Matthew 6:14 says, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (NWT)
I was born a Midwestern farm girl to very young parents that were just starting out in the adult world. We didn’t have a lot and they struggled to make ends meet. My mom stayed home with me, but also worked with my dad in the fields, so my grandparents were part-time caregivers as well. My dad wasn’t around a lot because his days were filled with long hours. As a nightly 6-pack became his friend, the kind of a father and husband he was able to be to us lessened. Eventually, I was filled with anger and resentment, respecting him not for the family patriarch he was supposed to be, but only for the work ethic he had instilled in me. Forgiveness was my enemy until I was willing to accept the forgiveness given to me.
Most of my memories from childhood are happy. I remember the sounds of our laughter on most summer days as we all played in the sprinkler, the smell of hot fruits as my grandmother made jelly, juice, and pies, the feel of the summer breeze that flowed through open windows and the sounds of the leaves from the trees that surrounded the houses that we spent so much time in. I remember the quiet hum of my grandmother’s sewing machine and the smell of the fabric as it was being pressed, the creak of the old wooden staircase that my grandpa would walk down to put wood in the stove in the winter as we sat at the table drinking hot cocoa, warming up from our sledding adventures.
Teenage years are difficult for any young person. Add alcohol and abuse to that, and you have scars that never heal. I was about 12 the day my world shattered. I had been watching a Saturday morning show that Olympic gymnast, Mary Lou Retton was on doing a beam demonstration. I had found it very odd that my mom was not up and around yet; she usually got me up early in her chipper “mom voice”. I finally heard her in the kitchen going through papers on the counter. My inner gymnast was eager to show her the beam moves I had learned. The moment she faced me was the moment I will never forget. Shades of black and blue covered her face, the left side barely recognizable, and the whites of her eyes were blood red. Shame and hurt filled her eyes and she quickly looked away. It did not make sense to ask her what happened because I already knew. My heart was broken. I suddenly felt like I was standing in the middle of the rubble of a building that had just fallen, debris all around me, waiting for the dust to settle. From then on, my life felt like a continuous string of lies. No one was to know what happened. Ever. It was cruel to ask a child to keep a secret like that. Every time a lie was told, the scar from that day was ripped open and I felt like I was going through it all over again.
High school came and was my escape from everything. Piles of books kept me in deep study at home. The more I stayed in my room, the less time I had with them. One day, my bright spot came. Sitting in a quiet Seminar class, I met him. He hadn’t been at the school long and had befriended my best friend, who was playing matchmaker right under my nose. It didn’t take me long to fall head over heels. We had so much more in common than we had differences. Being from a small town, I knew some of his family already and was content to spend my time with them; it kept me away from home. For a year and a half, we were solid. My dad had grown to hate him and the idea of us being together. That can weaken even the strongest of relationships. Eventually, my fear became greater than any love I was capable of giving at the time and I ran.
From then on, I treated myself the way I wanted and the way I felt I deserved – like nothing. Any sense of self-respect that I had was gone. I had become content with both casual dating and casual flings. I had two or three relationships that had potential, but at the first sign of seriousness, I bolted like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, knowing it was for their own good.
Time brought perspective and, surprisingly, my life partner. We were married after two years of dating and I was thrust into the military lifestyle. It was a lifestyle I thought I was ready for, but I was wrong. Our first move took us to Alaska. Looking back, I am sorry I was not more excited about the opportunity because I fell in love with everything about it. We loved it so much, we bought a house with plans to retire there. One day (not so long ago), after many discussions about retirement plans, he walked in the door and said he had talked to so-and-so and decided that he was staying in the military and wanted to go overseas. I felt overwhelmed at the moment, like I was being pelted with hundreds of snowballs and had nowhere to hide. My instinct was to run like I always had. This was no longer about me anymore, it was not about him anymore. It was about us and our children. My second instinct was to get angry. I had plenty of anger to go around, but more than that, I had sadness. Once again, I was completely broken. Since when was so-and-so a factor in our marriage? Why did he feel that he couldn’t have this conversation with me? After 11 years of marriage, this was the first time I had thought about leaving. For nearly two weeks, I struggled, I prayed, I cried, and I prayed some more. Finally, I was able to grant to him what it took me so long to grant to myself and my father: I was able to forgive him. I realized that he is human. I’m not perfect, so why was I wanting him to live up to that expectation?
My forgiveness was able to be given as a result of my brokenness. My brokenness put me on my knees time after time and was a reminder that, although I felt like God was so far away, He was really right there with me. The day he sent his son to die, was the day I was forgiven. All I had to do was accept His undeserved gift.