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Saying Farewell, Part Three June 27, 2010

Posted by Michelle Knoll in Journeys.
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I will never look at the round tables in Cracker Barrel the same way, ever again.

One year ago, June 19, I climbed aboard my first commercial jet, and flew to a state far away.

One year ago, June 20, I sat at one of those round tables, across from someone I hadn’t seen in 33 years.

Why?

Because we were friends.

But it had not always been so.

33 years ago our friendship, that had just barely begun, was severed.  Torn in a most devastating way, cut through with a knife most damaging.

The tear was not repairable.  At least, not in that era.

We had argued.  We had pushed our own positions past the point of no return.  We had stood our ground, like two stubborn bull moose.  Granted, your words were much more eloquent than mine.  I was never good at debating or arguing.

You trounced me.

So, in an effort to call a truce, and admit defeat, I calmly said, “Well, no matter how much we disagree, you will always be my brother in the Lord.”

But no, that wouldn’t suffice.  You took advantage of the opening, and dealt the final blow:

“You can call me your brother in the Lord all you want to, but you will NEVER, EVER be my sister in the Lord.  EVER.”

And with that, you stormed out of my practice room, and out of my life.

I hated you for saying those words, for I knew exactly what you meant by them.  You were stating that I would never enter Heaven, because my beliefs were different from yours.  And the deep wound of your words caused a self-righteous anger to rise up in my spirit that would not be quenched for years.

Anger always comes from pain.

And so it was, in December of 2008, when I saw your name on a mutual friend’s Facebook “friend list”… I cringed.  The pain of the memory — The Argument — was too great.

But God did not see it that way.

Send him a friend request.

“He doesn’t want to speak to me, Lord.”

Send it anyway.

“NO!”

SEND IT.

Begrudgingly, I sent it.

You were surprising, to say the least.  Excited to hear from me, and wanting to talk.  I was not prepared for your reaction, not at all.

Two weeks into this new-found conversation, I called you because you were in the hospital at the time, and I was worried.  (Yes, I worried about you.)  As we talked, you hit me with a curve ball:

“You tutored me in calculus, you know.”

What?!? My mouth fell open.  How could I have buried such a memory?

“Uh,” I stammered, “are you… are you sure it was me??”

“Oh yes,” you chuckled.  “Though I wouldn’t necessarily call it ‘tutoring’.  It was more like ‘fussing’.  You fussed me through calculus.”

Tears filled my eyes as shame filled my heart.  Could I have been so cruel?

Yes, I could have been.  As I pondered his comment, a very dim memory appeared, growing slowly as I focused on it.  A young man, approaching me cautiously, sheepishly, “hat in hand” as it were, asking for help with his math. And I remembered thinking smugly, You’ve come to ME, asking for help?  Why?  Because you’ve run off everyone else?

In my pride I agreed to help you, finally glad that I could at least have the upper hand in THIS encounter with you.

Oh, the damnation of pride!

The memory grew.  I remember becoming frustrated and irritated at you, because you couldn’t remember formulas.  You couldn’t grasp the mechanics of calculus.  So the tutoring didn’t last more than one quarter.  I couldn’t help you.

The memory was complete enough; the tears rolled down my face.  “Oh…” I choked.  “I’m so sorry…  I was so mean…”

“No, it’s okay.  We both know that I wasn’t the easiest person to deal with, back then.”

In that one simple statement, you spoke volumes.  I knew what you meant.  The Argument, though you never said it, was on your mind.

The conversation continued over the next seven months.  And in that conversation, you explained to me how you saw things mechanical, and mathematical, and I realized why you couldn’t grasp the mechanics of calculus.  I gained an appreciation for you, the real you, that I had missed 32 years prior, all because of The Argument.

In this seven-month long conversation, you never mentioned The Argument,  though we talked about God’s Word almost all the time.  We shared Bible verses that were important to us, sermons we had heard, beliefs and thoughts about God and Heaven and all things spiritual.

We talked about other things, too.  Funny things, to keep the conversation from becoming too heavy, for you were battling with cancer.  You asked me to read your cancer blog, and I did, posting a comment on every entry you had written up to that point.

And I cried.

And I cried out to God, reminding Him of His Word and standing my ground for your healing.

