On US 82 eastbound between I-55 and Starkville there is a big, old, ugly house painted a particularly disgusting shade of yellow. But its color is not what caught my attention about the place the first time I saw it as I zoomed past on my way home after a preaching assignment. Rather, I was dumbstruck by the piles of junk in the dirt yard. Old appliances. Furniture. Miscellaneous bits of this and that. Even an old bus. “How can anyone live in the midst of such squalor?” I asked myself. “How can anyone care so little about the appearance of their home?”

But then on subsequent trips, I began to change my opinion. Despite the absence of a sign, the place was in fact a business. People were browsing through the assorted debris on a Sunday afternoon looking for a special treasure, acting out the old adage about one person’s trash. I had jumped to judgment about a family’s attempt to make a living in a part of the country where sometimes options are limited.

How often do we draw conclusions about someone we meet or a situation we encounter before we have enough information, as I did with the junk dealer’s home? Who knows what “junk” someone’s “house” is surrounded by, and whether all the stuff is integral to their survival, collected without thought over the years or thrown into their yard by someone else?

A colleague snaps your head off the moment she comes in the office door. You are tempted to respond in kind, but then remember she has a sick child, with whom she may have been up all night. A friend seems distracted, barely involved in the conversation at a long-planned dinner; it turns out he is in danger of losing his job. A customer service rep does not immediately respond to my demands for compensation for a bad experience in her business, then I find out there were circumstances beyond her control in another department.

Rarely do we know the complete picture about someone. Isn’t it better then not to rush to judgment, but to seek to gather all the facts we can before making that remark or sizing up someone’s character? Or maybe it’s better not to decide at all, but to move on and mind our own business. There’s always plenty we need to tend to.

Like our own junk.

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham