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Putting my money where my mouth is

By Heather Oman

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.

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

51 thoughts on “Putting my money where my mouth is”

  1. I can feel charitable towards someone, but that doesn't mean I'm going to trust them with my kids, or kids in my care. I wish that every child could grow up in the sort of neighbourhood you described, where care of the weak is provided by the strong, and people "have your back".

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  2. .

    I think at this point, it's foolish to assume any risk. Doesn't mean you won't feel any, but at least you can recognize that there isn't a rational reason to prejedge this woman and her children.

    When we do prejudge, we tend to see what we expected to see, even if we have to be part of its creation.

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  3. It is so hard not to judge. Somehow no matter who the person is or what they have been through if there are children involved it puts their whole story into a different perspective.

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  4. There is always risk. But I think Christ asks us to be charitable and–what is sometimes even more of a challenge–he asks us to raise children who are full of charity. Protecting our children is also our role, but like everything else in life, it's hard to know where to draw the lines.

    My experience: I think my neighborhood is probably similar to Heather's. The family across the street fosters children–often for a year or two. They had a foster daughter the same age as my daughter. They became best friends and my daughter would stick up for her friend who was teased at school. We had her over for dinner and in our home many times. We took her swimming. It wasn't heroism of any kind. I know that I don't have what it takes to be a foster mom and I regret that I couldn't/can't/don't make the sacrifices my neighbors make. It seemed like having her over–both because my daughter liked her so much and as a respite from the overcrowded house across the street–was the very least we could do.

    My daughter and I talked many times about how her friend would eventually leave–either going back to her mother or moving on to a new foster family. I hoped that by anticipating this, it would ease the sting.

    Well–that didn't work out. We found out on a Friday afternoon that she would be going to a new family on Monday. We hurriedly planned a fun outing for the two girls on Saturday. We gave her presents and said goodbye. On Monday her foster mother appeared at our doorstep and asked about a certain purse.

    Long story short, the friend had stolen money and a purse from my daughter's bedroom, which they discovered as she was packing to leave. The foster mother took my daughter across the street to confront the friend (hindsight: I should never have allowed her to go, or not by herself). It was traumatic. Her friend was sobbing. The foster family wanted to know how much money had been taken (because they had been stolen from as well and were trying to separate it). My daughter had no idea. She had to say goodbye again, while her friend was sobbing. The social worker asked if she would still be friends. My daughter said yes, and begged her friend to write or telephone, and then came home and dissolved in tears.

    Her friend never wrote or telephoned. She begged the family for her friend's address but was told by the foster mom that it couldn't be disclosed.

    This is very tough stuff for a ten year old–probably for anybody. We have seen the mental fallout unfold over the past 9 months.

    So: take home message? I don't know. I think it would have been wrong to keep my daughter from being friends with a girl who really needed one just because she was a foster child. I think we did the right thing. (We will make sure that everybody is more careful with cash).

    It has been super hard, but sometimes the right thing is hard. Friendship is hard. Life is hard. But if you love all you can, hopefully you have fewer regrets.

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  5. Regardless of what this woman's circumstances are and what that might mean to you, I don't think being a disciple of Christ necessarily means giving people the benefit of the doubt. Especially when you might have reason to feel uneasy and when it comes to your kids. For Th and Nancy R., remember that Heather did not go into specifics about this woman's life–from Heathers story it sounds like there are some legitimate reasons that caused Heather concern. If there's a history of drug abuse and violence, I would absolutely be worried. I'm not saying there IS, but Heather left out the details for a reason…they weren't pretty. Now I'm not saying this woman should be treated like a leper by any means. I hope that everyone does step up and be a good neighbor, example, etc…but you can still do those things and be concerned for your children, your safety etc. at the same time.

    And I have a huge problem with people talking about not judging one another…I think that idea and term are often overused and misused. We judge and are supposed to judge people all the time. Of course we are always admonished to judge righteously–and that is the tricky part–but this blanket idea that we're not supposed to judge people has gone too far in my opinion. I mean I think I know what people mean when they say that, but sometimes I think it also allows people to get out of feeling bad for bad behavior by saying 'don't judge me.' Personally Heather, I don't think you're a horrible person for having reservations with someone who brings a certain set of concerns with her. I think if you were truly mis-judging her that would mean you ignored her and that you completely labeled her a trouble maker and did everything in your power to avoid any contact….you're not doing that. You're expressing your concerns and being thoughtful and open to the fact that those concerns might not be well founded in the first place. I think your heart is in the exact right place.

