As soon as I heard myself, I knew I shouldn’t have spoken them.
Once again, my mouth spoke before I thought about the impact of what I was saying.
I just proved that we were taught a lie when our mothers’ told us “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Words hurt. I know this. I have been hurt and I have scars caused by the words that have been spoken about me over the years.
And yet, I said them anyway.
The words that were not mine to say. I had my reasons. See, I knew that the person I was telling could really help the one we were talking about.
The person didn’t know these things that I shared and I thought they should know.
Then it dawned on me.
I should not be the source of gossip. It is not my job.
Gossip dressed up as a caring concern.
We’re good at that! Using the guise of prayer requests to divulge information that is not ours to share. We say, out loud, how we want God to work in this other person’s life, and yet all the while having that finger-pointing outward, towards another. Pointing out someone else’s sin with accusations and hearsay.
There is a fine line between gossip and sharing with the body of Christ those things that are needed.
This particular day, the line was quite a fuzzy one. But as soon as I said it, I could feel the spikes and shards of gossip on the edges of the words that hung in the air.
I know I am still a work in progress, but this sure is a tough area for me.
Finding myself in this same place where I have been before does not feel good at all.
I thought I was a quick learner. I still have a long way to go and I need to control my tongue and the words that come out of my mouth.
Summer nights can never be as good as they were when you were young.
Especially in the confines of our sleepy little town in Northwest Ohio.
The feeling of freedom after the last day of school that stretched across three blissful sunburnt months doesn’t quite have an equivalent in adulthood.
When I reminisce about my childhood summers, I think of the smell of sun and sweat on my skin after playing outside all day long. I think of the sizzle of sparklers and the big colorful explosions of fireworks with their sulfuric scent lingering in the air on July 4th celebrations at Veterans Park.
I think of the smell of chlorine and blood-shot eyes from swimming in Teagarden’s pool.
I think of cupping my small hands around fireflies and dropping them into mason jars, little pieces of summer I wish I could have treasured forever.
As a young child, the highlight of each summer was marked by the annual county fair. For several days in July, kiddie rides, games of chance, concession stands, and fun houses were erected in the heart of our county. Unlike some of my friends, that would go to the fair every day, I was only able to get to the fair one day during that week. I looked forward to it for months. I look back at the time now and realize that my anticipation for the event was much more exciting than the real thing. When my day finally came around, I spent my day shoving cotton candy in my mouth, riding the giant swing ride over and over and going to look at all of the animals.
At the end of the day, I’d crawl sleepy-eyed into the backseat clutching cheap trinkets won playing “everyone is a winner” carnival games. It was the highlight of my year.
As my summers accumulated and I advanced towards junior high, summer life became all about friends. My small group of friends and I rode our bikes all over town on long summer days, creating our own adventures to shake up this small town life. Life was filled with Little League baseball and the strange realization, but not ready to admit just yet, that girls weren’t so yucky after all.
The only fear we had in life was getting home before the street lights came on. Never had a worry that our picture might wind up on a “missing child” milk carton. We were only bound by the town limit signs and we felt like our town was ours and ours alone. There were nights that our gaze would try to look past those town limit signs. We were slowly coming to an understanding that there was a life beyond what our eyes could see.
We bought candy by the fistful at the W.R. Thomas 5-10 store. All that sugar would fuel late-night sleepover conversations. I am reminded of the arctic chill of basement floors and how we’d seek refuge from the damp heat by spreading our sleeping bags out over the floor. The lights turned off and there was just enough glow from the black and white, three-channel TV for our time of telling stories and lies to each other.
Tucked in a sleeping bag on a friend’s cold basement floor, summer nights had the effect of a sacred place. We would talk about our plans for the next day, told scary stories and made fun of each other in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. Usually, that would always cross the line somewhere along the conversation and we would have to break up a fight every now and then.
Midnight felt so late and so adult.
Sometimes, as we fought to keep our eyes open to see who could stay up the latest and after we would hear that familiar yell come down the stairwell “to keep it quiet down there” would then start the conversations of our dreams of what we would become when we got older.
Dreams of becoming a professional baseball player had not yet been dashed upon the rocks of reality. We believed they could come true for all of us. We could, in fact, all play professionally and we all would play on the same team. Like the pickup games in our backyard, we were only limited by what we dreamed. We would talk until our conversations drifted off into sleep.
In the morning, none of us would dare talk about our late night conversations. We knew that any further discussion in the light of day would jinx the possibilities. It was a pact that we all believed but never discussed. It all felt surreal, for now, our dreams were safe from the rocks of reality. Protected from the light of day, forever stowed away with the moon.
