A few years ago we lived in a two bedroom apartment in a small apartment building on the main street of a small town. It was a quiet little town, but apparently Main Street had begun to attract a few interesting characters. We had interesting neighbor after interesting neighbor. Half were evicted. Half eventually moved out on their own. I mean, we had problems, but our neighbors really had problems. We wanted to move out of their pretty soon after we moved in. One day we would be able to afford to. Until then, it would be five years of missionary training.
We had all kinds in our building. One woman who moved in across the hall told me her husband had been molesting her daughter for years, so she finally left him. It was unnerving when we began to see him come around to visit her and her other two children.
The family that occupied that apartment before her were the loudest people I have ever had the displeasure to live next to in my entire life. They had 6 adult smokers crammed into a two bedroom apartment. I am sure that this was not code. Six adult smokers put out a lot of smoke. It would seep through the walls and fill the kids' room with, well, the smoke of six smokers. This would go on from September until May, when they finally took the majority of their smoking outside. Otherwise known as loitering. Our kids camped out on the living room floor for 8 months. I tried to make it fun, "Woo-hoo, kids! Let's do a camp-out!". (Fortunately it works when they are young:))
Another woman across the hall was a packrack. Most of the stuff in her apartment and on her balcony was trash. You could not walk in her apartment or on her balcony without walking on trash.
Downstairs there moved in what seemed like a fairly normal woman my age. I'll call her Jane. Then we realized Jane was a pathological liar and addicted to prescription drugs. Which she would forge the prescription for herself.
This is a felony, I learned.
Next to her were two early 30-somethings that lived in an apartment with no windows. When Jane was arrested for the umpteenth time and signed into the mentally unstable wing at the local hospital, they decided to move into Jane's apartment and take over her check book. All that happenned after I found Jane passed out half naked on her bathroom floor in a botched suicide attempt. But that is a story unto itself.
The young man that lived in Jane's apartment before she moved in was a somewhat skitsy and shady character himself. He really just had a lot of problems and didn't seem to know how to get out of them. From what he told me, he just only ever wanted his Dad to notice him. I took him to church with me once. Some girl I have never seen before in my life, and never saw again, came in and sat down next to him. They proceeded to give each other the eye, and then they left together.
Oh, boy, do I have stories.
One time Tony and I were lying in bed at about 11 o'clock one quite summer's eve. The windows were open, and we heard a "pop-pop-pop" outside. It took a minute, but then it registered that it was probably a gunshot. I think Tony called 911, something we had done several times before in these here parts. The next day we found out that the guy next door had gone to a party across the way. An altercation, a gun, and he was arrested. The police later found the gun thrown in the grass nearby. Not a smart guy.
Another time I answered a knock at the door to see a young man standing there, shaking and sweating profusely, with blood on his arm. I recognized him as a friend of several people in the building. I had handed him a tract one night out in the parking lot. He said, "Oh, my mom is always telling me the same thing." I gave one to all the kids that were standing there with him. Anyway, he said he was looking for so-and-so, and had fallen on his bike riding over, and could he have something to for his arm. He was acting funny, like he was under the influence of something. I said sure, locked the door behind me, went to get him a paper towel, unlocked to the door, and handed it to him. The next time I heard about him was in the paper. He was facing 120 years in prison for leading the police on a high speed chase through two counties for something or other. Maybe attempted murder, I don't remember.
Right below us, bless-ed are we, moved in an old, mentally and physically ill man named Bob. We came to call him "Urine Guy". Nice, I know. Real christian, right? Well, he would urinate in a pot and dump it right outside his door. His door was right below our window. Unfortunately for us, when the windows were open and the fan was on, pulling "fresher", cooler air in from the outside (at least that was the idea), it wasn't exactly fresh. The ambulance was always showing up for Bob. He was always calling 911 on himself. The EMTs told us they came over 80 times in one year. They have to come if you dial 911. Everybody knew Bob, he was famous in the (neighbor)hood.
Hospitality was not something we practiced a lot during that time. I couldn't figure out why no one would come over! You go to visit someone because of them, not because they live in a mansion with a pool out back, right? It was shocking to me that not everyone thought this way. And it hurt. It hurt that the fix-it man would come over and say, "How could you live here?". Now, what am I supposed to say to that?
I noticed that the only ones that would come over were usually our Latin friends that weren't phased in the least by these things. Or the family and friends who really cared about us.
I could go on and on and tell you about how we finally moved out of there Praise the Lord, only to move into a bigger apartment in a house with a huge yard and, it turns out - a pole-dancing neighbor. Sigh. It never ends. "Why, oh Lord, are you doing this to me?", I would moan for years. Tony always said, "This is for YOU, Chris."
But it's true. Street smarts is not something you learn living in a comfortable bubble in white suburbia.
I am thankful for those five years we lived in that apartment. The LORD knew exactly what He was doing. I'm so glad He cares about me enough to take the time and care to teach me what I need to know, what He wants me to learn. Because it is for my good. And for others', as well.
There is not one person there at that apartment that did not hear the Gospel from us - some many, many times. Most were open, or at least listened. But some literally kicked the Bible I gave them into the dirt. The fruit is in God's hands. We were just learning what it means to be the message bearers.
Just yesterday little M said out of the blue, "Mommy, I liked our apartment."
"You mean the house, the apartment at the house, with the yard?"
"No, the apartment. You know, our old apartment. I was, like, three when we lived there. I remember it. It was great! I loved it. I mean, we shared a room and everything, but it was so peaceful. And we would go to the park all the time. It was so fun."