She was kind. She was beautiful. She was sweet…and as a middle-school boy, that viewed an ingrown toe-nail as major-surgery, she was an absolute godsend.
The summer before my last year of middle school, I began to suffer from an ingrown toenail. It was the absolute worst. It was painful. It was gross. It was embarrassing… and of course, I was an absolute crybaby about it. My mom finally got tired of my overly-dramatic whining and complaining, so she dragged me to the doctor’s office to have it taken care of.
I approached the appointment with a gang-load of fear. However, once I arrived at the office, I was greeted by the loveliest medical assistant ever. While the doctor himself seemed a bit disconnected and rude, the assistant was gifted with the ability to calm down a squirrel on crack.
She spoke the perfect words using the perfect tone and set my anxious my mind at ease. Before I knew it, the procedure was complete, and I was given three weeks of recovery. For a young middle-school boy who enjoyed riding his bicycle with his friends, this was torture. On the other hand, it also meant that I wasn’t obligated to participate with any farm chores for almost a month. I scored big time with this procedure. Who would have thought that it would have been such a win for me?
For the next three weeks, I traveled back to the doctor’s office for a follow-up. Each time, the assistant greeted me with a smile. She made small talk and seemed genuinely interested in my life on the farm. In my mind, I knew that she was quite older than me. However, I felt like I had gained a new friend.
Sadly, I knew that once my three weeks of recovery were over, I’d probably never see her again. I approached my last appointment with both excitement and sadness. I was excited that I’d finally be able to jump back on my bicycle and go riding with my friends again. But I knew that I’d have to say good-bye to the assistant.
At some point during our last appointment, the assistant turned toward me and asked, “What are you going to do now that the doctor has cleared you to use your foot again?” I didn’t have to think twice about my answer, so I quickly responded, “I can’t wait to ride my bike again.” It was such a simple and sincere answer. However, what would happen in the next few minutes would change my life forever.
The assistant looked at me and with a voice of surprise said, “Wow! You have a motorcycle?” Without a second thought, I quickly responded, “Yeah! I sure do!”
I don’t remember much of what happened after that. All I can tell you is that my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. Since childhood, lying has been like kryptonite to me. I’m not good at lying. I feel horrible when I lie. I break out in panic when I lie, and in that moment, I lied to one of the kindest and sweetest persons on the planet.
In that moment, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to take back what I said, but for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to. On the way back home, the only consolation that I could think of is that I’d probably never see the medical assistant ever again. Gosh… I felt like such a jerk. She had been so kind, and I paid her back with a lie.
I wish I could say that I quickly put that incident behind me. However, the years that followed brought me many memories of her kindness, and of course, I’d remember the lie. As time passed, I could no longer remember her name. All I could remember was my foolishness. Despite the passing of time, I couldn’t shake off the feelings of shame and regret. I recognize that this may sound petty to many, but for some reason, this incident ate at my heart.
After graduating from high school, I found myself far from my family’s farm. Although I was only 17, I moved to the neighboring city and enrolled at New Mexico State University to study music. During my first few weeks there, I found myself strolling down the campus. As I headed toward the music center, I made a quick turn around a corner and almost ran into a lady.
I quickly apologized for my clumsiness. However, as I looked up, I realized that it was the kind medical assistant that had once tended to me. At that moment, I was overcome with showers of panic, shame, and at the same time, my mind tried to reason with me.
“There is no way that she could remember me after all these years,” I told myself. Much to my dismay, she smiled at me and said, “John, is that you?” I could feel the blood rushing into my face. What were the odds that something like this would happen? “How is your mom doing?” she asked, “Do you still ride your bike?” I gasped for air as I felt the claws of death tugging at my soul. I don’t remember how I got out of that conversation. I just remember feeling like a horrible liar all over again.
About 7 years later, I found myself as the pastor of a small church. This wasn’t something that had been part of my trajectory. I honestly thought that I’d be teaching music at a high school by that point in my life. However, life took me down an unexpected path. After leaving my home town, being ordained, and returning back, I had planted a small church. I was in love with this season of life, and I was enjoying every bit of it.
During this time, the lady who would eventually become my wife started to attend my church, too. She was a pastor’s dream. She was ready to help wherever there was a need… and to add to that, she invited everybody and their mother to church. From the moment that I met her, she would constantly talk to me about her aunt “Sandra.” Apparently, Aunt Sandra was the best thing on the planet since sliced bread cause she wouldn’t stop talking about her.
One Sunday after church, I stepped out of the building to say good-bye to everyone. At that moment, my new parishioner walked toward me with someone that looked familiar. She said, “John! My Aunt Sandra just stopped by… I want you to meet her.”
As you can expect, Aunt Sandra was the lovely medical assistant that I had met many years before. Eventually, Aunt Sandra would become my aunt, too, as I joined her niece in marriage. Yes, I came clean shortly after I was “reintroduced” to her. However, I’d like to share 3 things that I’ve learned from this experienced.
It is impossible to feel good after telling a lie.
From the moment that I lied to Sandra, I felt shame and regret. I have yet to attempt to tell a lie that didn’t leave me feeling the same way. As I’ve journeyed through life, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to live under a cloud of shame. I’ve also come to understand that if God says, “Thou shalt not lie,” there must be a good reason for it.
Lies will follow you until you come clean.
In retrospect, I crack up when I think of all the opportunities that God gave me to come clean with Sandra. I truly believe that God wants us to have authentic and honest relationships with those He places in our lives. My unwillingness to own up to my lie kept me from relationships that God wanted to bless me with. We need to recognize that pride has a tendency to trick us into holding on to things that are so insignificant in comparison to the larger scheme of life.
Coming clean isn’t the end of life.
A few Thanksgiving Days back, I found myself sitting at Sandra’s table for a family meal. In that moment, I was surrounded by people that I absolutely love and that I know love me. It may sound silly, but my unwillingness to own up to a foolish lie could have kept me from something so beautiful. I’m grateful that, in the midst of our mistakes, God offers grace and reconciliation. He is the healer and restorer of all things. I am so grateful that He is available to make all things new.
John Eli Garay
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on john-eli.com
Featured Image by Pixabay