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  6. I was once in a very similar situation, where there were children involved who were the ages of my children in a single parent family (this time it was a dad) who had faced major challenges.

    I struggled with the same idea of how charitable I could/should be. I think everyone can be guided by the spirit to know where that line is in being charitable yet protecting your family.

    For us, we welcomed the children into our home, and visited with the neighbor, but our children did not play in the home of the neighbor. Honestly though, he never asked, which I was grateful for because I wouldn't have let my kids go and that would have been awkward.

    It was tough. The kids were often hard to have over. They would steal toys from my kids (despite the fact that we willingly would give them toys to keep), and exhibited some survival type behaviors they had picked up along their difficult little lives. I tried to guide them with kindness, fed them as they were always hungry, and did my best to make a difference. I'm not sure that I did.

    I'm glad you have such a wonderful neighborhood. Hopefully your village can help that woman and her children, and if she is really trying to get on track, I'll bet that woman has something to offer your neighborhood as well.

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  7. It is good that you want to help this woman. From my experience there has always been a good reason when I feel uneasy about someone. Proceed with caution particularly far as your children are concerned. Only have the kind of relationship that you can feel at peace with. It is OK to keep a polite distance in some cases.

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  8. Being charitable does not mean pretending things are different than how they are. Loving someone does not mean pretending they can be trusted. In this case, the woman has previously failed to care for or protect her own children to the point they had to be removed from her home.

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  9. #7-

    Thanks for sharing that story. Our family fostered a girl with the Indian Placement program during the school year. She stole from my mother, taking some jewelry, and digging out shiny stones from the pieces she didn't take. My mother still had her come back the following year, despite the theft. As a parent, I am amazed my mother did this, and just last week asked her why she had the girl back when she was a known thief. She shrugged and said, "She had a hard life. I knew she wasn't a bad person."

    Also, this person wasn't a direct threat to her family, just her jewelry box, so I guess my mother figured she could afford to lose a few shiny stones for the sake of helping somebody else.

    But it's a hard line, and I appreciate what's been said about judging, that we need to do so wisely. I just want to make sure that I don't miss out on an opportunity to bless somebody's life (and be blessed in return) because of preconceived ideas about what somebody is like.

    And I'm sorry to not share more specifics. I do feel for the sake of her privacy, I need to keep the details out of this post. But just know that those details are, indeed, very, very ugly.

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  10. Healthy boundaries are a good idea no matter what the situation. It sounds like you have an open heart with healthy boundaries which is all anyone can expect of you. When the children come home, they may exhibit some interesting behavior. No matter how good a thing it is for children to be removed for their safety, all they see is that they're being taken from the only home and mother/father they've ever known. Then they live with strangers and who knows what happens there. Anyway, it is traumatic for them. Although you'll want to be kind and accepting, you will have to keep an eye out. Those poor kids. 🙁

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  11. If it's any consolation, Sandra Bullock's character in THE BLIND SIDE asked herself and her husband what if the boy they'd taken in stole from them during the first night. But even though she asked that, she didn't kick him out.

    Our Heavenly Father expects us to love others, but I don't know of any scriptures that tells us to trust. He loves us unconditionally, but we have to earn His trust. Joseph Smith certainly learned that the hard way with the 116 manuscript pages.

    One of my favorite scriptures is Helaman 10:4,5 in which the Lord tells Nephi that he has earned His trust.

    I think that He is fine with us not giving everyone our trust even when we are expected to give them our love. Else why would He tell us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves?

    So I'm with those who urge you to follow the Spirit with this. Your first stewardship is over your children.

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  12. We had a similar situation in our last neighborhood. One of the homes on our street was a rental and the renters had lots and lots of suspicious activity at all hours of day and night, which finally stopped after we started taking down license plate numbers and called the police. They also had two children, who were incredibly needy and desperate for affection. I opened our home and hearts to them as much as possible, but there were times that I felt blocked in what I was doing. I didn't understand why I couldn't be more of a safe haven for them, and wanted to give them more than I was.

