PROLOGUE.

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Four more stoplights. Two minutes, maybe two and a half, stand between me and the pavement. Four stoplights and then I jump.

The bruises aren’t developed yet from the beating this morning at the hands of my mother. I can feel the scratches on my throat and back, and I’m not sure if my stomach is in knots from the blows or nerves. My face is raw and red from crying and my eyelids feel swollen and heavy. I look out the window at the sun and clouds and all of the people walking on the streets of our small Missouri town, indifferent to the choice I’m currently weighing in my mind. I know she is waiting for me to come home, and here I am, in the backseat of my aunts car with my cousins four deep in the backseat beside me, driving back to my parents house.

Strategically, the oldest is on my right. If I go through with it, I will jump from the backseat of the drivers side, and I will run. The YMCA is two and a half blocks to the west. I’m fast. As long as I land on my feet, I know I will be in the door before anyone can catch up to me. I also know they wont try to catch me either. That’s the plan.

Two stoplights. I need to go at the next intersection. I look to my right. The 12 year old is next to me. I’m confident that when I open the door to the oldsmobile, she will protect the other two from falling, or following. I have seconds now to change my mind.

The image of my mother holding my back firm against the dresser with her body as she moves her hands from around my throat to my mouth flashes in my mind. My mother who has Hepatitis B. She pries my mouth open and spits. It’s just a memory. It isn’t going to happen again. I tell myself as the tears prick my eyes. I’m getting more and more afraid to jump, but I am TERRIFIED of staying in the car. Every second we are getting closer to the house that will be the end of me, I’m sure of that.

I glance again at my cousins and at my aunts in the front seat. I’m not changing my mind. I’m going to jump. My legs are twitching with anticipation and my stomach does a flip. I know in that moment that I’m brave enough.

“I’m sorry.” I whisper a silent apology to my family, knowing my next move will forever change them and myself.

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The last words I ever said to “Him”.

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written and sent on June 7, 2010…

“being busy is an easy excuse as to why i havent called or written, but i guess for me that really isnt the only reason. i dont know why, but for some reason there are just a lot of things that i feel like i cant say to you, or that im afraid to say because i dont know what is and isnt appropriate, and i dont ever want to offend or hurt you. i really loved being able to rebuild a relationship with you, and it has been very healthy for me to hear your side of some of the things that happened between you and debbie. on the same note, sometimes hearing it, or talking about my past (or your past as it pertains to me, even some of the really great things and great memories) brings things up within me that are hard to deal with and hard to think about. again, i dont ever want to offend or hurt you, but its just hard because sometimes i get the impression that the childhood and adolecent life that i remember has been interpreted a little differently by me than it was by you (or by debbie when she was alive). i dont want to make you feel like there werent so many things that you guys did right, because there were many things that i appreciate, and that i as a parent understand and see the importance of. unfortunately though there was also a lot of wrong. im thankful for my past and for the character it has built within me, but i also see now as a wife and a mother, and even as a daughter that it is never okay to raise a child in a home that isnt built on a solid foundation.

(im sorry, but right now im reaching for the words that can best explain how i feel, and sometimes i just dont know how to say it)

being a mother i feel like my singlemost important job is to protect my children from the evils of this world and instill in them self respect and self worth and to try to do this in ways that are healthy and productive for them. before i was a parent myself, it was easy for me to “overlook” some of the techniques used in the way i was parented. obviously, even by the age of 13 i knew that some things were wrong, and extreme, and i knew that it wasnt appropriate for a child to be raised in that, but it was also very easy for me to forgive, and to move past because at that time it only involved myself. before becoming a parent, and even during the first two years of devins life, i found that i was still able to keep that mindset. the mindset that everytrhing from my past was in the past, and that it didnt effect me, or that i had forgiven and moved past it. the truth is though that im finding that i am not as strong as i once thought and that the more and more in depth i become as a parent, the harder and harder i find it to have a relationship with you. i want to be kind, and to show you grace and to completely forgive and forget the past, but now that i am a mom, its so hard. i know that nick and i live a VERY VERY different life than the life you and debbie lived, and i know that in a home where there are drugs and alchohol some things that arent okay might seem “not so bad”. the fact that there were even drugs or alchohol in a home where a child was being raised is just absolutely disturbing and just wrong. i know that its easy for me to say because i am not a drug addict or an alchoholic (or a smoker for that matter, another thing that a child shouldnt have to be raised around) , but i also think that out of the love that i have for my children that if i would ever find myself in a situation where i found either of these to be a weakness for me, i would remove myself from them in order to protect them and i would seek help to try and get as healthy as i possibly could be so that i could reunite with them as soon as possible. if i couldnt remove myself from them, i would find a way to remove them from the situation and get them somewhere safe and healthy where they wouldnt have to observe either of those addictions. protecting and caring for my children is the most important thing i can do for them, and if i do that, then everything else that i need to do to help them grow and deveop should fall into place from there. unfortunately in my home growing up, the addictions were just the beginning….

