Eight years ago, I took on a freelance video project to edit a wedding film. There were three cameras rolling the entire wedding weekend, which amounted to 30 MiniDV tapes in a Meijer shopping bag the Mother of the Groom gave me. They didn’t have anyone to do the post production to pull everything together, so I took the job.
It took the better part of two months in the summer of 2007 to edit the ceremony and a few highlight reels, but I completed the project. After I delivered the final DVD, they asked for one other short video to be made – simple, compiling some raw footage – and for me to return their tapes.
I never did.
At first it was because I had a couple of other freelance projects to wrap up, then Val and I moved to Indy, and life was happening, and I never made it a priority. I still know exactly where the Meijer shopping bag was in the closet of the loft in our downtown apartment. Month after month they sat there. Then we moved again…and again…and again. Years went by, and a lot more life happened, but none of the time or the moves or the life were the reason I wasn’t just finishing the project and shipping her the tapes.
I was just ashamed.
It’s important here to make a distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt owns the consequences of a bad decision. It’s objective, it sees right from wrong and gives us the opportunity to move toward what’s right. When you swallow that guilt and let it become part of you, internalize it, the problem is no longer a bad decision, but the belief that you are a bad person. The issue isn’t the issue, I am the issue. Dr. Henry Cloud alliteratively says that shame makes it personal, “this is a me problem,” pervasive, “this problem relates to more than just this one issue, it runs throughout all of me,” and permanent, “this is something I will never be able to change.” Check. Check. And check.
Just a nagging sense of embarrassment after the first 6 months, then when I had to pack up the Meijer bag and bring the tapes with me to the next place we lived it was like a weight on my chest. By the 3rd time the Meijer bag emerged from the moving truck and came into my home, the shame of it was – in some ways – paralyzing.
How could I possibly return those tapes now after all this time? What has this poor mom been thinking all these years? Is she mad? Furious? Is my name a family joke, or worse, like some muttered curse word whenever another anniversary rolls around and this couple just wants to watch that one segment of video they don’t have?
A nasty feedback loop of negative self-talk. My imagination only served to make things worse. In the words of The Avett Brothers: “Shame. Boatloads of shame. Day after day. More of the same.”
Then I had a conversation with my friend Josh about what monthly experiments could help to shape The Worship Experiment we’ve been doing as a worship team at Northeast. He mentioned seeking forgiveness, making things right, mending relationships as an often underserved spiritual discipline. How he had engaged in the practice of reaching out to someone to apologize and make things right, and the sense of restoration it brought.
Instantly, borderline involuntarily, my mind went straight down to the crawlspace below my house to the Meijer bag of MiniDV tapes and the unfinished wedding video project. I knew that, regardless of whether this became a part of any worship experiment this year, it was time to make things right.
I pulled out the hard drive, pulled together the footage the groom had asked for and burned a DVD, and boxed it up along with the tapes and a letter. The letter explained essentially what I have said here, that shame – more than any other life event or circumstance – has kept me from reaching out to her or completing the project I started nearly eight years ago. And I said I was sorry. And that was hard.
There it is. Embarrassment that is 20 months older than my first born son, all boxed up and postmarked.
As I was staring at this box on my desk at work, I was reminded of Numbers 21, where the Israelites were complaining to Moses about their time in the wilderness, and, as a result, were bitten by poisonous snakes. God instructed Moses to “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” That’s a stark image, right?
Stare at this thing that nearly killed you. Look it in the face, acknowledging the poison that it has left in you, and all at once feel well again. Be free of it. Be healed.
Then Jesus, in John 3, says that He is like that snake, that He “must be lifted up,” a prediction of being put up on a Roman cross to die. And there it was: the cathartic moment of King Jesus claiming a bit more territory in my own soul. Look at the cross. Be free of the shame. Be healed.
So I sent it last week, and I haven’t heard from her yet. I hope for a redemptive end to this story; for a measure of reconciliation, and the chance to really make things right.
In the meantime, staring this bronze snake in the face and feeling the freedom that comes from acknowledging a wrong that I have done has stirred in me the desire to be a person who is quick to make the move toward reconciliation; in big and small ways, all the time. To have my eyes on the cross, and see that Jesus goes down to the root of where the poison is, heals me, and calls me to walk in freedom and extend others the same forgiveness.