A NEW LOOK AT THE PAST
Julie sat scratching her head. Why, she asked herself, after all these years, did the memory of that afternoon now prick her conscience like a blister that would not heal? It was a memory that had always brought a smile to her face and a warm glow inside. In fact, just thinking about that day had been a bright ray of sunshine when life was the most difficult. The reminder of those few stolen hours with Jimmy, her high school sweetheart, had eased the pain when despair clouded her view. Why, now, in her golden years, had this seed of guilt suddenly surfaced? She had always believed the love she and Jimmy had shared that summer day was a love that was supposed to have been theirs, and therefore it was good, not cheap or tawdry. It was easy to justify the circumstances.
She certainly had not anticipated bumping into Jimmy with Tom that night after their childrenís school concert, but seeing him made all the old yearnings well up inside. In his eyes, she could see they both wanted to say more than the niceties of polite conversation, words that could only be said with no other ears present. But her husband was standing beside her and the children were clamoring for a trip to the neighborhood Dairy Queen. However, after that encounter she was not surprised when, a few days later, Jimmy called and suggested she drop by Saturday to see his little farm.
It was a friendly invitation and sounded like the perfect opportunity to catch up with an old acquaintance. At least, that is what she told herself when she went out the door. Nevertheless it was easier to tell Tom she was going shopping for a few hours then to tell him the truth, and when Jimmy met her at his mailbox and told her to park by the woods, she suspected that he, too, wanted to avoid arousing the neighborís curiosity. Slowly they walked along a path winding through the trees surrounding his house, sipping lukewarm coffee from the thermos he had brought and looking at the green shoots of his early corn. By the time they had come to the clearing, she knew his wife had taken the children to visit her mother. She also knew they were not expected home until evening.
The day was warm and when he asked her to come in out of the heat and see the house he had built, she agreed eagerly. Once inside, Jimmy opened his arms. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to melt into his strong embrace, and with the first kiss, she knew their love was still very much alive. They easily found their way to his bedroom. The windows were open and a light breeze stirred the curtains. Although it had been twenty years, the passion of high school was still burning, and it felt so very right to be in his arms. Being together had been her fantasy. Now it had come true. The temptation to slip into his bed was irresistible.
Jimmy was the boy she had hoped to marry, the boyfriend who had given her his grandmotherís heirloom diamond the week before she went to college. He was so happy that night. His eyes were full of his promised love, and the look of hurt on his face when she refused to keep it was still painful. But Julie knew an engagement would be the end of her college plans. There would be no help from her parents and she and Jimmy would need every penny to start a life together. If only Jimmy had understood her need for an education, things might have been different, but he could not identify with her burning desire to teach. His goal in life was a decent job, a little white house with a picket fence, and four kids.
Their ambitions simply did not mesh. Julie had always wanted to be a teacher. On her first day of school, she had fallen in love with a beautiful, dark-haired teacher, and from that day on, her one aspiration was to have a class of her own. From this goal she had never wavered. At home she lined up her dolls for lessons. Her pets became make believe students. Teaching was her dream and she could not or would not give it up. Somewhere in the depths of her mind, in spite of her love for Jimmy, she knew she would never be happy if she did not pursue her plans, and this determination of hers was something Jimmy could not grasp. He had a good job and a car and he was proud of his accomplishments. It was up to Julie to make a choice, and she sadly chose to walk away from his love.
In college Julie met Tom, and their romance helped her survive the pain of losing Jimmy. When graduation came, they were married, a union that delighted her mother. Tom had so much more to offer, she was told. Tom was a teacher. He had a respectable family background. With Tom there would be real security. But the marriage was a bitter disappointment. In a few short years Julie realized that her life with Tom was not what she had expected.
Tom was hardworking, a reliable husband and a good father, but his life was defined by bouts of devastating depression, confinement to psychiatric facilities, and the financial struggles which resulted from his illness. When two little girls came into their lives, Julie gave up her much-loved teaching career to provide a more stable environment for the children. But the isolation of staying home only added to her heartbreak. She was lonely, and making ends meet on one salary was not easy. Her dreams had turned to ashes, and even though she was committed to Tom, the romance had gone out of their life. Disillusionment poisoned her mind, for none of her life was what it was supposed to have been.
