I had taken a few minutes to relax on my front porch and enjoy the fresh spring day. While basking in the sunshine and absorbing the seventy degree weather, I was admiring the new foliage on the maple trees that lined my street and the beautiful background of scattered white puffy clouds in a deep blue sky. Suddenly the tranquil moment was shattered by a loud, unpleasant voice. I quickly pinpointed the voice as coming from Dottie, the mother in the house next door. I heard the daughter, Zoe, screaming her defense back at her mother and then going into hysterics.
From past experiences, I knew what had just taken place. Dottie had accused her daughter of wrongdoing. Zoe defended her position. And her mother had given her a back-hand. My heart ached for the both of them. I was acquainted with Zoe’s side of the story. She had shared it with me, one day, weeks back when we had both been out and had a chance to chat.
From what Zoe told me, my guess was that Dottie didn’t know how to trust her and always imagined the worst. She therefore always over-reacted, causing extreme tension that was unnecessary and unfortunate.
As soon as Zoe told me about the situation, I started praying that God would help to resolve the problem and I began seeking an opportunity to help in some way. I felt qualified to help because I had been raised in a similar situation only it was my dad who didn’t trust me. I longed to share with Dottie the things God had taught me as I sought him for comfort and healing in my situation.
Resigning myself to the fact that my quiet time was over, I went back in the house and turned on my Christian music. I was playing it a little louder than usual wanting to drown out the ruckus next door. A part of me felt guilty for shutting them out--after all, those two needed help and here I was looking the other way. But I wasn’t really looking the other way, I was planning to get on my knees and cry out to God for them. It turned out that God had already heard and had his plan in motion.
I had barely knelt when there was a knock on my door. My eyes went wide as I opened it and saw Dottie, her face troubled, standing on my doorstep.
“Hi, Dottie,” I greeted her with a big smile, “how are you?”
Dottie fiddled with her tie belt while stammering, “I-I’m not so good.” She stared at the ground. “Zoe says she thinks you can help me.”
“W-we fight all the time--I don’t want to--it just happens,” she admitted, looking forlornly up at me. “Zoe says you understand because you are a Christian and because you and your dad went through this.” A spark of hope lighted into her eyes.
I gave her a soft, reassuring smile and stepped back, saying, “Come on in and let’s talk over coffee or tea.” She came in and I started for the kitchen with her following. “Zoe’s right on both counts,” I said over my shoulder. “I would love to try and help.” We were now in my spacious bright yellow and blue kitchen. I offered her a chair. “Please sit down, Dottie. Would you like coffee or tea, or maybe iced tea?” She seated herself in the chair I offered.
“Iced tea would be nice,” she mumbled. As I got two glasses and filled them with iced tea, Dottie continued to fidget.
“Here we are.” I set the glasses on the table and pulling a chair a little closer, I settled in and suggested, “Maybe we ought to start with prayer, Dottie. That way we can be sure that God’s wisdom will be on the scene, okay?” Dottie nodded and I reached for her restless hands. After praying for God’s wisdom and help, I asked her, “Are you a Christian, Dottie?”
“I-I think so. That is…one time a long time ago, I asked Jesus to come into my heart.” I gave her an approving look.
“Good, Dottie, that’s a start, but I think you need someone to help you get started learning how God’s plan works. I’d love to be the one if you agree.” Dottie nodded. “Good, but first we need to talk about you and Zoe. How about you telling me your side of the story.”
“Well, its just that Zoe keeps doing things that scare me. I don’t want her to be a bad girl.” Her eyes sought mine for understanding. Looking down at her hands, she said, “You see, I was a bad girl.” Her confession took me by surprise; I tried not to show it. She didn’t seem like a fast woman to me. She stammered on. “Oh, I didn’t want to be. I believe I was a good girl at heart, but I just kept getting into situations where I did what I shouldn’t have done.
“The first time was when my friend talked me into smoking pot. That started me down that road. Then my first love practically forced me into having sex with him.” Dottie avoided my eyes and took a sip of her ice tea. Upon swallowing hard, she confessed, “After that, I didn’t care much about myself and guys took advantage of me. There was the time when I was shopping with a friend, and we got charged with shop-lifting. I hadn’t stolen anything, but she had slipped some things into my bag. Things just went on like that till I was branded as a bad girl. Zoe is one result of the lifestyle I didn’t choose, but lived anyway.” Dottie hung her head.
