So, I got a call from a boy that I dated 20 years ago. I don’t know if you can really say that I dated him. We were in the sixth grade and I wasn’t allowed to go on dates at such a young age. He was the boy that sent me the note asking me to “go out with him” that included the big square for “yes” and the little square for “no”. What girl doesn’t dream of getting that note passed to her during math? So, he was my first boyfriend. But shhhhh…. I didn’t tell my Daddy about him because I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend. This forbidden relationship was quite exciting for me and my envious girlfriends!
Anyhow, we “went out” during 6th grade and part of the summer after. I moved just after starting 7th grade. I am a Navy brat and my Daddy started a new tour in Washington D.C. that school year. I remembered that we broke up during that summer but I didn’t remember why. In fact, I find that I have a hard time remembering a lot of the details of my childhood. Since I moved so much, I was always adjusting. I was always saying good bye and then having to make new friends all over again. I didn’t hang onto people because they were always leaving my life. Because of that, I don’t have the luxury of old friends to talk about the past with so the memories stay alive. Also, there wasn’t a lot of closure in my childhood relationships. If I had a fight with a friend right before I moved, then that was that. There wasn’t opportunity to possibly work things out and have that closure. My closure was that I didn’t have to see that person again, which wasn’t always the healthiest way to go about living life and learning about relationships. And that brings me back to my 6th grade boyfriend.
He found me on Facebook. When I saw his friend request, my first thought was “why does he want to friend me?” That should have been my first subconscious clue into the past. Flattered, I accepted his friend request. Then we started e-mailing back and forth with all the usual “how are you” and “what have you been up to all these years” and it almost seemed as if 20 years had never passed. Then he brought up that infamous summer of ‘89. Even though my memory was failing me, I didn’t have a good feeling about it. When I admitted to him that I didn’t know what he was talking about, he called me…on the phone. Now, before I go any further, let me say that Mike is a really nice man. He and his wife are raising beautiful children in the Catholic faith. He serves in our Armed Forces and dreams of being a math and science teacher when he leaves the service. He is a really great person. So, imagine how embarrassed I was when he very politely told me about the nasty note he received in the mail during the summer of ‘89.
Way back in the olden days, we didn’t have computers or cell phones. At my house, we didn’t even have a cordless phone, which meant that any conversation you had on the phone was overheard by all who wished to be in the kitchen. This probably made it difficult to maintain a forbidden relationship during the summer. Anyhow, I must have decided to send him notes in the mail as a way to communicate. The problem was that he didn’t write me back. He also never tried to risk his own safety by calling me on the phone. Now, you also need to know that I had a team of advisors to coach me through this relationship. Me and my equally-psychotic girlfriends must have been taking notes from the unwritten book of How Boys are Supposed to Behave When They Are Your Boyfriend. And since we didn’t have any attempts at communication from him over the summer, we decided he must be dumped. So I fired off a nasty letter giving him the boot. I am sure this letter was met with great enthusiastic approval from my team of advisors before hitting the post office. After I mailed that letter, Mike and I never really talked again. I saw him at school that fall and I remember being embarrassed. Even though I had gotten approval and admiration from my girlfriends, I knew I probably hurt his feelings. And, like I said earlier, I moved shortly after school started that fall, so moving away from the situation was my closure. I never needed to see Mike again - until he found me on Facebook and called me on my iPhone. How ironic.
Embarrassed is just not a big enough word. Here was a very nice man telling me about my psychotic behavior all those years ago. I must conclude that if he remembers what I did to him 20 years ago, then he must have been impacted by it. I must have hurt his feelings. I apologized many times. After we got off the phone, I started to wonder why he brought this up. The whole situation put me in a very reflective mood. And what do I do when I am reflective? I clean, or organize, or find some project that needs attention. This time I assaulted the garden.
The morning after his call, I found myself elbow deep in dirt, weeds, and dead flowers, all while pondering what I did to this boy all those years ago and wondering why he chose to contact me. I certainly would not want to find me if I were him. He was clearly a braver person than I could ever be. As I was pulling the weeds, I realized that even though I didn’t understand why he called me, he gave this Navy brat a rare opportunity. He gave me a chance to ask for forgiveness. He gave me a chance to pull those weeds I planted 20 years ago and find a little closure. He gave me the gift of mercy.
I have to say that Catholics talk a whole lot more about mercy than my Baptist church ever did. In my Baptist church, you asked for forgiveness when you prayed the prayer to ask Jesus into your heart. Beyond that, we didn’t talk much about asking God to forgive our sins. All of our sins were forgiven in that one prayer. Catholics don’t see it that way. We are encouraged to always examine our conscience. We are encouraged to acknowledge our sins and then take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation where we ask for forgiveness of those sins. It is a necessary ongoing process that brings us closer to the Lord, each other and heaven.
As an adult convert, the whole idea of confession to a priest was a hard sell for me. I now understand that our lips have to speak our shortcomings and our ears have to hear our shortcomings in order for true acknowledgement to take place. And when we acknowledge that sin and ask for mercy, our ears need to hear that we are forgiven. That is how the Lord lifts the burden from our shoulders and nails it to his cross. And from that cross, love and mercy flow and carry us to His presence. I understand with my head and heart the importance of the sacrament, but that doesn’t make it any easier to wait in that line. It doesn’t make it any easier to look at myself in the mirror and admit who I really am.
Lately, I have been feeling very unworthy of God’s presence. No matter how hard I try to be worthy, I fall far short of the goal. And I have been frustrated by my inability to be the person God calls me to be. This experience with Mike has made me realize that I can’t be who God is calling me to be unless I weed the garden. Just as Mike called me, the Lord is calling me and offering me the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. Even though I don’t deserve it, He is offering me mercy. Weeding the garden will always be a dirty, but necessary, task. I must not let the weeds choke out the flowers God is trying desperately to plant in my heart. I must ask for His mercy and live in His love so the flowers have a chance to blossom for His glory.
P.S. This article was written and published with Mike's blessing. Thanks Mike!