It’s that moment we all hate—the moment when we realize that we haven’t been just looking through the glass darkly but rather we haven’t been seeing anything at all. Our own perception has completely clouded our judgment, and what we thought was reality was a distorted concoction of our own imagination. It is only when the curtain is drawn back that we see—we clearly see the reality unfolding around us.
It’s always humbling when this happens, I find myself asking: How did I judge so wrongly? How did I so grossly misinterpret the situation?
A few years ago, I got served a healthy helping of humble pie—one of which I’m not likely to forget. Patrick and I, along with our two sons, were living in Hawaii. We were attending Brigham Young University where we lived in a student apartment. Both Patrick and I had been in the workforce for many years with successful careers when we decided that our lives needed a course correction. We needed to take time out to finish our degrees—something we started when we first got married but had never completed.
We sold our beautiful home in Tennessee and most of our belongings, and we closed our thriving design business. Essentially, we gave up all of our material possessions and boarded a plane with our two boys and a few pieces of luggage.
Living in student housing was a large adjustment for our family. Central heat and air is a rarity in Hawaii that is reserved for the affluent. Everything is an open-air environment. The apartments where we lived were two stories tall, and we lived on the bottom floor. Not only could we hear our neighbors, but we could also hear bits of conversation. Whenever I cooked or baked, I would have people pausing at the kitchen window. “That smells great,” a friend of ours would say, “what’s for dinner?”
At first, we felt overwhelmed at the close proximity of our neighbors, but we soon adapted and began to make friends. Before long, life in student housing felt normal. That all changed when a family with two small children moved into the apartment directly above. From the time this family moved in, we heard pounding on the ceiling. Not just random pounding but constant pounding like cattle was being herded. We about went out of our minds. The constant racket was unnerving. This went on for several weeks, and we would often look up at the ceiling with gritted teeth. There were times when I was tempted to march up the steps and demand that they stop the pounding. Patrick would get so frustrated that he would take the tip of the broom handle and hit it on the ceiling, so that they would get the hint to STOP! One evening, we had guests for dinner, and the pounding became so loud that at one point, the guest looked up at the ceiling and began muttering under her breath.
As luck would have it, I received a church assignment to start visiting this young mother on a monthly basis to attend to her needs. I was not happy about this assignment, but I accepted it nonetheless. I figured that getting to know her would at least give me the opportunity to express my frustration in a polite way. I’ll never forget what happened that first time I went to visit her.
She was from China and spoke very little English. She invited me into her apartment, and I was shocked at how sparse the furnishings were. The only furniture the young family had were the standard issue pieces that were provided by the university. The mother introduced me to her two young children—a boy eight years old and a girl who was four. I learned that the woman was three months pregnant and very sick. In her halting English, she explained that she was so nauseated that it was hard for her to take care of her two children. Her husband, a full-time student, would help her get the kids ready in the morning and then feed them breakfast, and then he would have to leave for a full day of classes.
“We cannot afford a TV,” the woman explained, “and I’m too sick to play with the children.” With tears in her eyes, she told me that they would stand at the window every morning, their faces pressed to the glass, watching their father leave. “And two hours before it’s time for him to come home, they’ll go back to the glass and watch for him.”
The woman went on to say that because they could not afford to buy toys, she and her husband fashioned a sword for their son out of cardboard and aluminum foil. Having no other form of entertainment, he would stomp back and forth across the floor, in a crouched position, playing with that sword. “He does this all day long,” she said, “because it’s the only thing he has to do.”
It was an ah-ha moment for me! Now I knew the source of the terrible racket. I wanted to crawl under the carpet and bury my head in shame. The woman may have apologized for the loud noise, but I really can’t remember. I do remember running home and scouring our apartment to find toys that I could take to the family. Also, I gathered some snacks for them. My conscience was pricked and my heart softened, and I saw the family differently from that point on. I was so grateful that I hadn’t followed my impulse and charged up the steps to complain.
The noise continued, but we didn’t find it nearly as annoying as we once did, for I had learned a valuable lesson. I had wrongfully judged my neighbors. Once I knew their situation, I was completely changed. For the first time, I saw through the glass clearly. I got to know my neighbors, and what a difference that made!
False Identity, the Christmas novel that Mom and I recently finished is about casting judgment. When Chancy Hamilton and her son, Travis, have an argument, he storms out of the house and finds himself in the wrong part of town. A group of thugs attack him, and he is saved by a homeless man. On a whim, Travis invites the man home to have a meal with his family. That’s when the trouble begins. Chancy must decide if she’ll trust her heart or lean more on the conventional wisdom of society. False Identity is not only a spine-tingling thriller, but it also contains a powerful message of hope and redemption that embodies the Christmas Spirit.
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