Forgiveness isn't the same as reconciliation.
Today's post will be one of my most personal ever on this blog.
This is something that a lot of people overlook. They think that forgiveness means patching it up, playing nice again, completely letting go of whatever happened and resuming the relationship as is said offending incident never even happened.
Which is, in some cases, not only unjustified but foolish.
I know this isn't exactly the "christian" thing to say here. Believe me, I know what it is to be under the pressure to put on the smile and pretend everything is okay, but I really believe a lot of people abuse scripture an expect that everyone should forgive their behaviour when they show no evidence of genuine repentance.
That's something I've experienced on multiple levels. Something a lot of you don't know, and something I dread having come up in an interview, is that I'm a Bible school graduate and spent three years in full-time christian ministry. How I got there starts with my upbringing.
I wasn't raised in a particularly happy home. Even as a child I was remarkably aware of the undercurrents and the tension in our house. I knew how to duck from backhanders, and by the time I was 7 if I accidentally broke something I would send myself to the corner or my room.
For me, one of the greatest curses in that house was being super-sensitive. I was keenly aware that my sister was my mother's favourite - this is an open point of discussion between my sister and I, no dark secret. My dad never wanted daughters - we were both supposed to be Douglas - and when I was a girl he didn't even bother coming to the hospital. Despite the fact this was the 70's and my mother was kept there for four days.
And oddly enough, my parents never thought better than to tell us shit like this.
Life was always a series of time bombs. There were my mother's multiple suicide attempts. The times my parents had knock-down, drag-em-out punch-kick-and-pull-hair fights. Not to mention that he used to rape her.
The times I came home from work as a teenager to find Mom dancing drunk on a picnic table shouting 'God will forgive me.'
I distinctly remember when I was 16, my mother flipping through the newspaper and casually saying, "Your uncle died." I was astounded, shocked. Uncle Charlie?
Turns out she had another brother, a much older half-brother, that she'd never mentioned, that I'd never met. He was born before my grandparents had married, and nobody knew who the father was. Until then, when Grandma finally came clean that her brother had raped her, and my Uncle Joe - whom I never met - was the byproduct.
Mentally and emotionally I was one completely fucked up teenager. You'd expect full-out rebellion, right? And my parents got it, only not in the way they expected.
When I was 14 I had a nervous breakdown and was placed under the supervision of Children's Aid. This stemmed from incidents at school, where I was beaten up by a gang. I grew up in a tough town and had an anomaly. I wouldn't hit back, which made me a prime target for bullies.
So, at 15, I was transferred to a different high school in a different town, for my own safety. And by the time I was 16 my rebellion was in full swing - I had joined the church.
When it comes to religion, it's nobody's business what I believe. It's personal. Not even the born-again Christians want to claim me amongst their numbers anymore, and I couldn't care less. So this isn't about what I believe, spiritually.
But I'm glad that I didn't end up doing drugs, getting pregnant or drinking. When I look back on it all, it could have been much much worse.
It still wasn't perfect. Things came to a head when I spent three years in ministry work. The administrator I worked under could give lessons to the devil about how to gossip. Not to mention that a student was raped there by another student, and the school's response was to persuade the girl not to press charges.
What about facing the consequences of your actions?
Now, Heb. 9:22 says "and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
I know the point of the passage, but apply the broader principle. In order for a sin to be washed away, something has to die.
And sometimes, it's the death of a relationship.
With my parents, it happened several years ago, and in stages. The last time I was ever in my family home with them was 11 years ago this April. My dad had a loaded gun. The tension was high.
And a few weeks after I left he was arrested after he strangled my mother half to death.
That was also when I learned the full truth about my dad's sexual deviance. I'm not getting into that here. But it was something that sent me reeling.
I spent so much time growing up thinking I was genetically destined to be a freak.
At first, going to church gave me a security blanket away from my parents, and I know a lot of wonderful people - some I still know - from that time. I met some people who genuinely cared about me and tried to help.
But I also knew people, like my employer at that Bible school, who slandered every other person who walked onto our property and she was such a hypocrite, she had an affair with one of the other staff members.
We were all supposed to forgive that and keep working there with our mouths shut. Anyone who said anything got reprimanded.
It was a hypocrisy I couldn't live with, and in the end she asked me to leave. I was relieved, but it took me a long time to make peace with what happened and be able to visit friends there without hating the place.
I've never seen my dad since the last time I was in the family home. I've seen my mom a few times, but not for over 8 years now. Ultimately, my dad got out of jail, my mom went back to him and then she tried to take my niece without consent. My sister and her husband moved out here to get away from my parents, and we've put the past behind us as much as you ever can.
"Learn from the past but don't let it control you."
This was something Kevin said to me early on in our relationship. He, too, knows about family issues. I always believed I'd never get married if I couldn't find someone who understood the family problems. Every time I dated a 'nice Christian boy' from a 'nice Christian family' I heard the same thing from his parents - we don't think you're the right girl for our son.
It taught me a lot, being so tainted not even those who preach about acceptance and forgiveness and loving all of mankind and not judging didn't want the likes of me in the picture. And I didn't even swear back then.
Over the years I've had to learn to accept who I am. I've also had to learn to deal with criticism because I don't have a relationship with my parents.
Bottom line for me is, it isn't safe. Physically or emotionally. I did everything in my power for years to try to fix problems in that house and all it did was keep me from moving on with my life and starting to heal.
I always want to find the best in people. I always want to believe. I've actually, if anything, been too quick to forgive, too quick to be fooled again.
Which is something I don't do as much anymore.
You might be wondering 'why this post, why now?' I know it's one of the most serious ones I've ever done. But I've just been through an exceptionally painful few weeks, because of the actions of some people I thought were my friends. I've hinted at it, talked generally about it here, had a lot of support from you guys.
But things reached boiling this past weekend and I've had to make a difficult decision, not to return to my writer's group.
I spent the first 24 years of my life playing at pretending things were okay, trying to hold it all together while I was living in emotional agony and fear. I finally got to the point where I decided I wasn't going to let myself be a victim any more, that I wasn't born just to take this shit.
I still have lapses, but as soon as I start getting the doormat feeling it brings a lot of old feelings back. It isn't something that will ever entirely be gone - it's more like something I've been able to put a lid on, but if things get heated that poison boils over.
I never find these decisions easy, but it has come to this for me. I can't pretend things or okay, or that I can just overlook what some people have done.
And the chief person I've been having problems with carte blanche refused to deal with it any way but her way, which meant I either had to put myself under her terms when she's the one who owes me an apology, or as she put it, "drop it."
I will not put myself through the emotional self-abuse and I've had to find my own path to healing on this. When someone I considered a friend demonstrates this kind of behaviour towards me, things will never be what they were before. Ever.
Now, in 6+ years of marriage, I know a thing or two about forgiveness and reconciliation. When both parties are committed to working something out, they don't come at the other person with an ultimatum. They find a way to address it that allows both sides to feel safe, save a bit of face, and meet in a neutral space.
So, I'm not incapable of healing old wounds, of putting the past behind me.
But I am unwilling to let someone who has done something extremely hurtful and wrong to me dictate the terms on which I can approach them about this problem. I'm not going to be manipulated, I'm not going to be abused, I'm not going to be a doormat.
(PLEASE see the post below - there's something interesting there!)
* I would like to dedicate this post to the person in my writer's group that has reminded me that every trust can be betrayed and that cruelty knows no bounds. Thank you for making what should be a happy time for me be completely undermined by one of the most petty, callous acts I've experienced in a long time.