As we draw nearer to Easter, and I dig deeper in this journey of writing letters to those who have had a profound effect on my life, it isn’t fair to ignore the not-so-pleasant parts of my past. The journey from Lent to Easter is about recognizing the significant moments that led from Jesus’ ministry to His eventual resurrection. But there would be no resurrection without the cross. And there would be no me, the person I am today, without some of the ugly things that I’ve been through.
As an adolescent, part of my family, for lack of a better word, “disowned” or “shunned” me and my family. It’s a long story. An unpleasant one. One that really isn’t anyone’s business, and I’m certainly not trying to air any “dirty laundry” here. But I think I’ll forever have some lack of closure about it all until I do what I do about these kinds of things: write about it. Get it out. Let it go.
So, here it is, as respectful and anonymous as I can make it and still say what I need to say. No names have been mentioned.
When I think back some 20+ years, I remember pain. I remember confusion. I remember anger. These were emotions that existed on both sides of the situation. One minute everything seemed to be fine – and the next it wasn’t. One minute I was welcome in someone’s house – the next minute I wasn’t. One minute we were close – the next minute, your children were not allowed to be around me.
How is a twelve year olds’ mind supposed to process that?
My daughter is 12. The thought of anyone in her family telling me that she and I were not welcome, that they had no use for me – is unfathomable. But that’s what you did and told my family.
Why? Because you didn’t bother finding out any facts. Because you confused “family loyalty” with what was actually the moral, legal, and important thing to do. And that was support and help those who had been abused, mistreated, and belittled.
I have seen my dad cry before. He’s never been afraid to show emotion in front of me or my mom or sister. But I have never seen his heart broken like it was over this. My mother, who had never done anything but be kind and helpful and welcoming to all of you became the object of scorn and venom unlike anything I had ever seen or known. My parents were shattered by your hatred. You hurt them way more than you could ever hurt me, and that is why forgiveness has been a process that has taken many years for me. (1) Because you hurt other people that I love more than life – I can more easily forgive you hurting me than someone I love (2) Because no one, not my parents, not my sister, not myself – was ever given an apology. By a single person.
It’s hard to forgive people who aren’t sorry. And you were my first taste of having to do that. Of having to turn the other cheek 70 times 7.
But what did I learn from you? How has God used this to change me?
First, I learned how to cling to the important things. Your disassociation from us only proved to make my family of 4 a closer, more loving unit. And it showed me that blood really isn’t what makes people your family, it’s the relationships. And I have people that I couldn’t be further from as a blood relative who have loved and supported me more than many that have some of my same genes.
Secondly, I learned how to hold my head up. People’s opinions are like……….well, you know what they’re like. And everybody has one. Knowing that no matter what people said, or did, that my family had done the RIGHT thing – that was enough. And we’ve never, none of us, wavered on doing the right thing, just because it would keep us in someone else’s good graces. But, by the same token, I’ve also learned that I am not always RIGHT. It’s a hard thing to swallow – one’s pride. But I’d rather eat crow and admit I was wrong than just hold on to an opinion because I was too proud not to.
Because, thirdly, I learned that bitterness, once allowed to take root, is a weed that will destroy your soul. I have seen people so consumed by it, they are still holding on to that anger from 20 years ago. You’ve been my inspiration to let it go.
You taught me that there are some people that will never love or accept me. Not really. Not beyond “appearances-sake” love. And those people are not worth the gift of my time. One-sided relationships never work. I’ve reached the point in my life where I see that yes, there were some precious things that have been lost, but I also understand that those things were not my fault. They were not my family’s fault. And the fact that you lost 15, 20 years with us? That is your loss.
I often wondered if anything could ever heal some of these relationships, and what that might take. That’s when I knew how deep the bitterness extended, because there’s been some scary illnesses, some deaths – things that would make a normal person realize that they’ve been a complete jackass to someone else. But some people’s pride is stronger than any other part of themselves.
I guess what I want to say here is that you have had an enormous impact on my life. The thing I most looked forward to about moving back to Mississippi was being closer to you. I guess you thought that withdrawing from our lives was supposed to teach us a lesson. Well, it succeeded. Because I learned many.
The lessons I’ve learned about grace, about humility, about doing the right thing even if your entire family disagrees with you, about forgiveness, about bitterness, about restoration – I owe many of those lessons and more to you. I owe much of my strength, my intolerance for hate, oppression, and hypocrisy to you. And, honestly, I owe my authenticity to you. I think sometimes that I’m TOO open, TOO honest for Facebook. People don’t like what isn’t comfortable, and I think that this blog, what I say, what I share – sometimes makes people uncomfortable. But I’d rather be raw, real, and an open book than some made up version of myself that I wanted people to THINK that I am. Life’s too short for that. God made me to be ME.
So yes, what was intended by others for evil, God has used for good. You have made me a better person.
Because I had to be.