forgiveness: expect miracles

“Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” – CS Lewis

Forgiveness of grave acts of injustice can feel like an abstract concept to those who have not experienced those acts. ( — PRISM magazine)

Sometimes I write, telling parts of my story, in order take what is anything but abstract for me and try to make it clear to others – to help my fellow journeymen (and women.)

My pastor said yesterday … that anger and the need to retaliate when someone has hurt you is “normal“; as normal as the reflexes a doctor checks when she taps on our knees during a check-up.  Normal.

I hate that word.  I don’t understand the use of it.  It is a bit reckless to say anything is normal these days when people have such diverse experiences.  But think I understand what he was trying to say —  that  a wish for vindication when you have been hurt is a healthy response.  But even that doesn’t sound quite right.  How about a human response?

But what response  should one have to being hurt or abused or rebuked or shamed or yelled at?  To retaliate?  No, I think he means a human response to lighter stuff like being gossiped against is to strike back.   Because when I think about my childhood, I think the healthy response is to shrink. One will cower.  One learns to hide, to disappear, to not be the object of that person’s attention.  Perhaps this response  is not “normal” but it sure was “reflexive” for me. That’s why it is hard to hear that “wanting revenge is normal” if that is indeed what he meant.

Then, as I look back, I see that THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES when I wanted a sort of revenge with my father and mother.

I have carried fear of my father for as long as I can remember and an anger at my mom for not protecting us.  And a kind of fury. I used to have rage dreams and on the really rare occasion I will have them still.  But they are  thankfully now years in-between.

The powerlessness that comes from having a father who never admitted he was wrong creates that anger and sense of worthlessness.

It is not worth trying to explain yourself.

It is not worth needing your own opinion.

It is not worth expending energy because nothing really matters.  Nothing

really matters at all.

I am so glad I am past that.

It’s just too bad he had to died for me to come to this place. I carry a huge feeling of loss that I never knew a sweetness in my relationship with my dad.  I loved him out of fear and a wish to please him.  I know he loved me.  But he just – couldn’t – help himself?

It is true he couldn’t help himself.  I wish he could have let God help him.

I miss him now, as I ponder what could have been.  He really was a dear man, loved by so many around the world who were his friends and never knew the secret rage inside him.  I’m glad that many people didn’t know – in a way – because Dad accomplished many good things.  Helped many people.  Was loved by many.

God why did you take him so young?  Sixty-two?  I hope

it wasn’t simply

so I could live.

No, I don’t think God works like that.

It was simply a convergence of events coming together to give him cancer and take him home.  And my ability to heal, to forgive, well I have to believe that I might have come to it even if my dad was still here.  Perhaps it would have taken longer, but it would have come.

I have forgiven my father and then I think of my mother, who still has a story to tell.  I don’t know if anyone would believe her, but she has so much in her life story that could be helpful to others.  Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation, caught between a person who does good things and has their secrets A Christian leader who means well but whose home life isn’t right at all.  But that, is her story.   Perhaps one day I can help her tell it.

IN THE END what needs to be said is this.

Forgiveness is what each  Christ follower is asked to do in response to the forgiveness Jesus extends to us.  It is not easy.  It can take a long time.  It often depends on the emotional health of the person doing the forgiving.  It always depends on all the factors surrounding the situation and each person has to sort that out, often with the help of a pastor or a counselor.

I have been in therapy of one sort or another, off and on, for almost twenty years!  Wow, that’s crazy sounding but it’s true.

Pulling back the layers of pain,

the years of stagnation and lack of  healthy growth as a human being,

the crazy mixed up ideas,

the strange perspectives and opinions picked up over the years.

The times of resisting and not being willing to obey God.

And finally coming to a point that one decides for themselves what to do  — without the guilt or coercion of others, but in complete obedience.

It’s messy.  It’s damn difficult.

But it is so sweet, when finally healing, forgiveness and the mercy of Jesus at the cross come down on you.

And you begin anew… and your story continues…

Where does rage come from?

I do not know and I have pondered my father’s strange rage for many years.  I cannot pretend to have answers and obviously I cannot ask him.  But I have a friend who works with incest survivors.  She has a very special ministry. My father always said that he was sexually abused as a child, by a minister in his church.  I never believed him.  But I asked my friend about this and she said:  “When a person admits to this as an adult, they are telling the truth.  They have no reason to lie.”

No reason to lie.  She also said very often anger like that comes from abuse in the past.

I don’t know if it is true but I cannot ignore this:

In Forgiveness: following Jesus into radical loving Paula Huston says: “Regarding the tender souls of children, Jesus says in a passage that can be read as referring either to young human beings or to “baby” Christians: ‘Things that cause people to sin will inevitably occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.‘ (Luke 17:1-3)  The roots of our adult sin patterns are often to be found in the still-gaping wounds of childhood.”

So my father was hurt as a child.  And I was crushed by his pain and hurt, as he took it out in the form of rage and anger.

At some point we are each responsible to work through our experiences and get to a point of healing.

Again, from Huston,

“Then, and only then (after the process to be sure) we can see the other person as “a human being, no matter how degraded, a fellow soul made in the image and likeness of the God we adore.” (added by me)

God causes his sun to fall on both the good and the evil, and his rain to fall on both the righteous and unrighteous. (Phooey, I can’t remember the reference.)

