Saturday, May 24, 2014

Forgivenenss Challenge Day 16 - Telling a New Story

The actual Forgiveness Challenge is on Day 21 or so, but I am back on Day 16 because I really am doing this at my own pace.  Day 15 talked about being a forgiveness hero instead of a victim.  The title of it, "Forgiveness Hero," led me to think of my own forgiveness heroes.  Nelson Mandela.  The people of South Africa.  Jesus.  The parents of the Amish girls.  For me, people who forgive those who have hurt them are the strongest and most courageous of all.  Who are your forgiveness heroes?

I want so badly to have the courage that my heroes have and so I have always tried to forgive others, some with more success than others.  Where I fall down is that I move too quickly to say, "I forgive you," because I want to find the peace that comes with forgiveness, but I don't actually do the work it takes to get to true forgiveness.  "It didn't matter," I say.  "Of course I forgive you," I say.  "No worries."  Right.  No worries until the next time when all of my unspoken and unresolved hurt, fear, anger, and disappointment rise up inside me shining a bright light on my lack of honesty.  I do not mean to be dishonest when I say I have forgiven, but nevertheless, I am.

This Fourfold path to forgiveness, this writing down of hurts and stories, this use of visualization to experience and let go of the big feelings, this process of telling the story and finding compassion for ourselves and for the ones who hurt us is a way to be honest about what happened.  It wasn't okay.  It did matter.  AND I can forgive.  For real.  Not just for pretend.  The lesson I have to learn is that I have to own all those feelings that I don't like, move through them instead of just burying them, so that I can tell a new story, a story that does not cast me in the role of victim but in the role of hero.  A story that shows I've healed.  It's not much fun to be a victim, not very life-giving.  And yet without acknowledging the pain, I can't truly forgive it.  

This Easter season is drawing to a close.  As we approach Pentecost, the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit, I pray that God will give us all the courage to walk the path of forgiveness, whether it's the Tutu Fourfold Path or some other, so that we all might tell a new story in which we are the heroes, not the victims, and in which we have come to know the peace that true forgiveness brings.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Forgiveness Challenge Day 15 - Slowing Down

Today is Day 15 of the Forgiveness Challenge, but I have only completed Day 11.  Partly this is due to other things taking priority in my life the past week, but mostly this is due to the difficult nature of the work of forgiveness.  Whereas reading each day's challenge and listening to the poem or meditation does not take more than 15 minutes, the exercises take far longer.  The first part of the Fourfold Path of Forgiveness outlined by Desmond and Mpho is "Telling Our Story."  Well, writing our/my story takes more than 15 minutes.  Telling my story, sharing my story.  Telling my story to someone else requires another person and time out of that person's schedule.  Suddenly forgiveness isn't something to be done in just 15 minutes of intellectual activity.  It's something with a cost - of time, inner reflection, willingness to re-experience all the feelings, opening up the box in which the memories are closed up and exposing them to the light.

All of this takes time and energy.

So I'm revising my commitment.  I am committed to this 30-day Forgiveness Challenge.  And I will complete it.  But maybe not in 30 days.  Whenever I read a book with exercises and I don't have time to do the exercise I usually skip it and come back to it later.  Except later never comes.  So I engage at an intellectual level, note that the exercise is there, and then move on without taking the time to dive deep.  I want to do this challenge for real, so I will take my time to do each exercise, even if it means that I am very far behind.  Even if it means I can't keep my original commitment that I made so blithely back on May 4.

I forgive myself for needing more time, and I accept that it's okay to go at my own pace.  I have not given up, I am simply taking the time I need to do this in the right way for me.  I want to learn this practice of forgiveness.  I want to make it a real part of my life.  Forgiving myself is part of the journey. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Forgiveness Challenge Day 6 - Many Thoughts

Yesterday was Day 6 of the challenge.  Have you ever noticed how when you learn a new word that suddenly you start hearing it over and over?  Or when you start talking about a topic, it begins appearing everywhere?  Well today I was bombarded with the topic of forgiveness.

The reading over at Fifty Days of Fabulous was titled, "Rifts and Reconciliation," and included a link to the Center for Reconciliation at Duke University.  I had never heard of it  (I don't think) but a quick visit to the site piqued my curiosity, making me wish I could attend the Summer Institute's seminar on Faith and Trauma.  Filed away as a future resource.

Then in Robin Casarjian's Houses of Healing:  A Prisoner's Guide to Inner Power and Freedom, I read about mediation that takes place between crime victims and those in the criminal justice system in which the two come together to tell their stories and find healing.  It can be very powerful for both people.

Last night I watched the movie, In Our Country, about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  Very apropos considering the Tutus have sponsored the forgiveness challenge.  Hearing about the atrocities even from the distance of viewing a movie still hurts my heart.  How much courage it took for the people of South Africa to come forward and tell their stories.  No future without forgiveness is what Desmond Tutu says.  I suppose that's true for all of us.

In the challenge yesterday, we were asked the question, "What would be the best outcome?" of our forgiving.  Reconciliation.  Freedom.  Peace.  Forward movement.  Healing.  Wholeness.  Joy.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Forgiveness Challenge Day 5: What Holds Us Back?

"I would like to share with you two simple truths:  there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness."  -Desmond Tutu, The Book of Forgiving:  The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World

The book arrived in the mail yesterday, and I've just started reading it.  I'm only on page 3 of the Introduction and already I am inspired.  How could the people of South Africa have chosen the path of forgiveness in light of the atrocities that had happened to them?

The past two days in the Forgiveness Challenge we have looked at the things that hold us back from forgiveness.  Things like thinking the other person needs to apologize, thinking that people who forgive are weak, thinking that forgiving means condoning or forgetting or letting people off the hook. 

