I will never know what might have happened if our neighbor hadn’t intervened.
My heart was flailing, as I stood wide-eyed, attempting to fill the frame of our front door. It was my hope to shield my children’s view of this woman, a futile plan, given this creature who was now screaming at me, a Jezebel in the flesh, eyes blazing and nostrils flaring.
We once lived on a short cul-de-sac in Texas, home to some ten families. Our sons played outdoors daily, by the slant of afternoon light. Neighborhood boys flocked from surrounding streets, dividing and forming football teams. I occasionally offered drinks and snacks, walking outside with our two-year-old daughter, while keeping an eye on everyone.
It was a wonderful group of boys, many with a key dangling about their neck, parents working until the dinner hour. I remember their names and faces even now: Donovan, Mouse, Jake, Cody, and Finn. Plus our own three sons: Caleb, Jacob, and Marcus.
These games were rigorous: Our ten-year-old, Caleb, the oldest of the bunch, had mapped out strict playbooks and schedules, tallying scores while diligently keeping stats. It was all quite official and the boys treated the games and each other with the utmost respect. I could feel their hunger for leadership, routine, and purpose. As I plucked weeds and played with our daughter and walked our dog, occasionally treating knees with Neosporin and band-aids, I grinned at their serious discussions. These boys had resplendent plans: college football prior to skyrocketing to the one and only National Football League.
Those were the days.
One of those splendid afternoons, as the boys were in the thick of a game, I stood indoors, folding a mountain of laundry heaped upon the dining room table. Our daughter was napping upstairs, and from time to time I paused my work, peering out our front bay window, double checking that all was well. After returning to my folding, I paused upon hearing deep voices. Opening our front door, I observed two teenagers as they intercepted the football. They tossed it back and forth, cackling over the heads of the younger fellows.
I stood there for a moment, considering. Maybe they will just join the game. That sentence evaporated as intense taunting began. It was now a game of keep-away, a pathetic sight coming from sixteen-year-olds to mere children.
My protective instincts caught fire as I whirled down our driveway.
Hey! That’s enough, guys. Please give the ball back to the boys.
They turned, surprised.
It’s my street too, lady. One of the boys approached me, defiant.
Give my son his football and head on home. I stood still, arms crossed, and the street hushed.
He sneered and twirled the ball high into the air, before slinging it back to Caleb.
We’ll see about that. He glanced over his shoulder, summoned his pal, and strolled away.
I kept a close watch the rest of the afternoon. All seemed well.
Early that evening, before my husband had returned from work, I prepped dinner, chopping and dicing while the kids sprawled on the living room floor enjoying a movie. In the middle of this peaceful scene, the doorbell rang. I opened the door, surprised to see a middle-aged woman dressed in business casual. I did not recognize her but smiled.
Who do you think you are? she hissed.
Excuse me? My heart began pounding.
You certainly have a lot of nerve telling my son to leave his own street. Her voice was rapidly escalating, and her eyes were hot. I started to slowly close the door.
Oh no you don’t. She pressed her manicured hand on the doorknob, her thick foot blocking the doorframe. You owe me an explanation.
I was too stunned to answer.
Now! she exploded.
Explanation? Your son was bullying—
Bullying? Bullying? She was now screaming. You call trying to be included in a football game bullying? Let me tell you–
Hello, Kristin. Our next-door-neighbor, a petite, middle-aged woman whom I had chatted with only a handful of times, was now standing next to this angry lady.
I am sorry, dear, if I have caught you at an inconvenient time, but I wanted to once again see the lovely paint color in your dining room before our remodel. It must match my quilt.
She held up her arm, over which draped a tidy blanket, folded. Turning breezily to the ranting woman, whose face was burning, she continued. Would you excuse us, please? Her voice was kind yet firm as she guided me back inside.
And just like that, she followed me inside, quickly closing and locking our door.
I was shaking.
This good neighbor peered at my children who had never heard such ranting.
Oh, it’s okay. Some people are just so grumpy, aren’t they? she smiled at my wide-eyed tribe. My goodness, you are watching Peter Pan! I love that movie. Keep it rolling. I have to get some paint ideas from your Mom.
We stepped into the dining room, and she parted the curtains to make sure the Screamer was gone. She was.
