Ephesians 4:2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
A couple of weeks, ago as I thumbed through the mail, I found a pretty post card with beautiful Columbine flowers on the front. I thought to myself, “How pretty.” and turned it over to see who had written us. Perhaps a friend was on vacation in Colorado and didn’t have time to swing on by I thought. Then, my eyes met the message and I felt a little bit of horror in my heart. “Help keep Colorado and our neighborhood beautiful. Keep your trash can in your garage.” There was no return address, no name, no way of knowing who sent it. Ouch.
Since my brain injury, we as a family have worked very hard to maintain our yard and home. The trash can has been taken to the curb only on trash day and has either been on the side of our house or at the front of our home between our cars the rest of the time. Other neighbors do the same thing so we didn’t see any issue. Yet someone, who we probably don’t know that well, was obviously very angry about us not keeping our trash can in garage. Angry enough to pay for a stamp, drive over to the post office and mail an anonymous post card to us.
When I first read the letter I stood on my front lawn looking around at every home. Who would do this? Don’t they know how hard our life is? Where is the grace? Why is a trash can so important but coming over to check on a neighbor who at times is hobbling around with a cane not so important? It’s all messed up I thought. Everything in me wanted to figure out who this person was and make them feel hurt and embarrassed like I did.
When I showed Phillip the post card he too was mad. He insisted we were NOT going to give in to the demands of cowards. “We’ve worked as hard to keep our house beautiful under very difficult circumstances” he bellowed. He felt giving in to their demands implied guilt and he didn’t want to even think of going there. “You even planted a garden this summer when things were really hard.” he said. Everything Phillip said was true and yet someone apparently felt we weren’t doing enough. It was frustrating to say the least. Somehow the impersonal nature of what they did made it sting all the more.
That night, before I went to bed, I pulled our garbage can into the garage. While keeping it outside does make it easier for me, in reality moving it inside doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it apparently did our neighbor when it was outside. Before I able to move it though, I needed a good reminder from the Lord to give me perspective. That perspective came from the verses in Matthew 5:38 – 42
You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile,carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”
Jesus’ teaching has a way of cutting through all the junk to the heart of the matter. We needed to stay humble and let our neighbor have what is important to them. We could have gotten into a huge neighborhood fight over our silly trash can. We could have cried foul at the insensitivity of our neighbor for our personal situation — and they probably could have said we were insensitive to theirs. Instead, it was easier to quietly and humbly comply and hope peace would return to our little neighborhood that we call home.
Two days later, to my great surprise, two freshly cooked loaves of banana bread were stuffed into our mailbox. The writing on the Ziploc bags sure looked a lot like the writing on the very hurtful postcard that arrived at our home. Phillip and I joked about whether we should eat it or not. Maybe we were being poisoned we wondered?? HA! As Phillip dug in and ate several slices he said, “You know Nancy, because you have been so sick since we moved here we really haven’t been able to get to know our neighbors very much. If we knew them maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
I think there is truth to what Phillip said. I imagine people have seen us coming and going for months now with no understanding of the pressures we’ve been under. I imagine we appear somewhat antisocial and detached from all that happens in the lives of those that surround us. While it has been totally unintentional, that disconnectedness has opened the door for misunderstanding and unmet expectations. Relationships built on love have a way of resolving issues before they fester. (1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.) I believe this is one reason why Jesus taught so much about love, relationships and how to respond when others act in ways that can be so hurtful. How we respond matters to Him — and to those who come and go in our lives.
Tomorrow I am going in for a procedure where my doctor will try to inject numbing medications into nerves in my neck. If it is successful, we will schedule another procedure where he will burn those nerves and attempt to give me some lasting pain control. I am, without a doubt, filled with trepidation. It is not an overwhelmingly scary procedure – however after all I have been through it feels scary. My history taints my perspective which in turn colors my feelings and reactions creating fear.
The same is possibly true with my neighbor who sent the note. It is possible that some experience in their life — their history — has tainted their perspective. Something that seems so minor to me – obviously felt incredibly important to them. Instead of justifying my position, it was more important to respect their needs, respond in love to their concerns and let the Lord deal with everything beyond that. The end result was some pretty fabulous banana bread for our family to enjoy and hopefully the Lord’s love shining through in a tangible way.
You never know – maybe one day we will be sitting with those very neighbors around our dinner table laughing about the trash can postcard and banana bread delivered in secrecy. I sure hope so!