Forgiveness Can Be a Process
I had barely started school when a charming woman waltzed into my father’s life. It wasn’t long after that she also entered mine as my stepmother. My memories of her are grisly.
I remember feeling startled and bewildered when she burst into my room and hurled my clothes onto the floor, the ones she had grudgingly folded. One evening, I remember feeling ashamed when she refused to let me get dressed, even after her son joined us for a bedtime story.
I remember dreading her constant berating as I cleaned like a whirling dervish after school, fearful I would leave something undone. Another time, she tried to trick me into drinking bleach. She must have noticed I was sneaking Sprite from her bottle, so she filled it with bleach, perhaps to teach me a lesson.
I lived under extreme control—from access to the pantry, to access to my own father. Her jealousy prohibited my brother and me from leaving our rooms when my father arrived home, and she forbade me to join him as he worked alone in his backyard shop.
With my dad’s coaching, I learned to tiptoe around her insane moods, how to determine what she might want, all in an effort to avoid her tripwire. If anyone crossed her, she would storm through the house, yelling, and slamming doors. My father yielded to her in fear because she might flee with their young daughter.
After high school one day, I inadvertently walked to my mom’s house, forgetting my stepmother was picking me up. When I realized my mistake, I sprinted the half mile back to the parking lot, terrified. I apologized, but even miles down the road, her tirade continued. I just wanted her to stop. As my anger boiled over, I punched her. She swerved, shocked into silence.
Eventually, I decided to move in with my mom. Dad helped me move while my wicked stepmother was at work.
My home was a warzone. I grew up feeling tolerated, managed, resented—even hated—by my stepmother. I desperately needed counseling, but got none. Now I know why—telling someone what I had done would have uncovered years of her abuse. I carried the shame of punching her for decades, as if I had punched one of my own parents. With clearer eyes now, I can see how my harsh reaction was a desperate cry for help, like a cry from a child who had reached the tipping point after numerous confrontations with a playground bully. My bully was pretending to be a parent.
I have spent a lifetime trying to undo the harm she caused, trying to feel down in my bones what I know in my head— that I am loved and cherished by God. I’ve also spent most of my life trying to prove to everyone around me, and to myself, that I am not a nobody, and I do matter.
Forgiving my stepmother has been quite a process. I do it, then undo it, then do it again. But, in recent years, through a long bout with excruciating and debilitating back pain, God has opened my eyes to the mind–body connection. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made as Psalm 139 tells us. Laughter, peace, and a clean conscience are all good medicines given to us by a good Father.
Determined to cultivate the optimal environment for healing in my body, I decided to take a forgiveness inventory. Two names stood out on the list, and yes, one of them was my stepmother. I had forgiven her but felt moved to go through the process again.
When God forgives us, it is forever. (Jeremiah 31:34)
When we forgive, it’s a process. (Matthew 18: 21-22)
New consequences can emerge from old injuries, which reveal themselves in a variety of ways in our lives, like in our relationships and even with our health. We may need to visit forgiveness again and again until we completely let it go.
One day, as I lay on the floor in dire pain, longing for Heaven, I thought, ‘I would not wish this pain on even my worst enemy. Eternity spent in hell would be even worse than this, and I would not want that even for my stepmother.’
In that moment, God gave me an image: a communion platter, the wine and the bread, symbols of God’s ultimate gift to humanity—the chance to be restored back to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, His Son. It would be impossible to partake of the bread and the wine—Jesus’s body and blood—and, at the same time, push it away when Jesus has also offered it to someone who had injured me, however severely. There was one offering, one sacrifice for sin: Jesus, the perfect sacrifice. If I refused that offering for my stepmother, I was also refusing it for myself. I knew I could not live without God’s mercy, so I prayed for my stepmother to receive that same mercy, love, grace, and forgiveness and to enjoy the freedom and eternal life that is ours through Christ.
God's forgiveness is so much bigger than we can ever comprehend. It's so vast, it covers us all, even wicked stepmothers.
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