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Defining Forgiveness

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Forgiveness.

Through processing how to authentically achieve this, I became so stuck on the definition I had in my head, I all but decided there were some people I could never forgive!

I knew I had to change my definition.

It’s easy for me to forgive someone when they’ve owned their responsibility,  changed their behavior and are not repeating the same patterns and ceased to harm.

It’s also easy for me to forgive when I can understand that something in someone is broken.

And to be honest, it’s easy for me to forgive when what they have done reflects my own past indiscretions.

If I am guilty of having once caused the same harm to another, I have empathy which goes a long way to my original definition of forgiving.

Or perhaps, if I’m really being honest – forgiving those who have perpetrated a wrong doing that I have been guilty of – affords me some measure of  absolution for my own behavior.

And that is wrong.

Not being a religious person, I can’t turn to theological definitions or procedure when it comes to forgiveness.  I can be open to their ideas of course, many truths are universal and have a common thread in a variety of cultures and religious teachings.

But here I thought I couldn’t begin the process of forgiveness until I felt completely ready to pardon the person who had harmed me – and I don’t do things in half measures.

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I love, detest, work and forgive with my whole heart, body and soul – or not at all.

This is not an easy topic – so I reached out to some friends for their thoughts and definitions, I said ‘There’s no right answers’.

I also asked, is forgiveness Selfish or Selfless?  And so the sharing began to flow.

I’ll use only their first names – but here is a sampling of responses:

 

Scot: there is nothing selfish about authentic forgiveness. It is needed for personal happiness. As long as we struggle with attachment to things, emotional responses, memories or make decisions based from an attachment based place we are not exhibiting authentic forgiveness. And that is selfish. Because of the attachment to self or ego if you prefer.

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Selina: I’ve stopped forgiving , it is like giving that person an extra bullet and say here its ok try again :)) in my mind I eliminate them from my thoughts other words their are deceased, now it takes the most dirtiest despicable low life conniving ugly person to make me cut them out of my life but I have run across a couple of them but I now feel relieved I cut ties and saved me the stress:)))

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Haley: You find compassion for others for being human and flawed, and you forgive them. In return, you can more easily and often do the same for yourself….and in doing so- let go of all those nasty “shoulds”, both for yourself and for others, that drive us all insane.

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Ann: Forgiveness is a gift. Given for the satisfaction of giving, inspiring, sharing. It is not selfish however it is given in most part for self fulfillment. One cannot be fully sure of how the gift will be received and or appreciated…..that falls to the recipient. If I apologize to you for whatever reason and you spit back at me I still, if genuinely given, have the pleasure of doing what was right for me. If you embrace my apology well then even better. Forgiveness is a gift…..intended for the pleasure of both giver and receiver. If it does not work out it is still a gift. Kinda like the Christmas gift from great Aunt Edna of a box of jello. She knows you love jello and it makes her happy to think of you enjoying that fun delicious treat.

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Jennifer: God forgives us, so we should forgive others.

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Alyce: My take on forgiveness, you can be hurt really badly by someone- but a time comes when we no longer wish them ill or mentally wish for retaliation etc. We don’t need to go out of our way to befriend them or spend time with them, but we are free from wishing harm to come to them, we wish them well in their world.

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I love that everyone spoke from their heart.

I cherish diversity – and while I agreed with parts of all of their opinions,  I still wasn’t finding that one thing that clicked in my heart and summed things up for me until I read this:

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That I can do!

The fact is, that when we are harmed, damage occurs.

That saying: ‘You don’t drink poison and expect your enemy to die’ rings true, we do have to let go and move beyond our pain – we are only hurting ourselves further and stunting our growth if we sit in our pain.

It’s certainly not exacting revenge on the perpetrator, in fact, it maintains their power.

I then thought of the saying and took it to another level –  most people don’t purposely drink the poison.

Those with scars stemming from suffering forced upon them are in fact victims – having had something toxic poured into them without consent.

What happens after it’s inside you?

That is entirely up to you.

You can remain a victim, or you can begin to heal.

You may not have a way to heal the physical damage or erase the memories of the taste of the posion in your mouth.

It may take time until the sensation of the hand that wielded the metaphorical or literal weapon or the smells/sounds/sense memories burned into your subconscious during the offense begin to fade.

But out it must come if there is to be any chance!