    After they moved, and I dealt with the guilt of not having them over often enough, not giving them that home away from home, I felt the spirit let me know that I HAD given them love, but at the same time, my children needed to be protected and I had kept them safe. This didn't really change that I wished things had been different, but it did make me feel that the Lord was aware of both these children and of my children.

    It breaks my heart that not all children are raised in homes where they are kept safe, and it also makes me sad that we can't fix all their problems when our paths cross.

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  13. "One of the homes on our street was a rental and the renters had lots and lots of suspicious activity"

    Not that they were renters had anything to do with it.

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  14. I have had a situation where we were trying to fellowship a little girl and she ended up stealing from and exposing our child to all kinds of things that aren't allowed in our home. We were caught very off guard, and now as you would expect, are much more guarded. We help where we can, but don't allow our kids into situations where they may be put at risk. We can and do still help others, but are much mre carefull and choosier as to how our children are involved.

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  15. I think a little bit of suspicion and distrust is natural in the society we live in today. While I think people deserve the benefit of the doubt I also think trust is earned.

    Some time ago one of my adult children came home to live with us temporarily. J suffers from severe problems. Some people find J to be scary and I understand why. After J had been with a while J took to pacing outside in the front driveway on sunny days . It wasn't long before our neighbors began to call or come over to tell us they had seen a stranger walking around in our yard. At some point someone sent the police one evening. The officer knocked on the door to ask if we had seen anyone suspicious around.

    Since then J has met many of our neighbors and talks to them when they walk by.

    We brought J from an inner city where the crime rate was high and at least one paranoid night was spent hiding in the closet because of something over heard outside the window.

    The benefit of the doubt with caution is what I try to extend. It is difficult to know when and how to do that.

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  16. When my grandpa got thyroid cancer and was basically dying, a lot of different cars and people started showing up at the house. Children, grandchildren, wanting to say good-bye before it was too late, plus the ones who were helping with care.

    The police thought it was a drug house and raided it the day after my grandpa died. They found nothing, but had my brother in handcuffs on the front lawn during the whole thing. The only drugs they found were Grandpas. So then in addition to grief, in addition to cleaning out the house, we got to clean up the mess left by the police department.

    So things aren't always what they appear.

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  17. Heather,
    Count me crazy but I don't see any imminent danger here, at least not to anyone's kids but hers–and that's a big "if". And chances are some of the "nice" families of nurses, policemen, teachers and military families have very similar stories and you just don't know about them.

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  18. Pmom, I hope you are able to help your daughter imagine if soldiers came and took her away and she had no idea what the place she was going was like and if someone would feed her or take care of her. Obviously, a foster child has experienced times where the people who were supposed to take care of her didn't. I love that your daughter was forgiving and wanted to still be friends.
    When you are a child the world is very black and white. When you get older you realize that it is ok to steal a loaf of bread if you are starving. (Les Miserables)
    I am sure if your daughter wrote a letter you could find a way to give it to a social worker who could send it on.

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  19. Marintha, I am with you. No matter how squeaky clean the "normal" folks are in your neighborhood, we have no idea what goes behind closed doors. Most "bad guys" end up being people you know, even family members, not just people who rent.

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  20. We've lived in some not-so-nice neighborhoods. We established rules with our kids: Don't go in ANYONE's apartment/home unless mom or dad say it's okay. No playing outside after dark. No "playing for keeps". If you don't want a toy to be stolen, keep it inside. Stay in the apartment complex (we gave them radios so we could keep tabs on them). If a fight starts, get home immediately. It's sad when you have to be on guard all the time but it beats the alternative. We would have kids over occasionally so we knew what was going on and watch for inappropriate behavior. It was hard sometimes to remember that they were just reacting to a bad situation and they were just little kids at heart.

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  21. To Miggy who said, " I don’t think being a disciple of Christ necessarily means giving people the benefit of the doubt."

    Marvin J Ashton "Charity is, perhaps, in many ways a misunderstood word. We often equate charity with visiting the sick, taking in casseroles to those in need, or sharing our excess with those who are less fortunate. But really, true charity is much, much more.

