He would begin to wail and scream the moment we pulled in the parking lot. He knew what awaited. He was just a toddler, but Brett knew he would be poked, prodded, and pulled on. Because he had been born so critically ill, doctor visits were a constant in those early years. Much like Palov’s dog, he had been conditioned to know pain was coming. He’d hurl screams, flail his arms and legs in hopes his mother would turn the car around and protect him from the agony that awaited. But as good mothers know and do, though the process was painful, it was a necessary avenue that would lead to physical well-being.
What emotions, does this word stirrup in you reader?
The forgiveness path is a hard one, and everyone’s journey is personal and different. I’m here to share mine. It is not necessarily an article on why forgiveness is important (though it is), or the Lisa Beasley’s “Road to Forgiveness” manual. It is simply my story, a very small window into a very long journey. It is raw, uncomfortable, and unfiltered at times, so beware. It is about a heart that fought hard to be unshackled, and if somehow it speaks encouragement, I am here for that. I am also not naïve and know some are here for curiosity. That’s okay too. I am here for that as well. 😊 My whole story has yet to be told, and it will in time.
First, I will start with confession. Confession on how many sermons and bible studies I have attended on forgiveness and still didn’t understand it. Oh, I thought I did! That’s for sure! I have taught on the subject to large groups of ladies, small gatherings, and even wrote a blog about it. I thought I was a walking testimony due to the fact I didn’t carry around bitterness. After all, we’ve all been hurt by someone at some point or another, and I had managed it well.
I don’t hold grudges, don’t take things too personally, and I usually think the best in people. If my feelings do get hurt, I move on quickly. I don’t think that is anything unique or grand about me. I didn’t work hard to manage proper emotions. I think it’s because I was loved very well as a child, and the people in my life growing up never talked badly about family or friends. I “caught” the virtue of thinking the best in people growing up, and not questioning motives. (By the way, attitudes are more caught, than taught in the home.)
Oh, we teased each other and possibly poked fun at other’s idiosyncrasies, but never with malice or from a place of ill-intent. I think with my genetic wiring and good people around me; I grew to forgive easily and move on; and I really had a hard time with others who couldn’t. Even as a pastor’s wife for so many years (almost 32 years!), I don’t know people who’ve wronged me where I took personal offense. If I unknowingly hurt others and made aware, I was quick to make it right. So, in my eyes, people who couldn’t forgive were deemed needy, petty, and emotionally whacked by their own doings a lot of the time. Until the year 2018.
2018-2020 were years of excruciating pain for me. During the year the country was facing a pandemic, I was fighting a personal pandemic of my own. A pandemic of hatred that was beginning to penetrate, take root, and take on a life of its own. For sake of details that just have no value in the story, I won’t go there today. But I will say, the one who promised to forever love me, choose only me, protect me, didn’t. Not only did he not, but he also became cruel and abandoned me. I was discarded like an old shoe within months. Without warning. So much so, we all wondered brain tumor? Nervous breakdown? No. Evil?
In his own words, “I understand your anger, I abandoned you physically, emotionally, and spiritually……I walked away, and I didn’t care.” He didn’t own the financial piece, but he abandoned that too. I had spent 32 years with my heart safe with him. Or at least I willed to believe that. Maybe at my core I always knew differently; that some people are incapable of the depth of love, commitment, or connection God requires to sustain a marriage. These people eventually think you’re the problem and cause for their unhappiness. They find another willing partner they believe will fill the emptiness and voids they believe you cannot…only to find intimacy was not lasting in another either.
At first the detachment in 2018 was slow. Very slow. Confusing. Confusion soon led to disbelief. Disbelief to despair. Despair to hopelessness. Hopelessness in its fullness led to hatred.
Here’s a little backstory. Life was hard for us for most of our marriage. Our first born was born at 26 weeks gestation (three months early) and was critically ill for quite a while. We lost our only daughter a few months old to meningitis. One son lives with debilitating epilepsy and rebelled against his limitations as a teen and the things we valued as a family. Another son had lost his entire second half of his senior year due to scoliosis so severe it led to an entire back fusion that left him in ICU for longer than expected. He had a long recovery. He too was trying to find his way. We were on our second church plant, and only months after renovating our new church home, it burned down to the ground. The rebuild was hard and unfruitful at times. I really could go on, but in the end, the burden and weight of it all was too much, and my husband left for a different life two states away abandoning all we had known as a family. I was attached to every disappointment of his in life and therefore, again in his own words, “after so much ‘ridiculousness,’ I had enough.”
