Friday, March 16, 2012

"the weight has been lifted" - Stephanie Mullen

Forgiveness and I have been through a lot together.   
I was in a relationship for five years that was progressively abusive, verbally and physically, and the aftershock on my self-worth was something fierce.  Our break-up was even more tumultuous than our relationship, but we somehow remained friends... bonding through a shared traumatic experience or something like that.  In any event, I told him shortly after our shipwreck that I forgave him, and I meant it at the time.  What I didn’t realize, though, was that I had shut down so much emotionally that I wasn’t even aware of what I was forgiving.
Then one day, years after I thought he held any kind of sway on me, I saw him walking into a building with his girlfriend and I spent the next four hours crying in the fetal position on my living room floor.  I remembered things that I had effectively buried, and my memories were so vivid that I could feel every part of how scared I was, how hurt I was, and how poorly loved I was.  In the midst of that, I thought, “Hell. No.  I don’t forgive him... what he did to me is not okay.”  
But I was reminded that forgiveness is not saying that it’s okay, it’s more like agreeing with God that it’s not okay.  It’s letting him have his way with that person, and being free from having to carry it anymore.  It’s letting go, and maybe even re-framing what happened.  A turning point for me was seeing the same memories, the same images of what happened, but this time seeing Jesus there, too.  I could see how hurt he was, how angry he was, and how much he loved me (and even protected me) through it.  
I was finally ready to forgive for real, because I was face to face with the damage done and the offer to walk on from there with my God.  I learned that healing doesn’t often happen by any one formula, but that it happens in layers and that it takes time.  For me it took years, but it was worth the wait.  
I think Eminem actually puts it quite well: “It’s like the greatest gift you can get, the weight has been lifted”.
Still, forgiveness is so contrary to our natural logic and emotion.  I knew a woman in Minneapolis who was trying to leave prostitution and start a new life for herself, and I was assigned as her “mentor” through a volunteer organization.  We decided to ditch that title and to just be friends, and our weekly hangouts would entail anything from studying math for her GED exam to watching So You Think You Can Dance.  Many weeks passed as we got to know each other, and then... she shared her story with me.
She told me how she was raised by a single mom, that her mom used drugs, and that there were always people filtering in an out of their house.  Some of the men that passed through had sexually abused her, and the course of her life was changed from there.  She started using drugs and alcohol, eventually dropped out of high school, started stripping and doing more drugs, lost custody of her kids, and got into prostitution.  She was pronounced clinically dead in 2007 from a heroin overdose, and had since been trying to change her life.  When I met her in 2009, she had been clean for two months and was going to classes and counseling that this program offered.
On this night, though, she told me that despite her persistent and severe panic attacks, she was going to stop going to counseling.  She had reached the “forgiveness” part of therapy, and she was visibly shaking as she remembered things that happened to her over twenty years ago.  She said she found it so deeply wrong that she would be asked to forgive a man for raping her as a child, and that she wouldn’t have any part of it.  
What could I say to that?  At that moment, I agreed with her.
But I missed the point... forgot the bigger story.  If I believe that there is a good God who loves me and who hates injustice, I can trust him to take all of the pain and baggage I pick up along the way.  I can count on him to fight my battles, and I can take heart in his healing.  
I want that for myself, and I desperately want that for her. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Forgive Me - Aron Smith

Growing up, my father had a pithy aphorism for every occasion.  I didn’t always agree with the sentiment, and often I’d roll my eyes in disdain.  Not that again.  Nevertheless, some of these bon mots have stuck with me over the years.

Let’s see… There was tempus fugit (Latin for “time flies”), “assume a virtue if you have it not,” “I don’t suffer fools gladly” and, let us not forget, “Retard!” (non-PC epithet for anyone whose driving skills failed to live up to my father’s standards).

