For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
Novinha was upset that we didn’t get her a gift on her birthday. It wasn’t even her birthday. It was just jealousy. Her birthday was several months ago. However, it was the birthday of another girl. We got her a notebook. We have known this girl for several years. There is a strong bond between us. On the other hand, we barely knew Novinha. She lived in the streets but she hardly spoke to us. She was just not interested in us. This was fine with us. Not everyone wants to be our friend and we certainly don’t want to force ourselves upon anyone. However, Novinha was imposing. She demanded a present for birthday that was long gone. She kept insisting. Eventually, it became unbearably annoying. She was not a young child or teenager. She was about 23 years old. Her behavior was unbecoming of her age. Perhaps it revealed her true reality. It was something we never considered at that moment. Her persistence forced me to give a brutally honest answer. I told her that we give gifts to people whom we know. This was the truth. Gifts are something that flow out of a relationship. However, it was not the right time to say it. It wasn’t said in love. I was annoyed with her. I just wanted her to stop with her demands and it worked. The fact was that we never warmed up to Novinha. We were always disturbed by her attitude. She is a mother of a toddler. Often times, she brings her child to the streets where the child is exposed to all the vices of the streets at a young age. It is not uncommon for her to leave the young child unattended while she sniffs paint thinner. It is easy to dislike someone like her.
After this conversation, Novinha ignored us completely. Sometimes she would walk pass us without acknowledging our presence. We would try to say something to her sometimes and she would give us a weak response. She had lost all interest in us. The relationship just kept gradually deteriorating. Nothing happened to make it better. Then one day, all of the sudden, there was forgiveness. She forgave us first. She approached us and asked to play a game together. Surprisingly, we had a good time together. Then several weeks later, we ran into her with a stranger in the streets. She told us that he was her friend from Columbia. In her introduction, she reminded her friend that we are the people whom she often speaks about. This was strange. We never imagined that she would have such consideration for us.
Things between us got eventually better. Somewhere along the line, forgiveness took control of the situation. We forgave her for being obnoxious. We forgave her for being an irresponsible mother. We forgave her for being demanding. These conceived thoughts we had of her were hindering our relationship with her. We had to release them. She had to release her image of us. Maybe she thought that we did not have room for her in our hearts. She interpreted our actions according to her concept of us and we did the same. We needed to forgive each other in order to discover the true character of each other.
We started talking more often. We discovered that she was born into homelessness. Her mother was a crack addict and she lived most of her life in the streets or in the state orphanage. She never had much of a childhood. She did not say this about herself. She wasn’t aware that there is such a thing as childhood. She was exposed to drugs and violence and abandonment since she was an infant. Now she is a mother. It would be unfair to expect her to act like a perfect mother when she had very limited resources.
This year we bought Novinha a gift on her birthday. Actually it was something Mary made for her last birthday. We did not forget her birthday last year. Even though she hardly spoke to us, we still had a small gift for her. Unfortunately she was nowhere around to receive her gift then. Weeks turned into months before we finally saw her. Since she did not speak much to us then, giving her the gift out of context would be awkward. We even told her about it when she was persistent about buying her a gift. She did not believe us then. However, when we finally gave her gift on her birthday this year, she received it with a timid smile. She did not say much, just enough to show that she appreciated it. A couple of days later, she approached us and asked us for help about a situation regarding her child. She really wants to be a good mother. She is aware that she needs to change many things in her life. It wasn’t our conversations that made her realize this. It was within her all along. Perhaps she just needed someone with whom she can share these things; someone outside her circle who would understand her plight. She needed some resources to help her make these changes, They are available to her but she is afraid to go to these places alone and ask for help. She asked if we would go with her. She is not afraid to do the talking. She just needs someone to be with her in these places.
Our relationship with Novinha was a strange journey. We didn’t like it at first. We thought that it was going nowhere. Then forgiveness came into the picture. It gave us a new direction. It changed how we looked at this young woman. We thought that she was an unfriendly person and an irresponsible mother. She was really an abandoned child who is a little lost and afraid in this world and yet she wants to have the courage to do the right thing in this life. She still brings her child to the streets occasionally. Now, we can say something to her about it and she listens. She wants to do what is best for her child. Forgiveness opened our eyes to see this. It wasn’t a gift she was demanding in that unpleasant encounter. She wanted a relationship. I am glad she forgave us first. It made us realize that we needed to forgive as well. This is how it all works. Mistakes abound but forgiveness…it is just a wonderful gift from God. When we receive and use this gift, our eyes are opened to see people for who they really are.