Thursday, January 29, 2009


I'm not quite sure what first brought Julie (not her real name) to my door. I had met her niece Donna (not her real name either) who lives with her by happenstance about three years ago. At least that's what the height marker on the kitchen wall records. One summer, Donna and her friends were playing with the garden hose in a neighbor's driveway. After getting some weak excuse for why she was trespassing, I offered my own lawn sprinkler for her and her friends to run through.

After a few more visits to my sprinkler, Donna started to hang out at our house, playing with my kids. She also started asking to use the phone or for rides to places as there was no phone service where she lived and her mom was somewhat unreliable for transportation. I'm not sure how the knowledge of my helpfulness spread to Julie but it did. And soon Julie began appearing and asking to use my phone, or for a cup of milk or something else.

At this point, let me tell you that I thought I was living the Christian edict of 'love thy neighbor' pretty well. I've made dinners for the new moms in the neighborhood, had bbq's with some of them, lent tools and stuff out. But that was easy. Mostly because the 'loving' fit into my schedule. And because the neighbors I helped were like me. And you know what I mean by that. Julie, unintentionally, started to challenge that.

Let me tell you about Julie. She's the child of a single parent home. She's one of four but she has ten other step-siblings as her father has been with three other women since her mom (not married but "been with" as she says). She asked if that woman she saw at my house the other day was my mom or just a woman my dad was with. She can be loud when she's on the phone. She doesn't have a good relationship with her daughter. She sometimes shows up at my house in her pajamas. And without some healthy boundaries, she can ask a lot of a person.

At first, I would get irritated. I would be in the middle of something when the door bell rings and it's Julie needing the phone. Then she needed a ride somewhere. Once she asked for something to give her mom for dinner. It was the end of the month and I'm trying to stay within a budget and all we have tonight is this tuna noodle casserole which I wasn't sure was going to feed all seven of us and here she is asking for one more serving....but how can I say no? I literally asked God, "Is my five noodles and two cans of tuna going to feed the multitudes?"

Now here's the thing: the kids would pick up on my irritation. They would mimic my heavy sighs when to doorbell rang. Here I am trying to teach the children to be cheerful givers, to help those in need and what was I showing them?

So I resolved to be cheerful in helping Julie. In Matthew 25, the King (God) tells us "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." So this is what I was to do: help the "least of these." Julie, unintentionally, started to challenge that too.

You see, that's how I viewed her, as the "least of these." I was becoming prideful that I was helping this poor woman. Until one day, while trying to make breakfast for my kids, I realized I had no eggs. Julie, after using the phone, offered me hers. For some reason, I felt awkward about accepting her eggs. After all, she's the one in need and I'm the one who's supposed to be helping her. But I needed to feed my children. "What’s mine is yours," she said. That's when it struck me. My pride made me think I was the only who could help and not the other way around. What I should have been doing was just trying to be her friend. Another time, she chased some teenagers out of my yard because she knew they weren't supposed to be there. She also rescued damage packages that UPS left on my porch in the rain when I wasn't home and then safely delivered them to me later.

Choking down one's preconceived notions, prejudices and stereo-types is hard business. I don't care how enlightened you may think you are, when push comes to shove, we act, consciously or unconsciously, out of these three things. Julie's helped me see that.

And so while we come from different backgrounds and circumstances, I don't want to be "the helpful lady across the street." I want to be her friend. I want to be her neighbor. I think I'll be a better person for that.


Sandy said...

Fab post.

Anonymous said...

(first response)!
(second response) make a snide older brother-ish comment like, "This is why I am glad Ken let you out of the frozen snowball".
(third response) make a less snarky but equally superficial response, "I feel closer to God than if I had slept both sermons on Sunday"
(fourth response) hope to convinve you that i am smart too by commenting that I had literally just finished reading a definition of the theological term "indwell" before browsing your site...really
(fifth and best response)

MaryEllen said...

Thanks for that, Dawn. It verbalized and way-further developed some flashes of realizations about various relationships I've had with others, too - thanks for doing the deep thinking for me! - and while seriously preggers, too! (Just kidding.) Makes me think back on some interactions with mild chagrin, some with relative satisfaction, many with downright shame... Thank God for the "new every morning" bit.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'd recently been convicted that I need to reconsider just what "giving" really means. Is your blog post a coincidence or a wake up call? Hmmm.....

JT said...

P.A. and Mike would be proud. Heck, I'm proud, and you've given me something to think about.

Amanda in RI said...

Thank you for sharing this, Dawn.