Each summer day marked by the bike race to Van Atta’s Dairy Queen to get our .25 ice cream cone. Then we would mad dash it to Yeisley’s field to play baseball until we would get too hot to play and then if we did not have a game that night, we would make our daily trip to the pool. We never swam on game days. We were told we couldn’t because it would make us too tired and we would not be able to play at the top of our game. We were convinced that the lifeguards were going to call our coaches.
On game days we would ride our bikes to the pool. Although we would die before before we would acknowledge the truth, none of us would admit of going just to see the girls. We would lie and say we would go to see the fun we were missing with our other friends that did not have a game. We would stare through the fence for a while then slowly head home one-by-one to rest up for the game.
Baseball was life during that time. We never considered that there had never been one player in our small town that ever made it but for now, our dreams were safely protected by the belief of the certainty of the young and naive.
Summer still ended with the fair. But instead of playing games and riding rides, the focus had shifted. We now walked around the fair. We walked in packs. We were all just walking around trying to look cool.
However, there was strength in numbers. Even though not one of us would ever admit to it, our pack walked around, hopeful to run into the group of Jr High girls that were gathered safely in their own pack. We would walk until we grew tired. Tired of daring each other to do outlandish acts. Tired of acting like little immature kids. Tired of trying act like we were older than we were.
The truth was… we really wanted to go ride the rides like we did when we were little.
But here we were, suspended somewhere between childhood and being a teenager. It was all wrapped up in the security of living in a place and time where time seemed to stand still. All the people and all the houses that surrounded you were as familiar as the things in your own room. You believed it would always stay the same.
The dreams of life beyond the town limits of Oak Harbor were still off in the distance.
But as much as we believed, something deep inside of us knew the truth. Slowly change was happening. Soon enough, little league baseball would end and we were made to face the reality that only a hand full of my friends would continue to play baseball in high school.
I wasn’t one of them.
I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay there, in the comfort of the summer nights of Oak Harbor. But I knew I couldn’t. I was now fourteen. I slept under a roof that belonged to someone else, in a bed my father bought.
Nothing was mine, except my fears. And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore.
Things were changing. I would hear some of my own friends start to talk about making plans on leaving the safety of our hometown. I started to hear the other side of growing up in Oak Harbor. The negative. In my mind and memories, the place was perfect, almost sacred.
Looking back, I know it wasn’t perfect and obviously not sacred.
It was clear that my feelings were found in a place that was caught up in the reluctance to move from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
Before I knew it, I found myself in High School.
Going to the fair was now focused on running into other kids from school and seeing who had coupled up or broken up over the last few months, triumphs or casualties of summer.
We no longer walked in packs. I would usually hang with just one of my friends. It kept the competition down and I would not have to be embarrassed by that one friend that always acted like an idiot.
During fair week, when the sun went down, that magical familiar feeling of youth slipped over me once again. Those exciting feelings of not knowing what would happen next.
There was the possibility that the crush you had might see you and smile at you.
When it looked like no one was around, we worked up the courage to go on the Kamikaze, a ride that shuttled you in giant, nauseating upside-down loops. I screamed at the top of my lungs while “Do Ya” by the Electric Light Orchestra blasted through the ride’s crappy speakers, and I felt like a badass.
At the time, there was no greater heartbreak than when the fair packed up and left town with all of your wishes still unfulfilled.
That last night at the fair, in the darkness of night, we walked home from the fairgrounds.
Our ride left us and we had no choice but to walk the 4 miles back to Oak Harbor.
The only light coming from the moon.
I was deep in thought and walking to the town I grew up in. I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block. Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families were gone now.
The ones who stayed were not the same. The world was moving on.
Only the lights remained the same.
Maybe I was starting to realize that growing up doesn’t have to be so much a straight line. Maybe a life was a series of advances and retreats. Maybe I was learning that I was growing up too fast. Maybe it was the fact that I was missing something about my childhood.
But I could not shake the feeling of loss on the long walk home.
Eventually, I made my way home. I walked slowly. Walking past each one of those houses, called homes, I started to realize something. I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front and its white bread on the table and TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle to make it in life. I was just starting out on my journey to figure out what life was really about. After growing up in Oak Harbor, protected by the outside world, I wasn’t even sure I knew what “real” life was anymore, but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.
Walking up to my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by the moon. The world smelled fresh and clean. I turned the handle of the front door and opened it. Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up. I could see in her eyes that she knew that I had a tough night. She gave me a big hug. She never said a word and neither did I. We didn’t have to, for in that moment I felt like a kid again. Life and all of its responsibilities were knocking on the door. But for tonight, they would have to wait.