    Real charity is not something you give away; it is something that you acquire and make a part of yourself. And when the virtue of charity becomes implanted in your heart, you are never the same again.

    Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, WHEN WE SIMPLY GIVE EACH OTHER THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other."

    I don't really have anything new to add to the conversation already going here, I was just a bit disturbed by Miggy's comment…

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  22. I had two friends in high school who were in foster care. I believe that the first was blind to how much others cared for her. She had simply learned not to trust adults, period. It didn't matter that both my parents and another friend's parents loved her and wanted to help her, she simply could not trust them. She trusted me because I was a peer, but lived alienated the adults in her life.

    The second friend came from what seemed, in my limited experience, a worse situation, and yet was able to love and trust the people trying to care for her. I saw her with her two children just the other day at the library, but I have no idea what happened to the first friend.

    I suppose my point in sharing this is there is no saying what the children who come–if they do indeed come–will be like. Perhaps they will be open and loving or perhaps they will be wild and difficult.

    That said, I believe it is important to think about the influence these children could have on your children. I'm not suggesting you forbid your children to have any contact with them if they come, but it couldn't hurt to have a little honest dialogue with them explaining the situation at an age appropriate level, of course.

    We have to explain to our oldest daughter that the boy who lives next door to Grandma doesn't have parents who know how to teach him the right thing to do, and sometimes, he even does stuff he knows is wrong so he can get attention.

    If your kids are old enough that they play alone with other kids, then it might help to also tell them that if anything happens that makes them feel uncomfortable they should come as fast as they can and tell their parents about it.

    Also to address the question of love and trust: As others have said, loving someone and trusting them aren't the same thing. Just because you don't know if you can trust this woman doesn't mean you can't show love to her and try to serve her by befriending her. But it does mean you shouldn't leave her alone with your children, or loan her money. Those are two entirely different things.

    I believe that the Savior showed us this from the way the Plan of Salvation was set up. The Lord volunteered at the very beginning to come down and save all of us. He did this out of love, but also because he knew us well enough to know we couldn't find the way ourselves. He knew we couldn't be entrusted the with responsibility of our own salvation.

    Actually, I find it a little relieving I will not be called upon to judge the hearts of my two foster care friends–someone who knows them better will do that. But I will be held accountable for whether or not I did my best to protect my children from harm, so it is up to me to decide how best to handle some situations.

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  23. I once heard a story of scientists experimenting to see how long a mouse would swim before it gave up. They put a mouse in a bucket of water and after about 15 minutes of swimming it gave up. During the next experiment, they let the mouse swim for about 10 minutes and then took him out of the water, wrapped him in a warm towel and gave him something to eat. Then they put him back in the water. He swam for two hours. Because he had hope.

    I think Charity means the responsibility to give that kind of hope however and whenever we can. Can you wrap a warm towel around this mom? Her kids?

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  24. I'm finding the tone of this thread somewhat disturbing. Wish I had time to elaborate. Maybe later. Sorry for the drive by, but I just wanted to put it out there.

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  25. Carrie – I remeber that talk from Marvin j Ashton and I try to live my life that way. That being said, being charitable does not mean being gullible or naive. I think that is what Miggy was getting at.

    I think of this scripture in the New Testament:

    "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Matt. 10:16)

    Our first priority is to our children and if we ever feel like they could be put in danger, we shouldn't do it, period. The reality of this world is that there is a lot of bad stuff that goes on. We need to be informed and dilligent in avoiding possible dangers.

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  26. sunny, I wish you would elaborate, really. I don't find it disturbing at all, I'm actually interested in how other people are thinking and reacting. I think it's a difficult question–how far does charity take you? What is appropriate amount of charity in situations where there could be potential threats to your family and safety?

    For example, I have a friend who works with battered women. She's a loving, giving, charitable woman who spends her life lifting others. She does not, however, give out her personal phone number, or her home address. She knows that working with certain populations, there are boundary issues that need to be respected, not to mention security issues with abusers who might come looking for her for information about their wives.

    And for those who think that the same things are going on in other homes, well, that may be true, to a certain extent. But it's pretty clear that this home is dealing with things that are perhaps on the more extreme end. Like I said, I can't share details, but her situation is extreme.

