This last week a total stranger walked up to me and said, “those two blogs about the neighbor’s dogs, oh, those were the best ever!”
I wrote those like three years ago! I couldn’t believe someone in North Dakota would have read those pieces and actually remembered them. It was so delightful to share that moment. We were instantly friends. The story is one of my very favorites. In that moment, I realized I needed to present it for some of our newer readers. So, at the risk of giving you something that will take you a few minutes to read, I give you, “Living in the Light” and “Living in the Light Part 2” for your viewing enjoyment.
The Lynches have a nice backyard. It used to be crab grass mixed with dirt and a rusted swing set. Over the years we’ve added a pool and some dear friends surprised me one birthday with a giant, tiled “grilling center” and glorious fireplace. Wealthy and famous people come by just to gawk. I am the envy of nearly every man, everywhere.
The only drawback is we have two neighbor women with two incessantly barking dogs. Any hint of activity from our yard and they start yapping. My nearly perfect dog, Bali, is tempted to want to bark back. I’m sure they’re saying:
“What’s your problem? Master won’t let you bark? Bummer. It’s a lot of fun. You ought to try it.”
I’ve tried reasoning with the dogs: “Hey, big fella, what’s all the racket? We’re nice people over here…There’s no need to yell.” I’ve yelled back at them. I’ve barked at them like a big, scary dog. Nothing works.
Recently, I was cleaning our pool’s leaf basket with the garden hose. The dogs were out and barking. In a moment’s decision I aimed the garden hose over the fence and sprayed where I thought they might be. To my great delight, they stopped! It took only a few seconds to do the trick. After a minute they started barking again. So I fired another round over the fence. This time I heard: “What is going on!” Then a scream. Then, all within about a half second, “Who is doing this? Stop it! Oh, the nerve. I can’t believe-Who is spraying me?! Were you spraying my dogs?!” Then more shrieks of moral indignation.
I panicked. I had to make a quick decision. What do I do? I could hide, but the water clearly came from my yard. I could tell her the truth and apologize. Nope. I’m a pastor and they’re not apparently Christian folk. So I called back over the fence. “Hello, it’s John, your neighbor. I’m so sorry. I’m cleaning my leaf basket and well, I must have missed with the hose while I was cleaning out some of the debris. I’m so sorry.” She looked over the fence at me standing there with the hose and leaf basket, corroborating my story. She quickly responded, “Oh, I am so sorry for over-reacting. I thought, for a moment, someone was spraying my dogs. Will you forgive me?”
Magnanimously, I responded, “Not to worry. It was my fault. I’m sure sorry.”
“No,” she answered back, “I’m sorry for my rudeness.”
Whew! Dodged that bullet. It was several hours later before I reflected upon my deed. Here’s the problem. Not that I lied. Yes, that, but more, that I thought I must lie, must hide. That somehow I must cover for God, to prove, especially to “outsiders”, that I am above the ability to wrong others for my good. At it’s source is this thought:
“God, I’m not sure you’d take care of me when I get in a mess like this, so I’ll just take things into my own hands and get out of it on my own.”
It is the same logic that allows me to lie about other things. It is a fear based, shame based expediency overintegrity. Among fifty other problems, it leaves others not sure they can trust me. Yes, I’ve got the alibi, but I’m not sure everyone’s always convinced. That’s not great for a man who wants to be trusted on a Sunday morning and every other hour of the week.
If you asked my neighbor today if I was telling the truth I think she might say,
“Well, I’m not sure. He did have the evidence. But it sure seemed like there was a lot of wet patio for just a moment’s miss-aim. But what am I gonna do? I’m already in enough trouble with God without calling His preachers liars.”
This truth will never change: the more influence, position or audience we have to lose, the more susceptible we are to being dishonest or disingenuous.
What if I had told her the truth?
“Hey, I’m sure sorry. I didn’t mean to get you wet. I was just trying to get your dogs to stop barking. That was wrong for me to do. Will you please forgive me? I don’t have the right to do that.”
What would have happened? She might have been outraged in the moment. But she would’ve known I was authentic. “That religious guy may be a jerk, but he’s at least an authentic jerk!”
Then I could have gone over later with a peace offering, maybe some dog bones and had a great conversation. Eventually we’d probably laugh about it, both better friends. Maybe she’d even be more sensitive to her dog’s barking. Most importantly, I might not be another installment of “those religious hypocrites. They’re no different than anyone else.”
To do that, I must continue to grow in trusting God that His arm is around me, that He has already seen every knucklehead thing I will do in this lifetime and chooses still to adore me as much as His only Son. I must believe that He is able to convince that dear woman that He is real and good, even when His servants aren’t. I must believe that I don’t have to cover for God with a lie.
I preach and teach and write about these truths of authenticity. But, as Paul says in Philippians 3:12, (Lynch paraphrase)
“I teach all these things, but I haven’t yet got it all down. I still fail, a lot. I still am not fully mature. But I can only go on, trusting Him more, until I convince my own heart that I can live alive and authentically in His righteousness. And so I keep pursuing Christ. I don’t beat myself up for my past, I don’t pretend to be doing it all right in the present. But this I do: I keep reaching forward, in this moment. I want to know what life feels like, looks like when I apprehend the full experience of the Beautiful One who apprehended me.”
