Every day I walked along the concrete walkway that led from our condominium unit to the stairway. And each day I was annoyed by the sight of a dedraggled, overgrown plant hanging over the edge of the walkway above, down to the second floor where I lived at the time.
"Why doesn't Lois do something about that thing?" I asked half aloud. "It's an awful sight and it's practically dead anyway."
I complained to my husband about it.
"Don’t look at it," he said. "It's hers. Leave it be."
I should have listened, but I didn’t.
Later that week, I could no longer resist the urge to clip, clip! So I did. I reached over the railing with my pruning shears and snapped them shut around the ailing limb. It dropped into my free hand and from there I sent it down the trash chute! I felt better–almost heroic. I had put this poor thing out of its misery.
I went on with my day. About 11:00 I returned home from some errands, picked up our mail, and ran up the stairs, suddenly stopped by the sound overhead of a woman crying. Then I heard the soothing words of another woman. I looked up and there stood Lois, my neighbor on the third floor. Her neighbor Nancy stood with her, as the two commiserated about the plant that had been pruned.
I felt like a criminal. My heart pounded so fast, I could hardly talk. But I knew what I had to do. I had to confess or someone else in the building, and I knew who it might be, would receive the blame for something I had done.
I ran up to the third floor, breathless. "Lois," I said, "I'm the culprit. I'm the one who cut your plant. I’m so sorry. I should have asked first. But I thought it would be okay to prune it a little since it was hanging over the railing all the way down to the second floor...and...."
I couldn't stop. I was mortified, embarrassed, apologetic, and defensive all at the same time! How right the Bible was in reminding me that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Proverbs 3:34 (NIV).
Lois stood listening with eyes wide in disbelief. And Nancy didn't know what to say. I stopped. Lois spoke. She told me how she had worked so hard to get that little plant going. She couldn't imagine why anyone would be so cruel. Of course she was right. It was a cruel thing to do–even though I didn't see it that way at the time. I was so caught up in my opinion of what looks good that I took action regardless of how it might affect another person. I certainly did not consult with the Lord about what to do. I simply had done what I wanted to do.
I apologized profusely, hoping Lois would understand that I wasn't motivated by spite (though I wasn’t sure at that point). I was only tidying things up a bit!
She thanked me for being honest, dried her eyes, and we parted. The rest of the day was pure misery for me–not so much because of the plant. I knew it would keep growing. I hadn't destroyed it. But I had hurt a neighbor. Someone I like. A person who lives close by.
I couldn't let it rest. I prayed about what to do. And the Lord spoke clearly. I needed to make amends. There was no second guessing his guidance. I ran downstairs, jumped in the car, and drove directly to the local nursery. I spent some time selecting a beautiful, thriving, flowering plant that looked similar to the one I had cut. I bought it, wrote a note on a card, acknowledging my fault once again, and asking for Lois' forgiveness.
Within moments of leaving the gift at her doorstep, I received a phone call. Lois accepted my apology and thanked me for such a thoughtful gesture. I was stunned at how easy–and how difficult–that experience had been.
That day had turned out differently than I expected, but still, it had turned out. I had made things right when I had been wrong—by asking for and receiving forgiveness–and in turn, my neighbor did something for me. She, like the Lord, gave me the gift of a second chance.
"Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned" Luke 6:37 (NIV).
So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. (Mark 6:12)