Someone called through the screen door of my front porch. I was in the kitchen cooking and when I peeked my head around the corner, I saw my neighbor from across the street. I've only ever seen him from my car and we've got a "smile and wave"relationship.
I was thrilled he'd crossed our busy street to come say hi. When we moved I was hoping to break our cycle of being duck-and-run-into-the-house kind of neighbors. It might not be my natural instinct to stop and chat before heading inside at the end of a long day, but isn't the Christian life all about fighting many of those "natural" instincts?
I opened the screen door and was surprised to see that my neighbor wasn't alone. He was accompanied by a couple and their pre-teen daughter. The little girl had bright red hair and as I looked down the front steps at her, it dawned on me who she was. I recognized her face from all the photos that had been in the house, my current little Sugar Land bungalow, when it wasn't mine yet and was still rented by another family. This family.
And that's when my smile faded and I realized this couldn't be just a courtesy call. There was a purpose behind the visit.
Mom stuck her hand out and introduced herself and launched into a story. It was a tale of a new house, incorrect data on Fort Bend ISD's website, a distraught daughter who realized the new house she loved placed her on the wrong side of the school lines. She would have to move after the Summer and attend a new school that, mom was quick to let me know, was less than reputable and had unacceptable test scores.
She talked for a long time, but I knew where she was going in a matter of seconds. I finally interrupted her, "You want to use our address."
She nodded. We talked for another 10 minutes on my front porch. During that time, even more neighbors (some we'd met and some we hadn't) stopped in our front lawn to greet this popular and obviously much-loved family.
Despite all the neighborly distractions, I listened to what this mom had to say. And I commiserated with her. Yes, I knew how hard it was to leave a school where all your friends were. I'd done it myself. Yes, I knew how a change like this could be devastating to a young girl. Yes, I understood that the problem could be solved if they used our address (their old address) and we all "pulled one over" on the school district.
While I listened enough to nod at the right time, my mind was actually reeling at the irony of the situation. We'd been praying about our new neighbors, praying for the chance to cultivate relationships and find ways to serve. Now here I was, with half the street in my yard and I could elicit grins all around if I would just say "yes." Here was this family, with good intentions and a healthy concern for their daughter. And they needed help. Help I was ready to give...
...except I knew it was dishonest.
I eventually sent my house's previous tenants away with the promise to speak to my husband and then get back to them.
It's a strange world we live in when telling someone that you won't help them is actually the right thing to do. And, let me tell you, it felt strange to say to them when they stopped by today, that we really do wish them well and wish we could help them, but at the same time our answer had to be no.
And it was disheartening when we watched them walk across the street after we closed our front door. They went directly to our neighbor's house and, we can only speculate, but I imagine they told him about our refusal. So much for making friends.
Sometimes, aiming to follow Christ's example can feel a bit backwards in our lost world. As a Christian, my goal is to spread the Gospel and I look for ways to say, "Yes!" to people in an effort to show them how pervasive Christ's love is. Instead I might have just alienated our whole street.
During my quiet time, I went to the Bible to search for peace on the situation. I went to the first place I could think of regarding scripture on lying. The Ten Commandments. And I read,
"Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Exodus 20:16.
When I read the last word and felt the common thread God was weaving through the plot line, I was reassured that the difficult decision had been the right one.
Before the Dad walked away today, his last words to us were that he'd just let the school district sue him and he'd do as he pleased. Seems we were lucky to escape a partnership with this man.
In the end, the one who loses out the most is the little girl. But not because she'll have to change schools. I'm sad for her because she watched her parents ask complete strangers to lie on her behalf. And I'm cautioned, as a parent myself, to be ever-so-aware of the concessions I make when it comes to my own children's well-being. What would I do for them? What moral boundaries might I be tempted to cross?
I spoke to my dad about the situation last night. When we realized that the neighbor across the street used to know my grandfather really well, my dad said, "He shouldn't be surprised when you say no. He knew what kind of man Grandpa was." What Dad meant was that my Grandfather had a strong moral backbone and a Godly character. That was encouraging to me. I'd made the same decision Grandpa would have made.
I'd decided that the best way I could show my neighbors God's love was to jump at the first opportunity to help them. But God actually had a different scenario in mind. His plan was for us to follow Romans 12:2 and not conform to the patterns of this world. Sometimes in an effort to be more Christ-like, we have to say no.