I was graduating from high school. It was the spring of 1989. I passed my yearbook from friend to friend (and people I kind of knew that handed me theirs). I never wrote trite things like “ttyl” or “kit” but I always tried to say something personal that they would remember. One person wrote something in mine that has always stuck with me.
In between 6th and 7th grade my dad’s midlife crisis hit home. He had left to be with his girlfriend, moved back in because he needed his family, and moved out again to “seek his happiness”. Well, this left a mark on a young boy becoming a teenager. I was always quick witted but I became sharp, sarcastic, and well…mean. I did anything for a laugh and took no prisoners. My closest friends became those like me or those who liked it when I tore someone else to pieces.
Then, in the spring of my sophomore year something happened. I gave my life to Christ. You hear great stories of tears and weeping, finally realizing one’s acceptance into the family of Jesus Christ. The realization that one need not be perfect as the Perfect One died to pay for my imperfection. Well, I did not have that experience. I had been born and raised a devout (read: made to be) Catholic. I had gone through all of the steps and this being “born again” seemed a lot like the Confirmation that I had presumed meant “graduation” as I didn’t have to go to any more classes at church. So, my sinners prayer went something like this, “Look Lord, if nothing I’ve ever done before has covered this, I give you my life.” I sat there in my bed and waited. No tears, no balloon drop, no fireworks…nothing. That’s what I thought anyhow. However, something did happen. I began to change.
The hurtful words were less. The mean spirit subsided. I began to use my humor for good and not self protection. Believe me, it was not all at once and clearly not overnight but I began to be a new person. The problem was, I had built up quite a reputation. For the most part, I dated girls from other schools as they did not know the “old Jay.” I pretty much had one best friend and he and I would occasionally hang out with different friend groups who tolerated the old me. For the most part though, we would double date. He had his first and very steady girlfriend out senior year. If I wanted to hang out with him I had to get a date. I wasn’t going to be a 3rd wheel and he was always with her. Rather than resent him, I just dated a lot. It was his girlfriend that wrote in my yearbook.
” You are an incredibly nice guy. I wish everyone could know the Joseph Clarence Mitlo (yes, that’s my full name) that I know because he is a very swell guy.” That impacted me to great lengths. I was carrying around the burden of all of the people that I had hurt over the years (yes, even as a teenager I was able to feel guilt/remorse and conviction). It was nice to know that someone noticed that I had changed.
As a Pastor, I am involved with many many people’s lives. I have seen some amazing transformations in how people interact, communicate, and love. I once said that our church was the church of women “not to be trifled with.” Over the years I’ve looked around and seen more and more ladies coming to our church who were the ones you didn’t want to cross. One of the things I am proudest of is that they have stayed. They get involved. They find a home.
In that process I have had to have an occasional difficult conversation with some of them. I have prayed with and for them and watched them change. Oh, they are still not to be trifled with but they have grown in grace and love.
***At this point I must point out that those of you who are reading this and thinking, “Is he talking about me?” Yes, I am, and not only you. All of you and many others. People like to talk to Pastors and tell them what’s wrong with people in their congregation. Trust me, I defend you well. In fact, some of my sin still leaks out in those moments. If it were important, I would have already talked to you about it by now.***
What grieves my heart is when I hear of someone talking about them and it involves something that happened years ago. The people talking would rather hold on to who they knew rather than accept who they are. Granted, if those hurts are not comforted the hurt remains (read just about any and everything I’ve posted about hurts and comfort, too many to link) and they may not be able to heal. Nonetheless, people…some people do change. No, not all, maybe not most, but people do change.
You also, can and do change. Don’t hang on to who you used to be but rather seek who you can be. A lot of that changing comes from healing from past hurts. A lot of that is understanding how precious and loved you are by God despite your shortcomings. A lot of that will be helped by all of us giving each other another chance. People do change.