In a sheriff’s office four hours away, a warrant was issued for my arrest.
I was a junior in college at the time. Seven days earlier, I was leading a Bible Study for a group of high schoolers like I did many Thursday nights. My boss was there, along with a couple other leaders, the family hosting us in their home, and roughly twelve teenagers. Afterwards, I went over to a friend’s apartment. I had recently returned from a study abroad trip focusing on social entrepreneurship in Honduras. Our group had gotten close, so some of us were meeting up that night to hang out. I swiped into my apartment building around midnight, and went to sleep.
The next afternoon, I was studying in the on-campus coffee shop when I got a phone call from my dad. “Your brother is in trouble and you need to know that your name is on a warrant. You’ll be getting a call from our lawyer soon to sort this out.” I didn’t know what to say. It was too absurd. My dad explained that my brother and a female friend had gotten in an altercation with a third person. The third person ended up filing charges, and told the sheriff that the perpetrators were my brother and “his sister.” So when my brother went to the station to turn himself in, the deputy asked for my name and information. He gave it to them. And now here I was with my name on a warrant for something that happened four hours away while I was teaching high schoolers about Jesus.
After talking to the lawyer, I needed to secure alibi statements from people who could verify my whereabouts at the time in question. As an introvert, it is miraculous that I wasn’t, “in my room, making no noise and pretending I [wasn’t] there,” to quote Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I then had to call my boss from the Bible Study and ask if he’d be willing to vouch for me. I could have asked anybody in attendance, but he had recently become an official reverend, and could sign his statement as such. A reverend makes for a pretty unimpeachable witness in the Bible Belt. I then needed to email my friend who hosted the get together and ask if he would also send in a statement.
With my alibi secured, I had to wait and trust that the lawyer would do her job, that the sheriff wouldn’t do his, and that if I were arrested, the truth would come out. I also had to wrap my brain around the violation of trust that roped me into this mess in the first place. I could very possibly go to jail and have a permanent record for something I couldn’t have possibly been involved in. I would have to explain it on every job application, loan application, anything official.
Though the lawyer was working diligently to clear everything up, one week after the incident, I got another call from my dad. He said that I shouldn’t drive anywhere for the foreseeable future. The warrant was finally out in the system, and if Alamance County Law Enforcement pulled me over, the warrant would pop up when they ran my license. And I would go to jail.
Forgiveness is tricky. In many ways I feel inadequate to write about it with any authority, because I don’t know that I am especially good at it. And yet, forgiveness and love are so inextricably intertwined, I can’t exactly write a series on love without talking about forgiveness. To be in a loving relationship of any kind requires forgiveness, because we humans have a propensity for hurting each other both intentionally and absentmindedly. It’s all well and good when the situation is relatively straightforward and the offense is minor. But when the betrayal or the hurt is deep enough to have life-altering consequences? When my anger is completely justified? And what about when the other person isn’t even sorry?
Forgiveness requires acceptance, and I used to think that acceptance meant pretending that what happened was ok, or even pretending like it didn’t happen. I used to be a master at burying my anger and pain because they didn’t line up with my understanding of forgiveness. And yet even though I wasn’t expressing them on the surface, they were still there and they festered into a deep bitterness. This has led to passive aggression, avoidance and isolation, and a lack of communication skills in conflict.
I think that a lot of the work of forgiveness is internal and spiritual. I think that acceptance means being able to acknowledge that the wrong happened and that I can’t change that. Anne Lamott writes that, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past.” No amount of guilt-tripping, passive aggressive comments, or even acts of atonement can change what happened. And yet it is amazing how often I believe that it might. It is a fruitless endeavor, but sometimes I think that if I say or do the exact right combination of things, I will be met with righteous vindication. And once that happens, then maybe I can move on. But there is a part of me that knows that not to be true.
I’d love to leave you with a tidy ending of joyful reconciliation, but the truth is it’s more complicated than that and I still struggle to forgive my brother. There was a moment that week when I was talking to my boss/alibi in which I expressed compassion due to my recognition of how much forgiveness I need on a daily basis. I think that I really meant it, but also my feelings were more complicated than I was able to reckon with at the time. It is, in many ways, a story still in progress. But I think that might be how forgiveness works. Maybe there are times when we are reminded of a wrong we thought we were done being mad about and we have to forgive all over again. Maybe it’s not as linear as I think it should be, that we let go of the hurt once and it’s gone forever. Maybe it’s more about learning to hold sadness and pain in one hand and forgiveness and hope in the other.
I got a call from the lawyer later that same day. She said that all the charges had been dropped and totally expunged from my record. From the perspective of the law, it was like it had never happened. As I rode to Bible Study with my friend and fellow leader, I breathed deeply for the first time in seven days.
Picking up what I’m putting down?
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