On forgiveness – a letter to my younger self

Of all the hoops and hurdles that we, as the betrayed, must face head on – forgiveness is probably one of the more challenging and weighted parts of the process.

Early on in my marriage with Jason, he opened the door into his secret world, told me a couple of things and then shut and locked the door tight.

My solution? Forgiveness.

I believed that if I could just forgive Jason and move on – the marriage would heal and we could live our happily ever after.

Obviously – I was wrong. And as the weeds of bitterness started to grow in my heartI realized that forgiveness was not quick, was not easy and was not simple as I had always thought. Nor would forgiveness magically heal my marriage.

Oh the power I gave forgiveness.

To be clear – forgiveness IS powerful. And it works. But it doesn’t take away pain and grief nor is it the sole silver bullet we can use to heal our marriages.

I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness over the last 16 years, not only from my own personal experience but also while walking alongside others that are working the process. For that – I am grateful.

Below is a letter written to my younger self in regards to forgiveness. These are the things I wish I could have told myself back then.


Dear Me – I know you want to do the right thing and forgive Jason quickly – isn’t that what any noble and good Christian wife would choose? I know you want to push the pain down and not have to grieve. I know you want to move on from this nightmare and pretend like none of this ever happened.

To you, forgiveness would take all of this away. You could forgive Jason (for what exactly, you’re not sure) and then you could move on. Just skip over this mess that has become your life.

Please hear me say – this quick and easy forgiveness isn’t the way to go. If you are using forgiveness to circumvent the grieving process and to push it all under the rug – don’t do it.

Listen. Look in my eyes. Hear me say – forgiveness WILL come. You don’t need to panic. God equipped you with His power to do the forgiveness work. But first, you must sit in the pain. You must feel the feels. That in and of itself is a big part of the forgiveness journey – being true to how you feel and sitting in it.

You will hear people say – “you just need to forgive him” and it’s going to make you feel dumb. But you aren’t dumb. Forgiveness is for you and it’s a gift from God. He will help you get there.

The road will be slow for you. And it will be messy. You won’t fully understand how forgiveness works when you are ready to take that leap of faith. You will have your doubts. But God will make it really really clear when the time comes to take that leap of faith. Your job is to trust in Him.

And as you press into your big yes of forgiveness, you will experience a Kairos moment – where heaven and earth collide. Forgiveness will be an act of worship, an act of obedience, as you intentionally let Jason out of the prison cell of your heart.

Try not to panic when you wake up a couple of days later after your big yes and you feel resentment…again. It’s not that you didn’t do it right. It’s just that forgiveness is a process. You will continue to go back to that holy ground and forgive again and again and again (not for repeated offenses but for all the past offenses).

Forgiveness will draw you closer to God. It will humble you. It will remind you that you need Jesus.

In the end, you will have a new found respect for forgiveness. You will see how it has worked in your life – how it has set you free. You will also see that it takes sitting in the pain and grieving. You will see that it doesn’t mean the pain is gone or that the relationship has been restored. You will see that it’s mysterious and something that can’t be accomplished by human hearts alone.

So go now. Grieve. Get comfy in it. Cry a river of tears. And be at peace that it will happen in due time.

Love, me


Will you Join me?

I am so looking forward to the Hope Rising Conference in Austin, TX on October 12th. You can click here for more information and to register for the conference.

I’ve got work to do – Part 3

Before reading this post, it will help to read Part 1 and Part 2 of “I’ve got work to do”.  I’d hate to confuse you anymore than necessary!

As I mentioned in Part 2, I received some feedback from my life coach as I was doing this forgiveness work.  She pointed out two areas that, for all intents and purposes, I missed.

Here are the two critical parts in my big release that I didn’t realize would be helpful to my healing –

Part One – I didn’t spend near the time and effort writing out why I felt hurt in these four five relationships (okay, seriously, I am feeling insecure that I might be coming across as super unhealthy given the number FIVE.  Oh well.  It’s my truth today.  The end).  I was advised to write out every single thing that hurt and to shush the “fairness police” peering over my shoulder telling me I’m too sensitive or too whatever.  Instead, by doing naming the hurts, we are choosing to value ourselves.

Part Two – In releasing others (aka forgiving them), it’s helpful to remember we are forgiving past hurts – not necessarily on-going hurts where there hasn’t been a chance to detach, get safe, and grieve.  As in, oftentimes, we must get some distance and perspective before forgiveness can take place.

