In March, 2015, my parents hosted a leadership summit for their top leaders from around the world. For several months my mom had asked me if I would join them and I just kept feeling anxious about it which was strange, because many of those in attendance were people whom I had known and loved since I was young. Earlier in my marriage my FH (former husband) and I had worked with my parents at their ministry for a couple of years, so many of these couples knew me in that context as well.
Let’s just call a spade a spade. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was struggling with my pride. Although I knew these people would love and accept me for who I was (a single woman who was recently divorced), I let fear in. I wrestled with feelings of failure, judgment and insecurity.
So I prayed about it. “God, what can I give authentically?” I asked. As the summit approached, I got my response. I signed up for the opening, afternoon session. I had a feeling that was all I could take so that’s all I committed to.
I had recently had a dream where I was in a house with my FH’s family and I felt so uncomfortable that I had locked myself in a bathroom and escaped through a tiny shower window (lol, there’s no way I could maneuver this in real life). A couple weeks later, the night before I left for the convention, I had another dream. This time I was with some guests at one of the properties that I manage and a few members of my FH’s immediate family were there. It struck me as odd because the two groups were in the same large room but weren’t mingling at all; it was almost as if they didn’t see each other. Although I felt uncomfortable, I went over to my FH’s sister and had a brief conversation with her. “I want to invite you to stay here for a family reunion,” I said. She was very kind and appreciative. We chit-chatted about potential dates, and then I woke up.
I realized how much had changed for me over those two weeks. I had gone from fleeing the scene to inviting my former family to stay for a gathering. God was orchestrating a shift in my heart.
I must admit I was nervous on the drive to the summit (it was a couple hours from my home). I arrived just as the conference kicked off and took a few deep breaths before opening my car door and walking toward the entrance. I immediately felt peace when I walked in the building. Friends gave me hugs and words of encouragement and the tears flowed as these precious people reassured me of God’s love and plan for my life. My heart was tender that day.
The speakers were a couple named Bruce and Toni Hebel who founded a ministry called, “Forgiving Forward.” Earlier that week my dad had shared with me that they would be speaking on forgiveness. God had been preparing me for this moment for a long time; I could sense his timing and I realized that the day I had always hoped for was finally here.
I was touched by so many of the things they shared that I couldn’t write them down fast enough. It was as if they had traveled far just to let me know that God saw my broken heart.
“God expects forgiven people to forgive others,” they shared. “‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your father who is in heaven will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive you yours.’” (Matthew 6:14.)
My heart was pounding. I clung to every word. “Jesus never let the offense determine if He would forgive someone; He loves people more than he hates their sin. We LOVE to associate people with their sin rather than identifying them with Christ. But Jesus saw things a different way:
- He predetermined He would forgive.
- He purposefully chose to pay our debt.
- He left the reconciliation process with us.”
The choice to reconcile–to forgive–was in my hands. My choice. My decision. My call.
“We can’t forgive and forget but we can choose to reject the memory. It’s not easy but it’s simple. And we can choose to lift them up in prayer when the memory comes to mind.”
Wow, just wow. The whole time they were talking God was showing me a huge list of things I was harboring as pain from my FH and his family. And I do mean a HUGE list.
Brief pause. In the spirit of owning my issues, I must point out that these are things that I allowed to become offenses in MY life. When we forgive, it’s for what we interpret as offenses, whether there was malicious intent or not. So even though the list was long, it was MY list. I owned it, my response to it, and my subsequent behavior. At first I thought I was making a list of offenses against me but then I quickly realized that the list was simply this: My hurts. My wounds. My pain. My issues.
I realized I was actually forgiving these people for causing me pain, whether they meant to or not. And if I’m to be honest (and slay my pride), my heart tells me that hurting me was never their intention. I was simply in the way of something they wanted more than me. (Ugh, that hurts.)
The first session was over and we took a break. We were asked to pair up with a same-gender partner because after the break, it was time to walk each other through the forgiveness process. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the information I had just received, but in a good way. I could feel the heaviness moving to through my body and rising to the surface, I was full of anticipation with what God was going to do in my life.
My precious mom came to me immediately and asked if I wanted to pair up with her. She knew I was in a fragile place and wanted to make sure I was comfortable. I gladly accepted her offer as I felt an overwhelming sense that something big was coming my way.
Near the end of the break, Toni approached me and asked if she could be my partner. “I just heard a little bit of your story and I can’t imagine what you’ve been through,” she said. The tears broke through and streamed down my face. I was so touched that God had sent this precious woman to speak to my heart that day.
Everyone came back from break and made their way to their seats. I was so focused, so caught up in the moment, it was as if I was the only one in the room. Toni sat in front of me and leaned in close. I was crying hard at this point, so many emotions welling to the surface; so much pain waiting to be released. As I bowed my head the tears hit the list I had made. It was so symbolic…in that moment I looked down as the pain (my tears) merged with my offenses (the list). It was time to let it all go.
As I prayed with Toni I read each line through my tear-blurred eyes. One by one, I listed off my hurts, and everytime I said one I felt a sense of release. My list was long, my hurts were deep. But even after going through every detail she said to me, “There’s more.” I couldn’t imagine there was more but I asked God to show me and sure enough, there was. I have had three root canals and this reminded me of sitting in the dentist’s chair and waiting as they clean out each root, taking time to carefully remove all of the infected pulp.
I had already dug deep but I went deeper. I wanted the full experience and I wanted to face it all in that moment. I knew this was my time, this was my day and this was the hour. I embraced everything I could. Toni walked me through a prayer of forgiveness, covering EVERYTHING I had dug out of the depths of my heart. And by the time we were done I was free; I HAD FORGIVEN. And not just forgiven but forgiven fully. A huge burden had been lifted off of me.
As I reflected, I summarized the experience in my mind: This had very little to do with the so-called offenders, it had everything to do with me and my response to my perception of the way I had been treated.
I had waited a long time for this moment, This was exactly three months shy of my 2-year counseling journey. God reminded me of His faithful promise: that I would experience incredible healing in those first 24 months. He is faithful. He sent ambassadors to meet me in that conference room on that beautiful spring afternoon and forever changed the landscape of my heart.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.