Invisible Fence

I started taking the same walk around my neighborhood daily. In that routine, I am seeing a lot of the same people; finally building relationship with our neighbors. Joe has the most immaculate garden. Travis and Teresa sit on their deck and tell outrageous stories in thick Brooklyn accents. Fred sits and watches birds. John (who can barely walk) will be found stubbornly walking to the mailbox to get his own mail. Susan is a disguised sweet heart; key word – disguised.

But the person who has me most intrigued is Karen – the lady with the invisible fence.

I was walking down a residential street and stopped at the end of her driveway. She was sitting down the driveway on a chair next to her dog.  I stepped forward to say hello,

“STOP!” She called out to me forcefully, “I have an invisible fence. If you cross it, my dog will attack you!”

I stood still and considered my options. Fairly simple; walk away or stand an inch from her invisible fence and keep talking. I chose the latter. Lifting my voice so it would carry down her driveway, I continued, “Oh, thanks for letting me know! I’m Katie, what’s your name?”

She looked at me a bit cross, and then reluctantly responded, “Karen.”

“Karen! That’s beautiful. I love that name.”

I then proceeded to talk about our town and what I like about it, her tree and how I admire it, her big green house and how I wish I had it. Her gaze intensified as my attempted dialogue became an awkward monologue. I then ran out of things to say and therefore said – bye.

“Bye.”

The next day I saw Karen again. I said “Hi” again, I stood at the edge of her invisible fence and talked nonsense – again. I ran out of things to say again, and so I said good-bye again.

The scene repeated for the next two days.

A few days later, I’m walking and I hear, “Hey there!” It’s Karen. She was calling to me from her seat down the driveway. Delighted at her initiation, I stop next to her mailbox and we have our first dialogue.

Two weeks later, Karen starts to share her heart and life with me. I’m still standing at the end of her driveway; she’s still sitting on the chair next to her dog. The conversation is literally carrying on from a twenty-foot distance.

And here’s what I’m learning – respecting people’s boundaries is really important. Its how we build trust. Whether it is someone as close as a spouse or as distant as a stranger, honoring people opens them up to receive love. Honor cannot be faked; it comes from an authentic respect that we feel in our hearts for the people we engage with.

People’s boundaries are there for a reason; their self-protective madness is also there – for a reason. Think about it, if I were to assume access to Karen, she would feel violated and her dog would attack me! The easy solution is to not engage with her, but is that love? If she only gives me access from the end of her driveway and I refuse that place because I feel entitled to more – is that her fault?

We are not entitled to the hearts of people. Anytime we are given access, it is an honor.

Too often we think that breaking down someone’s fence is a win, but is it? What if breaking down someone’s fence is nothing more than breaking down his or her fence? Is the fence really the prize? Shattered fiberglass, is that what we’re after?

Honor can melt barriers down leading to authentic invitations into the hearts of people. And that is where the prize is – in their hearts. I am aware in saying this that honor can be hard work. It requires time, patience, and sacrifice. Its not fun to hold a conversation with someone at their set distance of twenty-feet, but I also know that when you see the heart of a person begin to unlock authentically to you it makes the journey of respect you’ve taken feel more than worth it.

I learned this week about Karen’s loss, about her home, a snapshot into her life – all from the end of her driveway. It felt like a huge win relationally. Maybe someday she’ll invite me past her invisible fence, maybe not. Either way, trust is melting the emotional boundary and I’m watching it happen as I just stand still – refusing to come too close, but just as well – refusing to walk away.

I like Karen; she’s an amazing lady with a rich story. And … she’s teaching me about the value of staying present with people as we respect their boundaries.

Who knew the lady with the invisible fence had so much to teach the world?

She really does.

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