ive found myself many times making excuses for you and debbie as to why the things that happened happened. i find myself saying “oh she wouldnt have done that if she werent high on drugs” or “he wouldnt have done that if he werent drunk”, but there arent excuses. there isnt excuses to validify hitting your wife, hitting your husband, or EVER EVER HITTING YOUR CHILD. i know that you and debbie both grew up in homes where you observed and experienced this very behavior. i know that statistically they say that this behavior continues in families because a child raised in it thinks that the behavior is okay and will then adopt the behavior themselves. im sorry, but that behavior is not okay. i was raised in it, and i knew it was not okay, i still know that it is not okay, and one of the hardest things for me to deal with as an adult is the question as to WHY DIDNT EITHER OF YOU THINK IT WASNT OKAY? didnt you remember what it was like when your dad hurt you? didnt she remember what it was like? did either of you watch your parents get into physical altrications and remember what you felt like when observing them? how could it have never crossed the minds of either of you that you were introducing me to the same evils or your very own past that hurt and scarred you?

i fear even right now writing this that in your mind you are defending yourself, defending your own past and your metholds of parenting. it seems like most of the people i have met that have “problems” often feel like everyone else is the “problem” or that the person telling them that they have a problem is wrong, or not valid in pointing it out. the intent of this email isnt to point fingers or to try to demean you, or to hurt you in any way. its just that every single time i have talked to you (since becoming an adult) i get this big ball in the pit of my stomach. its all of these feelings and questions that i have, and when i am face to face, or talking to you on the phone i cant find the words to ask them. i cant find the words to say or im afraid to say them because i fear that if i question you, you will downplay it, or make excuses, or make me feel like “things werent that bad.” and maybe that is how you feel, or how things were for you in the situation, but for me, they were that bad. (and maybe im projecting what “i think” you might be thinking, and im way way off) im not going to go into what exactly i went through, or how it made me feel…i just need you to know that it was bad, and that everytime i talk to you i find myself back in that place. i so want a realtionship with you, and i so want to be able to chat about our shared love of animals and gardening and politics but when im talking about those things my insides are all balled up thinking about the things i ‘cant’ say. i love those conversations with you, but for the next few days i find that i deal with a flood of emotions because i have to again revisit the past and continue to wonder why things were the way they were and wonder why i cant just bring myself to ask you.

im so happy that you have found love in carolyn, and that you are not alone…but that too brings up so many concerns and issues for me. i know there has already been fighting and not getting along between the two of you, (and i dont know what kind of “fighting”) but it all makes me revisit your relationship with debbie. ive never asked you because i dont know how, but are your “fights” with her the same as your “fighting” in the past? once i had called you (it was actually one of the last times i had talked to you, and was actually what prompted me to put a hold on our communications) and carolyn answered. i had asked her how things were and she seemed very happy, but she had coyly mentioned that she “wouldnt put up with you when youve been drinking.” i cant even tell you what this little statement did to me. i know your life is your life, and your choices are your own, but the very thought that you would again return to alchohol just sickened and (if im being honest) infuriated me. you are an adult and you are free do to as you wish, but when i heard that there was even a chance that you were again stepping back into alchohol i knew that i needed to remove myself from the situation. i cant be in contact with a person that is an alchoholic, just as i will never be able to be in contact with a person that is a drug addict. people that chose that life are not productive to my life. i dont know if that is coming out the way i intend for it to, or if it just sounds rude and wrong, but if saying it means that i am rude i guess it has to be so. there is not a place in my life, nor my families life for addictive behavior- abusive behavior- sinful behavior….just as a dog returns to its own vomit a sinner returns to sin. maybe im too harsh, maybe im unforgiving… i dont know, but i know that it is my job to protect my family and protect my children and that starts with protecting myself. if you are drinking, or having physical altrications- im sorry…i cant have a relationship with you. this isnt to hurt you, and im in no way judging the way you live your life- im only protecting my own spirit. having a relationship with a person who is in an addictive or abusive relationship (be it with a person, with alchohol, or with a substance) could break my spirit and could really do damage in my life, and for that reason i must be strong and determined in not allowing that into my life. i hope that i am way way off and that none of this is a problem in your life right now, and i hope that you are as alchohol free and as healthy as can be! again, these are just questions that i find that when i am on the phone with you i cant bring myself to ask.

