It occurs to me that if I have been given the opportunity to share my writing, my story, my life with you- then I am truly blessed to have a “platform” to be able to express a message through. It does not escape me that this also gives me the chance to help others or equip them with a skill or thought process that, perhaps, they haven’t explored before? I wish I could tell you that I am wise beyond my 30 years, or I have beautifully mastered this journey called life, but its my true belief that wisdom and mastery of life come with experiences and SKILLS that help you appropriately address and RESPOND to those experiences. I haven’t always gracefully handled every circumstance life dishes out, but once I found that FORGIVENESS was something I could do for my OWN FREEDOM (not for the sake of the one being forgiven), I found myself in a position of control and peace over “circumstance”. I could decide to give the power to my angst, anger, hurt, disappointment and pain by holding onto it and locking it inside to devour me; OR I could decide to accept events and circumstances and FORGIVE in order to move on and live a life of JOY and PEACE that the forgiven would never be able to interfere with or change. This “skill” is one I use DAILY. Sometimes it takes time, thought and intention, but it has always been worth it when you find freedom of the things or people that once oppressed you.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – (attributed to) Charles R. Swindoll
For 13 years I lived with my biological mother and her spouse. When she was 21, Debbie found herself alone and with a child. When I was 6 months old, Jerry entered our lives. They married and he adopted me, as if I were his own, and together they raised me from infant to adolescence.
Jerry and Debbie were not a match made in heaven, or even a good pairing at that. They were both raised in addictive and abusive homes, and neither possessed the skills to effectively navigate a relationship, much less a marriage. They would separate and re-couple often, and “fighting fair” was never part of their relationship tactic.
Growing up in a home of alcohol and drug addictions was interesting and difficult to navigate. Being a child, I learned rather quickly that rarely seen seldom heard was usually the best approach. I spent my time alone playing with toys, outside with my dog, or exploring towns and nature in the many places we lived. We moved often, as is usually the case with those dealing drugs. Either paranoia of being exposed or deals gone bad with the wrong people kept us constantly moving from town to town and crossing back and forth between two neighboring states. I rarely was in a school long enough to make friends, and found that even though I was extroverted by nature, I became reclusive and socially awkward. It would be impossible to get to know anyone for many years because I could never bring them to my house, or genuinely share with them what my family life was like. I knew what was and wasn’t appropriate to speak about, and the inner workings of our family life were clearly off limits.
My parents would constantly remind me that my life could be much worse. They would defend their aggressive behaviors towards me by reminding me that they had experienced far worse than I ever had, and that if I dare complain about them hurting me, they could easily show me that my existence could be far more painful. I was told not to cry when being hit or else I would be “given something to cry about”. You learn to “suck it up” and “be tough”, when inside all you want is to fall apart. Its a state of fear that leads to acceptance. Eventually you simply accept that this is your life, and it isn’t going to change. You adapt and figure out how to best navigate it, until something drastic forever changes your destiny.
I was 13 when that day came for me. I was older now, and I was convinced that the way I was living was not “better” than the alternative, reguardless of what I had been brainwashed to believe. My parents were very good at instilling fear of the unknown- “You would never make it in a group home, they would eat you alive!” “You have it so good, your just too selfish to see it. Life could be so much worse for you, like it was for us growing up.” “Your lucky we are your parents, we are the only ones that would ever put up with you.” “If you think this is bad, I can always make it worse.”. This was my life from about age 9-13….nearly every day. I was living with a drunk father and a strung out mother, and every single “thing” was a struggle. I took care of myself, fed myself, got myself up and ready every morning, got myself to school, figured out bus routs and bus stops, and pulled pillows over my head every night to muffle out the yelling and blaring loud Fleetwood Mac music playing until 3am when they would both pass out. This wasn’t my every day, but as those years dragged on, it felt like this was my only existence. I no longer hoped for “good” days because they were so few; instead I daily embraced myself for what usually lie ahead. During one of the horrible days, I heard a voice telling me that this was not the life that was intended for me…there was better out there, but fear was holding me back from it. I ran. This was the day I started my journey into the foster care system where I bounced around for a few years before my MOM and DAD, the Champs, found me and made me theirs.
When I was 17, my senior year of high school, I was thriving. Without sounding arrogant, life was amazing! I was a part of a family that loved me unconditionally, I was excelling in academics, I was playing sports and involved in many extra curricular school and church activities….I was normal and happy and blessed. It was January, and I had a varsity basketball game that evening. I had just gotten home from school and was preparing a snack, the usual routine before a big game when I got the call. Debbie was dead, Jerry was in jail suspected of homicide, details were vague.
Its an interesting mix of emotion one feels, so interesting in fact that I doubt many can comprehend. I was standing in my comfortable and safe home where my FAMILY loved and supported me, but the people that raised me for my first 13 years were both, in my mind, gone. Jerry was responsible, Debbie was dead, and I was living a normal and happy life. How do you respond to that? Ill share in a later writing.