    As far as a threat to my family, again, I'm not sure, which is why I'm a little wary. But I like the idea of wrapping her in a towel so she can swim another 2 hours 😉

    I do think, however, that sometimes we use perceived threats to our safety as an excuse to be closed to others' needs. It's a difficult line to walk, isn't it.

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  27. Heather,
    My assumption is that people on this thread are good parents. I don't think she would be a threat because I don't think anyone would just send their kids over unsupervised. There isn't a fine line in my book.I don't find that uncharitable, but common sense.
    Let's take typical scenario, mom has horrible boyfriend who she allows to abuse her kids, she is a drug addict and negligent and neglectful. Mom is now going to court mandated parenting classes, in rehab and is staying away from crazy men–I wouldn't see her as a threat personally.
    But I wouldn't send my kid off with others in the neighborhood whom I didn't know really, really well anyhow. So I don't see a huge difference.
    The thing on the thread that is troubling me most is the attitude toward foster kids as playmates.

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  28. I guess, for starters, I found it interesting that instead of simply stating that you had a new neighbor, it became important to point out she was living with a homeowner and not paying rent. Then to go on and talk about socioeconomic status, well, it just didn't make sense to me. I'm still wondering what her not paying rent and the socioeconomic status of your other neighbors has to do with your questions of charity and safety. If she were paying rent would it change your concerns? I just didn't understand what that had to do with it.

    Beyond that, there seem to be some wide generalizations happening in the comments which do not include the "benefit of the doubt" some have mentioned. I'm glad you're not elaborating on the details as it is none of our business, but can you see how telling a half-story and then inviting opinion sets this woman up to be examined unfairly? I'm not sure, given the lack of facts, what kind of advice you were seeking. The story is told in a way that would lead others to affirm what you have felt and/or decided. We all do this in our storytelling. We mingle facts and inferences to lead the listener to agree with us, wether we set out to do it or not. In this case there is a blaring lack of pertinent facts mingled with seemingly biased facts (ie, doesn't pay rent) which then invites the reader to draw on worst-case-scenario stories. Not that I think that was your intent, but it was the result.

    I'm still unsure what your real question is. Should you allow the children to play together? Should you allow them in her (borrowed) home? Should you be warm, but not too friendly? I guess I don't understand what you mean by charity. The Lord would have you be wise. Charity would require you to respond with love. If you love a drunk you don't invite them to a party with alcohol. If you love a child molester you don't allow him around children, not just for the sake of the children, but for his sake as well. If this woman truly is potentially dangerous, then charity would require that you protect her as well, or at least not put her in situations that would invite her to sin. Again, we as readers can offer no advice because we have no facts. Otherwise, you do what should be done with all friends and neighbors: Find out as much as you can about them, their home life, their standards, etc., and then decide what boundaries you have with them. How is this different?

    To me, the question being asked feels more like, "Is it ok for me to turn away from her just a little? Wouldn't you do it too?". I'm not saying that to be mean. It is truly how it came across to me. And many of the comments followed suit. When we are cognizant of our own efforts to be charitable we can usually be assured we are not being charitable. Much like when we are trying to be patient with a child, it means we are already lacking patience. Love, patience, charity, and other good qualities are not aware of themselves. We are only aware when we lack them. I guess the real question is, "If I truly felt the love of God for this woman, what would my relationship be with her?". And nobody in the blogosphere can answer that for anyone else.

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  29. Carrie,

    Disturbing? Even talks by general authorities need to be considered in context. If you had a neighbor that was a convicted child molester, would you give him the "benefit of the doubt" and let your kids go play at his house? Of course not. Would this mean you were lacking in charity? I don't think so. But would you still be kind and exercise charity in whatever way you felt best about? Sure.

    Heather has already explained that she left out some very disturbing details of this woman's past, details that gave her pause…I don't think she's uncharitable if she doesn't give her the benefit of the doubt in every sense of the word. Sorry, but I just hate to see a statement taken out of context and to assume it as a general sentiment…I did use the word "necessarily" for a reason. Obviously giving people the benefit of the doubt can be a very Christ like thing to do…but I don't NECESSARILY think it's un-Christlike depending on the circumstances.

