Forgiveness

Empowerment

I’ve read that when we write what we fear, we give our words power. It follows, then, that if we infuse our words with power, we will, in turn, empower our readers. So, in the spirit of facing our fears and empowering one another with the will to do all that is right and good in this world, I would like to begin what promises to be a lengthy post with an excerpt from my current manuscript project. A little vulnerability does a body good, yes?

“Racing around the corner of the house, I come to a dust-clouded halt in front of the open car trunk. I stretch out my little girl arms, fingers wiggling, eager for Daddy to hand me my next load of groceries.
“Why are you back so fast,” he asks a bit gruffly. “Jimmie went in before you.”
“Oh, he met me at the porch and took my bag. He didn’t think I was strong enough to carry it up the stairs.”
Daddy stops digging in the trunk and turns to face me. Feet firmly planted below shifted knees, he looks at me in silence. Eager to catch up with my brother, I smile back, not really noticing his cloudy eyes. Then, in either child’s folly or fortune, I blink, never seeing the blow – a woosh of wind, the crash of a hand against the side of my head. I’m confused, air born and falling. Blinded.
I land hard, feet in the air, hands stinging from breaking my fall. My eyes and brain feel out of place, and I blink over and over again, trying to focus. The tears stream hot, my fingers gingerly searching the left side of my face, my ear as they burn with pain. The fog begins to lift, and I see him, standing over me. He is bent, a thick, nicotine stained finger pointing into my face. He’s not confused or caring or worried, and I realize it was him. His hand, and he’s not going to comfort me. He’s not going to say he’s sorry.
Confused, I start to cry. “Stop crying!” He says. I look at him with incredulity. Still waiting childishly, foolishly, for a father’s sympathy. How do I stop crying, I wonder.
“I said, SHUT UP!” Ah, there will be no sympathy.
“When I tell you to do something, you do it. YOU, not someone else. You do EXACTLY what I say, understand? I am your father. I am the boss. Savvy?”
Unable to speak, I suck in my tears and nod my head, trying hard to swallow the hiccups, afraid to move my hand to wipe my face.
“Answer me!”
Cautiously, I meet his eyes and whisper, “Yes, Daddy.”
“Now, get up and take this bag into the house.”
Choking back the sobs, the hurt, and the betrayal, I grasp the bag with both hands and heave. I see the red cap of a gallon of milk, amongst other things. It’s heavy, but I say nothing. I swallow the bitter taste of my first true anger and shuffle forward. The bag drops. I pick it up.
Repeating the process over and over, I eventually round the corner of the house. Angry, stubborn, and compliant.
Jimmie bounds off the porch and stops me. “What are you doin’ carryin’ that, Sissy? It’s bigger than you are! Here, give it to me.”
The bag plops down unceremoniously, and I shake my head no. Sucking down a silent sob, I fail to conceal the telltale shudder but reach down for the bag anyway, without looking at my brother. I feel his hand on my shoulder. “Sissy?” I look up, but unable to meet his eyes, I look beyond his shoulder to my favorite old oak. “Daddy told me to carry it myself,” I mumble.
Jimmie takes my chin and pulls me up to meet his gaze. We say nothing. It’s not necessary. His eyes are a little more gray than blue as he lets go and says, “Here, don’t carry it by the edges. Wrap your arms around the sides like a big hug. It’ll be easier to carry that way.”
“Okay.”
He stands waiting, watching over me as I trudge up the stairs and pull open the door with my foot.”

We talk a lot these days about empowerment. So much so that I think we begin to look outside ourselves to find someone to give us a power that we assume we inherently lack because, if we had inner power, our lives would be better. We wouldn’t have self doubt, we could conquer the world before noon, solve world hunger and give everyone a puppy. With empowerment comes a higher quality of life. We can mold ourselves into whatever we want if we just will it to be so, or so we’re told. But, I think a misunderstanding has pervaded our culture – a simple misunderstanding of the word empowerment.

If you look up the word in any number of dictionaries, you will come up with a meaning something like this, “To equip or supply with an ability” or “To give power or authority.” These definitions imply that empowerment means to supply an individual or group of people with an ability they don’t already possess, and then help them learn to wield that power. I would like to talk about another kind of empowerment – that of identifying and accepting the powers we already possess but, for whatever reason, we have allowed to lie dormant within us.

I don’t know where a sense of no control over one’s own destiny comes from. Some past psychological issues, no doubt, or perhaps genetics, apathy or even illness. “Life” in general, I suppose, can become the bushel under which we hide our light. I will use myself as an example. I developed into an odd combination of a somewhat good nature, intelligence, humor, creativity and stubborn will, but no power. I became used to being told what to do at a young age, and lived restrained. I let people seek me out, thinking for too many years that love and success would stumble upon me and think I was special, but some universal rule that seemingly only applied to me required that I not put myself forward.

I was mistakenly thought shy by some, including myself at times. But really, I had learned to live and survive in a responsive environment. What or who did I need to be according to someone else? If people didn’t flat out tell me who they wanted me to be for them (and believe me, some people did), I sat back and waited for clues and cues – awaiting my time on stage to play a part. Over time, I realized that I was not being true to myself and, in sink or swim fashion, slowly started to break the surface of who I really am inside.

In my journey, I have often thought of a story my Mama (Yes, I call my mother “Mama”) shared with me from her own childhood. She told me that in about the third grade, her teacher wrote a note to my grandmother. Mama’s grades were perfect, but the teacher mentioned my mother’s quietness. She remarked how “Marcella does not know how much power she really has.”

Now, my mother is hands down one of the strongest women I’ve ever known, and remains a powerful force in my life. So, for the longest time, this story baffled me. How could this tigress of a human not have known how powerful she was? Then I grew up and gained some perspective. The child Mama was is not the woman I now know. Somehow, through trials and struggles, heartaches and “have-to’s,” she sloughed off whatever that greatness was hiding under. She became that which she already was.

So, maybe instead of searching for some outside force to give us permission, like a spouse or employer, maybe we should instead seek opportunities to discover and release our own inner abilities and strengths. Look for moments of encouragement and inspiration. Sometimes life forces these moments of revelation upon us, and other times, we have to reach for them. The giftings are there, lying dormant. Like an oil soaked torch in need of a flame – a little spark to ignite and inspire.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what the secret is, or where the key lies that will unlock the door to your inner power. I’m still discovering my own. It’s a mystery that we each must solve for ourselves. But, I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s there, somewhere, in you. It always has been, and it always will be. You just have to make friends with your power, and use it for good.

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A Few Words on Forgiveness

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.