Updated: Feb 19
When I was a little girl, there was a boy in my Sunday School class at church whose name I will keep to myself. Let’s call him Joe for simplicity. I’m not sure why this story comes to mind, but it seems significant. I think I couldn’t have been more than four in our first confrontation, but I truly despised him. It was during playtime, and I don’t remember what he said, but he was making fun of my friend Jennifer. I remember that at four, I thought it was absolutely despicable (though perhaps I didn’t think the word “despicable”).
I had my little girl Sunday plastic pink purse, and I hit him across the face with it. Being the teacher’s pet, I was reprimanded, but not very harshly. I wouldn’t have cared if I had been punished. I was the Giver of Justice and the Defender of the Weak. I have a very vivid memory each year four years running with Joe. In his defense, when I was five, it was really his father who committed the offense. His dad taught our Sunday School class that year. One day, he was telling a story with farm animals in it, and he was giving all of the animal’s names. The only thing I know about that story was that he named the cow “Connie the Cow.” Apparently, I was a sensitive child at that stage, because I wanted to disappear more than anything when everyone looked at me and laughed. I even cried in my bed that night, and told my mom about it. She assured me that she was sure no one thought I looked like a cow. I was actually quite a skinny child. Joe, however unfairly, got the blame. I distinctly remember him laughing the loudest and looking the cruelest. When I was six, it was a tack in my chair. We were singing that song that goes “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart….” One of the verses was “and if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack, sit on a tack, sit on a tack….” There were motions for this. You stood up in between each “sit on a tack,” and then sat back down when you sang it again. Joe took the opportunity to put a tack in my seat while we were standing. I don’t know if that means he thought I was the devil, but I definitely thought he was. The next year was the last specific memory of him (and the most traumatic for me) until I was a teenager. Our church took a yearly summer trip to the zoo in Monroe, Louisiana. I lived in El Dorado, Arkansas until we actually moved to Monroe when I was nine, so this was about an hour and a half’s journey. On the way back from this trip, I was sitting beside my very best friend (the kind you can only have when you are six), backwards and Indian-style leaning on the seat in front of us on our church bus. I was sitting backwards because Joe was in the seat behind me, and he kept hitting me on the head. He was sitting with an older boy. I should also state that I am sure the older boy put him up to this. I don’t think he would’ve thought of it himself. I was talking with my friend, when Joe reached over the seat, and touched me where I knew I was not supposed to be touched. I had clothes on, of course, and he did it quickly and was back on the other side, but this very upsetting for me. I thought it was the worst thing in the world. I went home that day, and later my mom found me crying in a pile of my pillows and my Strawberry Shortcake bedspread. At first I wouldn’t tell her what was wrong, but she got it out of me eventually. She was horrified, and called Joe’s parents, and I think the older boy’s, too. That incident was just the confirmation of my hatred of Joe. I don’t think I spoke to him from then until the time we moved away three years later. I stayed in touch with my friend, though, and when I was a teenager, I went to visit her several times. One of these times, Joe and I had yet another run-in. He and my friend both still attended the same church, and I went to a pool party with their church group. I suppose he remembered tormenting me when we were younger, and thought it would be fun to continue. I had an ear infection, and couldn’t get in the water. I just sat on the side, but Joe repeatedly tried to throw me in. My tolerance for him started out low, so I got more and more furious. He never succeeded in throwing me in, but his behavior further solidified my belief in his being completely and totally evil. For whatever reason, he remained the epitome of what I hated in people for years. I’ve found that the opinions and emotions I formed early in life are more difficult to overcome than those I have acquired as an adult. I suppose the more rationality you have when forming a belief, the more rationally you can view it, and therefore change it when you see the necessity. His offenses were immature and some even mean, but not comparable to the measure of my hatred of him. This is, believe it or not, a story of forgiveness. I didn’t even realize it until last night as I lay contemplating the stories of my life, but Joe and I had a moment of peace-making…a moment when he said “I’m sorry” and I said “That’s OK,” even though neither of us said the words. It occurred years later. El Dorado was a very small town, and Monroe, although not large, had a fairly new and decent sized shopping mall, so people from El Dorado would come to our mall to shop. I worked at the Chick-fil-A in this mall for years, through high school and my time at college, and worked my way up to manager. I was already manager when this happened, so I must’ve been around twenty or twenty-one. One regular day, I looked up and there was a person in my line who looked very like Joe. His dad was kind of a short, stocky man, and this person had Joe’s face, and his dad’s build. I knew he was grown-up Joe, and he looked at me and knew I was grown-up Connie. He was with a girl, and was wearing a wedding ring. Neither of us spoke any words of recognition as I took their order. They ate in our dining room, and I went out to clean it a few minutes later. He looked at me as I walked by their table, and he said, “So, are you the manager here?” It was pretty obvious because of my uniform. I just said, “Yes,” and he said, “That’s good.” We both smiled a kind of awkward smile. We didn’t have any trivialities, like “Do you remember me?” or “It’s so good to see you” or “Is this your wife?” or “What are you doing these days?” That was the entirety of our conversation, and then I walked away. I’m sure his wife thought it odd, and I’ve wondered if he told her that he knew me. I can’t explain it, and I never examined it until yesterday, but that was the moment I forgave him. After that moment, although I can remember the way I felt hurt by him, the animosity disappeared. I could see in his face that he knew his actions had been hurtful, and he was sorry. I hope he could tell that I forgave him. I never saw him again, but I know that God organized that meeting. It was a lesson of letting go of hurts, realizing that people make dumb mistakes and often regret them years later when something has grown up in them. It was a lesson that you don’t have to hear an apology to forgive. Christ’s lesson is that I should have forgiven him way before I knew he recognized his actions as wrong. Christ’s forgiveness is letting go not knowing if the person will ever be sorry, allowing them the room to make mistakes without your judgment pressing in on them and forgiving without the slightest thought of justice or revenge. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. I have other people in my life that fall into the category of the unforgiven. I try to hold no ill will towards those who have injured me, but there is a piece of my heart that can’t quite let go until I at least know that those people recognize their wrongs. I hope one day I can allow enough of Christ in me to love them unconditionally.
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