Check out this excerpt from Boundaries

“Forgiveness has to do with the past.  Reconciliation and boundaries have to do with the future.  Limits guard my property until someone has repented and can be trusted to visit again.” (page 263)

Going a little further, something we can ask ourselves is this – What will I do differently next time? By asking this question, I’m able to actively figure out what I can do (not anyone else) in the future to help guard my heart in a healthy way.  Empowering.

____________________________________

So a couple of days later, I went back to the drawing board.  I listed out the hurts. I thought through and wrote down what I will do differently next time.  And let me just tell you – this was SO validating and healing for me.

Doing these extra couple of steps also helped me come to this realization – a lot of my “do differents” had more to do with boundaries and self-control than anything else!  (I literally pulled back out my boundaries book and have been flipping through it over the last couple of days.)  Again, empowering to figure out what I can do differently moving forward!

All that said, let me tell you ladies – I am under no such illusion that because I have released these five precious women from my heart – that I will never ever struggle with feeling bitter or resentful toward them.  I know this all too well from my forgiveness journey with Jason.

Jesus take the wheel!

What I DO have is greater peace.  Greater freedom.  My load is lighter because I have let them go.  I’m not spending near the amount of emotional energy thinking about the hurt!

If any of this is hitting home with you – I want you to know, you can do this too!  I’ve never met someone that needs help with forgiveness more than me!  So, whether it be forgiveness work related to betrayal or forgiveness work in a completely different relationship, there is freedom awaiting you!  Chances are, it won’t be glitzy or glamorous.  It will happen only with a LOT of effort on the front end followed by creating a quiet space to meet with Jesus and allow Him to work through you in a mighty and mystical way that we can’t explain.

One last thing, remember as I mentioned above, forgiveness requires a LOT of grieving and naming the hurt.  I used to think I could forgive in order to circumvent the grief process but I know differently today – grieving is a big part OF the forgiveness journey.

xo – Shelley

Making it through the holidays (you will have to read on to understand!)

I found this blog post recently.  I intended to send it out just before Christmas.  But we all know how craZy December can be.  And it never made it out.

I was reminded that I had it after a gal in one of my groups courageously opened up about the array of emotions she felt when she went to the store to pick out a card for her husband’s birthday.  Her husband has worked hard in his recovery.  And so has she.  And yet, looking for a card that would mirror how she feels in her heart was, well, impossible.  I can SO relate.  Keep reading for more…

jesusbridgesthegap

Special events including birthdays and holidays can be especially difficult for us wives, whether you are two weeks in or two years into your process.  I’ve had the chance to dialogue with some of my groups about this over the last month.  How do we enjoy the holiday season yet still be true to our current feelings?  How do we go to special gatherings with the man that has betrayed us and pretend like everything is fine?  How do the holidays not sting and hurt more than any other day?

This is hard.  Really hard.  For the longest, I used Jason’s birthday as a gauge for the condition of my heart towards him.  It was for many many years (probably around 7 to be exact), that I’d go select a card for Jason and as I looked through them, never could find one that didn’t make me want to rip him (and it) to shreds.  All that to say, early on, Jason didn’t get a birthday card.  And at some point, as my heart started to thaw, I was able to find a simple card that would do.  It’s only been in the last four years or so that I’ve been able to select a card for him and felt wholly in agreement with what the card said.

If you find yourself feeling like you are having to wear a mask this holiday season, here’s what I’d like to tell you:

  • Listen sweets (this is a name I use with much adoration and affection), it’s not going to be this way forever.  I pinky-swear promise.
  • You’re in good company.  I’ve been there and so has every other woman that shares a similar story.
  • Depending on your life stage and the family and friends you are going to be with, it’s okay to give yourself permission to unplug from your present reality and allow yourself to enjoy the day (with or without your husband).
  • Even this (see preceding point) will take a lot of work.  You may have to do a “brain stop” every ten seconds. (A brain-stop is when you stop yourself as your mind starts to wander and conjure up the past.  You can say “STOP!” out loud, or to yourself.  Just know that your family may give you strange looks if you say this out loud.)
  • It’s also okay to open your hands wide and grieve hard.  Get it out.  Know that God meets you where you are.  He’s kept a record of your every tear (psalm 56:8).
  • Gently speak truth to yourself:  It’s because of Jesus that we don’t have to be perfect.  We don’t have to forgive perfectly, grieve perfectly, or go through this process perfectly.  Jesus bridges the gap for us.

