A number of years ago, I was given the opportunity to make a life or death decision. No, I didn’t find myself having to choose between the red wire and the blue wire – my choice was much more personal than that.
I found myself in a parked vehicle with my (first) husband and a young woman whom I had considered to be one of my closest friends. They were confessing to me that they were “in love,” and even though they were married to other people, they felt that being with each other was the perfection of God’s word because they weren’t “in love” with their spouses. Obviously, they were deceiving themselves with a warped twisting of scripture in hopes of supporting their sin and in doing so, leaving behind a wake of spiritual and emotional devastation in themselves and their families.
Most of the details of that conversation have been lost to tears and time. I remember that I mainly listened. A prior relationship between them had been exposed some months in the past, but it had supposedly been brought to an end. As they told me that they just couldn’t walk away from one another, that it was destiny, that they were compelled to jump at what might be their last chance at “true happiness,” I remember feeling cold. Their words became distant as I focused on breathing. On surviving those next few moments of cruel reality. I went somewhere else in my mind and God showed me that I had two options. Time stopped, and I saw two futures for myself. I could choose bitterness and hate, or I could choose forgiveness and love. Whichever option I chose would not change the outcome of my husband’s and friend’s choices, but it would determine my own future. It would set me on a path to a living hell or a glorious hope. How I chose to survive this moment would determine whether I walked a path of life or of death.
My words broke through the fog and the tears, ” I CHOOSE LOVE!” My husband and friend were startled. I had interrupted one of them — I don’t know which one. I repeated my declaration over and over, convincing the darkness, convincing the universe, convincing myself.
I looked up, wiped my eyes with my sleeve and looked at these people whom I had loved, whom I had trusted, and I felt empty and full at the same time. Parts of myself had been ripped apart. They would eventually heal back together, but in a different, stronger configuration. I didn’t know that at the time, but a small part of me hoped that it would be so.
I had made my choice, and I was done with the conversation. They had made their choices also, and there was no point in exposing myself to more of their excuses. I asked my husband to take me home. The following few months before our divorce was finalized were filled with terrible, painful days. But, even in the midst of my desolation, God was working in my heart. He had planted that little seed of hope in the fertile soil of my choice to love. I knew that, even then, I was beginning to learn to forgive. I knew that I had to in order to survive. That, if I had any hope of being Marilyn again, whole and happy, I could not let bitterness take root in my soul.
I moved to the Pacific Northwest, and over time, the Lord blessed me with a new old love by reuniting me with my college sweetheart. We married and have a darling little boy. Time and circumstances eventually brought us back to Missouri, and I wondered if I would ever run into my first husband and my old friend.
To be honest, the idea filled me with dread. The idea frightened me because, for some reason (and if you’ve been divorced, you might recognize this feeling), even though I did nothing wrong, there is a shadow of shame that tries to attach itself to the one who was left behind, or rejected.
Quite a bit of time passed, and I began to think of the possibility less and less. Then, last weekend, I saw her. I was leaving the parking lot of the grocery store, and a couple was getting ready to enter the cross walk. They were holding hands. I didn’t recognize him, but her hair looked familiar, her stature, her posture. Then, she looked up and our eyes met. She had been smiling, but I watched her countenance change. That familiar shadow of shame was now covering her eyes, but she didn’t look away. She bravely stood there, seemingly submitting herself to my judgment. Then I felt it, a tugging from that other place inside myself. I had to choose, again. My heart answered before my mind really had a chance to think about it. I looked at her, threw out a casual wave, and smiled. Our eyes were still locked as I saw the shadow blow away, her face lit up with life, and I knew that God had just completed the work of forgiveness He had started in my heart so many years before.
Truly, words hold the power of life or death. Always choose life for yourself, and others, and you will find healing and peace. Forgiveness isn’t just an act intended to make ourselves feel better. It’s the breath of heaven that blows away the shadows of fear and shame, freeing us to walk in the light.