Now you must understand that this is the man whom I thought adored me, thought I was a gift to him, appreciated me, loved me in word and deed. The world of people we knew thought the same. We built an entire life together. We enjoyed each other’s company and prayed through the hard times. It wasn’t a perfect marriage, but we worked hard at finding ways to love each other better along the way. We worked hard at making each other the priority of our lives. Everyone who knew us, including our four boys, would attest to this truth.
When he left, I felt humiliated and left behind to answer to our friends, family, and dazed community while he moved on with his new life, two states away with someone else and completely fell off the radar; went into hiding. He embarrassed our boys. He was nasty and cruel to us and our friends.
For the first time, I was faced with forgiving at depths I couldn’t have ever imagined. I remember thinking, this depth of hurt is the kind that changes who you are. The Christian faith became a blurry mess, no matter how grounded in the Bible and faith I was.
I finally understood why traumatized people are left broken and shackled to their pain, often for years.
I have always enjoyed and loved people from all walks of life, but I began to think the world was not safe. People aren’t to be trusted. It all rushed in on me. I felt like a hypocrite for not being more sensitive to people’s wounds and stories of grief, loss, and betrayal.
My personal losses were numerous in those few years after he left. I had lost the life I knew as a pastor’s wife. I lost my work family I loved. (I changed schools to better my career right before.) My church family I had loved so dearly was no longer my church home. And my personal nuclear family was crumbling. My life was a splintered mess! Without doubt, I had also lost my way too.
Now here I was, shackled to my sadness and anger. I was unable to move forward and past it no matter how hard I tried. Deep seated anger I had never felt before was born, took root and was flourishing at a neck breaking pace. It scared me that I could feel such! The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked who can know it?” That means, we don’t even understand what all we are capable of doing and feeling when we’ve been wronged, pushed aside or discarded; or when evil resides within.
I was grounded enough to know, and friends reminded me, forgiveness was for me and not for the one who wronged me. I was asked multiple times if I had forgiven him as if this was a one and done kind of get out of jail card to use that would set me free and on a path of happiness.
I knew unforgiveness was and is a cancer. It slowly rots the heart, metastasizing to every thought, experience, and relationship. Unforgiveness puts us in a self-made prison to which only we hold the key. I knew all this. I taught on this! Yet, I was unable to tap into it. Funny how I had all the resources and knowledge, but I was paralyzed to access it.
Before I get to the steps of finally forgiving that worked for me, understand I have no secret ingredient except for the Word of God which commands to forgive and love, regardless of the crime or the person, and the Holy Spirit that guides the heart into stepping into the messy hard places. Only Jesus can help you through the process. For me, it was baby steps; teeny, tiny, baby steps.
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” OUCH!!
In the beginning (actually for the first two years), to allow my heart and mind to consider forgiveness, felt like another betrayal in itself; a betrayal of my feelings. I loathed him for what was being manifesting in my boys and in me for such selfishness. The hatred I felt scared me, but at the same time, it felt good to hate him. (I warned you this was raw!) I felt entitled to the hate. He had moved on, and I was stuck. I hated him for that too. Hate, loathe, disgust, all felt at home within for a time. They were welcomed visitors. The same words my boys were never allowed to say as children, were now household words in my mind.
God gave me permission to have this moment in life to be angry. To FEEL the all the emotions. Until the joy of the Lord that once anchored me in times of trouble, began to erode. Joy had been the very thing that had always given me my strength! The Bible says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I was becoming that old bitter woman I vowed I would never be, no matter how hard life’s circumstances become.
People asked my closest friends, “What can we do?” The answer always the same. Pray for her. That is what she needs most. I was in such a funk, that even praying for myself was not a safe place for me. I had always been a prayer warrior, for myself and my friends; but this season of anguish, I could not. Praying and voicing my pain took me to dark places. It spiraled me to speak aloud or silently the pain of betrayal. My mind would drift to my own self-pity. I sometimes managed to whisper, Oh God, please help me. That was all I could do.
But it was okay. I never felt guilty for my feelings or not praying because God is bigger than all that. He can handle my ugliest. (Isn’t he just the best!?)
Remember Brett? I was like Brett recognizing the hospital’s parking lot. I was pitching an emotional fit on the inside! Any sight (church), sound (worship music), holiday, love song (or cheating song), sent me into an internal toddler rage while feeling strapped into a toddler car seat and unable to escape.