I never went to the fair again.
Summers took on a whole new level of gravity. Jobs replaced summer freedom–real ones, not the mowing lawns or lifeguarding for the minimum wage of the past. The cycle of seasons felt like it accelerated a little bit more each year, like a record playing on the wrong setting. Most people I knew had long abandoned the town limits of Oak Harbor. The town was now different. Van Atta’s had long since been sold. W.R. Thomas closed its doors.
Except for the hardware store, the familiar storefronts of Water Street were now empty.
Years have become decades, and my early memories have lost their sharp edges.
But I can still recall the names of the old stores in town. I can still remember reading magazines at the counter and ordering no better cheeseburger and fries in the world than the one I would get at Van Atta’s restaurant. Especially for $1.25.
I can still remember the way my heart would race when I knew it was a baseball game day. Or the feeling of pure joy of being flanked by my best friends on our bikes. It was our first taste of freedom–to be able to take ourselves anywhere within the town limits, powered by the adrenaline pumping through our veins with each spin of our silver spokes.
I wish I could have bottled all those feelings all of those years ago, like those fireflies in a mason jar. To once again feel that youthful freedom and the delicious possibility of how any given night might end.
I’d open the lid and breathe in the smallest sample in order to make it last.
The good and even the bad aspects of growing up in Oak Harbor would never taint my belief that it was a wonderful way to grow up.
As an adult, how I long for the summer nights of Oak Harbor.
It had nothing to do with the weather but rather, the turmoil and trauma that our family was experiencing. No one in my family was looking forward to Christmas. We were less than a month from the tragic car-train accident that took the lives of our brother and cousin. How could we experience the joys that are associated with the season? It would be just another reminder that there were missing members of our family and emotionally none of us were in a place where we could handle that. So, my family decided that we would take a trip to Florida to visit my grandparents. It was an escape from the obvious and while we knew that we still would never view Christmas the same way as we did previously, we knew that changing the scenery would at least provide enough distraction so we could get through the Holiday season.
We would take that trip and spend the holiday down in Florida. I guess it served its purpose and we made it through Christmas and drove back to Ohio on New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember much about our time in Florida, other than giving my mom a present on Christmas day, and the memory of me, my mom and dad, along with my brother, Jim and my sister, Linda being crammed in a Volkswagen Beetle for endless hours as we drove there and back.
As a nine-year-old, I should have had the opportunity to experience a few more years of innocence and wonder when it came to the Christmas Season. I lost that magic that year and I never really got it back. I am not sure if it is the guilt that I feel but there is a part of me that simply does not like to receive presents. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I always struggle with not feeling deserving of presents. It started that year and I never asked for anything specific for Christmas ever again.
It didn’t start out that way. As a very young child, I would wait anxiously for Christmas morning to wake everyone up. I always thought it to be my responsibility since it was the assumed job for the baby of the family. As I look through boxes of old Christmas decorations, I am reminded of the Christmas of my childhood. I can remember each one since I was four. Every year, starting at Thanksgiving, my eager anticipation for the coming Christmas season.
My earliest memory of Christmas was when my great-grandmother was making her annual trip down to Florida to spend the winter months. It was late October and she dropped off her Christmas presents for all of us and we opened them early. After I opened my present, I was scurried off to bed and on my way, I said, “Merry Christmas, mommy.” This has always been something my brother has teased me about my entire life. I guess October was too early to wish my mommy a Merry Christmas.
I was always so excited about Christmas and I learned that it was getting close when Santa, in all his glory, would be waving to everyone from the top of the Oak Harbor Fire truck as they paraded through our little town.
As a child, I always thought is very suspicious that “Santa” would take time out of his busy schedule to ride around the little town of Oak Harbor. Considering that the only world that I knew as a child was defined by the town limit signs, it made perfect sense that he would pick Oak Harbor to start the celebrations, even if I was a little suspicious about it.
I felt bad for the kids from other places because we had Santa here in our midst and they did not. All of us kids would be lined up — pressing our noses against the cold glass of the picture window, waving at Santa as he made his trek around town. Every child filled with visions of Christmas. Presents dancing in their heads and memories etched forever in remembrance.
It might just be my imagination, but it seems as if there were more homes with Christmas lights back in the day. As a kid, I would always look forward to the time when we would drive through town looking at all the lights strung across Water
Street in the downtown area, as well as the many neighborhoods that were lit up. I still drive around Oak Harbor sometimes just to see the lights. It makes me feel rooted, a part of something in my past.