And then there was “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”  I didn’t really understand that one, but I had the general feeling that it had something to do with accepting that people make mistakes.  Later, when I studied French, I learned that the word “pardon” is the same as “forgive.” Pardoner = pour (for) + donner (give).  When someone bumps into me on the street and says “pardon me,” it doesn’t just mean “excuse me,” but also “forgive me.”  Just think about the “give” part – excusing others for their errors is a gift!

So why is it so important to forgive others?  Well, there is that “do unto others” thing.  Your action may seem stupid, rude or any of a hundred forms of nasty right now, but I still need to forgive you because sooner or later I’m going to do something equally dunderheaded and will want you to cut me some slack.  Thus, forgiveness is a kind of quid pro quo, an exchange of “this for that.”  But it’s not all about staying in the good graces of others.  It is also about staying in the good graces of the Lord.  “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Matt. 6:15

Whoa, this is a lot more serious.  What do I care if my idiot next-door neighbor doesn’t forgive me?  But if God won’t forgive me, I’m toast.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who care neither what their next-door neighbor thinks nor what God thinks.

Even psychotherapists agree that forgiveness is good for you.  If you can’t “let it go,” then whatever “it” is will fester deep in your soul and foster neuroses, psychoses and bad taste in dressing your kids.

Then why is forgiving others such a difficult thing?  Most of us know someone who can nurse a grudge for twenty years.  Like the Montagues and Capulets, we know we hate each other, even if we can’t quite remember why.

I have a confession to make:  I am lousy at forgiveness.  Although I may say that I forgive you today, when your name comes up tomorrow, guess what I’m going to remember?  Whatever real or perceived slight that I supposedly forgave.  Well, what do you expect?  After all, I was right!  (Oops, sorry Lord, do I get credit if I forgive him all over again?)

Let’s face it, most of the things that get us royally ticked off at each other are nothing more than petty slights.  So, you parked in my space, cut in front of me in the supermarket line or displayed an ugly garden gnome that I can see from my front porch.  You didn’t invite me to your party or gave me a Christmas present that clearly came from the dollar store.  If we can’t forgive others for this sort of nonsense, what hope have we of reaching forgiveness for the really big sins?

I am always amazed when a grieving mother appears on the TV news, tearfully proclaiming that she forgives the recently arrested guy who killed her son or daughter.  I have to wonder whether she is fooling herself, trying to look good on camera or maybe, just maybe, she is a bigger person than I could ever be.
And then there is genocide, when not one, but thousands or millions of people are systematically killed.  

There are the horrors of east Africa that have been in the news in recent years, and the unspeakable atrocities that the Jews faced at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.  God expects us to forgive those responsible for such enormities?  Whatever happened to “Justice, justice, thou shall pursue?”  Deut. 16:20

Justice, of course, is a social function, a point that I have become much more sharply aware of since I began working for the courts.  But although justice may not be taken into our own hands, forgiveness must be.  Condemnation is for the group, but forgiveness is for the individual.  One could say that giving and receiving forgiveness is one of the ways we achieve a personal connection with God.

I hope you had an opportunity to listen to the preacher in the above link who boldly proclaims that “forgiveness is the new F-word.”  While this assertion is notable for its shock value, what could be better than turning around something ugly into a vehicle for the expression of God’s love?

When my father used to tell me “to err is human, to forgive, divine,” it never occurred to me that forgiving others not only brings us closer to God, but also brings God closer to us.  For if man was made in God’s image, there is no reason for us to be any less forgiving than He is.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Roses - Aaron Alford

Everything came washing over her, not in an instant, but in an ever flowing moment.  Images of every secret kept and shame concealed came rushing over her in a torrent of grace.  There was pain in the reliving, but also release.  Her tears rolled on, and as she wept her tears became a rushing river that engulfed her seven times.

She saw herself in a new dress, a girl of eleven.  Her hair was dark and long, and spilled gracefully upon her shoulders. She had a small jar of scented oil, which she dolloped behind her ears, and took a deep breath of the fragrance.  It was sweet, and deep, and made her think of roses. She sang to herself, until she saw the opening of the door, and watched her father enter the room. 