Either God is omniscient (and he is), or he isn’t. And if he is, I had to trust he would bring me to the other side. Even if it mangled me to get there, pitching a holy fit the whole way!
On top of my personal anguish, I had very difficult teaching years 2019-2021. (Think pandemic!) How eternally grateful I am for the co-workers and friends in my life. They were lifelines to me. I also had others helping with the logistics of divorce when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and shut the world out. I would have never made it without them. That is why investing in people is vital in life. They will be your lifeline when tragedy occurs. (That is a blog for another time.)
I had to camp out in all the feelings trauma offered and embraced them for a season, because I knew they would show up elsewhere and make other relationships toxic if I pushed them down. Unhealed hurt people, go on to hurt others. It is very true. I desired healing. But I also knew dismissing my hurt would hinder my healing, and I would forever limp emotionally.
While all this grieving was taking place, God was working a new creation and world for me. One that would look much different.
In the following year, I found out several things: If you belong to the Lord, you can’t and won’t stay long in the place of bitterness. He won’t let you….and only God can tell you when that time is up! I think the deeper the level of betrayal or grievance, the greater the grace period.
My counselor who has specialized in clergy betrayal for 30 years said to me when I asked how long would it take for me to move forward without all the shame and pain? She responded, “About three years; but that is because you are doing the hard work.” I remember thinking, I’ll never make it.
It has been almost four. And I made it! I did the work! We all know people who live a lifetime in this place of torment. I beg you to do the hard work, heal, and forgive!
Here are the steps that finally worked for me:
1. Speak out loud what has been taken and stolen, preferable to a trusted friend or counselor and declare the person in your mind guilty as charged. Acknowledge God is the only one who can determine the sentence in his way and time. AND TRUST that in doing so, He will restore you. Then you must dismiss the case.
2. And here is where it gets tricky, but it’s the most important step for me. (Remember, I said teeny, tiny, baby steps!) Practice forgiveness daily! In time, you will need to do this less and less. When the wave of feelings, I can’t believe he did this to us comes over me (Remember I was married for nearly 32 years!), I again repeat scripture, recognize what was stolen, release the debt owed, set him free, and dismiss the case. Whew! Over and over! It started moment by moment, then day by day, until it became week by week, month by month, and now only occasionally. That is a lot of mental and emotional work! But friend, it is so worth it!
Joy will replace the sorrow in time. You cannot allow those visitors of hate and his friends take up residence. They are only visitors for a short time! New relationships will be had. The sustaining grace of God will be recognized. (And boy has it!!) God will restore what the locust has eaten as the scripture declares. If you don’t see it in your future (as I didn’t and couldn’t for a long while), let others see it for you until you can. Rely on their vision for you of God’s goodness that’s in store.
The whole premise of the Christian faith is grace and forgiveness. Without it, there is no Christianity. God knew we needed grace, and we needed forgiveness. He gave it in Jesus. Christianity all hinges on a penalty paid by One who did no crime of His own, yet He paid the world’s sin in full, and did it to set us free, all for love. God knew, this grand yet horrific event of dying a cruel death on a wooden cross, would remind us how to sacrificially love others who have wronged us. It’s such a beautiful thing to witness when one truly sees and experiences the grace of God for the first time! Their life is forever changed. When we, I, extend that same grace, even with a broken, crippled, shriveled, extended hand, God somehow infuses us with healing and hope. It is a supernatural experience. God can replace hatred with love. That my friend, is miraculous, and only God can do it! (Insert a very loud evangelical Baptist hallelujah!!)
I will end with this. I have heard the saying “cracked and broken places are where the light shines through.” I agree. But sometimes, there is nothing, but ashes left behind, and there is no patching, gluing, or rebuilding something totally decimated. Something brand new must be created from the ashes. Something grander and better.
Just like Brett will never know how painful it was for me to watch his emotional agony when he saw the hospital parking lot, I knew the doctors held the necessary means to wholeness and health. God understands and knows there is a process to the other side of betrayal that has its own journey of thorns and briers to get to the beautiful clearing.
Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, that will not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, the flames will not consume you.”
Life will always be hard. Life will always have difficulty. The Bible attests to this from Genesis to Revelations. But He is always infusing the believer strength that comes with joy. He renews his spirit within us until we are whole and with Jesus one day. So, for the believer “the best is always yet to come.” And for me right now I am living my best life yet, and there is always more to come! (Insert another hallelujah…Baptist style!)