I recently traveled home for my 20 year high school reunion. I was excited to see my old classmates because we always have a lot of laughs whenever we catch up. It was also Memorial Day weekend, and the time of the small town Jubilee celebration. A great deal of people from my hometown come home that weekend and it’s a great time.
While decorating our class float for the parade the following day, we were discussing where various people were now, and the classmates that weren’t able to make it. I discovered that a friend of ours that still lived in town, was invited to the reunion but chose not to come because she was bullied. I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach and my heart sank. I knew exactly why. I was the bully.
The weekend was full of activities with my family and the kids so I had plenty of distractions that kept this towards the back of my mind but it was still there. While my class and I were riding the float in the parade, we were laughing and having a lot of fun throwing out candy to the kids. I thought I may have seen her standing with her mom in the crowd but I quickly looked away. This wasn’t the time.
On one of my last nights in town I was finishing up dinner at a restaurant with a classmate when she walked in with her husband. It was a small place so they sat down a few tables away from us. After a brief and awkward moment of eye contact, she and I politely smiled and looked away. She looked good. I probably should say something. But it wasn’t the right time.
I did more traveling and had a wonderful time with more family and friends. But at night often before I crawled into bed, I thought about her. I wish I had said something. But I was several towns away now. It wasn’t the right place.
I’ve been back home in Tennessee for almost a week now. This month at The People’s Church we are doing a study on forgiveness. Pastor Rick White said to us that people that refuse to forgive lose every time. I thought to myself, everyone in here probably has something they need to be forgiven for, and needs to forgive someone else. And then I realized that I was also sitting in the room. He asked us, who do you need to forgive? Who needs to forgive you?
I thought of her. I thought to myself, it probably doesn’t even matter anymore,that was a week ago, she’s probably forgotten all about it. All of that stuff was twenty years ago, who doesn’t get over stuff from that long ago? And what if she hates me now and won’t talk to me? I almost did nothing. It would make me uncomfortable and vulnerable. She would probably reject me, but I wanted to right the wrong. If it even mattered.
I was too scared to call her. I contacted her by email. It felt safer that way somehow. It took her a few days to respond and it bothered me the whole time. Always in the back of my mind. I was ready to take the deserved tongue lashing.
She was very kind and wrote a long, thoughtful response. She told me about how she hated herself for many years and developed a social anxiety disorder because she thought something had to be wrong with her for people to be so mean to her. She told me how it has taken a great many years to get over everything she went through, and she almost had a panic attack at the though of running into her old classmates in town on the weekend of the reunion. She told me of the terrible memories she had at my hand.
My heart broke to know that I caused such damage to her. I suffered abuse as a child and was so wrapped up in my own mess that I never realized the pain I caused. The one phrase she said to me in genuine kindness in her response really stood out to me and it brought tears to my eyes.
She said Forgiveness is Here.
I did not deserve her kind words or forgiveness. It spoke volumes about her that she freely gave both to me. And to think that I kept talking myself out of talking to her about it. I nearly missed out on this wonderful experience.
We agreed to keep in touch and get back to the friendship we had long ago. My heart is full.
Not every scenario will have a fairy tale ending. There may be rejection. It is hard to initiate the conversation. But I know that she feels a lot better and so do I. I can’t give her those years back but I would give anything to go back and retrieve the hurt feelings and wasted time.
Now that I know what it’s like to receive amazing grace and forgiveness, I will be better at giving it myself. If you need to right a wrong, take action. You might think it won’t mean much, but it just might mean the world to someone and set them free. And that person might be you. It’s always the right time.