    And switching gears here, I'm always amazed how people jump to the defense of a nameless person mentioned in a post–talking about charity and being judgmental–when there seems to be a complete lack of that same charity and non-judgmental attitude towards the person who wrote it. Heather was being honest. She's not saying her opinions are right, in fact she questions herself…she talks about the socioeconomic background of this woman because she's basically admitting that those were things that popped into her head–judgements if you will–right or wrong. She's trying to sort this out and admitting her very human approach and thoughts about the situation. Perhaps the socioeconomic details aren't important other than to note that this was stuck out to Heather. It's part of the whole dilemma she's facing… "Is she right to have these reservations based on this information? Is she being judgmental because she did take notice that she's living w/o paying rent?" I don't think Heather is being gossipy about this woman, I think focusing on the details of her life are missing the bigger picture and question Heather is posing.

    (Sorry Heather, I'm sure you can speak for yourself….but wow…look at me? I'm on FIRE! 🙂 )

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  30. Miggy,

    I'm sorry you found my words so upsetting. I wasn't trying to attack Heather or make her feel bad. As far as talking about charity, I only brought it up in reference to the questions posed in the post and comments. It was the original subject matter. As far as being judgmental or non-judgmental, well, I never spoke of those things. I believe discernment and judgment are key in life and relationships. We have to make judgments everyday in order to function. I never said otherwise. I didn't say Heather shouldn't judge. She has to. We all have to, which is why I spoke of finding out about people around us and deciding what boundaries we will have with them in our lives. That is judgment. The difference is whether we choose to make those judgments from a place of charity or not.

    As to the rest, I think I agree with you that Heather can answer as to her tone and intent herself, if she chooses. She asked me to expound and I did. She may or may not want to reply. It's ok. I'm not looking for an argument or to prove who's right. I shared my thoughts because I was troubled by how the tone of this thread came across to me, not to pick a fight.

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  31. This could have been written about me- minus the children taken from me. Single parent home after revealing about molestation, long drawn out court battle that I still feel broke my mother down. Lots of anger issues but survived and went to college. Married and was happy until pregnancies came and then life turned downhill. HUD living, no money, working any job I could get to survive, questions brought up in church and I was the gossip project of my ward and afte rgetting out of hud, my neighborhood.

    How strange to have so many people want information (I know you said she offered it) but me unwilling to tell but select people. One of those people shared, and off it went with my trying to recreate myself.

    after finishing college, getting a great job teaching, moving out of state and again, recreating myself— I still wonder. I keep a lot to myself… I wonder what people would think of me, if they knew? I wonder if my sons best friends parents would allow their son in my home because of my past… it really has nothing to do with my current situation, but I wonder…

    This brings up those topics- and not to be hateful or ugly, but gosh, you could have been anyone in my life- and the thought that you would question me, yet let me open up to you (obviously feeling safe to do so) is insane to me.

    Maybe it's because I've been in that place…

    And as for Sunny's 1st comment- it's how I felt too. Just not as good as putting it down.

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  32. Sunny–

    I did ask you to expound and expand, and I appreciate your honesty. I don't feel like you were trying to pick a fight. Let me try to explain myself a little better, as you have some valid criticisms.

    I mentioned the not paying rent issue to highlight the fact that my neighbor, the homeowner, essentially took this woman into her home. She is living off the complete charity of another person, which was meant to convey that she is starting from scratch after being homeless. It was not meant as a statement about her value as a human being, simply as a detail about her life to add to the picture. Obviously that didn't come across, and you're right–I should have expounded.

    I also perhaps should say that I think it's an awesome act of charity to bring somebody you don't know very well who has difficult circumstances into your home, and is something I applaud, even as I admit it's something I probably wouldn't do.

    As for my storytelling, I brought up socioeconomic status to highlight the fact that people who are alike tend to naturally segregate themselves into like groups, and by doing so we build up prejudices that, fair or not, exist. It's ridiculous to claim that we don't feel at least slightly wary when somebody who is different moves in next door, and I'm just trying to be honest about how people think and act. It probably SHOULD make you uncomfortable that people's first reactions to a person with a sketchy background is wariness and suspicion, but it shouldn't surprise you. It's human nature, and is exactly why we are told to rise above the natural man, to go beyond our natural tendencies to shut people down.

