Love it or leave it

My recent sabbatical allowed me to spend time in my hometown. The town has grown so much it doesn’t always feel like where I grew up. Now, there are things to do besides riding your bike or going to Dairy Queen. I have a different appreciation for it now that I’ve been away for a decade. I run into old family friends periodically and sometimes they don’t recognize me, so I enjoy flying under the radar. News still travels fast, though. When I bump into someone I know, they seem to already know why I’m here and what I’m doing. For the most part that is okay; I am not guarding government secrets. One thing I enjoyed about living in cities, however, was the ability to be anonymous.

Today, I found myself face to face with an old family acquaintance. Honestly, I usually turn the other way when I see her coming (for a lot reasons I won’t detail because that isn’t the point). A master manipulator, this individual flipped from friend to foe when necessary for her own gain. This is the grit of small town living: some people or situations are totally unavoidable. My parents chose not to respond in kind for a lot of reasons, some I’m aware of and some not. Today, I learned one more reason.

It isn’t worth it. There isn’t time or room in my life for such ugliness. Hopefully, this person has changed in the last decade. The five minutes I spent talking to her didn’t really suggest that, so, I had a choice to make. I could let the anger and emotions swirl to the top, ruining my day. I could call a couple friends who would completely understand my feelings and rant the afternoon away. But that still small voice whispered to me, “You don’t have room for this in your life.”

Perhaps it is because of Valentine’s Day but most of my daily scriptures recently focused on love. “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense (Proverbs 17:9)…perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).” I calmly smiled at this person, engaged in sufficient pleasantries, and moved along. When she moved the conversation toward her usual direction, I changed course and felt no shame in refusing to play her game. In the past, I might have spent the afternoon fuming and reliving this person’s misdeeds. But, I had more important things to do today, things I really cared about. When I allow someone else’s behavior to dominate my mind and emotions, they are my master. When I choose to be confident in who I am and focus on what is important to me, I am free. Which is exactly what I sought most of my growing up years – to be free of the negative, toxic dump trailing this person.

This revelation could apply to any number of situations in my life; but today, it was one of those quietly powerful revelations. The fog cleared, and it was my hand that wiped it way.

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