Loving Our Most Desperate Neighbor This Christmas

David SanfordBy David Sanford9 Minutes

A repugnant yet beautiful experience still haunts me. In the course of this story, my wife and I and our close friends Dr. Scott and Leslie Walt learn what it means to love our most desperate neighbor.

Scott has earned his doctorate and joined his father’s optometry practice. On his way to work early one winter morning, Scott drives by the house of his next-door neighbor, Maria. She is a mean, bitter, ugly, drunken, foul-mouthed, old woman. She treats her son like a dog. So much so that when he grows up, the son changes his name and has nothing to do with her.

Christmas Eve Day, 6:35 a.m.

This particular morning is Christmas Eve day — in the direct aftermath of a fierce winter storm. What Scott doesn’t notice? The large living room window of Maria’s house had blown in.

You have to realize that Scott’s grandparents built his family’s home in the 1920s. His dad grew up there. Scott himself grew up there. So, the whole family knows how angry and mean Maria is. She would sit in front of her house on warm days just to cuss at anyone who walked by.

Christmas Eve Day, 12:10 p.m.

That noon, Christmas Eve day, Scott drives home for lunch, still oblivious to his next-door neighbor’s plight. To his surprise, his wife, Leslie, a nurse, doesn’t welcome him at the front door. No one is home, Scott surmised. That is until he steps inside and is accosted.

“What is that horrible smell?” Scott yells to no one in particular.

Almost immediately Leslie appears from the kitchen. She is eight and a half months pregnant, with a two-year-old, Michael.


“Why are you ssssh-ing me?” Scott asks incredulously. “Michael never sleeps when I come home for lunch. And what is that horrible smell?”

It is Maria, wrapped in a blanket, eating soup at the small table in their kitchen.

Scott and Leslie walk back into the living room. “Why is that woman in our house?” Scott demands. “That woman” who cursed him and his father before him.

Leslie explains that someone called the police that sub-freezing morning. When they arrive, sure enough, the picture window is shattered in pieces. Inside, they find snow all over the living room. When they start brushing it aside, they find the most squalid of conditions. What’s more, the water pipes are frozen solid. They also find an old woman with severe cataracts lying in her bed in the process of freezing to death. Too frail and cold to get up, she had soiled herself repeatedly.

Flashback, 7:35 a.m.

By this point, Leslie has put on a thick winter coat, hat, and gloves and rushes over to her neighbor’s house. The police start asking her questions.

Who is this old woman?


What about her family?

“We know she has a son, but we don’t know his name or where he lives.”

What are we going to do?

In faith, Leslie said, “I’ll take her.”

The police officer looked at her. “I’ll take her,” Leslie repeated.

And she did.

Christmas Eve Day, 12:15 p.m.

Of course, standing in their living room a few hours later, Scott is dumbfounded. “What does this mean? She reeks to high heaven. And, in case you haven’t noticed, we live in a very small house. We don’t have an extra bedroom. Where is Maria going to stay?”

Leslie calmly replies that Maria could sleep on the couch and live in their living room.

By this point, Scott is beside himself. “For how long? Her house is a disaster. It’s going to take a lot of time, effort, and expense to make it even marginally livable.”

“I don’t know,” Leslie says. “For as long as it takes.”

“What about tonight? We’re going over to my parents for Christmas Eve,” Scott pleads.

“Don’t worry. You just go back to work. I’ll take care of her,” Leslie replies.

Scott gladly retreats to his car and takes off.

That afternoon, Leslie bathes the old woman. And then bathes her again. It apparently had been years since Maria had had a bath, so Leslie has to bathe her several times.

Christmas Eve, 7:05 p.m.

That evening, Scott, eight-and-a-half-month pregnant Leslie, two-year-old Michael, and a very old neighbor woman in some of Leslie’s clothes, show up at the doorstep of Scott’s parents, Dr. David and Sue Walt.

Scott’s dad is speechless. Thanks to his wife, Sue, their large home is beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays. Delicious cookies and coffee and other desserts offer the most delicious smells. Sue quickly disappears, finds several more presents to wrap, and puts them under the Christmas tree.

Slowly, Maria walks in, sits down, and celebrates Christmas Eve with a family for the first time in many decades. And not just any family. The neighbor family she cursed a majority of her years. That evening, Maria becomes part of the Walt family.

New Family, Forever

Scott and Leslie “adopt” her and care for Maria day in and day out. Providentially, the birth of their second child is two weeks late. So, Maria is well taken care of and settled in by the time the new baby arrives.

During that same time, Leslie takes it upon herself to contact the state in order to get Maria’s house all fixed up. Then she asks if any of her friends would be willing to take on the Herculean project of cleaning the inside of Maria’s house for weeks on end.

Leslie’s very best friend — my wife, Renée — says yes.

We don’t always know for certain about someone’s heart change. Then again, that’s God’s job, not ours.

What I do know is that Leslie and Renée practiced true religion and cared for Maria for years afterward. She sobered up and her heart and mind became clear again. She went to church with the Walts and one day, after a good discussion, Maria gladly made a simple, clear confession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Maria wasn’t simply sure of heaven, period. Without question, she spent her final years also knowing, deep in her heart, that she was well-loved, in Jesus’ name.

If you are willing to love your more desperate neighbor, miracles will happen. And afterward you will experience so much more courage and joy loving your other neighbors for years to come.

Who is your most desperate neighbor?