Remember the kids who were ringing my doorbell and running? They kept doing it.
I talked to them about it again, as kindly and calmly as possible, and yet they kept at it, usually waking up my children and shattering my free time in the process. I’d been trying not to bring it up with their parents/guardians since I know that some of them have complicated situations at home, and I didn’t want to add any stress there. But a few weeks ago I’d exhausted all ability to be charitable, and I was just mad. In an example of how even a little bit of sin can open the floodgates for a lot more sin, I allowed myself to indulge in some self-pitying thoughts one afternoon; a few days later, I had a grand conspiracy theory all worked out in my head, had firmly labeled myself “VICTIM,” and was delighted by thoughts of revenge. I no longer wanted to talk to their parents to simply put an end to the pranks, but to get back at them.
One Wednesday afternoon I found myself staring out the window, watching them run away after yet another incident. As I heard a couple of my children beginning to fuss upstairs, I was consumed with rage. In a last-ditch effort to control my temper before I did a reverse-address lookup to get their home phone numbers and start leaving nasty messages on their parents’ answering machines, I prayed. Through clenched teeth, my feeble attempt at prayer went something like this:
Lord, I am about to be on seriously bad terms with some of my neighbors. I don’t want it to be that way, but I am beyond my ability to be charitable here. I need help. NOW.
In a highly unusual moment, I actually sensed an immediate, very clear answer to my prayer: I suddenly knew that it would all work out somehow, and my angry urge to go yell on their parents’ voicemail dissipated. But I also got a clear feeling that God was putting these children in my path for a reason, and would continue to send them to my doorstep, so to speak, until I welcomed them.
So I disconnected the doorbell.
I know, that sounds ridiculous: I prayed, received an answer, and then went ahead and did my own thing anyway since the answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I all but thought, “That’ll teach the Holy Spirit to boss me around!” as I unwrapped the last wire from the doorbell box.
I was smugly proud of myself for my great idea to get rid of the annoyance these kids had caused. And yet, that feeling wouldn’t go away. The strong sense that I was meant to have some kind of contact with them continued. And then, two days after I said the prayer, I found an injured bird on my driveway. I was so frustrated because it was hard to tend to this bird with a three-year-old, a 21-month-old and a nine-month-old in tow. I was overwhelmed. I was upset. I needed help. I looked up in desperation to flag down the first person I saw…and the four doorbell-ringers were standing just a few feet away, shuffling around in the neighbor’s driveway.
I had planned for my next interaction with them to be one filled with threats and lectures. Instead, I found myself asking, “Can you help me?”
To make a long story short, the girls eagerly helped me tend to the little bird, and in the process we struck up a conversation. We ended up chatting in my driveway for more than an hour. After getting to know them a bit, I felt terrible for my previous feelings of anger towards them: for one thing, they’re a lot younger than I thought they were, their ages ranging from eight to ten. I also got the sense that they were just bored; typical kids looking for ways to fill the free time after school.
We said our goodbyes at the end of the evening. The next day, just as I was settling in to enjoy some precious down time, they knocked on my door again. Only this time, they didn’t run. They’d ostensibly come to see about the bird’s progress, yet after I gave them an update, they didn’t leave. I hinted a few times to wrap up our conversation, but they didn’t take the bait.
Finally, one of them said softly, “You seem like a nice person, and I could really use someone to talk to. Do you think we could come in?”
“Sorry,” I replied. “You kids need to get out of here so that I can go write a blog post about being selfless.”
Wondering how on earth I would avoid mental collapse without any time to myself, I silently said a little prayer for strength, and replied, “Sure. I’d love for you to join me.” Inspired by Meredith’s example of hospitality, I got out my wedding china in honor of my special guests, brewed some sweet orange tea, dumped a big bag of pretzels into a bowl, and found some extra chairs to make room for us all around my kitchen table.
In that moment, a friendship was born.
For some people, this would be a pretty normal scene, sitting around your table with a group of elementary school children from the neighborhood. There are people out there who are naturally good with kids, perhaps who have experience babysitting or volunteering with youth groups, who have a knack for rapping with young people on their level. I am not one of those people.
I was perfectly content to be the mysterious crank nextdoor, a shadowy figure whose existence was suspected only from an occasional chink in the blinds, behind which you could a voice holler, “You kids!” To have a kitchen full of eight- and ten-year-olds is about as unlikely a situation as it gets for me. I would only be slightly more surprised if a UFO crashed in my back yard and I ended up sipping tea with green aliens with antennae coming out of their heads. I could not be more out of my element.
And yet, the fingerprints of God are all over this situation. The peace of the Holy Spirit is palpable.
This is what I mean by the Christian life being an exciting life. Had it not been for that feeling I got through prayer and the belief that God gives us the strength we need to do his will, I would have never put myself in this situation. I’m spread so thin as it is, I would have never thought I could survive if I gave one more minute of my time to anyone else. But when I see the girls excitedly waving their hands, so eager to share that they actually jump out of their chairs and exclaim, “Miss Jennifer, pick me! Pick me!” as they try not to talk over one another, I know that God is guiding this situation, and that he will give me the help I need.
Yesterday, as the girls passed out gooey fresh-from-the-oven cookies they’d baked in my kitchen, I was marveling once again at the incredible unlikeliness of this scene. I have no idea where God is going with this, why he sent them my way, or where it’s going from here. But when one of the girls looked around with wide eyes and exclaimed, “Miss Jennifer, I just love it that we’re all best friends!” I knew one thing for sure: this is exactly where I need to be.