grace

A lie is an ugly thing. The one I told Mary Jamison in eighth grade wasn’t supposed to be an ugly thing, but in the end it certainly turned out to be.

Mary was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. She was taller than me (which wasn’t saying much, as she was appreciably taller than most of her friends) with long blondish-brown hair and a creamy white complexion not uncommon among my other small-town Minnesota classmates. She thought she was homely. I thought she was beautiful.

I had moved from Florida to Minnesota in the middle of the school year, a move that snatched me from my friends and made me hate the step-dad who dragged us away. I was a blonde, blue-eyed, deep-tanned skater with a thick Southern accent. In other words, I stuck out like a sore thumb. All things considered, it came as a pleasant surprise when I went from being an ordinary nobody in big-town Tampa, Florida to quite a somebody in tiny Wykoff, Minnesota.

Everybody wanted to be my friend, and all the guys wanted me to go out with them. By “go out” I mean “be boyfriend and girlfriend” since I was all of 13. Looking back it’s crazy to think I was allowed to have a boyfriend that young, but I digress. It became a common occurrence for school-mates to randomly walk up to me and ask me to “say something–anything!” just so they could hear the twang. At first it was fun. Before long it had gone way past annoying.

Suddenly (and miraculously) the most popular girl in school, I got love notes in my locker nearly every day. My friends teased me about it, giggling and begging to read every word. But Mary looked sad. Fun I could handle, but the look on her face as I stood at my locker reading yet another secret admirer letter was more than I could handle. I wanted to do something to make her happy. I wanted to make her smile. So I decided to lie.

I didn’t see it as a lie, of course. I saw it as an intervention with the most loving of intentions. I wrote a letter to Mary from an imaginary Secret Admirer, telling how “he” thought she was beautiful and smart and amazing, and slipped it into her locker. My efforts gained the exact result I’d hoped for: Mary dashed into the next class grinning from one flushed cheek to the other. Her eyes danced as she read us the letter, and we all rejoiced with her. She refolded the note and sighed deeply, then said, “Do you think he will write me again?”

Suddenly this was a little more complicated than I had considered. Of course she would be disappointed if he didn’t write again. It had never occurred to me that this would have to continue somehow, and that at some point it would have to end. And then we’d be right back where we started: Mary’s sad eyes.

After writing a few more notes and sneaking them into her locker and hearing her excitedly read them at lunch, I realized I was in over my head. The thought of letting her down broke my heart. Telling her the truth was out of the question, since she would understandably hate me forever. So I confided in a mutual friend and asked her what I should do. Unfortunately the mutual friend was so shocked by my confession she took it straight to Mary.

I won’t ever forget Mary’s confrontation, her face contorted around the angry “How could you?” and her eyes brimming with tears. Caught unaware, I could do nothing but stand there in shock. No words came at first, and then I tried to explain that I was only trying to do something nice for her but she held up her hand stop-sign fashion and walked away.

News spreads fast in a small-town school. I was no longer Most Wanted As a Friend. In fact, nobody was really speaking to me at all. Few times in my life have I felt so alone.

About a week later I found myself walking down an quiet hallway during lunch hour. I didn’t bother going to the cafeteria any more, dreading the stares and looks of disappointment and disgust. I had come to their school and hurt one of their own. I was the unforgivable.

At the end of the hallway I backed against a row of lockers and slid to the floor. Drawing my knees in close, I let my head fall forward and wept. Hard. I’m not sure how long I’d been sitting there when I heard a noise. Startled, I raised my face to find Mary standing above me. I couldn’t meet her gaze. She backed up and slid down the lockers across the hall, assuming my same position opposite where I sat. I wiped my face with my sleeve and forced myself to look up.

Her face was sad but not angry. Her words were quiet and pierced me through. “It really hurt what you did.”

“I know,” I managed to choke out. “I swear I never meant to hurt you. But I see now how stupid I was.”

“I know why you did it. I’m hurt that you lied to me, but I can’t be mad at you for why you did it.” She managed a half-smile.

“Can you forgive me?” My words faded to a choke at the end. She nodded, then came over and hugged me tight. Grace and forgiveness washed over me like a miraculous healing right there by locker 54.

In that moment I vowed to never do anything like that again, and to always think things through before acting. I had learned the hard lesson that good intentions don’t excuse bad actions. I had learned that a lie never repairs but only digs a deeper hole, and that only truth and honesty and love can fill those empty places.

Mostly I learned that grace is one of the greatest gifts a heart will ever hold.

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