On Sunday morning, we got flipped off on our way to church. Yes, I’ve written before about how strongly I feel about drivers giving each other the finger. You can read that one here, or I’ll save you the time and sum up: I detest it. This time, a neighbor a couple houses down and across the street from us—an older man whose always-manicured lawn is clearly his pride and joy— was outside mowing. He was near the street with his back turned, and I guess we startled him when we drove by, because what my husband saw in the rear-view mirror was the man’s finger and his angry face, clearly cursing. I missed the whole exchange because I was busy praying. Just kidding, I was putting on mascara.
We briefly commented on the fact that we hadn’t driven anywhere near him, how it must be sad to be such a grump all the time, and how that guy had always seemed a little off. I had been chatting with some girlfriends that morning via text about this and that, and I shared the story with them (you know, so I could get some support that obviously we’d done nothing wrong and that guy was just being a jerk). We all agreed. What a grump. What a sad life he must have. I shrugged it off. We went on to church and went on with our day, and I pushed the incident from my mind.
I should have known that my husband is not the type to write something like that off and say, “Oh well, I guess we just won’t be friends with that neighbor,” regardless of whether he deserved the finger. Now for the record, in my opinion and I think Jesus would back me up on this, it is never okay to give anyone the finger. And now I promise I’m finished talking about that. Moving on.
On Monday morning, Mr. Lawn Man was outside mowing again. (I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it’s his pride and joy. He puts up reflectors and occasionally ropes it off—with signs—to keep cars, bikes, feet, and pets off.) My husband had been a little quiet, and I asked if everything was okay.
“I’m going to go over there and talk to him,” he said.
Now, I don’t know how you deal with confrontational situations, but I do not handle them well. Not at all. My heart races, I break into a sweat, and I begin thinking of all the things I could do as an alternative to having that conversation. No, don’t do that sweetie. We’ll just sell our house! Let’s move. All new neighbors. Nice ones. Sound good?
Of course, in this case, he was the one doing the confronting, not me, so I just said, “Okay.” And then I immediately planted myself on the back of the couch by our front window and watched like a hawk as my brave, brave man crossed the street and over to our neighbor’s yard. My heart was pounding. Is he smiling? I can’t tell if he’s smiling! Are those angry gestures? What kind of message is someone sending if they have their hands on their hips? What if that guy punches him? Wait, are they laughing? WHY CAN’T I READ LIPS?
And then, after about 10 minutes, I saw them shake hands and part ways.
Here is what my husband had done: He had let go of his pride and any defiance at the fact that he had done nothing wrong, and instead offered our neighbor the other cheek. He apologized if he had, in fact, startled the man when we drove by. And you know what happened? That man didn’t puff up in anger. He didn’t tell my hubby off. Actually, he looked a little sheepish, apologized in return, and said he hadn’t realized it was us driving by. (This is not a good excuse! But that’s beside the point.) We had startled him, but you know, his wife always says he stands too far in the road when he mows. (That part made me laugh.)
And here is what we learned about our neighbor, Mr. Lawn Man: He has an actual first and last name, which we now know. (Shocking, right? This is embarrassing. We have lived across the street from each other for five years.) He used to be on our town council and is quite interested and involved in the local government. He likes rules. He likes things neat. We always assumed he was a war vet based on our own observations, but he’s not. He is, however, a huge American history buff (as is my husband), and has written some books about World War II, which he seems quite proud of.
God made this man. He is a human being, he makes mistakes just like you and me, and he has a story.
The next day, my husband found an envelope tucked under the wiper blades of his car. Inside was a note that read, “Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed chatting with you” along with information about those books he wrote and where we could find them online if we were interested.
My heart swells with pride and honor that I am married to a man who sets this kind of example for me and for our kids. Our 7-year-old observed the exchange through the window with me, and she had been with us in the car the day before and knew what happened. We watched this leader of our family grieve the situation, summon God’s help, and lower himself enough to take those steps across the street and extend a hand of grace, make an apology regardless of fault, and begin a relationship with someone we’d made all kinds of negative assumptions about.
I learned a lot from that interaction, so much that I’m still processing it all, but what I will leave you with is this: I pray the next time something like this happens to me or to you (because we all know these situations are inevitable), we take a moment to put our own defiant anger aside, seek God’s heart of mercy, and humble ourselves enough to take the first step onto the other person’s [perfectly clipped] lawn. There’s no telling how God might use it for good, but I guarantee He will.