I remember that back then spending time “uptown” during the Christmas season was a celebration. Long before the “Mall” killed the small-town businesses, each local store would display sale items in their front windows. We would go window shopping to find items for our wish list. I can remember a year when I would stop and stare at this pair of ice skates in the Western Auto store window. I just knew that this pair of skates would make me the fastest skater at Gleckler’s Pond. Oh, how I wanted them, but as Christmas came and went, the skates stayed in the window. We just couldn’t afford them.
Each year, especially as we get older, things change and it’s during the holiday season is when you realize them. Most of the stores that once lined Water Street are no longer in existence. The 5 and 10 of W.R. Thomas, The Portage Store, Van Atta’s Restaurant, Lantz’s Rexall Drug Store, Western Auto, Felhaber’s Photography, Nehls Market, Faunce’s Furniture, Hutchison Jewelry and the Modernette Gift Store to name a few.
To this very day, it brings a pain to a place in your heart where all your hidden feelings go. You mask it as “progress” but in your heart, you know that pieces of your childhood are fading into lost memories. Never to be remembered except for a picture or two. My children and grandchildren have been cheated. They will never get that experience of window shopping the same way I did as a child.
I always remember running down the steps on Christmas morning and looking around the tree for the biggest box. I always believed that within the biggest box under the tree would be the most expensive gift and best gift.
I always hoped it would be for me. But as time works its magic over the years on the mind and soul of a young man, I soon realized that every gift was special, unique, and meaningful. It wasn’t about the size of the gift but rather the act of giving that brings the best feelings and memories of Christmas mornings. In fact, the presents that I remember most are the gifts that came directly from the heart. Christmas truly is not about the gift itself, but rather the thought behind the gift.
I learned this truth on a cold evening a few days before we left for Florida for Christmas in 1970. It had been a little more than a month since the accident and my mom was trying to go through the motions of the season for us kids but as you can imagine there wasn’t a lot to be happy about.
I was nine. It was easier for me to be distracted by the celebration of the season than it was for my parents and my older brother and sister. But I knew. I knew that my mom was not the same. It was a struggle and she was drowning in the overwhelming loss of a child. I cannot think of anything more tragic. A parent is not supposed to out-live their child. It is something that I hope my family never has to experience again.
I could see that my mom was different. The sparkle in her eyes that I always remembered had dimmed. My nine-year-old mind tried to think of a way where I could make her smile again. I had never given my mother a present that I did not make on a piece of paper or a craft made at school. At that time, I really liked to color and draw and make abstract pictures. So, I sat down and did my very best to make the best picture I have ever done in my life. I was sure it would make all the difference in the world.
As a father, some of the most precious gifts I have ever received were the scribblings on a piece of paper made by my children. But when your nine you start to think there is no value in that, so you want to do more. I looked at my picture that I put all my energy and creative energy in to and I just thought it would come up short in making my mom happy again.
I had saved $1.25 and I knew what I had to do. I had to go uptown and find her the perfect present. Something that would make her “smile” again.
Oh… the thoughts of a nine-year-old boy.
Somehow, I convinced someone to walk me uptown on that snowy afternoon. I was armed with cash and I was on a mission.
The Hardware Store was my first stop. As a child, when I would walk into the store, I would take a big whiff. I loved the smell of the hardware store. I was never quite sure what made those smells so intoxicating. Maybe it was the hot, oily machine parts from some of the equipment that they sold or just the decades-old hardwood floors of the store. I can only imagine how many spills of paint, turpentine, and oils that floor has absorbed. It’s now toxic aroma is just hanging limply in the air along with metal nail dust, shiny tools, and plastic snow shovels. Yes, even as a child, as I walked those old hardware aisles, I soaked in memories. I remember clearly the creaking wooden floor and that jingle-jangly door clang as the door shut behind you. It was nostalgic then and even more so today.
I didn’t find anything at the Hardware store for my mom that I could afford so we moved on to the 5 & 10 store. Now, one would think I could find something in that store for my mom. I just could not decide and was overwhelmed with all the options. I was confused and wasn’t satisfied with any of my choices.
I suddenly found myself in Lantz’s Rexall Drug Store. I was sure I was wasting my time there. The high school girl who worked there was trying so hard to find me something in my price range to get for my mother. It simply wasn’t going to happen. I would have to go back to W. R. Thomas and sift through the options and find something back there.
It was at that moment that I now realize that when you least expect it, angels appear every once in a while.
I hear a voice coming from the high window where a man was always standing whenever I was in the store. I never saw him ever come out from behind that Pharmacy window.
