It’s a nippy day in Middle Tennessee, and I’m sitting here in my wonderful home office. It’s a big room over the garage in a house I bought in 2003. The place was terribly dilapidated, and needed a ton of renovation. I took the year, busted my hump working on it, and have lived here ever since.
That may seem like it has nothing whatever to do with forgiveness. But truly, it has everything. Here’s a little backstory:
I was married for twenty-five years to a man who was emotionally abusive and spiritually and creatively draining. He did his best to suck the life right out of me; told me I was utterly incapable of doing anything. He was perennially unfaithful, but his final betrayal was a doozy. The last scene of our matrimonial bliss featured him and my youngest sister in a big public affair. He had reached the pinnacle in his industry, he believed he was bullet proof, and they trotted themselves all over the place as a couple. I could go into details about it, but I won’t. It doesn’t really matter. Clearly, in so many ways, he was just – wrong.
As I typed that last paragraph, I realized that I was chuckling softly. How did I get here? How did I end up, the ebullient person I was born to be? If you looked at the facts of my life, you’d say I have no right to be this happy. And you’d be right. I really don’t … but I am.
I can’t exactly explain how I got here, but I can tell you this: it comes down to one word. Forgiveness.
When the blow up happened, I watched myself collapse into the deep, the dark – I felt out of my body; out of my mind. In an effort to reclaim my sanity I wrote, sometimes in twenty-four hour sittings without stopping. I lived my aching heart, and all the accompanying feelings. I screamed at them as I stripped wallpaper in the bathrooms of that house. I dressed them up, took them out, they paraded ahead of me. Fear, anger, pain, the need for justification, they were my team. Or I had been drafted to theirs. I wanted it to stop, but I couldn’t find center, so I went with it. I had no choice, did I? I mean, after all … what they did. What they DID! How is it possible to recover from that, right?!
Well, it’s possible. In fact, we’re given the opportunity to opt for recovery, every minute of every day.
I haven’t always known that about recovery. But one day it hit me that keeping the deadening hurt was me, robbing my own life of its sweetness. I was sick of it. So I started praying about it. At first, and for months, my prayer was two words: “Help me.”
I prayed nonstop, sometimes just to keep from drowning. I prayed out loud as I drove, I whispered over the cauliflower in the produce section, I Dominus Vobiscumed myself to sleep at night. My whole life became a prayer.
Through the winter into the spring I was painting, and praying, and crying, and renovating the awful house. Picking colors is tricky when you feel like your hair is on fire. But I look back now and can see that God was using everything and everyone in my life to draw me closer to Him. My heart had been cracked wide open, it hung there in my chest, a gaping hole of hurt. He reached right in and grabbed it all. As tightly as I may have been holding my grievances, He was holding me. Knowing this still brings tears to my eyes.
Happiness and joy are products of peace. Or maybe it’s the other way around? I’m not sure. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, the raging waters began to calm. The more calm I felt, the more I wanted to feel until, one day months later, I realized the peace I’d prayed for was everywhere.
There’s no drama unless we inject it. Things happen. People make promises. People make choices. Some promises are kept, some are broken. Some choices bring happiness, some bring heartache. When I finally realized this, I could look back and see the trail of brokenness behind me. But by that time my view was from higher ground. Without realizing it, I’d been on the path of forgiveness. That’s when it became clear that forgiveness is a process, and the peace I’d prayed for was the journey itself. Forgiveness defines my joy. It’s a freedom and a lightness of load unlike any other. If you are wondering how you will ever get here from there, I can only tell you this. When it awakens in your spirit, you’ll know. Once you feel it, you will have navigated the narrows of your heart. You will never lose your way again.