Thursday, April 23, 2009

Love your neighbor

I recently heard on NPR (specifically, on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me), that a gentleman in England got himself into some legal hot water when he attempted to use a chicken dung catapult as a home security system. Note: He had originally constructed the catapult in the seventies to experiment with hucking his wife across the Avon River. Let's hope she had a sense of humor. 

I wished I had this guy's number yesterday, because I felt myself in dire need of my own chicken dung catapult. Let's see if I can make a long story short. 

We received a citation from the City of Austin, taped to our door, courtesy of our across-the-street neighbors. I have never spoken word one with these neighbors; they never acknowledged us a single iota when we moved into this house and pretty much just keep to themselves, except for the time that the dad, who likes to smoke cigars in the front yard, provoked a shouting match with our next door neighbors, with whom we are pals. We didn't get involved, but I have a feeling our friendship with next door didn't earn us any points. 

Now, on Thursday mornings I have hosted a milk delivery co-op in my driveway for about two years now. Every other Thursday morning, the farmer drives two hours to drop off about 60 gallons chez moi, while people gather to pick up their fresh milk and hand me their money, which I compile and hand to the driver. Never ONCE have I received any complaints from any neighbors from this arrangement. (And I could write a whole, long post about the milk co-op itself, and all the interesting characters I've met as a result. Another time.)

Two weeks ago, there was an altercation between my across-the-street neighbor (who apparently is the girlfriend of Smoky and the main child care provider for his two kids; their mom escaped to Arizona or something) and one of the milk customers, because the neighbor (let's call her Ms. Smoky) felt that her trash cans were being blocked and that she would therefore miss her trash pickup. Sure, that's annoying, but do we need to run out of the house with a camera and a raised voice? Seems like overkill to me. 

I hoped the incident would just die a natural death, but then we received the citation yesterday from the City of Austin Waste Services. Tim told me about it on my way home from work and I. Was. Furious. I had REASONS for being so. Not once had the Smokies approached us to voice their concerns! Not a single attempt to work this out reasonably between neighbors! And not once, in the entire two years that they had a trailer parked in front of their house, overflowing with tree branches and imperiling my van every time I backed out of the driveway, did I turn them into the city! That simply would not be the neighborly thing to do.

When I arrived home, I sat down and wrote a polite note to the Smokies. Don't even know their names, so all I could say was "Dear Neighbors ..." I apologized for the hassle, and offered to make restitution for any missed trash pickup. I gave them our phone number and email and asked them to address us personally if they have any further concerns. I told them I had asked my milk group NOT to park near their property. 

Then I stopped to pray, and to read a bit of spiritual enlightenment. 

You know what happens when I have a conflict with someone like this? (It's rare, because I avoid it.) I try to distance myself from the situation by reminding myself that these are not happy people, not normal people -- losers, one might even go so far as to say. That people act this way when they're unhappy with their lives (which as far as I can see, may indeed be the case here). 

But the Lord would not let me stop there last night. He would not let me dismiss these people just to pacify my outrage. He reminded me that He makes no mistakes in where He places us, even physically -- that like family members, we cannot choose our neighbors, but He is sovereign in HIS choosing. Then He reminded me that He also chose to suffer and to die for these people. And that because of He went through and my choice to accept Him, I now have living inside of me the One who can love the unlovable. 

I felt that love bearing me across the street to tape my note to their door. Before I knew it, as I retreated down their driveway, a prayer rose up in me to bless that family. I felt joy gaining ground over bitterness. I knew the process wasn't completed, because the issue still isn't resolved, and that there would be more opportunities to let Him replace me in my dealings with these neighbors. But it was a sweet beginning. 

And then I paused, as I often do, to pull a few weeds from my garden. 


Jenny said...

Some neighbors are certainly harder to love than others..and the Smokies don't sound so pleasant. Hope everything is resolved quickly and without further incident!

Stephanie said...

Sometime we'll have to share with you our own run-in-with-the neighbor story. Ours doesn't involve City of Austin citations or cigar-smoking characters, though. Just a sweltering Texas summer, a lawnmower and an H-E-B brisket.