Give the gift of forgiveness this Christmas

“Give the gift of forgiveness this Christmas,” I read. “Set yourself free.”

I had this friend, you see. Sometimes when we were together, I marveled she even called me friend. In so many ways, she seemed beyond me.

She came into my life late. Both of our friend slates were full. Neither of us set out to have a relationship outside our mutual connecting point, an organization we both belonged to.

“Duchess,*” I called her. Tough, some people labelled her. As a child she had perfected, through various means, the art of self-preservation. She’d risen above poverty, addictions, abuse, and worst of all, self-hate.

As our relationship progressed and her defenses relaxed, I saw her other side. Clever. Strong. A natural leader. She could be, when disarmed, hoot-n-holler funny; sometimes childlike and innocent.

What I loved most about Duchess was her deep faith. Somewhere along her broken road, she asked Jesus to direct her life. One by one, the chains that bound her to the past fell away. By the time I came to know her, she had practiced well the spiritual disciplines that grow strong Christ-followers. She did so with a burning passion that drew others to the light inside her – or repulsed them. No middle ground.

Duchess’s way of living her faith challenged me to sharpen my own connection with God. We studied scripture together for a time. She said I sharpened her too.

“I didn’t come here to make friends, Kathleen,” she told me often, after we finally agreed that, surprise, surprise, that’s what had become of our relationship. “I’m here because God made it clear this is where I’m supposed to be. For now.”

I hate it that psychologists say of we women that we make friends quickly – and drop them just as fast. That hadn’t been my experience. Nevertheless, it happened to Duchess and me. No one to blame. Something intruded. Something devastating. Bigger than either of us.

In our own corners, separated by miles and circumstances, we did the best we could to survive. But what we both had to do during that period tore us apart. We haven’t spoken in many years.

I dream of her sometimes, waking to find my pillow wet with tears. I wonder what the heck happened inside her and if she still remembers me.

Today at my noon-hour women’s Bible study, I read at random, aloud, a selection from a small book of ideas on how to give yourself away at Christmas. Give the gift of forgiveness, it said. And I thought of Duchess.

I forgave her long ago. Perhaps she forgave me too. But I’m going to find her. Call her. Before Jesus comes back, I want her to know that he did in me what was promised of Messiah. That he quenched the fire of anger inside, and left only a glowing coal of love and fond memories. That I’m at peace. That I’m okay, and I pray she is too. And that I miss her.

*Not her actual name.