Forgive. That sounds like such an easy word. Such a simple thing to do. It's not...well, at least for me it's not. I wrote at the beginning of Changed that I didn't blame God for all the things that happened to me and I don't. But I didn't always have that view. I guess blame might not be the right word here; trust might be more like it. I loved the God that saved me but I wondered why those things happened to me. The Bible says that God works all things for good. Sometimes I wondered if my bad things were used for others' good. Clearly, being saved didn't instantly free me from everything. I still had so much inside me that needed to be dealt with. Maybe some people could go through a life like mine with no scars and anger or bitterness, but I didn't. What I didn't see was that God had started a process to allow for my healing, forgiveness and freedom. Freedom from it all. A process that I must admit has taken me 20 years to complete.
I don't know if the long process was God's idea or the fact that I drug my feet kicking and screaming the whole way. To me there was an order or a way in which it should be done. I wanted pain, remorse, grief and grovelling from those who hurt me (Very Christlike of me, I know). But was that really too much to ask after what I had been through? I was willing to settle for a well timed bus running them over though. Yes, I had that fantasy a lot. I'm guessing that by now you may be starting to understand why this was such a long process. I wasn't just angry- I hated them. I hated what they did to me, and I tucked it deep down inside me because I didn't want to let it go and I certainly didn't want to deal with it.
God started my path to healing about 6 years after my salvation. Shortly after I had found and married my preacher man and then having my first son, an old acquaintenance had called and apologized for lying to me in high school. She had been praying for God to show her things she needed to make right. It was stunning to me. She was one of those goodie-goodie church girls in school and I clearly wasn't, but I distinctly remembered the occasion she was talking about. It was actually the one thing I thought of when her name was mentioned. She had said something about me and when I confronted her about it she lied to my face. I knew she was lying; she knew I knew she was lying. I remembered the goodie-goodie girl lying straight to my face. Here she was years later hunting me down because I had moved away and was apologizing to me. That was a moment I'll never forget. Even so many years later, her apology meant something to me. It also let me see that while I couldn't undo or fix some of the things that I had done, I could apologize and ask for forgiveness. Maybe I could lessen some of the hurt and pain that I had caused.
She inspired me to start my "Apology Tour. " Good grief, was that a task. It is a rather humbling experience to admit that you were wrong and apologize. I apologized to a slew of random people, Brian's girlfriend, and Tanner's (the teacher/coach) wife. I spent a good deal of time tracking down Tanner's wife. She had moved away after the divorce. Though I deeply blamed him, I felt sorry for her. She was a mom of 4 kids with no degree or job at the mercy of a wandering husband who had a thing for teenage girls. Tanner flaunted me in her face; still she was never anything but kind to me. She was the only person I didn't blame for not turning him in. She had her kids to look out for. I sent her an apology through the only way I could track her down, Facebook. I prepared to face the wrath of her response. I deserved it. I cannot imagine issuing forgiveness to my husband's mistress, especially when my life fell apart. Her response blew me away.
What a nice message! And do not worry. The past is the past. We can't undo it and we shouldn't dwell on it. We can only move forward and do the best we can. After all, we are only trying to find a little happiness in this life. I hope all is well with you and yours.
This woman had no relationship with Jesus and she was so willing to forgive. This struck me to the core. I expected anger, bitterness, hatred and accusations. And I deserved it. But she extended grace that I didn't deserve. She didn't have the love of Christ in her and she was willing to forgive more than me.
Ironically, I apologized to anyone and everyone and I wanted their forgiveness and to make it right, but I wasn't willing to extend the benefit to those that hurt me. I harbored a special hate for Brian and Tanner. I wanted the groveling apology and remorse from them. I wanted the opportunity to decide whether or not to forgive them. Yeah, I was wrong- I get that now. God slowly started dealing with my issues one by one to where he could start working on me.
I was angry with Brian for raping me, for me losing the baby, for starting me into the spiral of the person I had become. One night while I was reflecting back on the anniversary of losing my baby, I was blaming him. For some reason I had just always assumed the baby was his. I had no way of actually knowing but for some reason I just though it was probably his. This fueled my anger. As I was pondering this God spoke to my heart. "Who said it was his?" And I just knew. It wasn't his. I cannot explain why knowing that made such a difference, but it did. And a layer of my anger was stripped away. Just knowing that my child had a father that I had cared about and who hadn't violated me made a difference. God was starting to heal my heart a little piece at a time.