There are labels on poisonous household liquids – ‘if swallowed, do not induce vomiting’.  The reason for that is that it can do more harm to come into contact with your fragile insides once more.

Debilitating pain from injury and abuse are just as toxic, but MUST be purged.

Coming back up is bound to be painful – but necessary.

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I had the great honor of speaking to someone yesterday who is, for me, the epitome of forgiveness.  Mrs. Eva Mozes Kor.

I reached out to her for wisdom – this is a woman who is strong, independent, funny, kind and oh so wise.

She is a twin survivor of Dr. Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz.

Even at such a tender age, she was determined to live through her ordeal.  She was orphaned, suffered unimaginably at the hands of Mengele and teetered between life and death – determined to survive to save herself and her sister.

Then years later … she forgave the Nazis.

Where does that strength come from???

I needed to know.

I wanted to speak with this amazing woman for any advice she might have about life in general.

I was to call her at 1:00 O’Clock – all day I glanced at the clock and when it was time, all I could do was stare at the phone.

The moment I heard her voice say my name, all nerves washed away.

Her first question to me: “Do you want to be free?”

Yes.  Yes I wanted to be free.

I had no intention of interviewing her – of mentioning our chat here.  I only wanted, as a woman, and student of life,  to soak up lessons she could pass on to me.

But after our long conversation, I was fixated on ‘forgiveness’, knew I must write about the topic and sent her a message asking if I could include some of her words in this piece.

Her response was an enthusiastic yes.

“My Dear Amanda,

Forgiveness is my mission, my passion and my salvation from a life of victim hood.  Once I discovered this simple idea, which is free and everybody can afford it.  I am willing to climb to a mountain top and yell at the top of my voice; Forgive your worst enemy, and forgive everybody who has hurt you, it will heal your soul and set you free.  Forgiveness is an act of self liberation, self-healing and self empowerment.  Anger is a seed for war, forgiveness is a seed for peace.  So, Amanda, by all means help me sow those seeds for peace into this troubled world.”

And so I shall.

I share with you what her answer was to my question: So then what is the difference between acceptance and forgiveness?

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She went on to say that the perpetrators need not even know they have been forgiven.  You are taking your power back in the simple act of forgiving.

She gave me an assignment, which I will be doing.  And now that I have a better understanding, and new definition of forgiveness, I feel I will get it all out and succeed.

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The last thoughts I have on this topic are these.

If you cannot find it in your heart to authentically forgive another – forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for being in fear, for not feeling strong enough to release the pain.

We are only human after all.

When the time is right – it will happen.

This is another thing Eva shared with me – it does take time!

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I laughed, as I did a lot during our conversation and  said: “Will I really have to twirl on a hill?  It’s really hot outside.”

And to laugh – and to seek answers and to want to learn and grow is a great way to begin to process forgiveness.

 

 

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Serving Life

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I don’t know if I’m so forgiving because I want to be forgiven.

I don’t know if I’m constantly seeing the good in those deemed ‘bad’ because I’m insightful or because I want to be good.

But I am forgiving and I do see good in bad.

This extends from situations to people.

I watched ‘Serving Life’ on New Years Day and it touched me so deeply – on so many levels.

First I thought about the convicted men.

It breaks my heart when I hear compassionate, intelligent, repentant, very human convicts wishing they could go back and undo their crimes.

That’s someone’s child – who cannot go back and will forever pay for their mistake.

I think about all the people who comment on news stories with such piousness.  I know that I have sinned – odds are they have too and how dare they judge another?

How many of those judging a murderer have been party to an abortion?  How many didn’t get caught the night they drove home drunk?

I think about a person born into an environment of despair, crime and fear – into a broken family devoid of encouragement, hope or love … what chance did they have?

I’m reminded of some lines from Silence of the Lambs.

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Hannibal:  No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.

Clarice: No. We just…

Hannibal: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day …

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We want what we see.  We mirror who we know. 

We can only do better when we know better.  At that point, it’s a choice.

If all you are exposed to is hunger, anger and helplessness – how do you know there is a ‘better’?

Are those seeking an escape from their reality with what they know, crack, heroin … less than those sipping too many martinis after a long day at the office – or abusing their Xanax prescription?

Does the tool for escape define the person?

There are so many crimes committed by people who are under the influence of drugs.

Drug addiction changes a person – takes hold and inserts its barbs into the flesh of the addicted.  But these are people who can be helped!

