Loving the Neighbor You Hate
Director of Communications
When she was anchoring the early morning news in Dallas during the 1980s, Peggy Wehmeyer went to bed at 8:00 p.m. because she had to get up at 2:30 a.m. But one thing stood between her and a good night’s sleep: her neighbor’s dog barking loudly outside every evening. Peggy’s hatred for the canine and its owner grew so bad that she and her husband filed a noise complaint with the city, which led to bad blood with her neighbor. The case was scheduled to go to court on December 24th.
When Peggy’s in-laws arrived for a visit a few days before Christmas, she asked their opinion. Writing in the Washington Post, she recalled her father-in-law saying, “If you’re going to be a follower of Jesus, you’ll love your enemy, not sue her.” Her father-in-law, a former prisoner of war in Japan, had forgiven his captors, so she took his words seriously. Peggy reluctantly knocked on her neighbor’s door. The woman, who Peggy dubs “Laura,” answered and resentfully asked, “What do you want?” Peggy responded, “I’m sorry I’ve ramped up this conflict by taking you to court on Christmas Eve. I don’t want to fight anymore. If there’s anything I can do to be a better neighbor, I hope you’ll let me know.”
Initially, Peggy felt humiliated. “But as I watched the surprise register on my neighbor’s face,” she wrote, “something else happened in me. I felt lighter, freer, released from an ugly burden…I glanced past her shoulder into her cluttered living room where a toddler sat coloring. My rage inexplicably gave way to compassion.”
That compassion grew a few weeks later when Laura ran out of grocery money for herself and her daughter, Kassie. She asked Peggy if she could borrow a few dollars to tide them over. Peggy lent Laura $20—and received it back a few days later. More importantly, the two women began talking more frequently—and the dog even stopped barking! “I came to know Laura as a bright and kind woman with a warm smile,” wrote Peggy. “I learned that she had been deeply wounded and that she struggled with mental illness, much like my own mother. She told me she had one friend, and it was me.”
Peggy and Laura remained neighbors for seven years, until they moved to different parts of town and lost touch. But in 2019, Peggy received a message from Kassie notifying her that Laura was near death in the hospital. Peggy asked if she could visit her, and Kassie responded, “Yes, please come. You were her only friend.” When Peggy arrived, Kassie revealed that Laura had attempted suicide due to her depression. Laura was unconscious, but Peggy told her, “You’re not alone. I love you. God loves you.” Peggy then read Laura some Bible verses.
Peggy recalled, “As she died, Laura handed me a bittersweet gift. Years before we met, my mother, who also battled depression, had taken her life in the same way...I couldn’t get to her in time to say goodbye. I never got to stroke my mother’s hair or remind her that she was loved. Now, a woman I once called my enemy was freeing me from that long-held regret and sorrow.”
Laura died that night, but Peggy learned a lesson about reversing “the tide of hatred and revenge that is tearing this country apart. Maybe it will have to start with us, walking across the driveways that divide us and knocking on a door.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note PEACE: THE ESSENCE OF THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org