He asked me, “Are you one of the Lee boys?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
He came out from behind that window and walked towards me.
He said, “How can I help you, young man?”
“Well sir, I am looking for a present for my mom.”
“How much do you have to spend?” he asked.
“All I have is $1.25,” I replied.
“What are you looking for son?
I said, “I am not sure, but I want to get her something special.”
He paused for a moment, looking around the store for options when He asked, “Does she like perfume?”
“Yes sir, but I do not have enough money to buy something like that.”
He reached up on the top shelf of the perfumes and grabbed a bottle and opened it and let me smell it. He said, “Do you like this one?” I nodded in approval.
He looked at me and said, “Well son, this is your lucky day.”
With a big, kind smile, he said, “This went on sale today and it costs exactly $1.25.”
The high school girl who worked there wrapped my present and I gave the man my money and thanked him. As I walked out the door, I looked back, and I saw him still looking at me and smiling. I smile back, and he says, “Merry Christmas, son.”
As a nine-year-old, I thought it blind luck to get such an expensive gift for my mom. It surpassed all my expectations. I have no idea how much that perfume cost, but I know it was more than the $1.25 that I paid for it.
Almost 50 years later, I realize that Mr. Mac McBain was an angel sent to help a little boy try to bring some joy back to a family that had experienced tragedy. It was all he could do.
I gave that present to my mom on Christmas Day. She smiled when she opened it. One of the first smiles I remember from her in a long time. She smiled to make me feel special. Now I know it didn’t make everything ok and my mom wasn’t instantly happy again. But as a young boy, it was all I had to offer.
Angels… every once in a while.
I believe that God allows it to happen just enough in our lives to allow us to keep faith in a loving God and the ability to hold on to the hope for a better world.
My angel that year was Mr. McBain. He made the difference in a little boy who just wanted to make his mother smile again.
It made December 25, 1970, feel a little bit more like Christmas.
Merry Christmas everyone. Hug your family a little tighter this year.
I was a Christian school principal in a former life. I protect the memories of that time very carefully. Some aspects of that period of time I hold near and dear to my heart. However, most of it I choose to not remember and I do my best to forget and block out that period of time in my life. Not because I hated the experience but rather I learned quickly to let things stay in the past.
Things just did not turn out as I planned. I was planning on the rest of my life being involved in education and being an avenue in helping young people get a Christian education and be prepared for whatever they faced in their future. I didn’t get fired or forced out, it simply did not end the way I wanted it to.
That does not mean I am bitter. I’m not. The bitterness faded away years ago.
Every once in a while, one of those distant, hidden memories come creeping up and sometimes appear in my dreams.
One of those memories I wish I would never remember is one that I experienced at a basketball game in the late 80’s. It actually had nothing to do with the game itself. I was coaching the game and the game was playing itself out in the normal fashion. No real drama or problems. Just friendly competition on the court.
Those of you that are familiar with the competition that takes place between two Christian schools, things can quickly take a turn for the worst that can be found in high school athletics. However, this time it wasn’t happening on the court. It was happening on the sidelines.
Just before the start of the fourth quarter of play, the cheerleaders from the opposing team started a cheer. Their fans were all standing and really showing their “Spirit” in support of their team and that cheer.
It is then I hear the cheer. The cheerleaders were chanting out the words of their cheer to their fans and players that “God was on their side!!!” Yes… they were cheering and proclaiming that God was in fact only on “their side” implying that He wasn’t on our side. It was loud and it was obnoxious. It is was among the worst things that could be seen in a Christian school. I had heard that some schools did this but I thought it was just a joke.
It wasn’t a joke and it was pointed at our school.
There are mostly two kinds of people in this world: the kind that thinks God is always for them and the kind that think God is always against them.
These also are the same people who think that God cares about the touchdown their team just scored or the game-winning basket made in the final seconds.
Personally… I don’t think God much cares about what team is playing on the court or on the field. I am sure He is not in any way concerned about how many points your team scored and even less concerned about how many points you may have personally scored.
I know, I don’t like it any more than you do.
I’d like to think that God would be behind and “help” all my teams I cheer for.
But that simply is not the truth. God doesn’t care if my team wins.
I could go on. In fact, most of the Old Testament attests to the fact that God doesn’t unequivocally endorse anyone, not even those who are supposedly especially tight with Him.
God doesn’t jump on our “team” or any another team.
Why not? Especially this side of the cross, shouldn’t He always be in our corner if we are Christians?
That is logically impossible, just think of how many times you and another believer are on different sides of an issue – how could God be “for” both of you at the same time? God knows how fickle people are, even believers. He knows how we can worship Him with all our hearts one minute and be nose-deep in sin the next.