Thank you, I said weakly. My legs were shaking.
I almost called the police, dear. That woman is a ticking time bomb. A couple of months ago she had issues with another neighbor down the street.
I never saw the screaming woman again.
In fact, prior to this incident, we had only glimpsed the back of her head as she careened into her garage after work each night. It remained the same after her rage on our doorstep.
I was greatly offended and nervous. Would she come back?
Deeper still was the uncomfortable knowledge that someone did not like me. I had spent so many years staking my worth upon lack of altercations and disagreements, keeping the juggling act afloat, working tirelessly to earn favor with nearly everyone. And now this?
Couple this with the abysmal reality that my time spent in Scripture was haphazard at best: cherry-picking verses, snacking upon God’s Holy Word if I found the time, rather than choosing to feast daily, and it is plain to see that I was spiritually bankrupt.
God never condones idolatry in the hearts of his own, and people-pleasing is simply that. It is a deep, deep well and also a sneaky one: appearing kind and gentle and sensitive and servant-minded and considerate. It is not.
Those who abide in man-pleasing ways, rather than fearing God most, typically display the same acute symptom. They are easily offended.
Bowing first and only to God while loving others well, breeds true freedom. As we dwell securely in this space, we will no longer be content to live a flimsy, man-pleasing life: a shallow, upending existence if ever there was one.
God has given me a simple measuring stick in examining my own heart: Am I easily offended? Huffy? As I abide fully in Christ, the more unoffendable my soul becomes. My heart and mind and soul are consumed with obedience to God, rather than focusing upon the fickle affections and reactions of man.
There is a deep transformation taking place in the true believer’s heart. A slow and tender growth, as God clips away the sinful thorns that distract us from walking in step with the Holy Spirit. It feels crushing as we stand exposed in our sin and weakness.
But then, just as he did for Adam and Eve, God supplies leaves to cover us, soft green branches of hope, given to clothe us in his righteousness as we cling in trust to Christ who is our Vine, our Shelter, our Savior.
And that increasing desire for God himself? This, too, is from the Lord.
We had a couple of guests at our church one evening last month. As I stepped into the sanctuary, I noticed a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, sitting in the back row with her father. I ambled over to their pew, introduced myself, and welcomed them to our church.
Within one minute I could feel the daughter’s angst. As I chatted with her father, her eyes raged against my friendliness, until finally she said icily:
What, did we take your pew or something?
I felt the darkness clashing and a sorrow welled up inside of me at her rudeness.
I smiled at her. No, not at all. I don’t own any pew. I just wanted to welcome you. My husband is the pastor here, and I enjoy meeting new people. I am happy that you are here. Merry Christmas!
Her father looked deeply embarrassed as I said goodbye and moved on.
Later, much later, I turned this scene over in my mind. Something nagged at me, as I thought of this young woman.
What was it?
I was unoffended.
The realization came in a rush, so refreshingly different from my old patterns of harboring and rehearsing deep offenses I had once clung to.
The reactions of others always reveal their own hearts, not mine. It is not my business to own their responses, only to walk in step with the Holy Spirit.
God, in his kindness, has been at work, transforming and renewing my heart and mind through his Word, while granting me the longing to love him most. God is everything. It is important to understand that obedience to God is highly offensive to unbelievers. Darkness hates light.
So I no longer hold people’s opinions as supreme. This is true living. A life that is filled with deep, imperishable joy, regardless of others.
If I could now walk backwards sixteen years, to the Screaming Lady Situation, I might be caught off guard, but I would no longer be offended.
She was a woman without the hope of Christ, and her festering wounds knew no bounds. I see that now.
It was never really about me.
At that time, I was an infant subsisting upon spiritual milk: splashing in the shallows instead of diving into the deep waters filled with the truths of God and his Word.
It was thus impossible for me to share that which I did not possess.
In hindsight, I can now see this incident as the spark: the beginning of God tenderly cupping my face, turning me around, and leading me directly into his Refiner’s Fire; unraveling all of those tangled messes I had spun in my own sin and fragility.
He is stitching me back together still, piece by piece, and it is my honor, and my joy to abide in him, through faith and obedience. And when I fail? I repent and return.
I pray for God to keep me faithful, allowing me to maintain both a spine of steel and a soft, humble heart.