Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Last conversation with my best friend

On Wednesday, July 13th, I spent an hour on the phone with my best friend, Rachel.  She had been going through a year-long drama of betrayal, lies, slander, and downright meanness.... from a church leader she thought was her friend.  I didn't understand the nature of their friendship when it first began.  I never met the guy.  All I know is that she spent enormous amounts of time helping him - to study for his exams, to write his papers, to joining him with financial counseling, to launching a marriage counseling element to the business he made her partner in, to coauthoring an article, to writing an entire program they had planned to present together in area churches, to writing a book on the subject together.  I thought it strange that a newly made friend would just give her half of his business, but Rachel always saw the good in people. I thought, if her husband and this guy's wife don't have a problem with the amount of time they spend together, so be it.

But then it seemed that the guy had a sudden change of heart about their friendship.  He passed his exams, they finished their book, and all of a sudden he no longer saw any need for her friendship.  At first, it seemed that he was just being rude with her.  When she would tell me what he said and what she did to warrant those comments, I tried to be as diplomatic as possible in discerning what might be going on.  I never met the guy, and I also wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.  But when she started telling me that he was standing her up after she drove and waited for hours after her full time job, or that he started insulting her for "making herself at home" at his house when she arrived and no one bothered to greet her at the door for their near-daily standing meetings, I stopped having faith in the guy.

"Rachel," I would tell her, "you're dealing with someone who is not your friend."  She found it hard to believe that after all she had done for him, he wouldn't be her friend.  She continued to try to figure out what went wrong, calling or emailing, asking and apologizing.  This only led to him accusing her of stalking and harassing him.  She just couldn't let it go.  She truly thought they had been friends, and she wanted to make right whatever it was that went wrong.  But this was met in turn by the guy claiming his wife now had a problem with their contact.  He suddenly wanted her out of their business.  He straight up told her that he wasn't going to even put her name on the book or program that they had jointly worked on.  She was crushed.  All those hours upon hours of freely giving of her time, and this was the thanks she got.  She felt betrayed.  It hurt even more that this was someone who was a bible study leader at her church.

As the months went on, she found she could no longer even attend his bible studies because of the hostility she felt from him.  He had apparently started talking badly about her, or so she thought.  She no longer felt welcome at this church.  She had been expecting to take on a leadership role of her own after the years she had spent there, involved with the Hispanic ministry, helping in any way she could.  But this bizarre situation with who she had thought was her friend ended up forcing her out of the church.

She lamented having to find a new church home.  She loved her church, and didn't want to start all over again.  And yet, it seemed that there was no other way.  About 5 months ago, after visiting a few churches, Rachel and her husband settled on a new church and started attending there.  The drama with the guy from the other church seemed to cease after many emails back and forth trying to explain how his behavior made her feel and vice versa, all with no resolution in sight. Yet she missed her other church, and wondered if there was anything else she could do to make things right.

Out of the blue, the guy showed up at her work to apologize for the way he had acted.  She was thrilled that he had seen the light!  All she wanted was an apology!  They started treading lightly again as friends, with occasional contact. Meanwhile, she and her husband had been working on beautifying their house, and they were planning a party to show off their pride and joy.  She thought about inviting her "friend" as well.  Her husband agreed, saying that if he does show up, he'll see this as evidence of a changed heart, and therefore, they may think of going back to the old church again.  Music to her ears!  She so wanted to be able to return to her old church.  Starting in a new place is always difficult, even with friendly people.  Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, she came on too strong by texting the guy about the party.  At the last minute, he bailed, but she persisted.  It was then that she got his message loud and clear, when he said to her that he did not want to have anything else to do with her anymore.

Confused and heartbroken, she realized that if he did this to her, he could do it to countless other unsuspecting church members who may volunteer their time and efforts to help.  The last straw came when, out of the blue and completely unprovoked, the guy shows up with another church leader at her new church and slanders her to her new pastor.  When she found this out, she filed a formal complaint with her previous church.  She wanted to make sense of what she had been through, and she wanted to protect others.  Clearly, this guy was unwilling to be humbled by admitting his wrongs or making restitution for them.  How could he then be an example of Christian leadership to others?

On June 6th, I got a text from her asking me to pray.  She managed to arrange a meeting with leaders of her previous church.  She had high hopes for this meeting.  The next day, I asked her if she'd return to her previous church if things went the way she had hoped as a result of that meeting.  She replied, "No.  It doesn't mean he won't attend and I think he told the class some lies about me.  Most people have stopped talking to me."  So at this point, she was just looking for justice, an acknowledgment of having been wronged.

