Last fall I did a series of Messenger articles on “Tiny Stories” told by members of the ABC congregation when they were asked about small faith-building incidents in their spiritual journeys. When I finished the series, I had a few contributions left over. A couple were by people who really had trouble telling a tiny story; instead, they wrote about their whole life, which was fascinating, but not what the series was about.
Paula McCall, however, presented me with another kind of problem. She told two very poignant stories, both of which were worth sharing. My problem was that both stories focused on her former husband Jay Lebsch, and my concern was that telling them might be hurtful to her present husband, Dale McCall, and I didn’t want to cause any collateral damage in their relationship.
A few weeks back, I talked with Paula and explained why I didn’t include her “tiny stories” in the series. Paula’s response really surprised me: “Oh, that’s no problem. Jay and Dale were best friends, and Dale completely supported me in wanting me to have a good relationship with my boys’ father.”
I later confirmed this with Dale. Now I have an even better reason to share Paula’s stories with you. I’m doing so with their permission.
Story Number One: “I suffered a serious heart attack in 1991. Opal Nelson, my best friend at ABC, visited me in the hospital. We talked through why this had happened and came to this conclusion: God knew that Jay couldn’t take care of the boys by himself, so he let me survive. This gave me motivation to fight through to good health and a renewed purpose in my life.” This incident reminds me of how important our words of encouragement and affirmation can be to a struggling sister or brother in a critical moment.
Story Number Two: “A while after we were divorced, Jay moved to El Paso hoping to make a fresh start in life. Dale, the boys and I visited him a few times over the next eight years, and I knew about his increasing health problems. In December 2012, when I heard that he had fallen and was semi-comatose, we made arrangements to drive down and see him. He seemed to be unconscious, but when he heard my voice, he opened his eyes and said, ‘Holy Moley!’ He lit up. He knew me.” Somehow for Paula and, she believed, for Jay this meeting was necessary to bring some kind of closure to their relationship. I’m impressed that Dale was able to embrace that closure as well. Within a month, Jay passed away.
My estimate is that just about half of the married couples in our current congregation include at least one partner who has gone through a previous marriage and divorce. Even some of the long-term one-husband/one-wife marriages have some closet skeletons of previous romantic relationships. What if all of us had on our “bucket list” tying up the frayed, loose ends of old relationships? I’m not necessarily advocating this, because there are sleeping dogs that should not be awakened. But maybe some of us have some forgiving and letting go to do.
This doesn’t just apply to broken romantic relationships. It’s important for all of us to make peace with our past. Often the failure to do this keeps us from making peace with ourselves. This seems to be especially true when the lives of other people have clearly been affected by our words or actions. The Eighth and Ninth Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve Step Program can be helpful here, because they are worded very carefully:
“We have . . .
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount,
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
I don’t mean to generalize that all of us should resolve these old relationship issues in the same way. But it may be that the Lord is nudging you, as he did Paula, to say a healing, reconciling word. If you follow his lead, it may be helpful to you in making peace with your past. And it may bring a surprise blessing into the life of the other person, so that he/she says, with Jay Lebsch, “Holy Moley!”
— Pastor George Van Alstine