Five years ago in the middle of the night on July 3rd, Bryan and I woke suddenly to a smoke filled house. My heart fluttered in my chest as the adrenaline washed through me, and I rushed into Ruthie’s room to snatch her from her crib.
We quickly realized the fire was not in our own house, but in our neighbor’s house two doors down, and the smoke was drifting in through our open windows. But in those fleeting, disoriented moments, I thought we were about to lose everything.
The fire started from a bottle rocket that landed on the roof and smoldered for hours, set off by the teenager who lived there and his friends.
The next night that same teenager and his friends were out in the street lighting bottle rockets again, some of them landing in our yard. Baffled by this kid’s foolishness after setting his house on fire, Bryan went out to strongly encourage him and his friends to knock it off and start cleaning up all the trash they’d left lying around.
They mouthed off a little to him, but Bryan stands at over six feet tall, and he doesn’t mess around when it comes to taking care of the neighborhood. “This is our neighborhood,” I heard him say. “We live here – you live here. Your house burned down, dude. Clean this stuff up.”
His mother heard what was going on and actually came out to thank Bryan for talking to her son. She was a single mom and felt helpless that her son appeared to be hanging out with the ‘wrong crowd’ lately.
On another occasssion a couple years ago we woke up in the middle of the night when our next door neighbors got into an argument at 3am. “TURN OFF THE TV AND GO TO BED!” we heard through the open windows.
“NO!” we heard in response from a whiney teenager.
The arguing went around and around for several mintues, and when it died down I could still see the flicker of the tv light through the closed blinds.
A few days later the teenage boy and girl were sitting on their front porch with some friends, and i saw Bryan walk over to talk to them.
“I heard one of you yelling at your mom last night – it woke me up. Who was it?”
Their eyes dropped sheepishly to the floor, and the boy squeaked, “It was me.”
“You need to listen to your mom, dude. She’s your mom. I think it’s pretty reasonable for her to send you to bed at 3am.”
At this point the mom – who was also a single mom – came out to see who was on her front porch, and asked what was going on. Bryan was all, “Just having a conversation with your kids about listening to you when you ask them to turn off the tv.”
Her countenance softened and she said, “Thank you.”
On neither of these occassions – or others like them – was Bryan condescending in any way, but actually held these kids to a common sense standard. It’s risky to get involved with people, particularly those we live around and can’t necessarily avoid. But it seems like in these two examples the moms really appreciated Bryan’s intervention.
I wish I could say we went on to be great friends with our neighbors, and that Bryan became a mentor to these fatherless teenagers. But I can’t. We are polite, we chit-chat at the mailboxes, but I still spend the majority of my time hiding within the comforts of my own established boundaries.
I keep thinking about this article by one of my favorite bloggers, Conversion Diary, about opening our lives to one another. Here is an excerpt:
When I was an atheist and hung out with mostly atheists and agnostics, the way we helped people was through controlled circumstances, systems that ensured that there was a clear line separating their lives from our own. We wanted — in fact, needed — our interactions with others to be safe and finite, with clear parameters on what we were expected to give.
This mentality makes perfect sense: after all, our biggest problems in life often come from other people. The more you allow someone else into your life, the more there’s the potential for them to screw it up. What if you adopt a child and they end up behaving badly and costing you tons of mental and financial distress? What if you mentor a troubled child and he ends up being a bad influence on your children? To use the example from that article, what if you’re very poor yourself and you offer to help a couple who has just become childless but they end up latching onto you and taking too many of your resources?
It’s too risky. The safest, most reasonable thing to do is to allow just enough people into your life so that you’re not lonely, and to carefully guard the intermingling of any other lives with your own after that point.
I can’t let go of the fact she describes the more closed behavior as something she observed from her atheist days. As a Believer in Christ I am to be defined by my love, yet I intentionally turn away from relationship most of the time because it’s too inconvenient.
Her post goes on to say,
But when you turn to God, you find that you have access to the very Source of infinite love, that, through him, you have more love to give than you could have ever imagined.
Most recently our family has befriended an 11 year old neighbor girl who loves to be at our house. She lives with her mom at her grandmother’s house, and there isn’t much going on there to excite an 11 year old. She would spend all day every day with us if we would have her, and frankly there isn’t really a reason why we couldn’t.
Except that quite often I’m not in the mood, or have time, or feel like it. But the truth is, the girl is a delight to be around, and I’m just afraid of opening my tightly guarded borders to unfettered access status. What if she wants to talk when I have Things To Do? What if she starts asking me advice about boys? What if … what if… what if?
It’s much easier and more comfortable to host crowded BBQs and planned play dates and to blog about living in community than it is to actually let myself be inconvenienced by others.