Is it any wonder He won’t support us or anyone else unequivocally?
By now, I am sure that you heard that Charles Manson died.
Last night, I watched a documentary on his life. I have seen many of these shows and they are all basically the same, except this one. This one took an in-depth look at his childhood. It didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about the infamous murders that are known as the Tate/LaBianca murders that took place in August of 1969.
What a horrific life this man had as a child. It no way forgives or excuses his actions that he did throughout his life. I know there have been many children who have had it just as bad and they did not grow up to be responsible for mass murder. But it makes me wonder what he would have done with his life had it been different for him as a child.
Over the last few days, I’ve read many jeering and cruel comments on media sites celebrating his death and wishing him well in hell. But I must be honest. I do not celebrate his death.
I get it. Charles Manson should have paid a heavier price for his actions. He lived a long life, while those he affected did not get that chance. I do not believe that “justice” was done to him on this earth for his crimes.
But I do not celebrate his death. I grieve for all of the lives that this man negatively influenced. How many lives were destroyed, hurt and forever changed by this one man?
Sin destroys so much, it’s sad when it destroys our humanity as well.
As a believer, I am sad to know of anyone’s death without Christ.
I know, from reading scripture, that God grieves as well.
‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Ezekiel 33:11
There is a God who rules the heavens and eternity. There is a judgment coming. There is a heaven and hell. I don’t claim to understand the justice of all of it, but I do know God is good and I trust Him to be more than “fair” to each of us.
For a few years on earth, Manson destroyed, ridiculed and killed.
Now he faces eternity.
Charles Manson now faces God’s judgment and will live an eternity having to face true justice.
No different from Charles Manson, one day… we will face God and have to answer for what we did with Jesus Christ. Did we accept Him or reject Him?
Normally, I remember people when I have spoken with them— especially when I have seen their name in print. I’ve had a pretty good track record of at least recognizing that I have met someone before, even if I don’t exactly recall the setting.
This week, however, I experienced something new to me.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about forgiveness. I shared how forgiveness is a process for us. God forgives differently than we do. He forgives us fully and completely, but man does not. The human aspect of forgiveness is a process that we must work on each day of our life.
I wrote that article based upon my perspective of forgiving someone who has offended me. However, I was exposed to an aspect of forgiveness that, for some reason, I never really had to deal with before.
This week I had someone call me and ask for my forgiveness.
His first words were, “I am calling to ask you to please forgive me.”
Now, that isn’t the aspect that surprised me. What surprised me is that this person was carrying a burden that I had no idea that he was carrying. I had no recollection of what he was referencing to and as a matter of fact I totally forgot ever meeting him.
On the phone call, he said to me, “David, you remember me, right?”
I didn’t remember him, so I asked him where we met.
He was a sales representative from a company that I had done business with through my work. For several years, I worked as the purchasing manager and we had met a time or two during that time.
When he told me, I was totally astonished. I had totally forgot about him and the event.
First of all, I was surprised that I didn’t recognize him, although it had only been a few years since our meeting. Secondly, I was even more shocked that I didn’t remember him because our earlier meeting was not a good one.
His company had failed to provide the product we had purchased through him. It caused us to shut down our line and it cost us money. He was defiant and blamed everyone else. He took no responsibility for the failure. As a matter of fact, he tried to turn it around and blamed me for the failure. I remember now that he was rude and hateful and as soon as we got our line back up and running, I resourced the part to another company.
Shortly after the event, I moved on. For me, it was business and not personal. I forgot about it. I never gave him a second thought.
For him, he made it personal. He was young and brash and inexperienced. The way he handled the situation cost him a huge account for his company. What I didn’t know was that it also cost him his job as well.
I had no idea that apparently, he has been carrying bitterness towards me since that time.
On his call, he told me that he was a very different person back then, he had changed and that he had been trying to figure out how he could get a hold of me and clear his conscience. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one he was contacting. He stated that he was asking for my forgiveness.
I wanted to tell him that there wasn’t anything to ask for forgiveness for. But I remembered what I wrote, and I let him talk. This wasn’t about me. It was about a man who had come to the point in his life that he needed to unload some guilt and regret from his youth.
For years, he had been picking up the hate and burden every morning for someone he didn’t really know.
I instantly felt nothing but complete forgiveness. I could tell he wasn’t sure I meant it, but I genuinely did forgive him. I hope his burden is lighter today than what he has experienced.
Two lessons come to mind.
First, how easy it is to forgive someone when one gets to see the other in a fully positive light.