    I'm sorry that my OP came across as a plea for validation to ignore or turn away from somebody who is struggling but who may not be "worthy" of my help because of her circumstances. Chalk that up to poor writing, because it certainly wasn't my intent. I was just wanting to have a general discussion about how we react when being charitable is uncomfortable, or when we are trying to reconcile natural, albeit possibly inappropriate prejudices with what we have been taught about the pure love of Christ.

    Mostly, I was surprised that my neighbors reacted so universally to this woman–the question was consistently asked, "Is this safe" and "How will her living here affect us?" I was taken aback by the lack of charity and welcome, until I realized that I was thinking the same things. And I wanted to talk about that. That's where this post came from. The rest of it, well, like I said, chalk it up to poor writing. I mean, after all, I'm no Kathy Soper 🙂

    Thanks for your comment, Sunny. I didn't find it offensive at all, fwiw. And thanks for all of the comments–this thread has given me a lot of food for thought.

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  33. FroMo-

    and the thought that you would question me, yet let me open up to you (obviously feeling safe to do so) is insane to me.

    If it helps you to know, she told me her story literally 4 seconds after I met her. My dog escaped from the house and ran up to her as she was going into the house, and I introduced myself as I was pulling my dog off of her. She introduced herself, and then told me her whole story on the spot. It's not as if we were forging a friendship when she confided in me. I was little less than a complete stranger to her when she told me about her family. I don't know if that changes your estimation of my behavior, but I would hope that you would, as Miggy said, give me the benefit of the doubt as well.

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  34. Marintha said,

    The thing on the thread that is troubling me most is the attitude toward foster kids as playmates

    .

    I think that's a great example of what we're talking about here, Marintha. Foster kids are among those that probably need the most love and charity, and yet there is a stigma attached with being a foster child. The stigma is an unfair one–after all, they are the ones least in control of their lives, and are the ones least at fault for their circumstances—but you can't deny that it exists. And therein lies the purpose of charity—to help us overlook or get through the stigmas attached to certain circumstances to find the child of God within.

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  35. I agree, we need to give Heather the benefit of the doubt. Part of being a good writer is allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to ask the questions that people have but don't dare say aloud. We all know the "right" answers, but Heather is speaking honestly and from the heart.

    I have witnessed up close and personally the damage the troubled kids can inflict on other children. This doesn't mean they aren't children of God, this doesn't mean they don't have infinite value– it simply means that we as parents have a divine responsibility to protect our children from harm whenever possible.

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  36. Michelle,
    I guess I'm troubled at the assumption that because a child is in foster care they automatically will hurt other children. Yes, as parents it is our divine responsibility to watch over and protect our own, and should get to know their playmates. But the assumption from the get go that a foster child means trouble is so unfair.

    Lots of kids are abused, and don't go on to be abusers. If the statistic is true that 1 in 3 girls are sexually abused, then the chances are good that some of our child's female playmates have been abused, and we know that 1 in 3 women (or girls) is not a sexual abuser. To slap stigma on foster children to such a degree in a way blames the victim; and says people can't change–and if that's the truth then the Atonement is pointless.

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  37. And I'm not referring to foster children. I'm talking about kids in general.

    There are three kids in my white, middle-class neighborhood that I am very cautious of. None of them are foster children, no one is banned from my home. But when these kids are over, I make darn certain that I am engaged and paying attention.

    There are also days when my own kiddos are too grumpy to be at anyone else's house– and I refrain from inflicting them on others. 😉

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  38. Sunny,

    Oh boy…I'll be honest….I didn't read your whole post before my little reply. I still stand behind what I said, but I think you were more tactful than I was, and perhaps not all of what I said was relevant to you. Sorry. I agree with some of your points. And fwiw I wasn't only speaking to you… I felt like a few people were sort of quick to judge Heather, rather than looking at the bigger question(s) she was posing.

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  39. Heather–I appreciate the way you opened up this sensitive subject for discussion.

