The thing about guilt is…it sucks.
On the wall in our hallway is my mom and David’s engagement photo. It’s engulfed by an enormous white matboard and the whole thing is framed. At their wedding reception, all the guests were supposed to sign the matboard, expressing their congratulations and well wishes. From my post, “Why I Cussed in My Pastor’s Office,” it should not surprise you much to know I never signed it. Approximately two seconds after the reception began, I asked my mom if I could leave. I didn’t see the cake, or the dancing or the presents.
Sometimes, rejoicing with those who rejoice is not as easy as you think it should be. At the time, it was better for me to leave than to mope at the reception but I still feel bad about it. It’s still hard for me to think of the missing names, especially mine. Forgiving yourself isn’t all that easy either…
My friend Darlene loves her love story flicks. One of her lower-end favorites (“lower-end favorites” are movies you really like but definitely don’t make your top five) is Love Comes Softly. Kathrine Heigl is a pregnant pioneer woman who loses her husband. She has to remarry but doesn’t love the dude. She doesn’t even really like him. As the title alludes, her love for him comes softly, gradually, without her ability to account for it.
My ability to love and accept David came softly. I can’t account for all of it, but I can account for a lot of it. I know it began with gratitude. First it was simple things, like not having to buy generic or not having to watch my mom stress about making rent. I didn’t have to watch my mom stress about anything anymore it seemed. She was the healthiest I had ever seen her, a realization that was profoundly heart softening, and she loved him so much. If she could find so much to love in him, then so could I. And so, all the little things, and a few big things I’ll tell you some other time, added up in a life changing way.
This past Sunday I sang with Valley Women’s Ensemble at Light Up a Life, a Hospice of the Valley event. Susan Levine, the executive director, quoted Melody Beattie.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow”(emphasis mine).
Thanksgiving is a time when we go “oh yeah, sure, I’m thankful for stuff, yep. Can you pass the gravy?” When gratitude is not just acknowledged, but acted out, it is a powerful thing. It helped turn my unwillingness to see what God was doing into a deep embrace of what God did and of the people He made when He created Nancy and David. The house we moved into after the wedding, I was determined to loathe, but gratitude carved out more of a home than the one I had been forced to leave.
Yet, the most extraordinary transformation was the morning David was no longer the stranger sitting across the table, eating his Half-and-Half soaked cereal. Nothing special happened, but it was the day I realized he was more than stepfamily. He was more than real family. He had become a dearest friend. The love and esteem in which I now hold him strikes a staggering contrast to my feelings before, making the guilt well up in my eyes and run down my cheeks when I look at the picture in the hallway. But gratitude is helping me with the guilt too.
In their entire lives most people don’t experience even half the forgiveness and restoration I have seen in the past six years. There is nothing I can do to make up for the lost time and angry words, yet I have been forgiven, blest immeasurably. I have been shown only a small fraction of the weight of grace and can do nothing but weep under the load.