A week later, on the 13th of June, I got another text from Rachel.  "I am so upset.  The church sent us an apology.  They said there were faults on both sides so they have decided to just move on and leave things as they are."  She forwarded me this email, and when I read it, I got the sense that they truly did not see her hurt at all.  They called her misguided attempts at friendship and reconciliation "faults" on her part.  They noted that showing up at her new church was "unfortunate", yet they did not think to take any disciplinary action whatsoever against those who took part in this type of harassment.  What's more, the person who accompanied the guy to her new church was one of the leaders who signed this email!  Clearly, the whole process was a joke, not at all objective or being taken seriously.  She was crushed.

We spent an hour on the phone that evening.  I don't think I remember her ever crying before, because I recall listening to her sob over the phone and having no idea how to comfort her.  I did what I could, though. I reassured her that she did everything she could on her end.  She stood up against ungodly behavior, she brought light to it, and what happens now is entirely in God's hands and in His timing.  I remember telling her that God must want her to be in a leadership role in His church, but after all that drama, He had to get her out of there and into a new church, where she could rise to leadership.  She agreed.

Then we went on to talk about more pleasant things.  After 11 years of being a 2nd grade teacher, her principal had asked her to teach 4th grade math.  She was nervous but excited.  She had texted me that her principal said "he needs someone who is truly smart in math and on the whole campus, I am the only one he can think of who is.  He also said I know how to move and grow kids. YIKES!!!"  I wasn't sure if this was a good thing in her mind or not, so I asked, to which she replied, "Big kids scare me."

Trying to put a positive spin on it, I pointed out that God must be preparing her for a big change.  She and her husband had been trying to conceive, and I suggested that perhaps she's about to have a little child of her own, so that's why God wanted her with big kids at work.  She liked that idea.  She was always so positive, so sure of God's plan.  She was trying to regulate her cycles this year, and if this didn't result in a pregnancy, she was prepared to adopt at that point. She was going to be a wonderful mother.

Rachel with one of her kitty-kids

We hung up after briefly discussing what we were going to do on an upcoming trip I had planned.  She won some tickets to SeaWorld, so that was on the agenda.  She was going to be teaching teachers a linguistics course, so I was going to sit in on her class. She was going to go to Spanish Vigil Mass with me on Saturday, and I was going to go to her new church with her on Sunday.  She was going to show me all the great things she had done to the house - painting, arranging her library, her scrapbook room, her Michael Jackson collection... I was hoping that my upcoming visit would give her something positive to look forward to so as not to dwell so much on this latest bad news.  When her husband got home, I felt it was OK to hang up, and we did.

A few hours later I remembered something funny that happened to me that morning, so I texted her that a goose had hissed at me.  (We have geese that live near the lake on our campus.  As I was walking past a momma goose and her babies, apparently I looked at her chicks a bit too intensely, so she hissed at me.  I thought it was so funny!)  I had to teach a class that evening, so I couldn't talk, but I did peak at her texted reply "When did you see a goose?"

The next day, shortly after noon, when I was done with my morning class, I noticed I had a facebook message from Rachel's mom to call her ASAP.  I immediately thought that she was worried about Rachel because of the bad news she got and how she wasn't taking it very well.  I tried calling Rachel first, to see if I could get an update from her before talking to her mom, but she didn't pick up.  So I called her mom.

I remember being utterly confused at the words I heard:  "Oh, Karolina!  Rachel passed away this morning."  I wanted to yell "No way!" But I just listened in disbelief as her mom told me what she knew of what happened.

Tomorrow will be 3 weeks since Rachel went home to be with her Maker, and I still am not sure what to make of her untimely and unexpected death.  I just wanted to memorialize my last conversation and my last communication with my best friend of 17 years, so I don't forget that no matter how in control we may feel, our very lives from moment to moment are a gift from God, to be cherished, taken advantage of, but never taken for granted.

Matthew 24:37-42

 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."

1 comment:

  1. karusia, beautiful.
    Rachel will never be forgotten!
    I read a post in facebook that said. If someone loves you, they always will be in your heart. If you hate them, they always be on your mind.

    I loved Rachel and she will always be on my heart.
    As for Byron, I think she will always be on his mind. I hope one day Byron will truly realize the wrong he did and truly repent and treat people as Jesus does. I am choosing to forgive Byron and pray God blesses him and opens his eyes.