Forgiveness in the Driveway

Forgiveness_in_the_Driveway_BP_Image_1024x1024.jpg

"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.

 

Copyright © 2017-2018 Toni Imsen. All Rights Reserved.

Most Spiritual Thing

Most Spiritual Thing 1024x1024.jpg

The most spiritual thing I've ever done was to quit my job. Yes, that is right, I left my job as a pastor. In 2014 my life changed dramatically.

Leaving my job in full time occupational ministry was the most supernatural and spiritual act I could do.

It was one of the toughest and most important decisions I've ever made.

In 2013 my teenage daughter announced to my husband and I that she was pregnant and that the father would be absent. We had already been praying about and considering that our role in the ministry we had been leading was changing and possibly coming to an end.

I wrote a short story about my daughter's announcement in a book that came out in 2014 called When Life Happens: How We Survived the Unexpected.

During the course of my interaction with God regarding my daughter's impending announcement, He asked me a life-changing question. Here is an excerpt from that story:

"She’s pregnant isn't she?" I asked out loud. "Yes, she is pregnant. You are going to be a grandmother. What I need you to do today is extend grace and release peace. You can do it."

It was a familiar voice I had heard many times before. It was the sound of His voice coming from deep inside me, sounding like multiple voices in harmony. The sound so deeply connected with my spirit. I’ve encountered these Voices in the past, in many ways. It is the voice of Jesus, an understanding friend, Holy Spirit, a nurturing presence and the Father, a stabilizing force in this instance. Their voices seemed quiet and loud all at the same time. Echoes of closeness all rolled up into one loving burst of intimate energy. What I heard stunned me, but the Voices settled me.

My husband and I were senior pastors. We had an event at our church that evening. It ended late, so we went out for a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant with two of our teenage children. After dinner, as we went out to our separate cars, my daughter asked me, “What are we doing tomorrow? Can I spend some time with you and Dad? I’d like to talk about a few things.” I could feel a slight butterfly in my stomach. “Can we just talk when we get home? I am curious now about what you want to talk about, and I don’t think I can sleep wondering about it all night.” I answered. She said “okay.” as we stepped into our separate cars.

I was alone for the ride home. It was a long 17 minutes between the restaurant and our home. I had so many thoughts and things flashing through my mind thinking about what the Voices had spoken on that stretch of freeway. Suddenly, I began having memories of my own pre-marriage pregnancy. I remembered the reactions of others, kind and not so kind. I began remembering what life had been like as a young mother, the joys and the difficulties. I thought of what it was like to be a young woman just learning to know myself. I had glimpses of what life had been like as a young wife with so many responsibilities and feeling so inadequate in inexperienced. Then there were visions of a beautiful, small and innocent baby. What he or she looked like, what their personality would be like, who would they become. It’s unbelievable how many thoughts and feelings can overwhelm you in just a few minutes. I had a million questions begin to flood my mind.

I thought about my daughter, what must she be going through? The baby’s father, what is this story about to unfold? My other children, how will they feel? My husband, how is he going to handle this? God, are you here? Are you in this somewhere? Our extended family, what will they say? Our friends, will they understand? The church, how will our congregation and extended network deal with this? The details wanted to torment me for a minute.

Then I heard Him ask me a question that put a stop to the frenzy of shock and awe and desperation of that moment. “What if your life had been celebrated every single day of your existence?” There were those Voices again. I was moved from shaking, to the beginnings of awakening.

I was undone and unraveling a bit on the inside, falling apart, but somehow in a good way. My heart was wrecked, yet full of wonder. Wondering what was about to fall upon me. What kind of revelation was coming my way other than the unveiling of a pregnancy?

The question, "what if your life was celebrated every single day of your existence?" changed my perspective of what was really important. It started me on a journey of realizing what it really meant to be pro-life and to celebrate life. The phrase 'cultivating creativity and celebration' began to infiltrate my being. The next season would bring joy and difficulty, but I knew it was God moving. I knew it was an opportunity to see Him in action, know His redemptive power and experience His love in my life and in my family's life for generations.

During the course of her pregnancy I began to realize how much my lifestyle in full time occupational ministry (I call it occupational ministry because I believe every believer in Christ is a full time ministry, just not everyone has an occupation of it) was not compatible with helping my daughter to raise her child.

Two weeks before the baby was born, my husband and I resigned our positions as senior leaders of that ministry. We were at a point where all our obligations to the ministry were being completed and it was the perfect time to equip other leaders to take over the responsibilities to continue the work in the region. They have continued on and are doing well.

My husband and I had also had a construction company that was growing rapidly, it was also requiring more of our attention. So there it was. I was back at home serving my daughter part time and running the construction company part time.

I felt I was in the right place doing the right thing. Returning back to our home where I previously spent 19 years raising our own children and being the entrepreneur I've always been. Let me put it this way, I had a business plan before I was a teenager and I've always had a thing for homemaking, decorating, cooking and enjoyed being with my children. I was able to do both!

As far as ministry is concerned, I am surprisingly able to do that too. I have had more opportunities to consult with leaders, encourage and cast vision, equip start-up ministries, heal the sick, pray for people, offer prophetic ministry, serve as a guest speaker, and more since resigning from occupational ministry. I accept private appointments with people. The only difference is the framework and format in which I serve God now. I don't have the responsibilities of being tied down to my own ministry, I have opportunity to be a part of multiple ministries behind the scenes and watch them do their thing. I am cultivating creativity in others and celebrating them.

I am teaching and training through writing, as well as telling stories. I am working on my fourth book collaboration this year. Two books, When Life Happens (mentioned above) and Zoe Life Inspired Daily Devotional 2015 were released in December 2014. In those books I have short stories and daily devotionals. Two new books are in editing as I write this blog. The release dates are yet to be determined. I will announce the dates soon. I am working on some of my own books and art pieces. I am renewing making a commitment to post on this site more regularly.

The best part is the return to family. The most important thing to me has always been family.  If we haven't got marriage and family life blossoming, nothing else really matters. I am learning anew what it means to celebrate life every day. Being able to be with my own children, even though they are young adults now, is the most wonderful thing a mother could ask for. Being there for my granddaughter, even though there has been a great adjustment period, is the most fascinating and moving thing imaginable. I wouldn't have it any other way.

I can't imagine having not come back home to serve and enjoy my family now. Time goes by all too fast. Building a legacy and creating an inheritance for their future is the greatest pleasure, the most supernatural and spiritual thing I can do with my life.

 

Copyright © 2017-2018 Toni Imsen. All Rights Reserved.