We all have those memories of regret. You know, the ones where we wish we could go back and change something we’d done. One of mine happened when I was in fifth grade. I’m still not even sure why I did it. Peer pressure. Trying to be cool. Just acting a fool and not thinking. Whatever the reason, I made up a short poem about one of my teachers–one of my favorite teachers. It was a cruel poem, a hurtful poem.
And he overheard it. I will never forget how he looked at me when he took me aside to talk about what I said. I knew he was hurt, and yet he made it a lesson. And it was one I will always, always remember because he didn’t deserve the unkindness I’d shown. Later I would learn that it didn’t really matter if the person deserves an unkindness or not. Pettiness, cruelty and ugly words are never okay.
Recently the hubby and I started watching a PBS series called, My Mother and Other Strangers. It’s set during World War II in a small town in Northern Ireland where the Coyne family and their neighbors try to come to grips with Americans who are stationed nearby.
One of the episodes this weekend centered around the trial of one of the Hanlon boys, a family well known to the townsfolk as troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells. At the start, the Hanlons are out fishing for eels on the lough. The problem is, it’s illegal for the villagers to fish for eel because a large corporation has exclusive rights to them. When the law stops them, one of the Hanlons punches the constable… and hence a trial ensues.
But Mistress Coyne (the mother from the series’ title) is an Englishwoman, and she’s recently read a book about how the right to fish eels was stolen from the local Irish fishermen. So, during the trial, despite her own previous run-in with the Hanlons, including one in which she pulled a gun on them, she feels the need to stand up on their behalf. Though she’s threatened with jail time and contempt, she successfully convinces the court to let her speak, and she gives an impassioned plea for the fishermen.
The Hanlon boy is convicted, despite Mistress Coyne’s speech, but she does move the court to reduce the sentence so that he doesn’t serve jail time. All of the men are jubilant, shouting thanks to Mistress Coyne. But when the elder Hanlon approaches her, she scolds him. She tells him that she spoke up not for his son but for all of the fishermen. And she says that she knows his son was, in fact, guilty of the charge of striking the constable, but that what she did was for justice and not for the Hanlons.
God’s timing never ceases to amaze me. I needed to see this episode. I needed to remember that sometimes, standing up is more than any one person or any one thing. To put it more simply, “Do what is right, because it is right,” which is a line from another favorite movie of ours.
This past week, I stood up. I spoke out against an incident that I can only describe as bullying. And I didn’t do it because the victim was right. Whether she was or wasn’t really didn’t matter. Ganging up on a person, especially when she can’t offer a defense, is wrong. It’s easy to wrap ourselves in faux virtue and say that a person deserves what she gets. It’s hard to offer a defense for someone when you know she’s in the wrong.
My actions last week cost me some things. But I realized the next day that it had only cost me a little bit. I gained a lot more. I recognized something about myself and my circumstances.
That sometimes, the best thing to do is to walk away.
That walking away doesn’t make me weak and doesn’t make me a coward.
That it doesn’t mean I’m not cut out for greater things.
That, in fact, the exact opposite is true. I am cut out for greater things. Because God never closes one door without one day opening another.
This week, the hubby and I will sell our current home and close on the purchase of a new one. When we moved here almost ten years ago, this was supposed to be our “forever” home. He was retiring, and we were looking for our little spot of paradise to enjoy. A few years ago, everything changed for us. We stood up for something we firmly believed was just. And there were costs.
We were sued.
We lost friends.
We lost my husband’s right to enjoy something he loves.
But God works best in those moments.
As Ann Voskamp describes in her book, The Broken Way, “Maybe the love gets in easier right where the heart is broken open.” Through this experience, my husband and I have grown in our marriage. We’ve grown in our relationship with the Lord. And I’ve also, in part because of this, discovered a calling on my heart for sharing my faith journey with others.
As I was packing this weekend, I came across two notes from the priest who was the pastor of my church as a child. The first was written when I was just a little girl, when he responded to a letter I’d sent him. I was upset about a friend who lived down the street from me. She was a wild child, always getting into trouble and sometimes trying to get everyone else into it, too. The other girls in our neighborhood didn’t want to play with her. They didn’t like her and made fun of her. I was torn about what to do. Father reminded me to be like Jesus and to treat everyone with kindness. He reminded me to do the right thing.
The second note was a thank-you from him, written just last Christmas. I’d sent him a gift and told him about my fond memory of his guidance so many years ago. He told me that he’d used that gift as the centerpiece for his Christmas mass, to remind his parish to be more like Christ.
Do you see? Nothing is wasted with God. Everything has a time and a purpose and all of those are magnified through Him.
Sometimes we must stand up.
Sometimes we must let go.
And sometimes we must move on.
And always we must look to Him who provides and will multiply everything to His greatness.
Love and blessings,