Wednesday, June 5, 2013

when your past comes calling

And he that sat upon the throne said, 
'Behold, I am making all things new.' " 
(Revelation 21:5). 

Yesterday I came face-to-face with my past. But it actually all started a little over two years ago, when I randomly received a message from one of the girls who had bullied me throughout elementary school. (I wrote more about my experiences and their effects in this post.) It turned out she was good friends with my soon-to-be sister-in-law. That fact alone surprised me, but then I nearly fell off my chair when I read:

"...I was talking to Jessica today and your name came up as she was chatting about her brother. I told her that I knew you from school years ago and I told her I wasn't very nice to you.  I am emailing you because I want to apologize for being mean and for teasing you. I've have wanted to do this for a long time. I was extremely rude and I feel awful for that. I hope that you'll forgive me... I know this doesn't make it okay at all and would understand if you couldn't forgive me, but I guess I'm hoping that you will..."
I didn't want to reply. I'd spent most of my 20's trying to forget that chapter of my life and pretend that it never happened. I'd tried so hard to re-invent myself and was finally getting comfortable with this "new" me, and now it was all about to unravel. 
I talked to a few trusted friends about the whole situation. I talked to my sister-in-law about it. Everyone kept saying, "She's not the same person she was when you knew her. She has genuinely changed. You should talk to her again." They even went so far as to say, " You have so much in common. You might be great friends." Huh? Yeah right! 
However, underneath all my defenses, there was a part of me that was deeply touched by the sincerity of her note. Eventually I was able to honestly write:
"Sorry for the delay in getting back to you... I guess there's still a part of me that doesn't want to forgive you, so replying to your message wasn't a priority. But I know I need to give that up because it's what God wants. So, yes, I forgive you. I never thought I would be able to say that, and I still can't--not in my own strength anyway. But by the grace of God, I can, and I will.
I have always wondered what this moment would feel like....but I was definitely not expecting an apology now, after all these years. Life at [school] was hell for me, (I have never even set foot in the building since graduation). I have major issues--to this day--all stemming from things said and done to me during my 9 years there...the wounds are still there. I still struggle when I look at myself in the mirror. It's hard to do so without remembering the names people called me and feeling ugly and unwanted. I have major trust issues with men and women. When I walk into a room and I see people whisper, I always wonder if it's about me, and if it's something bad. I hope one day God will fully take away my shame, and restore some of my self-confidence, so I can feel like it's okay to be myself, and grow to be the woman he created me to be.
I realize that you definitely weren't the only person who hurt me. You are, however, the first person to come forward to me, and openly acknowledge what you did...and actually apologize. So I thank you for that. Maybe now I'll be able to continue the healing process. 
While I do forgive you, I'm not sure if we could ever actually be friends. So, I hope that's not what you were expecting. But we'll see. God's not finished with me yet..."
I am smiling to myself as I re-read this, because God has indeed been at work. After this brief encounter, we didn't email again. However, we eventually ended up going to the same church.  A few times, I managed an awkward smile, but it was easier to ignore her, to pretend that I didn't see her. I saw her every week at church. We both attended the same baby shower.  Then, I saw her at the store. Twice in one week.  It seemed like she just wouldn't go away! And so, I finally took the hint. A full two years after her initial message, I contacted her again.
I expressed how a lot changed and I'd been able to more fully process her apology. I thanked her for it again. I could sincerely say I was confident that she was not the same person I knew all those years ago. I apologized for being a bit abrupt in my message two years ago. I talked about how I'd seen her many times, and the awkward feeling I got every time. I finally said, "At some point, maybe we could meet, but for now, maybe we could just use facebook...?"
It's been several months since then. We've facebook chatted a little, but yesterday we met face-to-face and talked --really talked-- in person for the first time. I was a little nervous. I wasn't sure what to expect. But it wasn't weird. It wasn't awkward. It was good. Really good, in fact. 
I was moved by how she graciously welcomed me into her home. We went beyond the hurt, beyond the pain, beyond the awkwardness, and began to get to know each other. We shared experiences from high school and university days. Remembered former teachers. Talked about mutual friends. Found similarities. I felt comfortable. Respected. Admired. Safe. Very, very safe. The time we spent was too short. How can you catch up on a lifetime of memories and experiences in just an hour and a half? 
We planned to meet again. And then, just as I was leaving, the girl who used to make fun of me and whisper about me, the one who would kick me in the shins on the playground, reached out and hugged me.  

Yesterday, I came face-to-face with my past, and caught a glimpse of what I hope will be a glorious future. 'Behold, I am making all things new.' (Revelation 21:5). Amen!

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