Wishing each of you a very merry Christmas.  I’m so thankful for YOU.  And I’m so looking forward to what 2015 has in store.

Love – Shelley

I guess I should say, wishing you a happy summer!  And I AM so thankful for each and every one of you.  What about you – have you found it especially difficult to celebrate an anniversary, birthday or other holiday?  Does it give you peace to know it took me 7-8 years before my heart was aligned with the birthday cards I perused at the store?

Bridging the Gap between Bitterness and Freedom – Forgiveness

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been discussing forgiveness in a couple of my groups.  The conversations have been invigorating for me.    Almost like a pep rally gearing me up to continue with forgiveness in my relationships.

What I realize is, I don’t want my heart to be bitter and resentful.  I want to live in freedom, wholeness and peace.  And I believe that forgiveness is the bridge leading from the ugly life, to the good life.

Sometimes forgiveness seems impossible.  I recognize that forgiveness isn’t something that comes easily or naturally for me.  But what I forget is that its through God that I am able to forgive.  He is holding up that bridge!  I just have to have the faith to take the steps to walk over it.  Truly, He will take care of the rest.

And the reality for me is, rarely is it one single bridge.  Sure, maybe the first bridge is the hardest to cross.  (And for that first bridge, I like to remember it with a letter of forgiveness and a time stamp).  And in the past, I’ve thought my work was done after crossing that first bridge.  But what I know today is that forgiveness is a process.  There are multiple bridges.  Maybe even hundreds.  But each time I cross over the next bridge, I am closer to the healing God has in store for me.  The momentum builds.  And I start to run to the next bridge instead of walking.

So, how do we engage this process?

Step One:  For me, its recognizing the bitterness in my heart.  The resentment.  And simply acknowledging it.

Step Two:  Sitting in these feelings.  Allowing ourselves to work through this ugly.  And for me, getting angry and writing an anger letter proves to be beneficial in extreme cases.

Step Three:  Embrace that forgiveness is a process.  It can occur in stages.

Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Step Four:  Communicate our forgiveness.  It may be a letter that no one ever reads.  But I think it’s important to make it official.  Know the date you forgave.  Be specific about what you are forgiving.

The steps continue…but I’ll stop for now, I’d hate to overwhelm!

I’m still ruminating over some hard-to-answer questions.  For instance:   What does it look like to continually forgive when you are wronged over and over again?  How do we know when we have forgiven completely?  Do we have to know everything in order to forgive?

I’ll get to those questions at some point.  But for now…

Is there someone you feel you need to forgive?  Is there someone that your heart is bitter or resentful towards?  What has your experience been forgiving someone or being blessed by forgiveness from someone else?  I’d love to hear from you!

Artichoke Analogy, Part 3

This is the final installment of the artichoke analogy.  If you missed part 1, you can read it here.  And part 2, here.

At the center of the artichoke is the heart.  It’s not easy to get to it.  It takes a lot of work.  Just like forgiveness.  As I mentioned in a couple of posts ago, I’ve been madly reading Kelly Minter’s “The Fitting Room”.  My eyes popped out of my head as God was laying all this forgiveness and artichoke and Joseph stuff out for me last night.  Let me explain…

This past February, Jason and I had the opportunity to take a trip to another state and enjoy a little bit of time away, just the two of us.  Jason was also speaking at a church conference and I was scheduled to speak to the men attending the conference on Saturday afternoon.  That morning, Jason left early and I had the entire morning to myself.  Did I mention it was also my birthday?  On my morning run, I spent the time reflecting on my life and how far He has brought me and brought Jason and I.  I was so thankful as I reflected.  I then began to ask God what He wanted me to share with the men.  And what He said was “I meant it for your good.”  I couldn’t remember where in the Bible this verse was found, but I knew it was in there.  So, as soon as I made it back to my hotel room, I looked up what He had given me.