And I fasted for you, yes I did.  For 39 days. Fasted for your healing and for God to make a way for you to stay with your wife and kids, because I knew you loved them so much.  I didn’t tell you about the fast, because I knew you would get upset with me.  I did it because I felt God wanted me to, and He carried me through it.  I will never forget that experience.  And in that time, I felt His heart… I knew how much He desired for you to remain with them, but I also knew He said it would not happen.  These words — “it would not happen” — I rebuked as coming from the enemy.  However, in the end I knew they were from Him.

As I dealt with the devastation of my mom’s illness, you purposed to keep the conversation light with me, because of the pain I was going through.  Though I told you time and time again, “You have enough on your plate with your own battle.  Stop being concerned with me!” you ignored my request.  You joked with me, and talked about silly things, and introduced me to some of your friends, to take my mind off the weight of all I was dealing with.

Then, one night in April, you hit me with a fast ball. Right between the eyes.

You said something that was meant to be a joke, and in my distraction, I took it the wrong way.  So you stopped me, right then, and pounced on my moodiness with both feet.

“Stop that!”

“Stop what?”  I didn’t even know what I needed to stop.

“WHY do you do that?”

“DO WHAT??” I gritted my teeth.  You could be so irritating at times, especially when you didn’t explain yourself.

“You always do that.  WHY do you do that??  Every time I try to joke with you, you always take it the wrong way, and get offended.  THEN, you apologize, and just shut down.  WHY??”

I frowned.  But this time, instead of being wounded by your words, instead of allowing self-righteous anger to rise within, instead of retaliating because of pain, I left the conversation, and hit my knees in prayer.  Because if you were correct, then I needed to hear from God.  Pronto.

And the Spirit of God breathed a sigh of relief, and said, “Finally!”

Thus began a journey into the depths of my soul, as the tender-hearted hands of the Heavenly Surgeon cut through the layers of my heart, down into the depths to reveal the scar of a stranger-inflicted wound that had festered there since I was a tiny 5 years of age.

What was to be revealed after that was accompanying souring of my soul from painful words, a souring that lasted for the next seven years until I was 12, when I finally shut my emotions off, saying that it didn’t matter what people said to me.  I said it didn’t really matter, but it did.  Evil words always hurt, and the heart always matters.

This journey went on long after you left this earth, and in some ways is still continuing.  So you never knew the full effects of what you said that night.  I have this feeling, though, that the Lord has revealed some of this to you, as the two of you have talked.

Were you the only instrument in God’s surgery?  No.  There were those who had come before you, and there were those who came after you.  You were one in a line of many instruments.  But to know you were a part of this, to know that God had used you in this way… after The Argument…

I knew you were getting tired in May a year ago, and my heart ached over that.  And you told me to gather all that I could, and have them pray, that perhaps God would see fit to turn things around.  And I believed that He would, for I knew that His heart was for that, and I did gather those to pray, and prayed myself.  We did pray, sir, earnestly for you.

But The Argument hung in my memory.  Not because it was still a problem, for it was not.  But because of the look on your face that night, 32 years before this conversation. The look of anger and coldness and rejection.  I couldn’t bear it.  I had to see you, because I had to see you smile again.

So, I boarded a plane, for the very first time in my life, a year ago.  And sat across from you, at a round table in Cracker Barrel.

And watched the most beautiful one-act play I have ever seen, as you talked and laughed with an old friend from high school, and another old friend that worked with you in the years after college.  And I watched the twinkle in your eyes, as you teased with your wife.

And saw you smile at those around you.

I didn’t want the curtain to close on that one-act play.  How thankful I was to have a front-row seat!

That night, through Facebook chat, we wrapped up our seven-month conversation — though at the time I didn’t realize it was some of the last sentences we would share.  And you said goodnight with words I will always remember:

“Love you, my sister.”

I will NEVER, EVER look at the round tables at Cracker Barrel the same way again. EVER.

On this day, one year ago, the 27th of June, at 2:55 AM, you “slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings… and [did] a hundred things you [had] not dreamed of… and touched the face of God.” (taken from the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie McGee, Jr.)

Thrusters on full, my friend.  Steady as she goes.


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