The longer we shut up our heart against the one that has hurt us the closer we come

to losing our own heart,

our humanity,

even our life.

And for some even our minds.

These things  happened to me in the form of depression, alcoholism, and self-loathing.

And so, for today, I just want you, the reader, to know that there is hope.  It is found in Jesus at the cross if you will spend some time there.  Lay those things down; the heavy burden of pain — close your eyes and picture** putting it at Jesus’ feet.  Give it to God.  Release it when you are ready and be ready for miracles.


** Some people have a hard time picturing things in their mind’s eye.  If that is true for you I would urge you to watch the movie THE MISSION.  That movie will give you a picture of your pain and lack of forgiveness as those heavy pieces of armor  that the priest dragged up a water fall as penance.  Whenever I begin to forget what my bitterness and anger, lack of forgiveness are doing to me, I can see in my mind’s eye that sack of armor.  No one can live that way.  No one should live that way.  No one needs to live that way.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

I sat down this afternoon to watch the Packers.  Afterward, I was flipping through the stations to get my mind off a poor performance and I was waiting to see what was needed as Emma celebrated her 11th birthday with five girlfriends.

After I scrolled along through over 100 channels I came to the 1967 movie classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharen Hepburn, as the liberal progressive white parents, and the hero is played by the first black acting superstar, Sidney Poitier.

I have never seen the entire movie and didn’t today.  I came in when the Poitier character was talking to his father about his desire to marry.  He said:

“… I owe you nothing … You did what you did for me because you were supposed to do.  You don’t own me.  You don’t even know who I am, what I feel, how I think.  And not until your whole generation lays down and dies will the dead weight of you be off our backs.  I love you and will always love you, but you think of yourself as a colored man.  I think of myself as a man.”

Prejudice and bigotry kept young blacks and whites in America from marrying or even dating in the not too distant past.  It was even illegal in many states, the year this movie was released.

My mind went instantly to Barack Obama, who’s parents’ marriage would have been in in some states.

In that same year of 1967, LBJ’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, offered his resignation when his daughter, a Stanford student, announced her engagement to a black Georgetown grad working at NASA. (Johnson didn’t accept it.)

I too always thought my parents were progressive liberals and were past the prejudices in this movie.  My father actually marched in the 60s.  But one day I came home my senior year of high school (’83-’84) exuberant that the star basketball player at my school, a guy that I had been friends with a while, knew well and liked, wanted to take me out.  I was absolutely gushing!  I really had a crush on this guy and he obviously like me too.   He was headed to MIT or something comparable.  He saved me in computer class, because I didn’t understand a thing!

But he was black.  And that was all my father could think about when I explained how cool this was.  Dad didn’t say no, but he served up a litany of reasons for why- it- might- not- be- wise- most- especially- “Think of your children!”  Children? Jeez, I wasn’t asking to marry the guy! I had hardly dated in high school for various reasons and this amazing, beautiful boy wanted to go out with me!

I never expected that reaction from my Dad.  And it’s puzzling to think how you can believe something intellectually but not be forced by real circumstances to prove it.  But you know what makes me really mad, and ashamed about the whole thing is how I accepted it.  I took it.  I sat there and did what he wanted.  Our my own fear of my father’s disproval, I never had that date.  I don’t remember exactly how I ended it, but twenty-five years later I still feel sick about it and wonder where Kendrick is today? Back to the movie, the girl’s father in the movie finally comes to see that they can and should marry.  He said “You are going to have to cling tight to each other and say screw all those people that disagree.”  So much is different, for the better, than when I was in high school.  No thanks to me, but to the brave men and women of the civil-rights movement.

From a NYT Op Ed written by Frank Rich on the 1st of November, but I found it today Googling the date the movie was made.

Obama doesn’t transcend race. He isn’t post-race. He is the latest chapter in the ever-unfurling American racial saga. It is an astonishing chapter. For most Americans, it seems as if Obama first came to dinner only yesterday. Should he win the White House on Tuesday, many will cheer and more than a few will cry as history moves inexorably forward.

But we are a people as practical as we are dreamy. We’ll soon remember that the country is in a deep ditch, and that we turned to the black guy not only because we hoped he would lift us up but because he looked like the strongest leader to dig us out.

I’m feeling reflective obviously and profoundly thankful that Barack Obama’s parents had the courage to be together and that this incredible man was born.  But for me, at 42, as a mother, I have to figure out how this is meaningful to me beyond what I feel is a mistake  or huge regret in my own life.   How do I transcend this and do something positive?

My children are 20, 11, 9 and 7.  I must be ready for the day when they come home with the love of their life and welcome them with open arms, no matter their race, gender or age.

But on a lighter and more immediate note: Many cultures have traditions of opening their homes to strangers and inviting them to share a meal.  In the United States, many of us celebrate Thanksgiving often welcome visitors to our tables.  What about you.  If you want to I’d love to hear about the most interesting guest you’ve ever broken bread with — holiday-related or otherwise.

Where were they from? How did they come to be at your table? What tales did they have to tell? Did you feel richer for the experience of hosting them?

And as you consider this thanksgiving, rembmer that there are lots of people that won’t be able to travel this year because of the economy.  Perhaps consider someone you know and invite them to come for dinner.