And it’s the story of Joseph.  His brothers had sold him into slavery, he endured prison although he was innocent, and then Pharoah elects Joseph to be his highest official.  Some 20 years later, Joseph encountered his brothers and recognized them as they were trying to purchase grain from Joseph.  Fast-forward to the end of Genesis and this is what Joseph says to his brothers:

 Genesis 50:20  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”

It was a certain kairos moment for me.  God showed up!  He told me what my heart knew but what my mind couldn’t fathom.  And he asked me to share it with the men at that conference.  And its all true, what Jason or satan meant for evil, God meant it for good in my life.  I’m a better person because of what I’ve been through.  And I wish that for every wife out there that has walked a similar road as me.  This verse has become a part of my personal mission statement.

And last night, as I was reading “The Fitting Room”, Kelly writes what I have thought but haven’t been able to put into words.  This is what Kelly says:

Could it really be that God is gathering all the years of wrongdoings to your soul, harvesting it for an unimaginable feast He is preparing, and spreading it on a table He is setting?  And not just for heaven but for some very tangible realities here on earth?  Just a thought.  Or more accurately, a truth for those who are willing to trust their souls to a faithful Creator.

Could that be the prized heart at the center of the forgiveness artichoke?  Being in a place where I realize that I am better because of what I have been through?  And I wouldn’t take it back because of all the benefits God has blessed me with because of it?  For now, being in this place is the center of my artichoke.  And I believe that this can be a reality in your life, too.

Artichoke Analogy, Part 2

I’m going to stick with the artichoke analogy, as I realize it applies to another facet of forgiveness.  If you haven’t read part 1 of the Artichoke Analogy,  you may do so here.  During the first year of our recovery, I would dream about the day I would forgive Jason.  It seemed so impossible.  I thought when I was ready to walk through that door, I would forgive Jason, shut the door, and we would move on, never looking back.  That wasn’t the case.  Indeed, the day did come when I took that leap of faith and forgave Jason (I’ll explain that later)…but what transpired after, I had no idea.

Within 24 hours of forgiving Jason, I felt hurt and resentment creep back into my heart.  I panicked!  How could this be, Lord?  After all this work?  And it was God whom spoke to me and reminded me of a story in Matthew.

 Matthew 18:21-22  “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Ok, got it God.  This isn’t a close-the-door-kind of forgiveness and walk away.  This is a continue-to-forgive kind of forgiveness for as long as it takes.  And I think of the artichoke.  Each “pointy leaf” represents a multitude of times that I’ve forgiven Jason.  And then there are the interior leaves of the artichoke and the fuzzy choke…how many times again?

Keep “whittling” away at the artichoke.  Good things are to come!

 

The Artichoke Analogy, Part 1

I’m currently reading a book by Kelly Minter entitled “The Fitting Room”.  She makes me laugh!  In the book, she gives an analogy about an artichoke.  Although I’ve never purchased an artichoke, I think I will…maybe even today.  Not because I want to use it in my next meal (although I’m all about the artichoke…I’ve just always used canned) but because I want to see how difficult it is to retrieve the actual heart.  Kelly talks about “whittling away the pointy leaves”, the “peeling away of layers”, all to recover the “furry little choke out of the center of the heart”.

She uses the artichoke analogy in discussing forgiveness. I’d like to piggy-back off of what she is saying and take it a step into the direction of my life and possibly into yours.  About two years into our marriage, Jason and I were lying in bed one night and he opened the door, about one inch into his secret life.  He told me a couple of details about he and a co-worker and an inappropriate relationship they had shared.  I was shocked and hurt.  I wanted to understand, know all the details, process.  But as quickly as Jason opened the door, he shut it.  I was confused.  I ultimately believed it was my fault.  And I quickly forgave him.  I didn’t want to deal with all those ugly feelings.

Fast-forward 9 months and I was on a vacation with a girlfriend.  I realized my heart was incredibly bitter towards Jason.  I hadn’t forgiven him.  My heart was sick.

Hebrews 12:14-15  “Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.”  (from The Message)

I vowed to go home and work towards becoming whole.  I’d like to say whole again, but I’m not sure I ever was whole to begin with!  As I allowed myself to feel these feelings and work through them, I started the process of “whittling” away at the “pointy leaves”, so that I could ultimately uncover the beautiful heart that God had/has in store for me.

Galatians 5:22-23  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

That is what is in store for me, and for you!  But it isn’t easy.  It’s a long arduous process.  I’ll be back tomorrow with part 2 of the artichoke!