“Do old things,” God whispered to me, as I asked him what I ought to do with all the time I now found on my hands. Shattering my ankle in six places had definitely not been on the agenda for my life. The accident had forced me to be off my feet for six months, and I had little to keep me occupied.
Suddenly a picture popped into my mind. It was of me as a young bride nearly thirty years earlier. In my hand was a set of handmade coasters that my sister-in-law had crocheted for me. Across each of them was my new last name—spelled incorrectly.
It all came back to me so clearly. How I had deliberated over what to do with this gift! I just couldn’t display a set of coasters that spelled my name wrong. But how could I return it? Since I didn’t know my sister-in-law well enough to tell her she had made a mistake, I thought that would only cause offense. In the end, not seeing any other way to resolve the quandary, I did what I do with any object that seems useless: I threw the gift away.
Well, That’s Awkward. The inevitable happened, of course, when my sister-in-law came to visit. “Where are the coasters?” she asked. I can’t lie to save my life, so I told her the truth. “You spelled my name wrong, so I threw them away.” I will never forget the look on her face. “Stricken” is the only word to describe it.
After a moment of staring at me, she said, “Why didn’t you give them back? I could have fixed it.” I mumbled something about how the thought had never occurred to me, and that was that. The subject was never mentioned again.
Whenever I visited the homes of other family members, though, I would see their personalized coasters, handmade with love by my sister-in-law. My home was the only one missing a set. That always bothered me somewhat, but it wasn’t anything I lost sleep over. Life goes on, and the incident didn’t seem to matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.
But now, here was God bringing this “old thing” to my attention after so many years.
Two Healings in One. Using my walker, I hobbled to my desk and got out a nice piece of stationery to write my sister-in-law a letter. Starting with an explanation of how God had led my thoughts back to the coasters, I moved on to my reason for writing:
You made this gift for us out of love. Then, without consideration, I threw it away. I can only imagine how hurt you must have been. My only excuse is that I was young and didn’t know any better. All I can say now, so many years later, is that I have often regretted what I did and that I am very, very sorry. I’d like to think I would handle the situation very differently today.
I know we have a good relationship, but I hope you can forgive the hurt that I caused you. Please forgive me.
About three weeks later, my sister-in-law called me. She was in the area, she said, and wondered if she could stop by. This was very unusual. Though having been at my house before for family events, she had never come over on her own for a random visit. “Maybe it’s because I’m homebound with this ankle injury,” I thought to myself.
But no, my sister-in-law had another motive. Immediately upon arriving, she handed me a gift bag. Inside was . . . a new set of personalized coasters!
I let out a squeal of delight, and then we burst into peals of laughter. I don’t know which of us was more grateful—and relieved. “Making these was as healing for me as writing that letter was for you,” my sister-in-law said.
Little Things, Big Results. Today I can’t look at those coasters without feeling a deep sense of gratitude for God’s way of using small things to address bigger issues. Something has changed in the way my sister-in-law and I relate to one another. It isn’t that we had a bad relationship before, but it was somewhat guarded and never close. Now there is a growing openness, affection, and warmth. Whether at family events or on the phone, we enjoy one another and want to talk to one another and build our friendship.
What started with my sister-in-law continues in my other relationships, as this whisper to “do old things” resonates through my life. “Where might I have brought harm to this person, even in a small way, Lord? How can I set it right?” Listening to God’s leading in what seemed to be a small “old thing” is opening the door to bigger healings than I ever could have imagined.
What I have realized is that it is never too late to look back on relationships and seek to repair old hurts and wounds. I went back thirty years! As we follow God’s leading and rely on his grace, healing can occur. “Old things” can be taken care of and put to rest, making way for more of the new life that God has for us.
Debbie Putnam is a clinical social worker and Christian pastoral counselor living in Lansing, Michigan.