Why are we taking up so much prison space with people who were convicted for drug possession instead of treating them?

Then there are the mentally ill, who are certainly not served as they need to be in our country.

Why are we surprised when an untreated mentally ill person colors outside of society’s acceptable lines?

I think the outrage should be directed more toward the system that is neglecting those who need it.

I’ll now qualify all of the above with – there should be punishment for crime.  And murder, theft, assault is not acceptable.

I just know there’s a person under that orange jumpsuit – and reasons behind the crime.

I’m not offering excuses for them – I’m offering the idea that there is more than meets the eye.

Having said all of that – I’ll be honest when I tell you that I found it very difficult to find compassion for one man who had a terminal brain tumor.

His crime was that of sexually assaulting a minor.

He would fall into the mentally ill category I suppose – as in my opinion, a mentally healthy person wouldn’t have committed such a heinous crime.

I still wasn’t able to find my compassion for him even after acknowledging this.

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The inmates that decided to take part in the hospice program were surprisingly affected by the environment.

I say surprisingly because some had been exposed to death before, in violent and personal ways.

Men who had taken a life, sat scared and uncomfortable as they sat vigil with a man breathing his last breath.

The film makers did not spare the audience the final moments of the dying.  This was a raw and very real look into a hospice situation.

One man in particular became ill suddenly – unable to keep weight on his bones and coughing up blood.  The x-rays the prison had taken showed signs of cancer – but until a biopsy was done, they couldn’t diagnose the man.  He came several times to the ward only to return to his cell without having the tests done.

The fear in his eyes was my undoing.

The nurse asked him if he wanted to be admitted to the ward – no … he didn’t want to give up.

She explained that it wouldn’t be giving up.  That no matter where he was, if he had hope, he was not giving up.  But that he would be needing care should medical intervention be needed and that they could give that to him there.

Two things struck me at this point.  That this man, who was in prison, wanted to live – and even within the walls of that penitentiary, he still had hope.

To me though, that hospice must have smelled to him like the euthanasia room at a dog pound.

It was where people went to die – not to get well.

Here he was showing up to find out what was wrong with him, and the tests being delayed – and returning to his cell in fear and sickness.  I wanted to cradle him.  I wanted to shout for a doctor on his behalf.

He was sentenced to life after all – not death.

He finally did get his results – and they were worse than anyone expected.  He was given only weeks to live.

In his final weeks, he was afforded a visit from his brother, who was also imprisoned.  I was moved to tears as he implored his brother to change … to do better.

They prayed together and again, I wanted to hold that man.

The filmmakers followed him from couch to crematorium.

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The men that stayed by his side – who washed him and changed him – were getting perhaps a first lesson in humility, selflessness and compassion.

I say perhaps, because I don’t know that to be true.

But if it wasn’t their first lesson – it was definitely a powerful  experience that would leave a profound impression.

Even the warden admitted during his interview that he couldn’t do it.  That he had admiration for the men who could.

Those men got past their fears and became angels.

There was change.

There was deep regret for the lives they had taken.

There was respect for the process of dying.

Had these men been part of such a program prior to their crimes – would they have committed them?

I wondered with heavy heart about that too.

How does someone value life when they themselves are born into a world that does not value them?

When you’re raised to feel as if you are a statistic, a stereotype, a burden – where do you find worth within that gives you the strength to want to accomplish good things for yourself, let alone others?

There are those that do find it.  People who beat the odds.

I find that to be amazing and inspiring.

I have always been incredibly in awe of those who overcome adversity because they made a choice to do so.

I also think that by choosing to be part of the hospice program and being of service to the dying – the men documented in this film have done the same thing.

Some will have a chance to live that change in the outside world – some will not.

But I don’t think it came too late – it’s wonderful that it came at all – they learned the value of life through comforting the dying.

Amends – becoming whole

I am so sorry for the way that I have treated you in the past.

For all the times I put you down … didn’t stand up for you, didn’t have faith in you.

I am sorry that I put you in harms way.

That I didn’t make better choices for you.

For all the emotional, physical and verbal abuse – I hope and I pray  that you can forgive me completely one day.

I feel I’ve earned back some trust – I know that  you feel the amends that I’m making and I will continue to make them.

Because I love you.

I know that you are capable and lovable and imperfectly enough.

I know that – because I’m you.

