re you sure an elderly woman doesn’t live here?” I asked.
My mind was befuddled as it searched its memory banks. It had been only a few weeks since my wife’s cat had leaped over our neighbor’s fence, and when I went to retrieve the animal, I met the woman who lived next door. At least, that’s what she had told me.
“No, not one I can think of,” replied Gary, scratching his head, “and I’ve lived here for 17 years. We had a couple aunts stay with us—they’re older—but that was only for a couple weeks.”
Gary, apparently my neighbor, had been working on part of the fence that divides our two yards when my family arrived home from 10 fun-filled days working at camp meeting. Thanks to Nebraska’s perpetual attempt to re-create The Wizard of Oz by having a tornado every other day, part of the fence had broken loose. Gary had been diligently fixing it while we were away, and I went out to meet him for the first time and thank him for his service. But I was puzzled.
I looked and looked for Sally, the woman I had met a month or so earlier. But only Gary and his two adult children were in the backyard. And even though I repeated the incident to Gary many times and repeatedly described the older woman I had met, he drew a blank, as did his kids. It was like an episode from The Twilight Zone. My poor tired mind, fresh from a week in charge of programming for earliteens, couldn’t take it. So I stared blankly at the deck in their backyard where I had spoken with Sally, trying to reassure myself that I wasn’t crazy.
“So no elderly woman lives here?” I offered again.
“Nope,” said Gary, smiling as he worked, “just me and my wife.”
By now, dear reader, you have probably made the connection that I did not. So when Sally came out to see how work on the fence was going and Gary introduced his wife, I exclaimed, “Oh yes! We’ve met!”
I was so happy to learn I wasn’t crazy that I didn’t realize I had inserted my entire foot into my mouth. My wife did, however; and she pointed it out to me as we went back inside.
I spent the next two weeks avoiding my neighbors.
Two things strike me as I remember this incident with a shudder. The first is how wonderful it is that we serve a God who promises: “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:12, KJV). When we sin we don’t have to avoid God. We can ask for forgiveness and He promises to forget our sins so we don’t have to stay out of sight, as I did when I waited to mow our lawn until after Gary finished mowing his.
The second lesson I learned from my faux pas has to 
do with restoring relationships. In some cases a formal discussion of this issue is necessary, done with a contrite spirit. In this case, bringing it up again would only have been awkward, since Gary never acted as though anything had happened and was routinely friendly to my wife—who had no problem going outside when they were out in their yard. Instead, remembering that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34) and that love is not passive but active, I went next door and paid for all the parts of our mutual fence. After all, good fences make good neighbors. He smiled and we began to chat.
I had overheard him on a phone call when he answered the door and discovered that he is part of an organization I’m interested in studying. So I began to take an interest in his involvement and asked questions. He invited me in, we had a nice chat, he lent me some of his books, and our relationship is restored.
It’s unfortunate we don’t have stronger fences in our brains or mouths to keep us from embarrassing ourselves. But it’s nice to know there is a God who forgives us, and that through loving service, as directed by His Word, we can seek to effectively restore relationships when we are forgiven.
Seth Pierce pastors in Omaha, Nebraska, and is the author of What We Believe for Teens, published by Pacific Press Publishing Association.

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