We have a new neighbor. A new neighbor who isn’t paying rent, who is living with the woman who owns the home. A new neighbor who is waiting to have her children, who are in foster care, reinstated to her custody, a transition that will take at least up to 5-6 weeks. A new neighbor who has led a life with trials I can’t even begin to imagine.
I don’t feel like I can tell her complete story here, or at least as much as she has shared with me, but needless to say, we come from very different backgrounds. Which means that she comes from very different backgrounds as my neighbors too. Not that we live in a completely homogeneous neighborhood, but let’s face it–neighborhoods fill up with people who are of the same socioeconomic status, which usually means people who come from similar walks of life. Our neighborhood is full of teachers, policemen, nurses, and military families. It’s a quiet, family friendly neighborhood that brags about how the neighborhood watch has nothing to do.
When my new neighbor moved in, there were immediate concerns. Questions about safety, about suspicious people showing up, about how she lost her children and what would happen if she got them back.
I wish I could say I didn’t feel these suspicions. I wish I could say that I welcomed her without judgement or reservation. I did shake her hand, I did smile at her, and I did use the word “welcome!”. I do want to meet her kids, and ask her about them every chance I get. I do want to let her feel like no matter what, her neighbors have her back, and I do want to help her if I can.
But I asked the same questions that everybody else did.
It has made me wonder about the definition of charity. As a mother, I need to watch out for my family, for the safety of my children, to act in accordance to their best interests. As a disciple of Christ, however, I’m required to love my neighbor (literally, in this case), and to put aside differences in background, and to give her the benefit of the doubt.
How are these things balanced in a situation where there are a variety of specific and possibly dangerous unknowns? How far do you let charity take you, and what happens when practicing charity can put your family at risk?
I honestly hope things work out with this new neighbor, that she gets her kids back and that they will come out and draw pictures with sidewalk chalk and blow bubbles in the breeze and kick a soccer ball into the goal on our driveway. I want them to catch fireflies at dusk and watch water from the summer rain storm fill up the ditch next to their house. I want them to go home dirty from hunting frogs and toads in the wet forests behind our houses, and have their mom bathe them and then tuck them into their beds, knowing that no matter what, they are safe. Because no matter what your parents have been through, every kid deserves to live in a neighborhood where the neighborhood watch brags that they have nothing to do. And where you know your neighbors have your back.