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If I Could Change the Past ...

I'd done stupid things before, but my thoughtless, selfish words took the cake. Would I find forgiveness?

Funny how something as ordinary as a high school yearbook can change a relationship. That fateful day, a warm breeze blew as my daughter Emily walked in the front door carrying her high school yearbook. I was pleased that Emily was having a positive high school experience in the small, agricultural Missouri town where we'd moved with my husband, Steve, Emily's stepfather.

Emily and I sat at the kitchen table munching chocolate chip cookies and looking through her yearbook. Besides her senior class photo, we searched for her band, chorus, and activity photos. Reviewing the previous school year seemed like we were turning back time.

"Let's look at your yearbook, Mom," Emily said after we'd perused hers.

I found both mine and Steve's. Emily and I laughed about the '70s hairstyles, my "natural look" (no makeup and long frizzy hair parted in the middle), and the clothes (wide collars and splashy designs). I pointed out how I, like Emily, played the flute in band and sang in chorus. I showed her the boy I dated in high school, Patrick, with his blond wavy hair and Roman profile.

Steve's yearbook showed an athletic teen who lettered in sports and was much more popular than I was. He was homecoming king and involved in everything from sports to drama.

Seeing Patrick's photos made me think about my college sweetheart and first husband, Joe, Emily's dad, with his wire-frame glasses and distinguished-looking, premature gray hair. How different my life would have been had I known Steve back then. Caught up in reminiscing, I wondered if Steve and I would have hooked up in high school.

If so, we wouldn't be having the problems we were having now. Steve and I were trying to have a child of our own. At 43, it didn't look like that was going to happen. I'd lost hope. Only celebrities were having children at that age.

This new thought about our possible high school hook-up would have solved that problem. Steve and I wouldn't have lost out on the years I was married to Joe, my best childbearing years.

"I wish I would have met Steve in high school," I said aloud, still glancing down at Steve's yearbook. I smiled brightly at Emily, and buoyed by my own enthusiasm, I continued. "We could have gotten married and had kids …"

Emily's eyes grew wide. "You couldn't have married Steve after high school!" She stood abruptly, nearly in tears.

"Why not?" I asked, still mesmerized by my daydreams.

"You couldn't have married Steve after high school!" she repeated as if that should have been enough for me to understand.

I was dumbfounded. Why is she saying that? I wondered.

"Because … because … then I wouldn't be here!" She turned and began to walk out of the room.

"Sure you would …" I called after her, but my voice trailed off because I knew she was right.

What was I thinking? I felt ashamed. How could I even say that to my daughter? How could I have been so hurtful and tactless?

The awful truth hit me hard, and I placed my hands over my eyes wanting to shut it out. I knew subconsciously if I hadn't married Joe, Emily wouldn't have been born, but this was the first time I thought of it consciously. And in my selfishness, I hurt my daughter.

A Do-Over?

Alone in the kitchen, I stared out the window and prayed to God for help. The sunny day contradicted my mood, which had plummeted into a deep pool of muddy water. How quickly the resentment of my first marriage surfaced. I was angry at the years I'd wasted in a painful marriage.

then God prompted me to ask the most difficult question I'd ever asked myself: If I had a choice to change the past, what would I choose? I was forced to probe deeper. Would I choose to marry Joe and live 10 unhappy years? Would I choose to marry Steve, with whom I'd lived 10 happy years?

God gave me the answer immediately. I knew I couldn't live without Emily, even if I had to sacrifice years without Steve, and even if I had to sacrifice the children I might have had with him. If I had to choose, I would choose the same life I had, no doubt about it.

I stood straight and breathed deeply. It was as if the muddy water cleared, and a pure, cool spring of water, God's grace, washed over me. Those 10 years hadn't been wasted and my marriage hadn't been wasted. I'd been doing just what I was supposed to: having the children, Emily, and my younger daughter, Sarah, that I cherished more than my own happiness.

Armed with that realization I strode to Emily's bedroom and knocked softly on the door before opening it. Emily sat on her bed, a magazine in her lap. She stared at me, stiff and unyielding.

"I'm sorry," I said, sitting hesitantly next to her. "I love you, Emily."

I gave her a hug. She relaxed and I did too.

"If I had to live my life again, I would marry your dad all over again, because I couldn't bear to live without you."

She smiled and said, "I love you, Mom."

God had taken something stupid and thoughtless that I'd said and redeemed it.

Even though in the past I'd tried to place all the blame on Joe, I realized I'd been at fault too. I don't know if Joe will ever forgive me, but God had helped me to forgive myself, accept myself, and celebrate my family life.

In a sense, that day I received the life I thought I'd lost, as well as another gift. I was given a closer, more appreciative relationship with Emily.

God helped me to face the truth when I couldn't face it on my own. No matter what stupid remarks I made without thinking, God was present to help me through and take steps to not only mend a hurting relationship but to make it deeper. I grew to appreciate all of my past, good and bad, because without it, I wouldn't be who I am today. And to think it all began with something as ordinary as a high school yearbook.

Amy Houts is a freelance author who lives with her family in Missouri.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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