is Jesus talking about? Surely he doesn’t mean that I die to the idea of having a pleasant yard or being able to do dishes without seeing someone peeing outside my window. Aren’t those basic human rights? And yet…what’s more important? Being able to “enjoy” my life or being someone who shows the love of Jesus to a broken world? “…for My sake and the gospel’s…”
Unfortunately I’m not a very fast learner…which is bad for me but good for stories.
A month or two later I was coming home with my children. My husband was gone for the night. As I turned the corner in my mini-van, I noticed two teenage boys standing under one of the beautiful maple trees in our front yard. They were smacking at it with sticks, leaves were flying, and small branches covered the ground.The minute they saw me, the boys took off. I was furious! I’d put up with so much from these neighborhood hoodlums, they were not going to get away with destroying my tree.
Without thinking, I slammed my van into park, grabbed my babies, and chased those boys down the street. Seriously! With a baby on my hip and my three-year old dragging behind me, I yelled at those big, scary, teenage boys to stop because I was done with this! Surprisingly, they stopped and let me question them. Even though I’d seen them with my own eyes, they vigorously denied knowing what happened to my tree.
About this time, I realized that I was home alone tonight, and these boys weren’t the safest people, and they had a lot of friends. With that in mind, I let them go and took my babies home. Then I got scared. What had I done? Was I safe? What happened to being a light in a dark world and showing our neighbors the love of Jesus?
I locked myself in my house, put my children to bed, and prayed.
A short time later I heard noises outside. The boys were back…with rakes and plastic bags! I went out on my porch and watched them as they cleaned up the leaves and branches under my tree. We talked. I thanked them for admitting what they’d done and cleaning it up. They were surprised I wasn’t angry with them any more. We enjoyed the summer evening together. It was good.
Somehow after that, we were friends. They would wave at me when they walked by, and I’d wave and smile back. I felt safe because these “hoodlums” were on my side, even if they did still pee under the tarp outside my kitchen window.
The next school year, one of them unexpectedly showed up at our youth group for a night. Even though he didn’t come back again, I know he heard the gospel and the saw love of Jesus.
I wonder how different things would have been if I’d had my way and called the police instead of choosing to love and be good neighbors. I have a feeling that by trying to “save my life” I would have lost a lot…
This “losing your life” stuff, this “denying yourself”, it’s hard! Sometimes it hurts. And it’s not a one time deal. This story is from almost four years ago, but I’ve been learning more about taking up my cross and choosing to lose my life in the last few weeks than I ever imagined was possible. It’s uncomfortable and humbling and it goes against our human nature. But it’s worth it! Jesus is worth it! The good news of the gospel makes it worth it!