I had a situation happen this week that surprised me by the controversy it stirred up- internally and with others.
When Tim was sick, a long-lost, young relative came around and reunited with him. He and his family ended up coming around a lot while he was sick. After Tim died, they continued to come around and there appeared to be a mutual give and take relationship between us. Until money got involved. Then things went sour. Suffice it to say, they borrowed money they didn’t pay back. Because of some strange circumstances, the police got involved. They told the police that my husband died and I was having a nervous breakdown. It was really, really bad. I had gone above and beyond (while going through the trial of a lifetime) to be kind and they repaid me by lying and saying awful things about me.
They showed up at my door this week after two years of silence. It eventually came out. They needed money again. No brainer, right? No way. Except that this woman of only 31 years also had a shaved head because she has two forms of cancer. Not sure of her prognosis, but it doesn’t look good. There are also two young daughters involved. Not so simple for me.
I handled it the best way I could. I forgave them, gave them lots of helpful information to follow-up on, said no to loaning them money, but gave them a little bit of cash. I think I turned the other cheek, but kept my eyes open. I’m not a dummy. Without their desperation for money, there would have been no apology at my door. I get it.
But I woke up the next morning feeling sick. I was angry. Really angry. Still think I did the right thing, but it sure didn’t feel good.
What surprised me though, was the variety of responses I got from the story. I am not sure why it bothered me so much, but it did. Lately, I seem to have run into a lot of people (mostly men I must admit) who have treated me like I’m another dumb female. Like I’m weak, or it’s assumed I don’t know what I’m talking about. It infuriates me. This was just another situation. I was not taken in. I was not blinded. I am not a pushover. I chose to respond the way I did with my eyes open.
Then the story of Les Miserables hit me. I went online and reviewed the plot to be sure I was remembering it correctly. It is a very revered and celebrated story/movie. In it, the main character is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. He spends the next 19 years in prison. When he is finally released, he is branded (literally) so all will know he is a criminal. He goes to a priest’s house who takes him in. He is kind to him. He gives him a second chance. The man repays him by stealing his silver and running away. Nice.
The police catch him and return him to the priest. The priest tells the man that he has forgotten to take the candlesticks with him as well. The police believe the priest and the man is released. He deserved to be punished after what he did to the one person who was kind to him and give him a chance. Instead of giving him what he deserved, the priest gave him even more. He was even nicer to him. The rest of the story? That man turns his life around. He spends the rest of his life helping others.
Now what if that guy didn’t turn his life around? Would the priest have been foolish? The concept of grace is showing kindness to people who DON’T DESERVE IT. That’s the whole point.
I don’t know what will happen to that family that came to my house. I doubt they have turned their lives around. But is that the point? I’m not sure it’s the most important point. Enabling bad behavior is NOT good and I preach that all the time in counseling situations. But I’m not so sure I gave them enough to call it enabling. But my kindness was also a gesture. A gesture that puts shame on their head for ever deceiving anyone else in the future. What they did to me was wrong. Coming back for more was beyond gutsy. But looking them in the eye and offering them my candlesticks is the decision I stick by. It hurt me deeply. But I think it is what God calls me to be.
Some people will admire me, some will be disgusted by me. But ultimately I sleep alone every night and I have to be ok with myself. A close friend sent me an email about this and it touched me very deeply. Here is what she wrote:
“I was thinking if you had asked me my opinion about this situation before you and I became friends, I probably would have similar reactions to other people in your life. You should have shut the door on them. But I think since getting to know you, listening to you, and watching you conduct your life I truly do get what you are doing, and why you did what you did. When I watch you now, the thought that comes to my mind is would I, could I, be as open, forgiving, and loving to another human being in spite of how they may have treated me in my past? I hope so.
Before you were in my life I would have to say probably not. But you challenge me as a human being and as a Christian all the time. I hope I am a better person now because of you. I hope others allow themselves to open their hearts too because it makes you feel incredibly open to possibilities and a feeling of knowing you are making better choices and decisions for yourself and others. So, thank you for always making me think outside of the box.”
I’m no Victor Hugo, but I hope I can make a difference in the world. And I hope as time passes I feel less angry and bitter. But hey, I’m a work in progress.