Sunday, February 2, 2014

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Hiking into the canyon in my Sorrel boots was work yesterday.  The felt liner rubbed against the back of my leg with every step I took, and as I climbed in elevation, my breathing reminded me of the effort.  Once I left the blacktopped road where the snow tends to melt faster, I trudged into the snow that hid the dirt road from view.  

This old "No Hunting/No Trespassing" sign caught my eye as I passed the trees that line the lane. Whenever I see the word trespassing, I am transported back in time to when I was a little girl, sitting on a wooden pew of the Presbyterian Church in Amherst, Virginia.

My chubby fingers had a hard time spreading out wide enough to fit into the five holes of the communion cup holder, a wooden shelf that was screwed onto the back of the pew in front of us. Each week, I would spread my fingers wide, and try to get my thumb and each finger into the openings. As soon as I tired of that activity, I would scoot back on the bench, and swing my black patent leather shoes back and forth, back and forth.  I would crane my neck to see if I recognized anyone, but I knew I had to be quick about it.  Mama said it was not polite to look behind us in church; our eyes should be on the minister, but I found "paying attention" tedious.  

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow..."  I scrambled to my feet as I joined the congregation in the song that meant I had a break from the endless sitting.  The men in dark suits who had the collection plates walked to the front, and began passing the brass plates down the rows.  The plates were lined with velvet, so as to muffle the sound of coins being dropped into them by the children. Danny and I always had a quarter to put in the plate; Mama gave more.  

When the song was over, we repeated the Apostles' Creed, "We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth..."  I was pretty proud of myself.  I could say the whole thing, and I was still pretty little. I had no idea WHAT I was saying, but I was proud nonetheless.  It always made Mama smile when she looked at me, and she saw that I was saying the words with her.  

"Let us pray," the minister would say.  I bowed my head like a good, little girl, but I always snuck a peek to see if anyone else had their eyes open.  I would tell on Danny if he didn't have his eyes closed, so Mama would know.  We would repeat the Lord's prayer together, and then I knew that was the last of the standing until the sermon and final hymn were over, and it was time to endure the sitting some more.  

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

Except what I heard everyone around me say is "Forgive us our tress-pisses..."  I grew up in the south, and when people say trespasses fast, it comes out like "tress-pisses."  I thought it was a strange word. I knew a little bit about forgiveness.  "Now say you're sorry, Denise."  Goodness knows, I'd heard that enough.  But I just wasn't sure about trespasses. 

When we went for a ride in the mountains to the "Ponderosa," there were "No Trespassing" signs tacked to the trees.  No, we weren't visiting the Cartwright's of Bonanza fame; Daddy was a real estate agent, and he and his partner had bought a ramshackle old farmhouse that was situated on acres and acres of land that ran along the river, and there were woods, and the coolest vine that hung from the trees that we used for swinging.  Daddy and Gary jokingly called it "The Ponderosa;" I just knew it was fun to go there.  It was the best place ever to go camping with all of my parents' friends and their kids.  It was a secluded spot for family picnics, and the house and property were just the kind of place kids love to explore.

When I asked Daddy about the trespassing signs, he explained that those signs were meant to keep people off of the property who didn't belong there.  It was letting people know that this property was private, and not a public place.  We should never go on land that is marked with those signs, out of respect to the owners. I sat there in the Presbyterian Church, I would think about the trespasses I'd done.  I was always walking on our neighbors' lawns.  None of them ever seemed to mind, except old Miz Richeson.  Every single time that we walked up Grandview Drive with loose coins jangling in our pockets to go to the Campbell's store at the top of the road, she would yell at us.  "Get off my grass, you kids!"  She was the scariest old woman I knew.  Karen and I would jump at the sound of her voice, and we would cross the street to walk by the pasture.  Then we would have to pass by the funeral home, so we would cross back over the the safe side of the street again, hurrying past, and imagining all of the scary things what went on in there.

So I know I trespassed on Miz Richeson's grass, and she hated me for it.  I was hoping she'd forgive me for trespassing against her.  I didn't really care if anyone walked on our property, so I would gladly forgive anyone who made the mistake of stepping on our grass.  It didn't make any difference to me. I couldn't really see what the big deal was, but if we prayed to God about it every single week at church, maybe it was a bigger deal than I thought.

I hadn't thought about TRESPASSING for such a long time.  The memories of that big, old church in Amherst with the beautiful stained glass windows were sweet to recall.  It was fun to remember the Ponderosa property, and the younger versions of my parents.  Things were simpler then. My understanding of life and how things work was just starting; my fascination with words just beginning to take hold.

As I consider the real trespasses of my life, I feel a little melancholy.  Later, I learned that the real thing we were asking for was forgiveness for the things that we do that hurt others, as much as we hope they will  forgive us.  We have to forgive them for hurting us.  

That's the hard thing, isn't it?  I can usually forgive and forget.  I have to work at not letting old hurts resurface, but over time, I've been able to let the pain caused by others in my life go.  Will they forgive me?  Can they?  

I hope so.  There have been sins of omission, and sins of commission in my life.  I have hurt others by things I've said, and things I've done.  As I consider my trespasses, I hope that that those against whom I've trespassed will forgive me, as readily as I have forgiven those who have trespassed against me.  It's usually not property we're treading over uninvited; it's actually the hearts and feelings of others that are wounded by our actions.  If I take greater care not to hurt others, I will have less for which to ask forgiveness.  

As I turned around at the top of the hill, I promised myself to try a little harder to avoid the unintentional pain I may cause by thoughtlessness, and to be more quick to forgive when my own feelings are hurt.  The baggage we carry with us on a day to day basis could be so much lighter if we could simply remember to ask forgiveness, and be sure to give it to those who need it, in return.


  1. Beautifully written, Denise. So heart felt and important to remember. Linda

    1. Linda, thank you for reading, and taking the time to comment. It is appreciated.

  2. Thank You, Denise. God Bless You! Hugs!

    1. Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing this on FB. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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