Who God seems to enjoy most (David, Moses, Paul, Peter, Rachael, Jacob) are real people who fail real often, in real time. People who need a present Savior, not those who bluff like they don’t. God is not angry, God is not disgusted. God just continues to invite us closer, so that we are free to live, free to be free, free to stop hiding, free to be authentic
I really hadn’t thought a lot about her since the incident. I guess I just sort of thought that I had blown the whole opportunity to apologize. That it might even be best for all concerned if she never had to hear what I had actually been doing. She was just the most recent in a long list of those, over the years, whom I had “repositioned” the truth to, in order to avoid an awkward situation. At best, maybe I thought that if everything lined up right, and she and I stumbled upon each other in an exactly appropriate setting, well, then maybe I would be able to tell her and make things right.
But my friend Bruce asked a number of you, in a Friends of Truefaced letter, to ask me about how things turned out with her. Thanks a lot buddy! Several of you commented, in kind and perhaps not as kind ways that I might want to consider facing that little issue. Since then God’s been gently but firmly nudging my heart, “So, John, what do you think we should do about this?”
Well, I sure wasn’t going to go over there to assuage my guilt from a “perhaps not as kind” reader’s post. I wanted to do it for right reasons, not compliantly checking off a sin by going through the motions with a certain behavior. I hate that like I hate biting into something hard in a fast food hamburger.
And so God had to rescue me.
In the late afternoon on Saturday, after returning home from working on Sunday’s message, Stacey called me to say that she had been talking longer than expected to some of the mom’s of the group going to homecoming with Carly. She’d be coming later and would push back our dinner arrangements. I suddenly now had a chance to take my dog Bali for a walk.
…and that’s when it happened.
There she was. Her name is Lynn. The woman I had lied to. And suddenly she is walking toward me on the other side of the street. And, unlike every other time I’ve ever seen her out, she has no dogs with her. Thirty yards away, closing fast. I thought something like, “God this is you, isn’t it? You set up this moment.”
I was overwhelmed. What do I do? Then at about twenty yards, “I can’t do this. I’m not ready. I haven’t showered, my breath is bad…and anyway, I don’t want to freak her out. I don’t want to come off as a stalker or something. I barely know her. I mean she’s got her Ipod going. I don’t want to frighten her. But thank You God for bringing this reminder that I should talk to her. And I will. I’m gonna do that. At a more appropriate time, I’m gonna go see her and apologize. So, thanks again, for this really clear reminder.”
But I knew better. I knew that this was His gift to me. And that it was not for a reminder. In about the time I had to decide on the day of the hose incident, I had to decide whether to smile and keep walking or go across the street and talk to her.
And so, I made up my mind to just keep walking, to avoid this present awkwardness, like I have done so often, all my life.
But apparently nobody informed my feet.
I found myself crossing over towards her and from somewhere inside, without formal permission, a voice came out, saying, “Hello. May I talk to you?”
She pulled out her earpieces, a little startled.
“May I talk to you?” I repeated. And then these words rushed out of my mouth: “Hey, I just wanted to speak to you about that deal with the hose the other day.”
Immediately, a giant grin broke over her face. She knew.
“I really was trying to spray your dogs,” I said sheepishly. “I’m so sorry. They were barking and-”
She wouldn’t let me finish.
“Oh my gosh!” she interrupted. “I was so caught off guard when it happened. I wanted so much to tell you right then that it was alright. I am so embarrassed by their barking. I don’t know what to do. And I thought how humane! What better way to stop their barking than just spraying them with water? You can spray them any time you want.”
We were both desperately trying to get words out before the other.
“That is so kind,” I said. “I just didn’t want you to think that I was the kind of person who would lie like that to you about such a thing. I obviously am, but I didn’t want you to think I was.”
She interrupted me, laughing, “Oh, thank you so much for saying that! I’m sure I would have done exactly the same thing. Bless you. Thank you for risking to tell me this. Bless you. And again, you may spray my dogs anytime you want.”
As we both started walking past each other, I shook my head and said, “You are so kind. You could have responded twenty others ways. Thank you. And, if I ever do it again, I will at least call out to make sure you’re not standing there.”
And that quickly, the moment I had grown to dread, was over.
God let me make a friend on Saturday. And He helped me off a hook I’d placed myself upon. How good is my God? Before the world began, before hoses were invented, He saw this day and actually went to the care of strategically placing Lynn, alone on a walk, without her dogs, in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
The rest of the walk I was almost skipping, free from the weight I was carrying. I came home and immediately called half a dozen friends who’d walked this brief journey with me. I shared it Sunday in my message and now I share it with all of you. Thanks for walking it with me.
And the moral of the story is…I’m not totally sure yet. But I do know this: God is really good…and I get to spray those dogs anytime I feel like it.