    I live in a neighborhood in many ways similar to yours. Although in my area a good majority are practicing LDS. There are a couple of known drug-dealers, however, and when I realized one was living just a stone's throw from my house, I became very wary. The problem is, this guy has a wife and kids (along with a violent history) and they need our help. In another situation there are multiple generations living in the same home and various occupants of the middle generation do occasional time in jail. They need our friendship. Their oldest child needs us too, in ways I can't explain.

    I try to follow my gut and my heart at the same time (I'd probably do better following the Spirit, but I don't always feel so sure about that). Would I do something that would put my kids at risk? Absolutely not. I can't tell you how relieved I was when I was informed of the drug dealer's violent past that I had not given out our phone number nor divulged how much my teenage daughter likes to babysit. But I will do what I can, especially for the kids, who are all quite young and do not pose any sort of a threat.

    It's a hard call and I often feel conflicted. I still feel a little guilty about the enthusiasm I expressed when I learned the violent guy has been convicted without even thinking about how devastated his wife is. I feel justified, but still a little guilty.

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  40. Some children very close to us were molested by a trusted relative and this experience had made me VERY strict about who I will let my children around. Does that mean that I assume certain people are a threat? No, but they could be and that possibility is not something I am willing to take a chance with.

    I can't help but think about Elizabeth Smart. Her parents were being charitable but ended up bringing a dangerous man to their home who hurt their child. I don't want to stop being charitable but I also can't naively think that giving everyone the benefit of the doubt will some how make it that my children will be safe. It does not work that way.

    It's sad but in my life people have to earn my trust when it comes to my kids. I don't automatically give it.

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  41. Heather,

    Sorry for the delay in my response. Thanks for being understanding of my intent. I'm glad for your further explanation and, while I seemed to miss the meaning in the OP, I feel like I understand now and can say I have asked myself those same questions when confronted with my own preconceived notions about others. It is hard when we are faced with ourselves, must make a decision, and wonder if that decision is coming from the right place.

    I'd say for myself, if I feared I was wrongfully judging another, my tendency might be to jump too far to the other side and become too open/giving, etc., to counter my own guilt for having been hasty in my thoughts. Either way, I am missing the key component of charity. Charity would have me do what love would require, which would neither be too hard nor too lenient. Whatever my outward action, if the heart is not right, if it is not based in true charity (or love), it will be counterfeit. Boundaries can be set from a place of fear or a place of love. Whichever one I choose sets the tone for the interactions that follow. That's how it works for me anyway.

    Thanks again for being open to my thoughts. I really appreciate your willingness to consider my thoughts as well as my intent.

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  42. Just had a very interesting experience. We've got wind in Utah county today–major wind. It is also trash day. As I was returning home after dropping my son off at early morning band practice, I saw that someone's dumpster had tipped over, spilling its contents all over the road. Even though it was windy and freezing outside and I still had to get home and deliver my other kids to their schools, my immediate impulse was to stop, right the dumpster, and clean up the mess. Then I saw what I thought was the remains of a beer carton, and, just like that, I drove on. As I passed, I realized in a flash that the object was actually a Capri Sun box, and I suddenly felt guilty and remorseful for not having stopped. Weird. Boom, boom, boom. My responses were gut-level and almost instinctual. There wasn't time to even form a thought. So what was it about the (perceived) presence of a beer carton that released me from the obligation I felt to help another fellow human being? And why did the fact that it was actually a Capri Sun box make me feel such sadness that I'd driven on? Is it because I somehow believe that people who drink beer don't deserve kindness? I hope not! Is it that the beer carton marked the owner of the dumpster as the Other in my subconscious mind, whereas the Capri Sun box triggered a feeling of connection between the dumpster owner and me (Oh! Another poor overworked mom who has to make sack lunches for her kids everyday!)?

    Fascinating (and disturbing) stuff to contemplate.

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  43. Sharlee,

    I was captivated by your story. You captured so perfectly the instantaneous nature of our ability to disregard another human, almost without thought. And I think the "almost without a thought" is so often key. I must keep myself from formulating the whole thought so as not recognize my own guilt. I'm amazed at your ability to self-analyze in the moment and to have such honest clarity. Thank you for sharing this. It will definitely have me thinking about my intent in my actions (or lack of) today. And hopefully longer.

    Reply

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