On facebook, I’ve been chronicling my ups and downs – mostly downs – in dealing with my former landlady here in Redwood City. From our arrival six months ago, she has been – in our opinions – intrusive, abusive, and over-bearing, to say the least. At first she stopped by the house every day to see if she had mail, later she asked if she could house an automobile and some possessions in the garage for a nominal fee, which she alone set. Plus, she would drive by the house daily, sometimes stopping to sit across the street for long periods of time. According to her, she “wasn’t bothering anyone.”
But that wasn’t enough.
Once while Rochelle and I were out-of-town she went by the house everyday to “check on things” and angrily recounted her unhappiness that we hadn’t told her we were going away. She visited my office asking my secretary where we were and if she could go by the house to screw and unscrew the porch light, she also erroneously reported to my secretary that we were late on the rent. When our family returned from our travels we found her parked across the street. As summer wore on, she stopped by early in the morning to check the sprinklers; sometimes we would only know that she was on the property when we saw her walking in the back yard with the gardener. More recently, after we returned from a summer trip to Texas, she was sitting in the yard watering the grass upon our return. Mind you, all this is against the law in California, as well as most other places. More incredible than all that, several times she was openly belligerent and verbally hostile to both Rochelle and me in front of our children.
So when she requested that we break our lease in order to allow her to return to the house and secure a reverse mortgage we agreed. As you might guess, our landlady continued to harass and hound us for her benefit. Some of these exchanges have occured with the full knowledge – and sometimes in the presence – of my church members. At least one of these church members has known my former landlady for over 20 years and has had multiple contentious interactions with her. The testimony of this member combined with that of our neighbors and our personal experience has led me to believe that she is singularly the most difficult, truculent person I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with.
But I’m a Christian and a pastor, so I couldn’t take her back to the woodshed, and trust me when I tell you that there have been multiple times when I wished I could.
In these waning days of dealing with this vitriolic personality, I’m faced with the difficult question of how to behave towards a pugnacious woman while everyone in my church is watching (Note: This home is 365 steps from the church building.) The advice I had from some was to match her venom; to return fire with fire, and indeed in the end, I might have to take legal measures. But my instincts, and the New Testament, tell me that I should be the last, not the first to go legal or make threats. At times, this ethic has made me feel interiorly weak, as if I’m not standing up for myself or advocating strongly enough for my family. And it is in those times that I must force myself to reclaim the idea that I AM fighting, I’m just doing it with different weapons.
One of the most moving passages of Scripture is found in John 1. The highlight of which is, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” And believe it or not, that is what I – even in this most tense of situations – have endeavored to do.
It is unlikely, though not impossible, that my landlady will ever come to have a meaningful relationship with God. But I’m not choosing my behaviors for her. Rather, I’m trying to behave as I think Jesus would, and live a sermon for my church. This morning as I spoke with two church members, who are closely associated with my situation, and both stated, “You’re a better man than me.” While I’m not testing manhood, I do want to be the kind of pastor of whom my parishioners can believe without hesitation that I live out even the most difficult of behaviors that I teach. In doing so, I believe that I am a “witness to the light.”
Does being a witness mean that I have to hear a lot of slurs, untruths and insults without reducing myself to unwholesome talk? Yes. Does it mean that it cost me money and time, as it did with an unplanned and unbudgeted move as my children try to enjoy their summer and prepare for our first year of school? Yes.
But there is a pay off.
I go to sleep every night with the confidence that I have lived with integrity and honesty. I know that my life has coherence between what I say I believe and how I behave. I see in my daughter’s eyes the trust that Daddy does not debase himself or his language when provoked. I live with confidence that I have testified to the goodness of God through my own consistently good behavior. And I trust that when I am as old as my former landlady, I will not live a friendless, lonely, bitter, bellicose life, as she does.
And that’s worth it!