August 15, 2012

A "Good" Girl's Story

My husband, Jim, recently received a hip replacement. When I returned to a lonely, silent home after visiting him in the hospital, exhaustion and stress left me vulnerable to negative thoughts. My mind insisted on dwelling on a heart-wrenching event that occurred many years ago. All of us have done at least one thing in our lives we regret, but my mistake resulted in a life-altering change.

I was the “goody-goody” teenager in the 1950s and 1960s, and was so sheltered that I was shocked to find some of my friends sneaking smokes in the church washroom. Some boys found me attractive, but I kept them in line with my strict, almost prudish, moral code.

Yet I had fun as a teen. I belonged to a girls’ sailing club and attended parties where there was no drinking (parents were there to make sure), and I babysat in my spare time. I belonged to a youth club and did things my mother asked me to do for others, such as being a companion for an elderly woman for two weeks while her daughter went on vacation.

2012 1523 page26The first night her daughter was away the woman served me a snack of vanilla ice cream drenched with crème de menthe. Since I was too polite to say I hated it, she gave me the same thing every evening. I didn’t get tipsy, but when she wasn’t looking I’d pour the horrible-tasting stuff down the sink and eat the ice cream.

How superior I felt when I heard that a nice girl from our class, a favorite of her teachers, extremely clever and gorgeous, got “caught” being pregnant when she was only 17! That would never happen to me! I thought smugly. But from God’s point of view I was probably worse than her, because I was full of pride and self-satisfaction.

In my 20s I trained to be a teacher and began dating more often. The sexual revolution was beginning to influence our generation, and the temptation to take drugs and engage in promiscuous sex was more prevalent.

My friends sometimes taunted me about being so “pure,” and boys labeled me as too “uptight.” By the time I had taught for two years, many of my friends were either married or engaged. As I neared the age of 23, which I thought of as the brink of permanent singleness, I began to “loosen up.” The first time I gave in to a young man’s advances I became pregnant.

My religious parents were shocked and angry. In fact, my dad may have briefly entertained a murderous thought or two. Their sweet, obedient daughter, who attended church regularly, did chores around the house, went out with nice boys, and taught kindergarten in a Christian school, was now a “fallen woman,” and other names I dare not mention. But they still loved me. They believed what they taught, and forgave me.

But to prevent a public scandal, they made arrangements to send me to another city, where I would have the baby in a home for unwed mothers. Only my immediate family knew of my disgrace. My aunts and uncles knew nothing.

I spent most of those months in a strange city caring for two children whose mother, Jenny, was very ill. When she finally recovered, I stayed on to help out with housework. Because I still attended church faithfully and maintained my Christian values (but with a much more humble attitude), Jenny confided that I had inspired her to attend church regularly with her family. Me? The great sinner? An inspiration? I was elated. There was hope for me yet!

What Do You Think?
1. What life events do you wish you could "undo"? Don't say them out loud.

2. Are you satisfied that you did the best you could under the circumstances? If not, what would you have done differently?

3. What lessons have you learned? And how have those lessons affected yoru latter life? 

4. When you make mistakes, what aspect of God's character brings you the most comfort?

Then I finally gave birth. I was totally alone during the long labor. When I first held my tiny baby girl, I sobbed and begged the nurses to take her away before I became too attached to her emotionally. I was advised that the right and unselfish thing to do would be to put her up for adoption. I dutifully did this and learned that my baby’s home would be Christian, and that the adoptive father was an engineer and the mother a nurse. Since I couldn’t bear to get close to her during the six weeks after her birth, I saw her only twice: shortly after she was born, and in court the day I gave her away.

That night after giving her away I was in shock, but carried on with God’s strength. I knew in my heart I had done the right thing.

Looking Back
A year after my baby was adopted I fell in love with a graduate student. Before he knew me very well, I decided to tell him about my past. But that didn’t matter to him, and a few months later we were married. After he received his degree, he began teaching at a college in a small town. We raised four lovely children who are all grown and settled. They all live fairly close to us. When they were older, I told them my secret. They still love me and agree that I did the right thing under the circumstances.

Every day I pray for my daughter, and I love her very much. I may try to find her in the future and tell her so in person. The excruciating experience I went through taught me so much. I learned to be less judgmental toward others, and more forgiving of their faults. I have learned to love and trust God more deeply. I know He has forgiven me and loves me despite my faults. He loves all of us and wants us to accept His forgiveness, concentrating on the future shared with Him, not dwelling on our past mistakes.
A favorite author’s words remind me to stop tearing myself to shreds when my defenses are down: “Every time there are losses there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression, and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider and deeper.” I have chosen to follow the latter path, and it has made all the difference.  

Jean Clare is a pseudonym. This article was published August 16, 2012.