Second, how important it is to not allow the past to be a filter for the present.
I am so grateful that I was not biased by my previous encounters, and able to completely embrace this new setting without preconceived thoughts. It is so easy to put labels on others.
There is a veil to this thing called forgiveness. It covers everyone differently. We all need to deal with the aspect of forgiveness. Forgiving those that offended us and asking for forgiveness to those we hurt and offended. It also opens the door to offer forgiveness to those that carry burdens and hurts we knew nothing about.
Thankfully, for whatever reason, I am happy for him because things will turn out in a much better way.
Forgiveness is so much easier without the hurt attached.
My prayer is that the veil of forgiveness forever rules in my mind and in my heart.
My words will never adequately express the horror of the shootings in Las Vegas.
News stories report body count and hospitalizations in an attempt to convey the incomprehensible magnitude of the violence.
The number of the dead and wounded could describe a pitched battle in Afghanistan or, long ago, as I remember as a child the reports from Vietnam.
Nearly sixty dead. Over five hundred in need of medical treatment.
But of course, this wasn’t a battle fought on foreign soil.
This was a country music concert.
On American soil.
And the attacker was an unremarkable American citizen who possessed a personal arsenal of automatic weapons. As he so dreadfully demonstrated, weapons designed to kill human beings in large numbers very efficiently.
We don’t yet know why the killer opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room. But we are reeling from the savagery of his actions and the random senselessness of the deaths. He indiscriminately maimed and murdered scores of complete strangers who were out on the town for nothing more than a good time.
While we cannot today find a final answer to the great puzzle of our national addiction to violence, perhaps we can nonetheless finally admit the addiction.
As frightful as the Las Vegas killings are, they join a long list of mass shootings.
Such violence is all too frequent.
The murders last Sunday stand out only because of the numbers.
And because it was captured on video.
However, these same numbers some times take place in Chicago on any given weekend and no one even bats an eye. It is not noticed because it usually is a one-on-one event. One person killed events in an abhorrent number of weekend murders… in a “gun-free zone.”
Let’s be honest. Gun Free Zones don’t work.
But we have to do something.
As a nation we have been at war since 2001. Since I was born, the years of national conflict nearly outnumber the years of peace. And I’m not including the Cold War, covert actions, and episodic military interventions. So many young adults do not remember or have experienced an America at peace.
There is no question that the type and number of weapons hoarded by the Las Vegas shooter made him exponentially more lethal. We can and should arrive at reasonable political measures that address an individual’s capacity to wreak such unspeakable havoc.
I not talking about taking guns away from anyone. I want a society that is able to have the freedom to have a gun to protect themselves or to use for appropriate hunting. I do not believe we need to pry the guns from the hands of Americans.
However, what I am saying is that we can do something moving forward. We need to keep these type of guns off and out of the free-market. We can stop people from buying a gun that can shoot 70 – 90 rounds in 10 seconds. Is there really a purpose for a gun like this? I think not.
In truth, we will never be able to clear our society of these type weapons already purchased. They are embedded and unfortunately will be a part of a society that will need to deal with the outcomes of such weaponry.
I am not naive, I know that someone will continue to make these type of weapons, no matter if we ban them from being sold. If a person wants to have a gun to use for evil, no matter what type of weapon they want… it will be available somewhere. Regardless what we do politically.
But we have to do something. We need to limit their numbers of availability. Doing nothing just deepens our accountability for these type of events from occurring.
And yet, even if and when we achieve a political solution, our spiritual challenge remains.
As a believer, I can no longer turn my eyes away from these type of events and simply say I will pray for the victims. While it is a good place to start there is more that we can do. To be followers of Jesus, requires reflection, repentance, and transformation.
As long as violence in any form is our only customary means for maintaining our security, our status, and our stuff, we will ALL remain… mortally wounded spiritually.
Are you old enough you remember the days of “choosing sides?”
Two captains would be chosen and they would take turns picking their teams from all those gathered to play.
It was a terrible experience… especially if you were last to be chosen.
That meant you were the least wanted of all those gathered to play. What a humiliating experience! (I say that because I was often the last to be chosen.)
If you, as captain, were lucky enough to get the right picks then victory was almost certain for your team.
Choosing sides filled the air with anticipation and whispers of “choose me”, “choose me…” None of us wanted to be humiliated by last place but we all wanted to play on a winning team.
The whole experience was one of emotional scars for life, but if you got the right team, what fun that was!
You were sure to win and usually did.
If only Billy was your pitcher then you had it made. If you could get Sam for a batter then the game was yours. Getting the right players made a win almost guaranteed.
