A couple of years ago, in the midst of a dark place, I started spending some nights at a friend’s house. I considered this friend, her husband and kids to be family and I think it was likely reciprocal. I loved spending time with them and it was the very first relationship where I felt understood and known. There’s nothing quite like having people get you.
She didn’t have a room or a bed to offer, but her couch was available and it felt like such a privilege to spend time with her and sleep over. The couch wasn’t anything special by far. I don’t remember it being particularly comfortable either, but it was the notion of hospitality that it symbolized… I felt like another part of the family that was being loved and supported in such a tangible, practical way. And that was what it was all about for me. In a way I so needed it. I needed a place to belong.
I had been having trouble sleeping and at some odd hour in the morning, I opened her computer to occupy sometime before I could fall asleep. On the screen I saw an email with my name on it. I read the email, her email. It was an email about me that someone had sent her. And it wasn’t pretty.
I wish I could say the email was kind, lovely, encouraging. But it was far from that and I instantly wished I hadn’t read it. I was sick to my stomach and threw up. I cried alone all night. I had been in a hard place and now I felt even further from hope, further from where I wanted to be. I felt more shame than I thought imaginable at that time. So few people hoped for me and this email came from someone I respected and loved more than anyone else at that time. And the email crushed me.
Irony was that the next day, we were going out to dinner to celebrate me. I’d never been celebrated before just for being me, for enduring in a hard season, for doing hard things, just for being me. When you’re not an ingrained piece of a family, when you don’t have people you belong too, you don’t often get celebrated. Your growth and hurt and pain usually fly under the radar and you get used to it. It becomes okay. So to be celebrated was both foreign to me, but was also an unaware longing I had.
I didn’t sleep much that night, ashamed of the way this email described me, hurt that it wasn’t sent to me, and afraid that no one held hope for me anymore. The next afternoon friend and I were on a drive to the grocery store when I sheepishly told her I had read the email. I probably said something about how I was sorry and I know it was wrong.. I won’t do it again.. It’s okay if you’re mad.. we should cancel dinner.. it’s okay to be ashamed of me..
And she did one of the most gracious things I can remember, she grabbed my hand and said she was sorry…That I should never have read that email and it wasn’t fair to me to read such words or hear them, that they weren’t true or accurate and didn’t depict all the growth that had and was occurring in me. She wanted to know if I was ok. She said we certainly will not be canceling dinner and even more so should be going. She held my hand and said, “you have fought hard and you deserve to be celebrated. We will be going out to dinner.” I saw anger in her, but not anger towards me. Anger at the injustice of how the email spoke of me.
In a moment where my shame and humiliation felt suffocating, this friend showed both grace and mercy and protection into my very broken and fragile self. Her concern wasn’t first for the breach of privacy I had committed, it was for my well being. She wasn’t interested in tearing me down (even if she had the right..), she was interested in restoring me. That’s what celebrating is, we bring relief to broken places, and it reminds people that they are worth all of the struggle. Celebrating allows us to take a moment away from the effort to reflect on the creation. We join God in enjoyment when we celebrate one another in the hard and high places.