She felt his hand on her thigh.  She saw the closing of the door.  She felt the tickling of the tears streaming back upon her face and onto her earlobes, where the perfume lay, still filling the room with its scent. 

She saw her father entering her room again and again, closing the door.  She felt his hand upon her shoulder, holding her in place.  She saw his eyes across the table as they dined with affluent friends, eyes that told her this was a secret she could never speak of.  She saw the closing of the door.

She saw the first boy that looked at her the same way her father did, and the closing of another door.  She saw the second, and even the third, but the rest took on just one face:  her father’s.

She saw the money shining in a pile next to her bed, the first time she took charge and made them pay.  It had shimmered dully in candlelight, almost pretty.  But it bore a seed of shame deep within her.  This is all I’m worth, she thought.  It’s all that I am.  Soon there were no candles; only back alleys and roach-infested corners, and the face of her father, and somehow, the closing of a door.

For years without number, and days without end, there was the closing of a door.

Until him.  One day, as barren as any other, there was a new face, and he looked her in the eyes from across the street.  He smiled.  She did not smile back, but she held that smile he’d given her somewhere in the corner of her heart.  Many men smiled at her before, but it had always cost her something.  This one was free, a gift, with no expectation.

As she now recalled it, she could almost hear the rusted hinges creaking open as he spoke to her the second time she’d seen him.  Through her present tears, she laughed for just a moment at the memory of his first words to her.

“Hi.  Would you like to join us for lunch?”

An invitation.  An open door. 

She had made some excuse not to join them, but she never forgot the invitation.  She saw him many times since then, and it was always the same.  He asked her every time, with that wide, open smile, “Would you like to join us?”  It was a doorway into something big, and it was always open.  What lay on the other side of it was immense, and spacious, and completely terrifying.

Today, he had been walking past her corner again, and paused to find her. 

“Hi, Helen!  How are you?”

She smiled.  “Not too bad.  Better since you’re here.”

“We’re having dinner at my friend’s house.  Do you want to come?”

“No,” she said.  “I need to work.”

“Well it’s just up here, to the left.  Do you know Simon?”

She wanted to laugh out loud for just how well she knew Simon, but only said, “Yeah... I think so.”

“We’re having dinner there.  You’re welcome to join us.”

“Thanks.  I’ll think about it.”

She watched him walk away, and waved a good-bye.  Somewhere inside her, she knew that he himself was that doorway into something grand.  It still scared her to death.  But this day, this barren, ordinary day, she just might walk through it.

An hour later, she was knocking on Simon’s door.

“Come in!” Jesus said, before the owner of the house had a chance to speak.

The door opened, and a beautiful girl with long, dark hair stood quivering in the frame.  In her hand she held a small jar of scented oil.  She saw him, and he smiled, and she broke.

She ran to his feet, and wept upon them a stream of unbounded love.  The spirit of humility had been slowly killing the spirit of shame for a some time now.  Tonight, it had finished the deed.  For the first time, she felt she could be forgiven.  For the first time, she believed she could forgive.

She took the jar of perfume, and poured it on his feet, and kissed them.  She tenderly dried his feet with her hair, which fell like a mantle upon them. 

“Your sins have been forgiven,” he whispered.

“I know,” she said, and smiled.  “Thank-you.”

“You’re worth more than you know.”

She smiled again.  “I’m starting to believe that.”

“Your faith has saved you, Helen.  There’s an open door.  Walk on in peace.”

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath of freedom.  It was sweet, and deep, and made her think of roses.

Friday, March 2, 2012

This is the Sound - Justin Fox

Hey!  Remember the Fire Bowl?!  Well, we're back with a new post from Justin Fox.  This is Justin's 2nd submission to the Bowl.  He has made his song "This is the Sound" available to us to kick off our next few posts on forgiveness.  Justin is a musician and city reaching pastor in Southern California.  You can find the whole excellent EP at  Also, check out  You can download and subscribe to this and all Fire Bowl audio at our podcast site HERE