Monday, July 22, 2024

Forgiveness Is a Choice


by Kimberly McGraw

I watched a documentary once that was so powerful it left me a sobbing mess long before the credits rolled. Normally, documentaries do not have this kind of effect on me. The ones I usually watch are instructing, clarifying, and sometimes entertaining; but they are not moving, and certainly not gut-wrenchingly emotional. This one, however, was different and so raw; it will never let me forget the message it endeavored to portray, nor the unspoken lesson that was derived from it.

The opening scene began in a cozy, average-sized living room with a middle-aged woman sitting on her couch, cradling a photo album across her lap. She did not look up or say anything beyond an occasional murmur, but I got the feeling that I was meant to understand the importance of the treasure in her possession.

Eyes glued to the photos staring up at her, she caressed each one in turn, drawing attention to the same bright smile on every page. The smile started out toothless and small, but with each turn of the page that smile grew, teeth filling in. Finally, a handsome young man looked back from behind the protective film of the last page.

This mother did not smile as she guided us through this visual walk down Memory Lane.

Her weathered face bore a perpetual frown, as if she could not alter the curve of her lips if she tried. When she spoke, her words matched her expression: sad, angry, hurt, and ultimately lost.

Setting aside the carefully constructed photo album, the woman retrieved some loose photos from an end table as the camera zoomed in for a closer look. I did not always see the mother’s face as she explained each photo, but I heard the story her words wove. It was a story of a fun-loving son who was taken too young.

By the time her narrative reached the fatal climax, the words coming from her mouth were dripping with venom towards the leading lady of this tale. She was an attractive teenager with an equally infectious smile. This young woman, who had as much life ahead of her as the fun-loving boy she met at a party, played a disastrous role in his life when he got in her car and they drove away drunk. That was the last day a now broken-hearted mother ever had with her son. That was the last day the son had on this earth and the last day of peace for that young girl. In one tragic moment, three people’s lives changed forever; but only two of the three people were left living.

The young woman spent six months in jail for this crime but was arrested months later and sentenced to ten years in prison on drug charges. These were the drugs she took to mask the pain of that night. These drugs were what she took to help her live with herself.

The grieving mother, who had only a photo album now to hold, spent those ten years blaming her loss on the imprisoned young woman. She refused to lay eyes on the young woman’s face. Her name was a name the mother could not even bring herself to say.

However, the cameras were not there to document this mother’s grief. A meeting had been arranged between the mother and the young woman after ten long years. There were no intentions of forgiveness on behalf of the mother because she had sworn against that years ago.

However, she felt the time had finally come to face her demon.

Tensions were high the day the mother sat alone in the prison’s visitation center with her photo album beside her on the table. Behind her, a young woman entered the room. The young woman’s expression was guarded as she hesitantly sat across from the mother at the table.

The mother looked up at the woman, hatred evident in her eyes. She placed a hand on the album and slid it over to the woman, saying, “I just wanted you to know the boy you killed.”

The effect was immediate. Her words crashed through the young woman’s defenses like a wrecking ball. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed, shoulders heaving violently. Years of suppressed emotion leaked through her fingers and splashed onto the cover of the photo album below her bowed head. Taken aback by this sudden display, the mother involuntarily reached across the table and comforted the young woman.

In that moment, something miraculous happened.

Two women, whose lives were torn apart by one tragic event that created a great ten-year divide, were now holding one another and sharing their hearts. Years of bitterness and hatred were washed away by tears of forgiveness.

Not until the mother realized that this young woman was not the monster she envisioned but a broken life torn apart by the same event, did the blinders of hatred fall away. Forgiveness could now move in and begin the healing that had long been denied. In the process, she found someone who could fill the void her son left in her heart the day he died.

To this day, because of forgiveness, both women are truly inseparable. They “adopted” each other into their lives and share a mutual love in their hearts where once anger, hatred, and bitterness resided.

Naturally, this story was very moving. Forgiveness and restored lives are beautiful things. However, I was deeply saddened for those ten wasted years that the two women suffered needlessly. Yes, their story was one of reconciliation; but imagine how much more enriched their lives could have been had they found it sooner!

I can say this because forgiveness has been part of my journey as well. After years of abuse, I thought I had reasons to hold on to my unforgiveness. I felt validated in not wanting to move on and, in some strange way, experienced a blanket of security by holding on to that hurt. Because of this, I was not living. I was letting my past poison my future.

Forgiveness was the single best thing I did for myself, my husband, and my children. I was able not only to heal and live a full life, but now I am also able to use my own story to help other women heal and live victoriously.

What is your story? Has someone hurt you and you struggle to forgive the pain of their actions? It is a real pain. It might even justify your actions, but it is no way to live. You may not wish for a face-to-face like this mother did, but you can still forgive. Bringing it to God and letting Him heal you is by far the best way to ever release the hold someone has on your life.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” – Colossians 3:13-14

I read a quote once that said, “They caused the first wound, but you are causing the rest…” Healing is in your power to obtain. Do not let the hurts of your past keep you in bondage any longer.

Forgiveness is a choice, and it is one only you can make.

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