I agree with Bishop Tutu that there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.  I believe it with all my heart.  Every human being is created by God in the image of God and every human being is beloved of God.  If you never hear me say anything else, hear me say that.  What frustrates me is that as deeply as I hold that belief, I still find it difficult to forgive when harm has been done to me.  What I realized today is that most of the people who have harmed me in my life have not done so intentionally.  I have blessedly not been a victim of malicious violence.  Most of the people who have hurt me are broken or sick or simply more interested in getting their needs met than in helping me meet mine.  Or they used methods that might have been helpful to others but were harmful to me because of who I am.

These people are most definitely deserving of forgiveness.  And in this moment sitting by myself in my home, I forgive them.  I do.  They were doing their best at the time.  We all do things that hurt others and I, for one, hope that those I've hurt will forgive me.

Where the problem comes is when I then see or deal with these people again or with new ones who hurt me, and all my loving, forgiving thoughts fly out the window as my stomach tightens into knots and my pulse races and my face gets hot, and I will the ground to open up and swallow me.  Or I have conversations in my head and yell at the people.  Or I stutter and stammer and have no ability to be natural and loving because I'm so angry or scared that I can't look past my own feelings.

I want to learn how to get from thinking I have forgiven to actual forgiveness.  With God's help, I will.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Forgiveness Challenge Day 2: Forgiveness & Physical Health

Today's challenge talked about the science of forgiveness and how our spiritual, emotional, and physical health can be affected when we haven't forgiven someone.  I know that's true for me.  When I haven't forgiven someone and I see that person, I get knots in my stomach and my heart rate speeds up and the reptile part of my brain starts shouting, "Run, run, run!"  Where before there might have been ease and flow in the conversation, now I am anxious and constricted.  I can see how over time the constriction could cause more serious health problems.

Today I had a massage, one of my favorite things.  As the masseuse worked deep into the knots that live perpetually in my upper back between my shoulders, I had a memory surface from at least 15 years ago of someone I worked with and had a difficult relationship with for awhile.  As I remembered that time, I wondered if the people who have hurt me or who I have resented are living in those knots in my shoulders.  If I could release the pain and the hurt and the anger (most of which I don't ever consciously feel anymore) would the knots in my shoulders release too?  I don't know the answer to the question, but I found myself thinking about that person from long ago and releasing him.  What happened just doesn't matter anymore.  Maybe the massage and the intention to forgive will loosen the knots just a little. 

Jesus said, "If you forgive the sins of others they will be forgiven them, and if you retain the sins of others, they will be retained."  How I long to grow in the spiritual life to a point where I never retain the sins of others.  That's between them and God.  I want my heart to be full of forgiveness - and it often is when I'm sitting in my house thinking about it in theory.  It's when I come face to face with other people that it becomes more difficult.  One of those things to which I can say, "I will, with God's help."  Without God's help, I stay caught up in the hurt feelings.  With God's help, grace is possible. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Forgiveness Challenge - Day 1

I've already written a bit about the Tutu 30-day Global Forgiveness Challenge, but I've also decided to blog about it as I go through it.  I'm hoping that this will be a way to keep myself accountable to the process.  It is a habit of mine to get all excited about a project or idea at the beginning but not follow all the way through to the end.  So I'm making this agreement with myself and with anyone who reads this - I commit to the 30-day challenge, to spending 15 minutes a day reading and doing the exercises, and I commit to being open to whatever learning, change, or growth may occur as a result of taking this challenge.

Today was day one.  Just watching Desmond Tutu on the short video makes me smile.  How anyone who has seen the things that he has seen can be filled with so much joy is a miracle to me.  I remember hearing him speak at Sewanee when I was in college and being blown away by his infectious laughter and his amazing spirit.  Words fail me, but he is the most ALIVE person I have ever met.  I am grateful for this opportunity to learn from him.

Today we are asked to write down what we hope to get from the forgiveness challenge.  There are a few people in my life whom I have not fully forgiven, one of whom is no longer alive, and I would like to work through the process of letting go of any remaining hurt, anger, and pain.  I would also like to learn a process for forgiving myself not only for the big things I've done wrong, but also for the every day mistakes I've made or hurts I've caused.  Self-forgiveness does not come easily to me, and I think my life would be much better if it did.  I also hope to learn some concrete practices that I can use myself and share with others.

Thanks to those of you who will join me on this journey.  If you want to take the challenge, you can find it at  

"Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Tree Stump Garden Update

Back in March I wrote in my post, Redeem, about the tree stump garden that I pass when I walk.  Well, last Saturday I was walking  the 2.7 mile loop and as I got closer to the tree stump, I saw two young men and an older woman standing near the stump.  It was the lady who tends the stump garden!  I was so excited finally to meet her.  I stopped, took off my head phones and asked, "Are you the one who plants these?"  She said yes and I said, "Thank you.  Whenever I pass them they bring me joy.  I've even written a blog post about them."  She was taken by surprise, not realizing the impact that her bit of gardening has had on passersby.  Clearly the two young men had also stopped to talk to her about the little garden. 

Sometimes I read the word "fangirl" on Facebook, and I guess I had a little fangirl moment.  I didn't think to ask for her name or to take her picture with the plants, but I was so grateful that I had finally had the opportunity to thank her for the seeds of joy that she has planted.  The week of Easter there were even little Easter eggs attached to the plants.  Each time I pass it there is something new, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face and a sense of delight to my day.  Yesterday I snapped a quick picture of the little garden thriving in the stump of the dead tree.  Is that resurrection or what?