Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Picture of Me

The internet is an amazing tool, no doubt. I guess I'm preaching to the choir on this. It's also no big secret how much trouble people can get into on the internet -- overspending, rekindling old relationships best left cold, eating away at too much of our time. This morning the internet provided me with a troubling picture of myself, a picture I had hidden somewhere behind Ancient History and Good Riddance to Bad Garbage. But there it was, as it has been for many years, waiting to reveal itself to me again and ask the question, "Are you prepared to look at me now?"
Years ago I had a friend, a very close friend. She was single, a couple of years older than I, funny, always energetic and, I thought, attractive in a very exotic way. Her parents doted on her, as she was an only child, and they were just as wonderful to me. Not long after we'd met, she left a long term relationship that was deteriorating into abuse and misuse. I admired her courage, felt the pain she was experiencing, and watched in amazement as she emerged into an independent, self-sufficient woman. Truthfully, the relationship I was in was not wonderful by any stretch of the imagination, and I was somewhat jealous of the doors that were opening for her and her fearlessness as she stepped through them.
Within months after her difficult, but liberating break-up, her health began to deteriorate. A problem she had been dealing with for many months had begun to wreak more damage on her body, drain her spirit, and leave her in almost constant agony. The independence she had struggled so hard to gain, was rushing right out the window.
In the meantime, I had gotten married, purchased a house, purchased a new vehicle, my husband had gotten a better job closer to our new home, and shortly thereafter I gave birth to a daughter; it "couldn't have been any better for me". Much to my regret, the sharp contrast in my life and the life of my friend took a toll on our relationship. I felt it. It made me uncomfortable. I bailed.
There was a little more to it -- I did have some valid reasons for ending the relationship or, at the least, distancing myself. There were personal reasons as well as issues I had with the relationship itself. I'm not sure that, given the opportunity to renew that friendship today, I would. The point is, none of that is important. I bailed. There was no heart-to-heart, no explanation -- I just stopped answering her calls. I ignored her. At one point I even felt guilty enough to try to reconnect. The issues were not going to fix themselves; they hadn't. It didn't work; I walked away again. When I saw her mother some months later, she told me, "It would have been better if you'd just left her alone." I wanted to defend myself, to explain why I couldn't continue to be her friend; I couldn't. I think I mumbled shamefully, "I know."
I saw a woman in the store the other day; she reminded me of my old friend. Again, this morning, as I was checking out the news, her name came to me. So, with the internet at my fingertips, I "Googled" her. What I found shocked me -- a picture of a beautiful home with a meticulously manicured lawn in a quiet neighborhood. The warmth of happiness rose in me and I thought, "How wonderful! She deserves it. I couldn't be happier for her." As I looked a little more closely, I could see her at her front door. There she was, disabled worse than she was the last time I saw her. The feeling that dropped into the pit of my stomach can only be described as disgust. I was angry that her body had failed her so badly. Then I realized I was angry I had failed her so badly. I don't mean to say that her physical condition would be any different had I been there for her; I don't mean to say she seemed miserable and alone. As a matter of fact, she seemed quite happy, and her house was well-kept -- not the sign of someone beaten down and friendless. But I had hurt her with what I had done, and it was time to deal with it.
I looked at that picture over and over, wondering what her life must be like today, wondering if she is married, wondering who her neighbors are and if they are nice to her. I even began to realize that one of the deciding factors in the dissolution of our friendship was my marriage which, ironically failed five years ago. I had reached all those wonderful milestones in order to bring some substance to a mirage; I had poured my heart and soul into that mirage and left the feelings of some very good people in its wake. I suppose I will be dealing with that realization for a very long time.
But, back to dealing with my incredible lack of character in this situation...
I still am. How do I ask forgiveness without doing any more harm to her, opening wounds she has healed? In the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, it says to make amends "except when to do so would injure them or others." Dropping down on her front step, ready to apologize with flowers and a cheesy card is not an option; I have no desire to attempt to contact her and upset her. I do have a need to make amends, maybe not with her, but with my God; to ask forgiveness for such deplorable behavior. Maybe I should or will even contact her parents to ask their forgiveness. And then there is me. The fact that my life not always been easy, the fact that I have sometimes paid dearly for my transgressions is a convenient way to let myself off the hook. But this is about fixing what's broken, not relieving myself of blame.
I am going to have to forgive myself for this one. I have taken huge steps in the last five years to mature and change many of my old behaviors. I have come to recognize some of the self-destructive behaviors that drove me for so many years and I try to "nip them in the bud" before they disrupt or damage the incredible relationships I value. I communicate, and step out of my "comfort zone" to do so when necessary. I don't take on more than I can handle, thereby I avoid leaving too many people in the lurch. I try to make choices based on God's reasons or God's leading rather than allow myself to be guilted into them. But, as for forgiveness, that's got to come from within this time. I must look at the picture for what it really is -- a picture of the old me, who now, by the grace of God is capable of forgiveness; a picture of one courageous enough to move on with her life despite adversity and betrayal, and the other who learned so much from her. When I look at that picture, it will no longer induce shame, but hope that my friend has forgiven my lack of character and a prayer that I will continue to forgive myself and grow in grace as well.
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