My heart went out to her. I reached for her hand and whispered, “I’m so sorry, Dottie.” A silence ensued and then I encouraged, “At least as far as God is concerned all those mistakes are wiped out completely because you have asked for God’s salvation through Jesus. But Dottie, that salvation doesn’t take effect until you begin to do things God’s way and stop living man’s way. Do you understand that?” She gave me a puzzled look and I knew that she did not. “Well, you’ll catch on as we study the Bible together. For now, just know that the slate is clean with God and his opinion is what matters.” I smiled gently at her. “Now what does Zoe do that makes you think she is going bad?”
“I told her not to be alone with guys. I said that if she has to date, she should double-date with someone. But time after time, I learn that she was with a guy at the library or the burger joint or the shopping mall and they were not with another couple. And sometimes she comes home with the smell of cigarette on her clothes and when I ask her about it, she always has an answer. But I don’t know… Sometimes I find out that she was hanging out with kids who have a bad reputation.” Dottie twisted the napkin she held into a tight ball. “And then there are the things she does at home, like saying she cleaned her room, but it doesn’t look it. She tries to sneak out of the house with a skirt that’s too short or a top that is too tight or maybe her midriff is showing.” Dottie gave me a defiant stare, her voice became hard, “Now you know, Shelia that you can’t run around that way and stay safe.”
Hesitantly, I replied, “That’s true in a way, Dottie. I mean, obviously it isn’t the safest way to dress and it used to be that if you dressed that way, everyone knew you were a bad girl. But today all the kids are dressing that way. That doesn’t make it right, but it means you aren’t necessarily a bad girl if you do dress that way and it also means that there is safety in numbers--that is--it only proves she’s a kid. It does not prove that she is a kid looking for trouble.” I paused to see if I was making sense to Dottie. She was just staring at me goggle eyed.
“Don’t get me wrong, Dottie, I’m not advocating today’s dress style. I’m just trying to help you see this thing in its proper perspective. About her being seen with guys, did you notice that in every case you mentioned they were in a public place? You can’t be dangerously alone with a guy in a public place. As far as her room goes, it’s perfectly normal for the parent to disagree with a teen’s idea of what is cleaned up and what isn’t. Am I beginning to make sense, Dottie? I think the problem may be that your fears are causing you to over-react to these totally normal challenges in a teen/parent relationship.”
Looking doubtful and perplexed, Dottie asked, “You think so?”
I nodded. “I don’t know for sure that Zoe is telling you the truth as a teen sees it or not, but God teaches us to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, so until there is reason to believe she is lying, your best action is to believe her.” I searched Dottie’s face and could see that she still hadn’t gotten it.
“Look Dottie, you have been treating Zoe as if she were a bad girl. But you don’t know that she is a bad girl at all. You are just afraid that she might be becoming a bad girl. You can’t do that. Your house has become a combat zone because of your behavior not hers. You have to treat her as if she is a good girl who just needs a little love and guidance.”
Dottie’s color heightened. Looking overwhelmed, she asked, “How?”
“Well, it won’t be easy at first, but what you need to do is repeat over to yourself many times. ‘Zoe is not a bad girl. Zoe is a typical teenager. I will treat her with trust and respect.’” Dottie repeated what I had said a few times and I could tell by her face that she was starting to comprehend.
“I’m so ashamed,” she wailed, looking to me for reassurance.
I patted her hand. “No, no, you don’t need to be ashamed; you thought you were doing the right thing. Now, you have me to help you assess the situation. If you go on treating Zoe that way after today--you should be ashamed.” I softened the words with a smile.
Dottie made an attempt to smile back, but I could see she had misgivings. She stood and said, “I-I’d better go now. Thank you so much. I just pray that I can do this.”
“Yes, you definitely need to be praying about this and I’ll be praying too. Are you going to let me mentor you in the Bible? We better set a date and time or we may never get around to it. We should get together for at least an hour, two or three times a week until you feel that you don’t need my help.” Dottie agreed, and for months we got together. She worked hard on the things I shared with her and it all paid off. Whenever I would meet either Zoe or Dottie they would tell me over and over how much better things were going between them.
A whole year has gone by. Spring is in full swing. I often sit on my porch and there hasn’t been one unpleasant incident at the neighbor’s house to ruin it.Thinking back, I remember how disturbed I was, but you know--God changed things and now I’m glad my peace was disturbed for a while last year. I thank God that I was in the right place at the right time for Zoe and Dottie.