"It's time to go now, the baby has had enough." I said to my husband. My toddler was at the point of melt down and ready to be in her own house to unwind for the night.
"I'm ready too. It's been a long day. Let's go." He said, ready to relax himself.
We said our goodbyes to everyone at the gathering after what had been our second funeral in two weeks. This one was my grandfather's funeral. He had been wrestling with cancer for quite a while. Two weeks prior, my 9 year old cousin had been killed in a tragic car accident. We were all pretty emotionally exhausted. It had been quite a season in my family's history.
As we were headed down the steep driveway, wrestling with a fussy toddler, I noticed a shadow to the side of the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Suddenly my mother's former husband and my former stepfather stepped into my line of vision and he looked me right in the eyes. I was stunned to see him and he was surprised to see me.
I hadn't seen this man in about 3 or 4ish years when I left my childhood home in a flurry of pain and rejection. Small flashes of the past assaulted my brain quickly as he began to speak. This man began to tear up and cry right there at the end of the driveway. I had never seen him cry, not even for a second while I was growing up.
"Toni, wow, it's you. I've heard you are doing well. I've always wanted to tell you just how sorry I am. I am so sorry for the way I treated you and your mother. I was so wrong. I didn't realize just how much my behavior effected you and how much damage it had caused you for all those years..." He said with tears and more sincerity than I had seen from him.
It was hard to believe this situation. I was just standing there stunned to see him make an appearance at a funeral for my grandfather, let alone right there in a driveway face to face, apologizing. A man whom I feared and frankly hated just a few years earlier was standing right there before my eyes. That was the last thing I expected to happen on that day, until I heard these words come out of my mouth, which were truly a surprise to me.
"I have something to tell you too." I said with my husband and my cranky, crying toddler right next to me. "I forgive you. I forgive you for every bit of every thing that happened during those years. I forgave you a long time ago. You are completely free of any obligation to me. I don't hold any of it against you at all. You are free to live your life free of guilt now. Please move forward with your life and make it the best life it can be. As for me right now, I need you to excuse me, you see I have a tired baby who is ready to go home. Everyone is in the backyard and will be glad to see you've come here today. Thank you for your apology. I really appreciate it and I wish you the best and I bless your life. Good bye."
Our little family proceeded to walk down that hill and get into the car. When we got in the car, my husband said to me. "OH MY GOD! I can't believe what you just did! I wasn't sure what you would do if you ever saw him again. I thought you would punch that dude in the face!"
Laughing, and my mind whirling from what just occurred, I said to him, "I didn't know what I would do either! I thought I would too! But I guess all that Jesus has been doing in my heart and in my life, all that forgiveness stuff our pastors have been walking us through is really real and far more powerful that I could ever imagine. I really believe every word I said to him today. I really do forgive him and I didn't know just how deep and wide Jesus' love could really take me. All that pain is gone. I'm not hateful or afraid anymore. I feel so free." I said to him, feeling a giant sense of relief.
I had suffered abuse from my former stepfather all those years ago. I was very angry and full of fear and hate towards him. He was a young man when he enlisted in the military was sent off to war in Vietnam as an 18 year old young man. He had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as addiction when he returned back to the US. As a result of his trauma, he traumatized others and caused of lot of pain and suffering as a result of his violent tendencies, abusive ways and addictive behaviors.
All the abuse in my childhood home created my own traumatic experiences and later post-traumatic stress. I went through a tremendous amount of healing in the time between leaving home at 19ish and then seeing him again later when I was 23ish in the driveway that day.
I believe, however, a greater amount and a deeper degree of the emotional healing came as Holy Spirit began to bring comfort, teaching and nurturing to my heart in the years that followed. Holy Spirit brought a more complete picture of what had happened to me. It was His loving role in the broader picture of what He was doing in my life. He was bringing restoration, wholeness and ultimately beauty.
Lastly, what I want to leave you with is this:
If I can forgive him, and all those who participated in the pain and grief of those years, you, most certainly can do it too.
You can forgive.
You can heal.
You can be restored.
God is willing.
Beauty awaits you.
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