In Romans 12:13 Paul exhorts us to be ready to help when God's people are in need. "Always be eager to practice hospitality," he writes.
This Scripture came alive for me one evening when my next-door neighbor *Ramona had met me in the foyer of her house as I pushed open the half-ajar front door, my own four-year-old son in tow. Upstairs I could hear her boys sobbing.
"Thanks for coming, Renee," Ramona cried. "Susan drove home drunk. I can't take it anymore!"
"Why you call her?" From the living room, Susan, Ramona's partner, slurred as quietly as she could. The leather cushions gave as she stumbled down onto the couch.
"I shouted at her," Ramona continued. "I can't take it anymore, and I scared the boys."
"What do you want me to do?" I asked.
Any thoughts of this being an easily solved emergency had begun to fizzle.
"Could you stay with them for a bit?"
My son and I walked slowly up the stairs while Ramona retreated to the living room to tend to Susan. In the boys' bedroom, seven-year-old Cam's ribs heaved while he rocked back and forth, tears pouring out. He could barely look me in the eye. His wails punctured his older brother Neil's flow of words: "She drove home drunk, Renee," Neil said. "She could have killed somebody. We're scared." His restless fingers arranged and re-arranged his lineup of figurines and spun his planet mobile as he shot me sideways glances.
I had no idea what to say or do. My mind was still on the work I hadn't yet finished and the supper dishes I had to clean up. Plus, my son needed to start his bedtime routine. I didn't have time for this.
My son counts Neil and Cam (Susan's children) as his brothers. And while I'd noticed some changes in Neil and Cam since the school year had begun–a hardness in their body language; a sudden shyness with me; a lost look at times in their eyes; loud fights we could hear in our house; fewer play dates with my son–I'd just chalked it up to pre-tween growing pains and back-to-school schedules. In fact, it was more. Susan and Ramona's domestic partnership had made the boys prime targets for schoolyard bullies. The bullying had been consistent for more than a year. Cam had responded by coating his heart with an impenetrable layer of shellac. He'd chosen after-school activities that would make him the strongest possible seven-year-old, and he kept his distance from the neighbors. Including us. Neil had begun to shade the truth and push boundaries.