Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Don't Judge That Behavior By A First Impression

     The 2 situations I am about to describe took place over several years.  I tell you this because I don't want my life to sound too eventful.
    Pete Nelson (name changed to protect the innocent) was a neighbor who lived just down the street.  I really didn't like the guy.  He was arrogant and seemed to care very little about anyone around him.  Where ever he worked, he had to be there early and he had two modes of transportation.  One was a motorcycle and the other was some kind of hot rod he worked on in his spare time.  Both vehicles sounded as if he simply opted out of installing mufflers and this was painfully obvious as he roared down our street every morning around 5:30 AM.  After enduring this for a while I finally got enough and walked down to his house to see what could be done.  I rang his doorbell several times and was about to leave when I heard him yell for me to come around back.  As I entered his back yard, I was absolutely transfixed.  Most of his back yard consisted of play equipment for kids, some of which I had never seen the likes of before.  Seeing my shock and fascination he explained that most of it was of his personal design and was made specifically to accommodate children with all types of disabilities.  He had two perfectly healthy children of his own but his sisters son of 6 has cerebral palsy.  He found out his nephew, like many other children with health issues, had never experienced the joy of a playground.  He had never ridden a merry-go-round or a seesaw.  We lived in a fairly large city and he discovered there were many children like his nephew so he decided to do something about it.  His designs and accomplishments were nothing short of amazing.  Most of his Saturdays were spent watching parents with their disabled children enjoying the fruits of his labors as well as designing and building new items for them to enjoy.
     Needless to say I was speechless and never said a word about the noise.  As a matter of fact, I didn't hear it a lot after that and when I did, I smiled.  The noise told me a good man was still kicking.

    Years ago I moved into a new neighborhood with my family.  The second day, a neighbor came over and introduced herself.  She set about telling us all about the neighborhood and the neighbors.  She said all of the neighbors were really nice except for one old woman who lived by herself and had nothing to do with anyone.  When she left, I made a bee line to the old woman's house.  I must say she seemed very apprehensive as I stood on her front steps explaining who I was but after a few minutes, she invited me in for coffee and the best chocolate brownies I have ever put in my mouth.  Her name was Ellen and after about half an hour of general chit-chat she began to tell me her story.  Almost 15 years before, her husband and 3 children were killed in a terrible automobile accident after which she withdrew into herself.  All she does now is go to work and come home.  Pictures of her lost family adorned every wall I could see. I have to tell you we cried together for quite a while but then we prayed together.  She desperately missed being around people and she said she often peeked through the blinds to watch when she heard small children playing in the area.  One of the things the first neighbor told me was how they had all seen her peeking at them when they were walking near her house.  No one understood all she was doing was watching that which she felt was that of which she could no longer be a part.  She was lonely and that loneliness was eating her up inside and she had no idea what to do about it.  I asked her if she was trying to keep her experiences private or if she would mind letting people know.  She simply said she did not care one way or the other.  Before I left, I invited her to our house on the following Saturday afternoon for what I was going to call a neighborhood get-together.  After applying a little pressure, she agreed to come.
     My wife heartily agreed to the get-together and as a matter of fact, she took care of most of the arrangements.  My job was to get the other neighbors to come.  My task was not difficult as most of the neighbors seemed thrilled to come.  Several of them did tell me not to bother the old woman because she would never come.  I just smiled.
     What I experienced that following Saturday was nothing short of a miracle. I know at first I embarrassed Ellen a little as I described what I had been told by so many of them and what I had discovered when I went to Ellen's house.  I told it to them the same way she had told it to me.  I don't think I have ever been in a situation where there were so many tears and hugs.
     Since that wonderful Saturday, Ellen's house became a standard pit stop for all the kids in the neighborhood.  I told you she made great brownies but it seems she also makes great cookies, cakes, and pies as well.  She also generally has her evening meal about 3 times a week at one of the neighbor's homes and she cooks burgers and hotdogs almost every weekend the weather allows and most of us stopped by for one.  She also became very active in her church and shone her light everywhere she went.
     Several years later, when my second child was due and we needed a bigger house, I went to tell Ellen we were moving.  Needless to say there were tears as I explained to her I had little to do with the change in her life.  It was Jesus that led both of us then just as He leads both of us today and just as He would continue to lead as long as we would let Him.  I continued to see her from time to time until I left the state.  I have never seen anyone who shined a brighter light than hers and I never saw it dim.
     We can never know exactly what our neighbors have done or been through.  What we do know, and sometimes forget, is Jesus's direction to love one another.  He didn't add any conditions to that such as unless they wake you up in the morning or peek out their windows at you.  Remember, hate is poison.  Love is the cure.

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