As I read a passage in Psalms this morning I thought back to those days. It made me wince and smile all at the same time.
The Psalmist wrote, “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me. I will look in triumph at those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.”
The text reads, “the Lord is on my side.”
As I read those words my mind flashed back to the days of choosing sides and I imagined being picked to be on God’s team, to be on His side and He being on mine.
I was reminded of this last night as I attended a Casting Crowns concert. I love their music. It just cuts right to my heart. Over the years, it has had a profound affect on me. Their music has encouraged and challenged me to deal with things I was ignoring in my life.
I struggled with forgiveness for many years.
In my mind, I knew that I needed to but I just could bring myself to forgive those that I felt betrayed me… my heart needed more time to respond. I learned the hard way that the heart takes more time to heal.
You may not be able to relate exactly to my story, but chances are by the time you’re reading this article, you know what it feels like to be lied to, betrayed, forgotten, rejected or in some other way wounded by someone you loved and trusted.
I have yet to meet a person who has made it through this life without facing one or more of these wounds. And because we understand what it feels like to be injured in this way, we also know how truly challenging it can be to offer forgiveness.
For years I thought I understood what it meant to forgive.
Then just about the time I thought I had a grasp on the whole process of understanding forgiveness, something would come straight out of nowhere and remind me that I had a long way to go.
The hurt and resentment we sought to leave behind would resurface from time to time. Maybe it was triggered by someone’s offhand remark or by an old song from back in the day.
That is how it would happen to me. I would be driving back home from work, listening to songs as they randomly came up.
Then that song comes on… the one that took me back to another place and time.
Suddenly I am filled with all the anger, hurt, frustration and resentment that I feel towards people who betrayed or hurt me over the years of my life.
It would be clearly evident that I still struggled with forgiveness.
On the outside, I would hide it, twist it and lie about it if I needed to, but I wasn’t going to forgive. On the inside I didn’t want anything to do with forgiveness.
I thought I would grow into it over time, I assumed, this burden and I would grow strong enough to carry it.
As the years went by, I tried to forget. It worked, for the most part. When you carry a grudge long enough, it didn’t feel like a grudge anymore. It just felt like life.
Like putting on clothes each morning, I would just get up every morning and strap on my bag full of anger, hurt, shame, bitterness, frustration and the lack of any desire to forgive those that you had an issue with.
As matter of fact, I thought about it rarely. When I did think about it, I prayed it would evaporate into thin air, and that maybe I would evaporate with it.
In some ways, it did evaporate. In many ways I did forget.
After all these years, I still have a lot to learn about the process of forgiving someone.
But I have learned this…
We forgive in response to wounds and betrayals. A part of ourselves is broken. A relationship has crumbled. The potential life we imagined for ourselves lies in ruins. I am learning that I am still broken.
Forgiveness is that healing that mends the broken part of us.
Mending takes time.
Forgiveness cannot take place without honesty, boundaries, space, distance and time.
Forgiveness is a process. I am learning that we forgive one day at a time.
It rarely comes as a single, discrete decision. We talk about forgiveness like it’s a single, one-time event, and in my experience, it’s just not.
Forgiveness isn’t an event any more than brushing your teeth is an event. It is something you must do over and over and over again.
I am not sure it gets easier with time.
In fact, one of the few things that has helped me heal from my past is to stop saying, “I forgive you” and start saying, “I’m forgiving you.”
Jesus talked at length about forgiveness. Once, Peter asked him, “So, look, how often do I have to forgive? Seven times? Will that about cut it?” Imagine the look on Peter’s face when Jesus said, “Make that seventy-times seven.”
Strictly speaking, Jesus wasn’t just telling Peter how many times he had to forgive a repeat offender. He was also telling him—telling us—how forgiveness works.
I need to get up each morning and instead of strapping on that backpack of hurt, I need to wake up with the intent of forgiving.
Many days it’s the same person I forgave yesterday.
What would happen if, just for today, you thought about the person who has hurt you most and said to yourself:
“I am forgiving you. By that I mean, I’m not going to blame you or hold you responsible for my life or my future any longer. The power to shape what is coming is mine now. I take it back for myself. I reclaim my power. And that grudge I’ve been carrying, well, it’s hurting me more than it’s hurting you, so for that reason, I’m going to set it down, move on and forgive you.”
Those of us that struggle with forgiveness, we don’t have to make any promises about the future. Except that if we have to, we may need to forgive again tomorrow.
Ultimately… it is how we find the way to forgive.
Sometimes the heart needs more time to accept what the mind already knows.