In her daydreams she often thought of the love Jimmy had offered her, and longed to rewrite the script. Seeing him that night in the old school hallway was a reminder of those carefree days when young love had blossomed. Their reunion and knowing he still loved her made it easy to forget her problems at home. Tom was oblivious to her, lost in his own world of hopelessness which she could not penetrate, and so that sunny day she carelessly thrust aside thoughts of Tomís feelings. She simply enjoyed the time with Jimmy and his love, the love that was meant to be theirs. This was her rationalization, and for thirty years after their summer rendezvous, she had felt no shame.
Of course, Julie knew infidelity was wrong. Tom trusted her. He would have been devastated. He did not deserve an unfaithful wife. She knew she should feel guilty about her disloyalty, but she did not. She had no regrets. How could she be sorry for something she had wanted so badly! To pretend remorse would be a lie, and if she was not repentant, how could she expect to make amends or to redeem herself. So she simply returned to Tom and went on with her life, working to make their home a good place for the children, who in time grew up and had children of their own.
During the last years of her marriage, she was at peace. Tomís care after a debilitating stroke consumed most of her time, and she did her best to meet his constant needs with patience and forbearing. She loved having the grandchildren around her and seldom thought of her old love for Jimmy. Although he had called her several times, urging her to see him, she was busy with her husbandís care and had little time or energy for anything more. Then one day she read of Jimmyís death, and when she did, she felt a sharp pang of sorrow, but in no way did it compare to the grief she felt when Tom died a few years later. She was lost and adrift. Over and over she replayed their life together. How she wished she could have brought his troubled mind peace! But in spite of her heartbreak and pain, strangely, her indiscretion with Jimmy still did not trouble her.
Julie had always had a deep faith. As a teenager she had made a commitment to serve God, and with the exception of that one infidelity, she had done her best to live as a devout Christian. She was active in church and ministered in a variety of capacities. Her life had been busy and full. But now that she was no longer a caregiver and her children had settled in homes of their own, she felt a hollow void. With the loss of Tom, it seemed natural to turn to God for comfort and solace. God was the one and only one who could fill the emptiness. God knew her stumbling failures but continued to love her without reservation. He had promised to never leave or forsake her. Therefore she vowed to let him be her constant companion and make her life complete. She needed no one else. And so a new life began.
As her pain grew less, she accepted that there was happiness in singleness. She had friends. She had her family. She had her God. This was her new normal, until, miracle of miracles, the unbelievable happened. She had not only Godís unfailing love, but she also developed a rich and beautiful friendship with a widower. Jack had been married almost as many years as she and Tom, and he, too, missed the life he once had. With him she found comfort and hope, and as their friendship grew, a new love blossomed. She knew she was blessed by Jackís trust and kindness.
Now as she sat in the fading daylight, appraising the richness of her life, it occurred to her that she no longer thought about her brief affair with Jimmy as a beautiful, cherished memory. Why, she wondered, had she never considered how it would have hurt Tom. Had she simply been so wrapped up in her own selfish desires that she did not see it was shameful? But why, now, was her neglected conscience finally awakening to disclose the truth and pierce her with guilt? And then a startling idea occurred. Could this new sensitivity have something to do with Jack? He believed in her and she wanted to be worthy of his trust.
In the following months as she pondered her life, a new insight took root. After all these years she had to admit that the indiscretion she had found so comforting was also so very, very wrong. Although Tom had never known about her infidelity, she had betrayed his trust. The magnitude of her wrongdoing and how deceitful she had been, with Tom and with God, slowly dawned on her. Her life with Jimmy had ended with her marriage vows to Tom, but her heart had not released him. By cherishing thoughts and dreams of him she was dishonoring the man she had married. A beautiful memory that should have been tucked in the box with old prom folders, grade school pictures, and high school yearbooks, had captivated her heart.
To be faithful with your body but not your mind fractures the trust that is so vital to a strong marriage, and of that she had been guilty throughout her entire marriage. Dwelling on a past relationship had held her back from a full commitment to Tom. Tom had been a good husband. He had always supported her and she had not appreciated his goodness. She had been disappointed when their life became difficult, but God never promises a rose garden. Unfortunately her disappointment led to wishful thinking. She had been unfaithful in her mind long before the actual infidelity.
As she slowly realized the enormity of what she had done, she was filled with genuine sorrow for her thoughts and for her indiscretion. The words of Jesus spoke to her. ďIf we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.Ē This was Godís promise of grace. Julie believed that promise. With an honest confesson she was ready to receive Godís forgiveness, and finally be free of guilt and regrets. Having made peace with God, Julie could enjoy the gift of Jackís respect and love, and give thanks to God for his tender love and leading.
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