by Amy Reardon, Captain –
There is a little boy who lives in our neighborhood; I’ll call him Mark. He is a fairly good, occasionally naughty boy—like most kindergartners, I suppose—but he is pleasant, and feels quite at home at our house.
We have a rather unusual relationship with Mark and his family. Sometimes we invite him to our house to play. But oftentimes, Mark’s parents call and ask if our boys, Wes and David, can play with him. We quickly learned that this is not an invitation to Mark’s house. Rather, it is a request for Mark to come to our house. When Mark’s parents did some self-remodeling of their home, they called almost every day. We realized that we were, effectively, Mark’s babysitters while his parents did their remodeling.
More and more, we became the default plan for Mark’s family. One day, his dad left him alone at our house with our teenage son, Kyle, while he ran an errand. Kyle wound up babysitting Mark for about seven hours. Not only had Kyle’s day unexpectedly been completely consumed by someone else’s schedule, he wasn’t offered any sort of payment. Another time we wound up taking Mark with us to a dinner appointment because his parents had left him at our house and got stuck in traffic somewhere. The dinner was a group-planning meeting for a large event, but poor Mark needed a fair bit of attention. After all, he’s just a little boy. When we brought Mark home, we got a quick, polite thank you. They seemed unaware of the inconvenience and didn’t think to pay for the meal we had to buy for him.
One might wonder why we maintain the relationship as it is. We consider ourselves to be serving God by helping this family. We hope that we are demonstrating the love of Christ. We hope they’ll notice that we are willing to do things for them that are above and beyond the normal duties of neighbors. That may give us an opportunity to tell them that God loves them.
Perhaps one can understand, having heard my tale, why I was quite surprised to learn that Mark’s mom showed up at our doorstep to return the Easter basket we gave them.
In my March column, I shared that my family was about to conduct its annual Easter tradition: placing baskets on the doorsteps of our neighbors. Along with goodies, the baskets acknowledge and celebrate the resurrection of Christ in a card and on a bookmark, magnet, and pin. We expanded our distribution this year and, not knowing every family we gave baskets to, we were prepared for the fact that we might offend someone. But we didn’t expect that someone to be Mark’s mother.
“Please don’t give these to us anymore,” she said nervously; “It offends me. And please don’t talk to Mark about Jesus camp anymore.” My husband told her that we certainly didn’t mean to offend them, and then she left. (The “Jesus camp” thing still mystifies us. Mark knows we pray, we love Jesus, and we go to camp all summer long. I guess he just put it all together.)
You can imagine what flashed through our heads: “We offended you! What about you constantly taking advantage of us! And by the way, if you don’t like the content of our conversation around here, stop parking your child here!”
But that thought didn’t linger at all. We realized that Mark’s mom had understood what that basket was saying to her. Why not simply keep the candy and the candles and throw out the rest of the stuff? No, it really got under her skin, which means that something is happening in her head and her heart. God is at work there. And whatever we’ve been saying to Mark has impacted him enough that he talks about it to his parents. Perhaps he has been asking them if he can go to Jesus camp.
Elsewhere in our neighborhood lives a cranky, old bachelor. His home is surrounded by unkempt shrubs and misshapen trees—you’d have to actually sneak up onto his driveway to get a glimpse of it. Ever since we found out he owns a barbershop, we’ve been taking our boys there for haircuts. It’s clear that he doesn’t like kids too much, but the boys don’t seem to have noticed. They chatter happily at him while he cuts their hair, snarling at them if they dare to wiggle. He’s quite gruff.
Not long after we put out the baskets, I passed him on the road. He smiled and waved at me with vigor. I’d never seen him smile before. Could it have been the basket?
When you reach out to others in the name of Christ, you have to be prepared to take a few lumps. Though you are motivated by love, you may not always be received with open arms. But the Bible instructs us not to be weary in well-doing, so we must press on.
The good news is that every once in a while, you make a connection that you may or may not have anticipated. Your cranky neighbor grins at you. And you remember: God loves that person. And he wants to love him through me.
One basket back is a disappointment. But then again, we delivered eighteen.
Contact Capt. Reardon at: Amy_Reardon@usw.salvationarmy.org