finally, where is this relationship going and what exactly is this relationship? this is a question that nick is constantly asking me. i guess i need to just tell you what i am thinking and feeling. ive put a great deal of thought and a great deal of stress into figuring out what is the best way to approach this. i really love that you have put so much effort and i can tell love into trying to build a relationship with me and my family. its very kind and i know that you are just trying to be a “dad” to me. the reality is though, that you and i dont have a ‘normal’ father daughter relationship, or bond. i will never strip you of the title ‘FATHER’ because for 13 years you were my father, and im sure that in your heart you will always be a father, and in my heart you will always be my ‘dad’. i dont know if im going to get through this next part using the right words. i love you, and i do want a relationship with you, whatever kind of relationship we can have as long as you are free from alchoholism, but my job as a mother is to protect my children. this hurts me so much to say…but my children cant have a relationship with you. my children cant know (until they are adults and able to comprehend what has happened in my life) who you are. i cant explain to them who you are, or let them talk to you or have a relationship with you. my dad tim is their grandpa, my mom rita is their grandma. even if your life is completely healthy now, i just cant do it. i cant try to explain these things to them, and i cant have them around you because the one time we brought devin into your house and i saw you holding him, i didnt feel like i was protecting him. I KNOW THAT YOU WOULD NEVER EVER DO ANYTHING TO HURT THEM, and i dont question your intentions at all, it isnt you at all, its me. when i step into your house, im a child again, and the feelings of my childhood flood my being. to see you holding or to watch you have a relationship with my kids makes me feel like i am failing to protect them, or that i am introducing them to something that they shouldnt know. i would love to tell you how they are, and to tell you about their development and their successes, but i just cant let you be a grandfather to them. i cant give devin cards and gifts from you and try to explain who you are, or why you are sending him a gift. i didnt understand how all of this was going to effect me until devin became old enough to ask me “who is this from?” when i handed him a card from you. i cant answer him. i know everything im saying right now is hurting you, and that hurts me so much. i wish so badly that it could be different, but i know that it cant. i dont know if this seems extreme, or like im trying to hurt you, or like im trying to keep something from you, i dont know how you are feeling right now. all i know is myself, my husband and what we have decided would be the best way to protect and raise our children and the conclusion that we have come up with is this, i shouldnt even say we, its me. its the only way for me. like i said in the beginning i would LOVE for you to see pictures of the kids, see my daily updates of what they have done that day or what their little successes and accomplishments are.  i would love to share that with you, but it would be between us. it cant involve them, does this make sense? i dont know if it does to you, or to anyone else. for me, it does though. right now this is how i would need for it to be.

i dont know where all of this puts us. i cant tell you how to interpret anything ive just said, and im sorry if anything ive said brings you back to a place (emotionally) that you dont want to be. believe me, im in that place far too often and i dont want to be the cause of making someone else feel ‘bad’. i hope that by sending this im answering questions that you might have as to why i havent contacted or called you in a while. i dont know if things came across the right way, i dont know if god gave me the words to explain how i am feeling without being hurtful. im not a direct and confrentational person, and even typing this makes me feel like im attacking you. i really hope that nothing ive said made you feel “attacked” or “ambushed”…its not my intentions at all! i guess i just have a few questions and i am not even sure if they are questions that can be answered or not. i hope that we can continue a relationship, and im open to whatever you have to say, to whatever you are feeling, and to whatever you are thinking. and im fine with continuing our talks, i just havent called because i knew that i needed to direct these things before we could continue (and quite honestly it was easier for me to just not call, than to have to bring all of this up).

im not sure what “salutations” is appropriate to end a letter like this…i just hope that i havent offended you, and that you feel like you can respond to me. i really do care about you,, and the very last thing i want to tell you is how hard it has been for me to say these things because i knew that in asking and saying them, i could hurt you. i care anough about you that it has been easier for me to feel and deal with it than to just come out and say it all. i dont know if that is healthy for either of us or not…but now its all out there.”

….he never responded.

FORGIVENESS.

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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

FORGIVENESS

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.