There is healing in forgiveness, but one must look deep within themselves. It is amazing how a feeling of deep and bitter anger can hold you back from true happiness. I will never forget sitting in Mt. Airy Methodist Church in March of 1995 and talking with Rev. Don Crist. He asked, “Why are you not angry?” I told him I was not angry. I believe now, he knew that I was, and was trying to get me to acknowledge my “Anger”. It would take years of “unconditional love” before I would understand what anger was doing to my life.
Frederic Luskin, a Stanford researcher, defines forgiveness as “the moment to moment experience of peace and understanding that occurs when an injured parties suffering is reduced by the process of transforming a grievance they have held against an offending party”. Peace and understanding would begin June 12th, 1994 (the day I met my husband, John) and would become a part of my journey. The injured parties are my mother and I, the offending party would be our life circumstances that would bring years of destruction.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is not a pardon, excuse or acceptable behavior. Forgiveness is a process and one that can set you free. It is a long process and a lot of hard work, but can break patters that would otherwise interfere with future relationships. I have always been surprised that I did not go down the road of drug and alcohol abuse or that I didn’t suffer psychological effects. But who is to say I have not. I can assure you this, the destruction I faced as a child and teenager has played a huge part in which I have become today.
My biological mother told everyone she knew I had died at birth and then placed me up for adoption. She never once held me. My parents adopted for reasons evolving around my mother’s health and my father wanting a daughter after having two natural sons.
My mother, born in September of 1939, was diagnosed with polio (poliomyelitis) at 18 months old. They called it the summer plague, because it seemed to be most active then. It has never been proven but it was thought that my mother contracted polio one of two ways, from either swimming in the Ohio River or swimming at Coney Island the summer of 1940. Today not many people speak about polio. It remains a legacy and is estimated that 600,000 polio survivors live in the U.S. My mother, being one of those survivors, is still alive today. Polio was only the beginning of her journey of struggle, abandonment, and loss that would roll in like a freight train into my life. This is why the suffering and grievance would begin at such a young age for me, as it also did for her.
My earliest memories of destruction began around the age of 4. At the age of 16, when I tried to take my own life, is when I began the grievance. Don’t get me wrong, I was suffering at a really young age, but didn’t understand what I was going through. I was in complete distress, but wouldn’t come to acknowledge it and cry out for help until I was sixteen. It would be after failing to take my own life that the resentment and grudge would begin to set in.
From the age of sixteen until my thirties is when I would talk about all of negative emotions and events” All I could do was to tell my story. It was all about me. All about the “how could she?”, “Why did she?”, and “How could my father let her?” I take care of her. Why am I so different? Why don’t they love me? All questions I would ask myself for years. Looking back I can see where my mother too might have asked these same questions.
My mother would spend 7 years, most of her young life, in recovery at Louisville Children’s hospital. She would be away from her family and never really develop relationship outside the nurses at the hospital. I can only imagine the abandonment she would feel. Many polio survivors still shudder at memories of being separated from their parents for rehabilitation. But her parents would visit when they could and as often as they could. Her father worked for the railroad and farmed. Her mother and siblings would help with the farm, can fruits and vegetables, and helped with the house. She would be forth in a family of 13 brothers and sisters. I can’t even imagine coming home at the age of 8 ½ years old, crippled, and trying to get to know seven of your siblings that you only seen out a window in a hospital.
My mother underwent many years of surgeries, procedures, and rehabilitation. It would seem to, me growing up; she was the first to have many devastating illnesses. Polio, hip replacements, and breast cancer were just a few examples of the countless times she would endure physical healing and mental anguish. Throughout the years of my mother being hospitalized and my constant care of her, caused a very strenuous relationship between the two of us. Our family counselors would conclude that the destructive relationship was out of the jealousy and resentment my mother had for me because I had “two good legs”, healthy, and very active. A pattern of anger and resentment was developing and it would take all I had to break that emotional link of steel that bound us together.
In June of 1994 I met my husband John and life would begin to show me how “unconditional love” would heal. It was then that I could start to trust, begin to accept and allow forgiveness. My mother did not attend our wedding and said it would never last, but after 15 years of marriage I just see that God was giving me an unexpected gift that I needed more than I knew. I wonder if my mother seen my father in that way when they met. My father too was a great model of “unconditional love”. He would say to me, “I really never noticed she walked with a limp”. My father always kissed her, hugged her, and was always affectionate with her. He loved her!
John, my husband, was more than just a gift. He was also the strength I needed to “breathe” and he was and still is what keeps my heart beating. I know that sounds crazy, but the anger was tearing me apart. On the outside I had the appearance as being ok, but on the inside I was dead. I only told my story to John once, but lived it with him every day. After the birth of my two sons, it became more apparent that the anger inside of me needed to be set free. John would allow to me release that anger, resentment, and grudge through his patience, kindness, love and understanding. Anyone who meets him knows those qualities about him. He never judged me, hated me, resented me or begrudged me. He simply loved me, unconditionally. The same way my father loved my mother. John is my experience of peace and understanding. He is one of the best gifts God has ever given me. I would hope that my mother thought the same of my father. As I see him as her rescuer and I know that she misses him deeply.
In September of 2003 my father passed away and for the next two and a half years I would witness the way people viewed my mother change in ways I thought never possible. I too was changing my views. I felt like for once, in my entire life, they seen her for who she truly was. But it was not something I wished on them. One defining moment of healing for me was talking on the phone with my brother after my fathers death. I was extremely upset, not about the loss, but about how my mother alienated my father from me. I was upset that at his funeral, except for my relatives, people who knew him through life and business never knew he had a daughter. I did not exist and I blamed her. While on the phone my brother said this to me. “She is my mother, I love her. I might not always agree with her words and actions, but I love her. She is who she is and after years of knowing her and knowing she will not change, ever, I have to except she is who she is and love her.” I wish my brother knew how much those words impacted me and also helped me along my journey to forgiveness.
The summer of 2006 was when I finally realized I had forgiven her. Mother Teresa said, “If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive”. I guess after years of anger and resentment, the biggest part of me really wanted to love. I had been feeling the love from my husband John and my children. I knew that they loved me unconditionally. John took me for what I was, what I would become and for what I am becoming. I tell him all the time that he has made me the person I am today. He always tells me I am crazy. God brought John into my life when I needed to feel love, to hear love, to see love. I needed to know what it was like to experience “Unconditional” love. It made me strong; it helped me to forgive, gave me freedom and brought me to God”.
I know this is going to sound crazy, but when I look at my husband I see God! I see what is meant by “God is Love”. Psalms 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. I was broken, in more ways than one, but my wounds have been healed and I have forgiven. The experience of forgiveness is no doubt profound. It can change you physically and emotionally. It can mend our tattered existence and empower us to move forward with hope. It can put us on a spiritual path toward God.
I am on a journey. I have forgiven, but I have not forgotten. I am still learning more and more about forgiving, healing and unconditional love, but now in other areas of my life. I am not fully convinced my mother has experienced the journey of forgiveness. I am not even sure she knows what it feels like to heal physically, mentally or spiritually as I feel she has really never been given the opportunity. But maybe that is what God wanted me to see in her, experience in her and rejoice in her. That she is a woman of strength, courage, and resiliency. That her story and my story are so intertwined and it is up to me to trust that I have broken through the steel chain that bound us and we are now both free. I have found the healing in forgiveness!
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