I’d only seen her once or twice, and I never knew her name. She was simply the woman who lived next door.
From a distance, I could read pain in her face etched there by a life that had been hard and that had given her too many scars. Sometimes, when we passed her on our road, it seemed like she was in another world — a world created by drugs, alcohol and abuse. When I waved, sometimes all I got was a blank stare; sometimes she never even looked.
But the face of that woman next door seemed to lodge itself in my heart. I wondered what story she had to tell, or if she had anyone to care about the path her life took, or how much she hurt. When I heard them fighting next door, and when I saw her leave each morning for work, I prayed for her, that someday, someone would be able to reach in to her life and help her to see that she was loved.
She left one day in her rickety old brown car, and didn’t come back for a long time. I thought perhaps she had moved away, and I wondered if her life would be any better where she was now than in the place next door.
Two days ago, I was heading to the mailbox when I saw her standing there beside the house. For the first time, she waved when she saw me. When I started to walk by, she called out to me. It was pouring rain, and she looked a little strange, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what she was going to say. Part of me felt afraid of her past. Part of me remembered the people who have stopped for me during the bumps in my life. So I stopped.
Her keys were locked in her trunk. No amount of pushing or prying on either of our parts could budge it open. While I tried to pick the lock with my hairpin, she stood beside me and poured out a bit of the pain and confusion in her heart. Looking into her face, I saw the same scars that I’d seen at a distance. I saw the hard lines and the roughness of bad choices. Yet I saw beautiful eyes looking back at me, eyes that craved love and acceptance. I saw a lonely woman who just needed to be heard.
I didn’t get the trunk open. I didn’t get a chance to ask her if she knew Jesus. I didn’t even catch her name. I may not see her again, but I’ll remember the fragment of her heart that I saw that day, and how grateful relief flooded her face when she saw that someone would stop for her. I will remember that sometimes, touching the world starts with something as small as taking time to listen to the lonely woman who used to live next door. I’ll remember that sometimes, the best sermons aren’t preached, but lived out in the little gestures of kindness to a stranger.
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in supporting the big cause of reaching the world for Christ that I forget about the women next door. Sometimes I’m a little afraid of what it might cost my comfort zone to let the messiness of their lives get too close to me. Sometimes I know that the way Jesus reached the world was to reach out and touch it, but I’m scared of what it might cost me, and how it might cut close to my own brokenness and pain.
And then I bump into a lonely neighbor, or a hurting stranger in the grocery store. I hear Him ask me to share a smile, to reach out a helping hand. I see a glimmer of hope, and a reflection of the beauty of connection their eyes. And I remember that this is what Christianity is about—reaching out to the woman next door, and touching the world.