This article was first published here in Dec. 2010. I thought I’d bring it back from the archives, as I think we can all use the reminder to love even the unlovable every now and then.
One thing I do not miss about city living is having to deal with rude neighbors. Before we moved to our little homestead, we were miserably tolerating life in a noisy duplex in a not-so-great neighborhood. I’ll never forget our first run in with our new neighbor, Ms. Pam.
It was evening. My dad had come to visit with us and check out our new place. Jerry, Jada and my pregnant self had just moved in over the weekend. We were enjoying a nice conversation when all of a sudden we heard somebody outside laying on the horn, BEEEEEEEEEEP!! BEEEEEP, BEEEEEP!!!
Not a nice HONK, HONK. An obviously irritated, angry, obnoxiously loud blow.
I stuck my head out the door to see what was the matter, and got a good chewing out. Evidently my dad’s car was parked in our adjoining neighbor’s parking spot. I apologized politely, doing my best to keep a good testimony.
Nice to meet you too, neighbor!
The next night she did the same thing when my husband parked a little too closely to her parking spot (in her humble opinion). This time I didn’t do such a good job of hiding the irritation in my own voice as I again apologized. Why couldn’t she just nicely come over and speak to me civilly? I was extremely annoyed by her rudeness.
But that night the Lord spoke to my heart. He convicted me to invite her over for dinner. Of course, I tried to argue. Do I really have to, Lord? She’ll probably just say “No” and slam the door in my face. It’ll just be a total waste of time. You know how relentless the Holy Spirit can be sometimes though. I finally gave in just to clear my conscience. After all, what did I have to lose, except my dignity, right?
I took Jada by the hand and together we went next door and knocked. It took a moment, but she finally answered the door. I didn’t even know her name yet, nor did she know ours, but when she came I smiled warmly and said that we’d love to have her come over for dinner one night, to get to know her better. We made plans for the following night. I told her what I had in mind for dinner, and asked her if there was anything else she’d like to have, to which she didn’t hesitate to make a few suggestions.
I went back home surprised. Surprised that she actually accepted my invitation, and surprised at the joy I felt that she’d be coming over.
Ms. Pam was an older black lady, probably in her late-fifties/early sixties. She wore her hair very short, and usually had on a baseball cap. Her voice was gruff from years of smoking, and her face wore a scowl most of the time. She lived alone with her small dog and several cats whom she loved deeply. She’d never been married, never had children, and probably didn’t have many friends.
When she came the next night, I did my very best to be hospitable and kind, despite her lack of friendliness. Jerry was working nights then, so it was just me and Jada, and Ms. Pam. We talked while we ate. She asked a lot of questions about us, but didn’t say much about herself, only that she was a nurse. (Inside I felt kinda bad for her patients!) Our conversation struggled, though I kept a smile on my face and did my best.
Thank goodness for my precious Jada. She was truly a shining little light that evening. Like most kids will do, she was pulling out all of her favorite toys and showing them to Ms. Pam… and talking her ears off. But instead of being annoyed, Pam actually seemed entertained by Jada, and engaged in a nicer conversation with her than she had with me. She was even able to get a smile and a few laughs out of our grumpy neighbor! They quickly became friends.
From then on things were so much better between us. Pam was rude at times, but I chose to ignore it and did my best to show her the love of Christ regardless. But Jada… Jada had stolen Ms. Pam’s heart. Every time I’d see Pam out front she’d brighten up and ask, “Where’s that little girl?” (She never did call her by name.) She wanted Jada to come out and talk with her. Soon she was bringing candy, or sodas (which Jada wasn’t really allowed to have), or full containers of ice cream, or even little toys over for her. And of course, Jada just adored Ms. Pam. We even began taking walks with her and her little dog around the block a few times a week.
Once we got to know Ms. Pam she was a completely different person. I learned that she had been in the military growing up. She was very close with her father, but had not had a good relationship with her mother at all. Her father had asked her to never get married, so she never did. She didn’t have much family, just a brother who wasn’t really around often.
In the year that we lived there I learned a valuable lesson from Ms. Pam. Everybody has a story. And whether we think they deserve it or not, we should do our best to show even the grumpiest person the love of Christ. You never know where they are coming from, or what losses they’ve suffered in life, and the Lord just might have placed you in their path for a purpose.
So the next time somebody cuts you off in traffic, or pushes by you in the grocery store, or perhaps merely gives you a dirty look as you pass by, remember that they are people with a past and could probably use some unconditional love. And if you have a neighbor that nobody likes, and seems to hate everybody and everything, I’d encourage you to extend a warm hand to them and show them the love our Father has shown us when we were miserable too. Don’t do it with the expectations of your kindness being well received or reciprocated, do it because it’s the right thing to do regardless of the response you get. And don’t stop.