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Mercy for me – justice for others

I don’t subscribe to that.

I find myself living to the contrary.  Justice for me and mercy for others.

I have a hard time accepting mercy or even believing I deserve it.  I hold myself to making amends and am pretty hard on myself.

But others …

Some of this might sound a little like I’m siding with, or making excuses for some pretty awful people.  Please bear with me.

I hope I can make my point well.

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It breaks my heart when I hear about a young person committing a horrific crime.  Yes, even Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  He’s still a teenager!

It’s a proven fact that the brain is not fully developed until aged 25. 

The ‘thinking through’ process isn’t there yet.  Not completely.

What he participated in is atrocious, but I can’t help but mourn the loss of his life too.  A bad decision, (to put it mildly) perhaps born from peer pressure,  constant teachings from someone he trusted and looked up to – has taken any future he might have had.  Gone.  In the blink of an eye.  No do-overs.

Adults too – Consider this scenario, having gone to dinner – perhaps an impromptu celebration, someone has a glass of wine too many. They get in their car, and end up killing someone.  This is was not premeditated – the person is not a murderer.  I wonder about their lives before – odds are they were a great parent,  gave to charity, were of service, had friends they supported, family they cared for.  Their future, Gone.  In another blink.

Even when I’m behind someone who’s driving erratically in front of me – I stop and think “Well, maybe they just got into an argument with a loved one, or perhaps they’re running late to work and this is the last chance before they lose their job.”  I don’t get angry.  I slow down.  I consider there is more to the story than I’ll ever know.

But when it comes to me …

I like to think I’ve forgiven myself for the things that haunt me still.  If God forgives me, I have no business not following suit.  But it’s difficult.

I’ll be honest – when things go awry, there is a part of me that thinks I deserve it.  The part of me that has grown so much spiritually, glares at the illogical part of me that believes this then rolls its eyes.  I know better.  But it is still a part of my thinking. 

I pray sometimes for help forgiving myself. 

I feel more for others than I do for me. 

I have an obsession with the mentally ill.  I’m fascinated by the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of behaviors I don’t understand.  I watch shows like Lock Up and the like, and I see a vacancy in murderers eyes.  I think, they are capable of such atrocities for a reason.  Probably partially born that way, then environment pushing them into the wrong direction. 

What if they had love?  What if they had services to treat their mental illness?  How could they stand a chance without those things?

Of course, I mourn for their victims too – but I do find myself thinking about all involved. 

And it’s just such a shame – and such a loss.  Those men behind bars were once someone’s babies.  They were small and innocent and hopeful once.  Then lost.  Or perhaps never stood a chance.

And if my heart can be open for them, why not for me? 

Another thing to contemplate and pray on.

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The ugly truth

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I’ve put this off – taking people’s feelings into consideration.  But it’s time.

I felt brave this week – wearing the brighter lipstick, the eye makeup.  As a rule, I only wear rice powder, light mascara a little color on my cheeks and a swipe of lipstick.

I wanted to try something different.

I even wore a beautiful large necklace on Monday – I felt like I had a neon sign over my head ‘LOOK!’

Please don’t look  I was saying on the inside.

I’ve been told, and I know that by societies standards, I’m pretty.  I don’t consider myself beautiful – but I had nothing to do with my genes and it is a fact, I am not ugly.

Besides not liking to wear makeup, I can’t wear necklaces with earrings at the same time and vice versa.

I can’t wear clothes that draw attention to myself. (Someone complimented me on a particular outfit – that someone was male. I haven’t worn it since).

I don’t want to be looked at for my outside appearance.

I don’t want you to tell me I’m pretty.

Pretty hasn’t served me well.

Pretty has littered my life with ugly.

I have been molested, I have been raped.  Multiple times.  I have been disrespected, I have been leered at.

I want my soul to be seen.  My soul is pretty.

I want my mind to be seen.  It is sharp and full of interesting things.

I want my deeds to be felt – my abilities recognized.

I want my heart to be heard beating – maybe that’s why I have tachycardia … maybe it’s trying extra hard?

I want to one day, be in a relationship and not cringe at a touch.  To be able to be told I’m pretty and glow with appreciation.

I’ve forgiven the many men who have hurt me.  I have forgiven myself for the promiscuity bred from being taught that was love.

But nurture has made more of an impression on my psyche than nature.

I will heal.  I will.  I have come so far.