After speaking at Debbies funeral with my mom and dad in the front row supporting me, I went on with life. I graduated with a scholarship and went on to Bible College, I had friends and relationships and always moved forward. I met Nick, quickly realized that he was my future, and God became the core of our relationship and we were married a year later. Life was amazing, and I knew I had moved on, but there was something that always hindered me….I had yet to FORGIVE.
In my heart, I had forgiven Debbie and released my fear of her and my indifference towards her. I accepted that she did the best she could with the skills she had, and decided that she DID love me, but without a healthy example of how to love another, she simply lacked the ability to show me without hurting me. I respect her for who she was, and am thankful for the strength she instilled in me. I wont ever pretend that she was something she wasn’t, but I also choose not to disgrace her for who she was. She raised me. She tried at times to be a mother. I’m appreciative and thankful. Forgiving her seemed easier because she was gone, I no longer had to ever live in fear of her finding me or hurting me EVER again.
Jerry, on the other hand, was alive and shortly after Nick and I were married, he was released from prison. (Yes, you did the math correctly, he spent barely over 2 years in confinement for what he had done. Another example of a broken system.) I don’t know why, but I heard a voice telling me that I needed to face him, to confront my fear, and to tell him that I had forgiven him for not only my upbringing but also for what he had done after I left. I had already forgiven him in my heart and moved on, but it was clear that I was being called to address this WITH HIM. It seems absurd, but it was exactly what I needed to do, so I did.
I found his prison id number and traced it to his parole officer who I then called and left a message for Jerry with my phone number. I didn’t know if he would ever call, but he did, later that day. I didn’t go into great detail with him. I told him I was married, happy, successful, and that I didn’t hold anger towards him. I told him I didn’t need his apology (as if he ever gave one) but that he was forgiven.
For the next 4 years, I had a relationship with him. I made it clear that the Champs and the Champs alone were my parents, that Tim was my DAD, but that I would never deny that he was my father for 13 years. I spoke to him on the phone about once a month, and Nick and I even went to visit him (briefly, for only an hour each visit) 3 times.
At no time during this 4 years did Jerry ever take responsibility for ANYTHING. It took me a long time to really digest that. He always blamed Debbie for every fight, for everything that happened to me, even blamed her for the night that resulted in her death. It was after much thought, and upon finding out he was drinking AGAIN, that I realized that FORGIVING him did NOT mean that I had to support him nor did it mean that I needed to have a relationship with him. I was so afraid of “hurting” him by forcing him to “feel bad” for what he had done that I never actually made him accept ANY responsibility for anything he had ever done….I was enabling him!
I learned that forgiveness is NOT enabling someone to hurt you further, nor is it allowing someone to deny responsibility for their actions (past or present). You CAN forgive someone who has not asked for your forgiveness, its called Grace. I had Grace-like forgiveness to offer Jerry at that time, but I refused to enable him by allowing him to deny responsibility.
A little over 5 years ago, at 25, I wrote Jerry a letter. I told him that he was forgiven, and that my intention was not to condemn him, BUT in order to continue any kind of relationship with me he would need to take responsibility for his past and present actions. I didn’t need an apology from him, I simply needed an ADMISSION that the years of abuse and neglect he had subjected me to were inappropriate and unnecessary, and to accept responsibility in his actions that resulted in Debbies death.
That was the last I ever heard from Jerry. He never responded to the letter, and that lack of a response was his answer to me. He would not take responsibility, and he would not concede, he was incapable of humility, therefore he AND HE ALONE decided to terminate what little relationship I was willing to have with him. We have never heard from him since, and other than the times when I’m speaking or mentoring on this message of forgiveness, I don’t think about him.
FORGIVENESS doesn’t have to be earned, and it isn’t something I did for Jerry, it was something I did for ME! I did it for Nick, for my children, for the Champs….I did it because I want to live a JOY FILLED LIFE, and I could never be filled with JOY if my heart was already occupied with contempt. In forgiving him, without him asking for it, or even deserving it for that matter, I took away every last shred of control he would ever have over me and replaced it with GRACE. I am thankful for him, for the lessons he tought me, good and bad, and for his presence in my life. I MEAN THAT. I learned from him, even if it wasn’t in appropriate ways. I have a photo of me sitting in the drivers seat of his truck, smiling and laughing. I remember he did that with me often when I was very small…he would sit me in his lap while I steered and he ran the petals and we would drive down the gravel roads by the river. I remember him teaching me to cast a reel and telling me I was a natural fisherwoman, something I’m still pretty good at. I choose to remember him like that and smile. His drunken rages have no power over me because I’ve forgiven that and don’t have to think of it…I can remember him however I want to and I DECIDE to remember the good. It isn’t something he deserves, or something he has asked for, or something I do for him….FOGIVENESS is for the one forgiving. In forgiving him, I am not a victim. I take responsibility for MY life, MY actions, MY destiny…MY JOY.