I wish I had a cool story to tell about how Brian realized the errors of his ways and begged for forgiveness, but I don't. I would bet he doesn't feel a bit of remorse for what he did to me. I can't pinpoint any particular moment when I was finally able to forgive him. I have no idea when it happened. One day a few years ago I saw his wife post that he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan during some heavy combat times and my first thought was concern for his safety. I was so concerned that I contacted his wife to check on him, offer to help and to pray for him. This was stunning to me. After years of trying to conscientiously make the decision to forgive, somehow it had just happened. Somewhere along the way God had transformed my heart towards him and I wasn't even aware of it. What a miracle.
This left me with the task of forgiving Tanner. He confused me more. He should have known better. I should have known better. I was a child, he was an adult. I cared for him, I hated him. He hurt me. He was gentle and kind with me. These Relationships are so dangerous for so many reasons. Victims are often left with mixed and conflicting feelings towards their offender; I certainly was, and probably still am. I spent years trying to make sure Tanner never did that to anyone else again. I called the new school he had moved to. I emailed his new wife, the town newspaper, his athletic director. I was desperate to stop him. There had been another girl before me at his previous school. He told me about her and showed me her picture in his wallet. They had moved to my school when his wife found out so they could start over, only to have him find me several years later. Had someone stopped him the first time, I never would have happened. I was not going to make the same mistake by remaining silent, but no one cared.
As my life moved on I pushed my resentment way down so I didn't have to deal with it until one day, 2 years ago, I received a text that changed everything. Tanner was the boys' basketball coach at the time we were together,and the girls' basketball coach from that time (who knew) and his wife (who didn't) had moved on also. All the way to my new town. For the love. His wife had taught all 3 of my boys in elementary school. We were friends and she knew I went to church and taught Sunday School and led women's studies. So when her husband received bad news about a friend and was upset, she texted me to ask for prayers. Here is what she sent.
Tanner (coach) from (home) was diagnosed with late stage cancer. Doesn't look good. Please pray.
My heart fell. I didn't know that I could pray for him. I was still so angry deep down. I knew this was a problem. I knew that I had to fix this, but I also knew I was not strong enough. Fortunately, I serve a God who is. After not sleeping for 3 days I decided to seek some counsel. As expected, he encouraged me to pray for him. So I prayed. I prayed that he would find Jesus. I prayed for God's will in that circumstance. I left the choice to heal or not to God. This is what I could offer. And I kept praying.
About 6 months later I received a message from an old friend that Tanner wasn't doing well and only had about 6 months left. Part of me panicked. I need to tell him what he had done to me, how he had hurt me and how it was not ok. I was hesitant though. He was very sick. Was it the right thing to do for him? I have a dear friend whom I have had the privilege of walking through her cancer battle with. I knew she could provide some wisdom here. Her words spoke straight to my heart. "It's about you, it's not about him." Those were her words to me. And she was right. God had provided an opportunity for me. It had come in a form I had never imagined, but I was not about to let it pass by.
So I wrote him a letter. I bared my soul to him in 4 pages of what he had done to me and how it had hurt me and what it had cost me. I told him it wasn't ok and that it couldn't be justified. But Jesus also placed grace in my heart. I told him that he needed a personal relationship with Jesus, and that in Jesus he would find forgiveness and would know that I had forgiven him too. Then I just signed my name. I waited a day to make sure I didn't change my mind about sending it then I slipped it inside a get well card and put it in the mail. What a moment of freedom that was. At that moment I knew I was freed. NO more anger, no more hatred, no more anything, I didn't need anything from him, anymore.
A few days later I received a message from his wife blasting me for sending him a card. It was clear from her message that she hadn't seen the letter inside. This made me laugh. He had gotten the card, taken the letter out and left the card where she could see it. That was so him. Three months later he died. I never heard from him, but I didn't need to. I hadn't even given him a way to contact me. What I thought I had needed in order to forgive, God had showed me I didn't. All I needed was him. He provided everything necessary to become whole again. Forgiving Brian and Tanner wasn't about making what they did ok. It wasn't. It wasn't saying that they deserved it. They didn't. But neither did I. It was about me and my relationship with God. I forgave because he forgives: me, others, everyone. And the only person I hurt by being angry is me. I can assure you they weren't losing sleep over it.
And my God came through, again, as always. In an unexpected way. I have seen God make good come from things that I never thought possible and I have watched him transform my mess into something beautiful. I am a kinder more compassionate human being. I had started this process unfairly blaming God when he reminded me of that long forgotten conversation we had when I was 13. When I walked away from his calling on my life to live my way. How that had slipped my mind I don't know. But when God gently reminded me as he often does, I knew- as I have always known- He is good.
Author Notes: This is the update to Changed.