Last month, while my husband was traveling, I took the boys to a birthday party for a friend of ours. On the way out the door, I glanced in the mirror and made sure to wipe away any blush I may have put on my cheeks for church earlier that morning. Why? Because I remembered who one of the guests at the party might be. A friend of a friend, this person only ever crossed paths with me at events at this particular friend’s house. It had been a few years since I’d seen her, but I distinctly recalled a hurtful comment she’d made to me at the last party that we’d both attended. And by smearing away any traces of make-up, I felt I’d removed any ammunition she might have for additional remarks about my face.
Here’s what went down back in 2014: Although I’d been sick for over a week, I felt better on the day our friends had planned to host a party for their little boy. I thought my face looked gray and wan from having been sick, so I put on some make-up in hopes of perking up my appearance.
During the party, I met the friend of a friend (let’s call her Harriet, because it’s not even close to her name), and we talked a bit. Later, as we circulated through the backyard party, Harriet and I intersected again. She explained how she’d recently begun selling a skin care line. Then she declared with alacrity, “And you have rosacea!” In case you don’t know, rosacea is, according to dictionary.com, “a chronic form of acne affecting the nose,Wow. Apart from some wrinkles and a few freckles, there was nothing on my face–except the inexpertly applied blush. Maybe the pinkish-red shade of the make-up led her to this on-the-spot diagnosis.
My response? “No, I don’t. I’ve been to dermatologists before–concerned about getting checked for signs of skin cancer–and I’ve never heard that.” A moment later, I walked away.
Fast forward almost 3 years later to the party of last month…Remembering that Harriet would probably attend this party, too, I scrubbed at the blush–and hoped I could avoid conversations with her.
God must have heard my inner chatter about those plans to avoid Harriet, because He said, Nothing doing. She and her family arrived about the same time my boys and I did. And we were some of the first comers. So…not really feasible to avoid her. Buffered by our mutual friend (although neither of these women knew of my wish to avoid interaction with Harriet), we 3 women talked a little. Harriet asked me a question; I answered. Then her next comment felt a bit challenging, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Plus, I was T.I.R.E.D. and flying solo as a mama for 11 days straight. And my next response to her was more reactionary, a little more intense than I’d intended.
More people had arrived by that time, and I wandered off. For the rest of the party, Harriet and I didn’t cross paths again. By the end of the evening, I’d been contemplating approaching her to explain–why I wanted to duck when I saw her coming, why I’d been testy with her. But in the busy-ness of getting children ready to leave, I didn’t pursue it. I planned to text my friend who hosted the party for Harriet’s information and then call her in the coming week.
After getting Harriet’s contact info, I called her. I apologized for my abrupt comments during our conversation at the party (that I’d recognized had startled her while we were talking). I told her that her question sounded a bit confrontational–but that I probably read into that question of hers because of what had happened a few years before. I apologized for having tried to avoid her. She explained that, after the conversation at the party 2 days before, she’d then tried to avoid me. She’d assumed I was exhausted, knowing my husband was out of town, but she also wasn’t sure about wanting to talk with me anymore. When I explained about her rosacea comment, she actually remembered the conversation. I knew back then that she’d probably gotten caught up in excitement about her new side business; I willingly gave her the benefit of the doubt, believing she hadn’t intended to be hurtful. She apologized sincerely for the offense of the comment and accepted my apology, too.
It’s unlikely that I’ll see Harriet again anytime soon. But that truly doesn’t matter. God’s Spirit impressed on me both the need to apologize for my own brusque words to Harriet as well as to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge how I’d been hurt years before. My honesty gave her the opportunity to understand more about the situation. If I’d never shared this with Harriet, she’d have had no way of knowing that those words of hers had bothered me, had even stirred up insecurity. I couldn’t have held her responsible for information she didn’t have. But having the information meant she could then deal with the impact of her words.
I didn’t approach this phone call with the expectation of receiving an apology from Harriet–although I figured she might offer one. And I certainly wouldn’t have demanded one. What I did hope for, though, was mightily fulfilled–that 2 sisters in Christ could wade through a potentially messy conversation with humility and compassion and, in the end, arrive at a unity rooted in authenticity.
The next time I see Harriet, I’ll be the first one at our friend’s party to greet her.