Hunting, Forgiveness, and Grace

My father (step father), James, turns seventy-nine this month.

I wrote about my father in my memoir and also on this blog. We had a troubled relationship no doubt. From the time I was a five year old girl to my middle aged years, our relationship has weaved in and out continuously with both positive and negative memories.

I won’t hash over all the things that I discussed before.  

Looking back, I would attribute most of the negative moments were caused by alcohol, minus the racial discord.

Our father had no previous parenting experience. He was a thirty year old bachelor when he married our mother of three children, ages five, seven, and nine.

While my two older siblings have given him a pass for the “no previous parenting experience”, I won’t.

As parents, we all have to do the hard work sometimes. We have to be the adults, the mature ones in the family. We have to try and teach our kids without demanding unrealistic expectations.

Disciplining our kids is part of being a parent. I have no issues with giving a free pass to my father on his strict parenting rules and for not being a perfect parent one hundred percent of the time. Lord knows, I was not a perfect parent. I sometimes acted out of emotional stress versus parental maturity to handle a situation. We learn, mature, and keep learning and growing.

Just when I thought my father could not learn or grow any more as a human, he did.

One thing that has become more apparent to me in my later years, is how much our father truly loves our mother. While there were times, as a child, that I had wished my mother would leave my step father, I am truly glad they were able to commit and make their marriage work and last, which is going on fifty years. I am glad that my younger brothers didn’t have to endure what the elder three children did.

In fact, it was because of my father’s love for my mother that helped us mend our broken relationship.

My younger brother and I wanted to have a seventieth birthday party for our mother with all her friends and family. My brother talked with Dad (his biological father), before we started planning it. We needed to be sure our father was on board. This was going to be the first time that my son and I would be present for a social family/friend event with my father. He had only met Jaren once very briefly the previous summer in passing. It was a five minute encounter.

That evening, as my mother’s birthday celebration was winding down, she invited me and Jaren to come back to the house and spend the night with her and dad.  

I was hesitant at first. I wasn’t sure we were that far into our relationship yet. I asked my mother, “Did you check with Dad first?”

My mother figured it was now or never and she wanted to take advantage of the moment. So we did. After twelve long years, I felt like family again.

The real moment came the next day.  

Growing up, we had hunting rifles standing in the corner of our living room. There was a deer head mounted on the living room wall. Our father went hunting every year and often went on weekend long hunting trips with his father, brother, and friends.

Hunting and fishing are a bonding experience for my father. He taught all his sons how to shoot. He even taught his daughters and grandchildren. This was one of his favorite hobbies and he enjoyed sharing this with his loved ones.

The next day, I had gone out for a couple hours to visit some old high school friends. I left Jaren with my parents. My nephew came over to visit. My father took my nephew (who already knew how to shoot) and my son out back to teach Jaren how to shoot a rifle.

Jaren has grown up in the city and the suburbs. While I know how to shoot a rifle and I am pretty good with standing targets, I had never taught my son how to shoot.

When I got home, my mother couldn’t wait to tell me about Jaren’s shooting lesson. I was shocked at first. I was like; you actually let Jaren hold a loaded rifle in his hand? My mother proudly said, “Jaren shot the target (a can) on his third try.”

She saved the can and showed me. The first one missed, the second one nicked the side of the can, and the third one shot through the center.  

My father has always had this presence about him. He can make any child behave without raising his voice or hand. His posture, his look, and his tone will make any child scared straight! I wish I had that skill but I don’t. He also has a cool, calmness about him. He was the perfect person to teach my son how to respect a gun and how to shoot one.

Dad’s rules: Never point a gun at another person, whether you think it is loaded or not. Be sure you know where you are aiming. And, if you are hunting, be sure you can see your target.

When I saw the pictures and how happy Jaren was to share that bonding moment with his grandfather, Poppy, and his cousin, it was a proud moment for me as well. I’m glad I wasn’t there. Hunting has mostly been a bonding experience for the males in our family. I’m glad they were free to experience this moment together, to bond, and to find their way into their new familial relationship.

That moment told me all I needed to know about my father. I no longer needed an apology or remorse from my father for all the missed years. I doubt I would have gotten one anyway. In my father’s own way, this was his apology.

Last year, I drove home with both of my sons, Jaren and Noah, for my nieces wedding. This was Noah’s first time to meet his grandfather. As we walked into my parents home, my father stood up, looked directly into my sons eyes, and shook their hands. The last night before we drove back to Texas, my parents invited us over for dinner. My father cooked his special shrimp dinner with moms homemade French fries for us, which has become a tradition as our last meal with my parents before going back home to Texas.

My sons have also shown such grace.

When I was a child, I couldn’t always see the love in my father’s eyes when he looked at me. Now as a fifty-seven year old woman, I see it when he looks at me, when he looks at my two sons, and when he looks at everyone in his family. I see how proud he is of his big blended family.

My dad has always followed a strong moral compass, even when that compass was faulty at times. But his morals to do right have always been stronger than his morals to do wrong.

Relationships are not always perfect because humans are not perfect. While my relationship with my step father has not always been easy, it also was not toxic. I know. Because my relationship with my biological father is and was toxic. And he has made no effort to grow.

In a weird way, I respect that my step father held onto his beliefs. One thing about my dad, he is not a fake or phony person. I knew where I stood with him and why he acted the way he did. He has strong beliefs. He will hold onto them as long as he feels justified. He is not one to put on a show for others. But once he has decided on something, he commits to it. His word is solid. And as he has said many times to us kids when we were growing up, “And you can take that to the bank.”

Happy Birthday, Dad and Poppy! We love you!

The Implications of Forgiveness

(Please note: the original version appears to have been lost.  The title was still here but the rest of the blog post was blank.  I’m not sure how or why it happened.  My apologies to anyone who visited this site or this blog post.)

I’ve been thinking about the word “forgiveness” and the act thereof.  We hear it, see it and feel someone’s desire to implore forgiveness over others quite frequently it seems.  Friends, family, coworkers, our church or place of worship, teachers, and the media are all filled with conversations about forgiveness.

Personally, I think some of us try to simplify the act of forgiveness.  There are so many layers of forgiveness, so many various acts and consequences.  It seems we get the whole forgiveness premise mixed-up.   It can be quite complicated.

I used to work with someone whose mother died when she was five years old.  Her name is Micah.  Micah said the one thing that bothered her over the years is how people would tell her they ‘were sorry’ after she told them her mother died when she was five.  She said she got tired of hearing it and would often avoid telling others.  Micah said she couldn’t understand why people were sorry.

It does seem strange how we can so easily tell someone that we’re sorry for something that was no fought of our own.  We say we are sorry to show or convey our compassion for someone.  For Micah, I think since she was so young when her mother died, hearing the same response repeatedly over the years probably seemed more like an automatic response rather than a sincere condolence.  For her, someone saying I am sorry was the same as someone apologizing for a wrongful act.

When Jaren was around five years old, we were having dinner at an Outback Steakhouse near Austin, Texas.  We had been traveling all day, from Dallas, and were on our way back home when we stopped there for dinner.  Towards the end of our meal, Jaren began to vomit.  Then he began to projectile vomit.  With a packed house of customers, I quickly gathered Jaren and scurried to the bathroom.  One of the staff members came in the bathroom to ask me if everything was okay.  I told her my son was sick and apologized for the disruption.  She could see that Jaren’s clothes were wet.  She showed great compassion to me and my son.  She said they would clean up our table.

Jaren was overcome with emotion.  Although I had remained calm with deep concern for my son and never scolded him, he began saying, “I’m sorry, Momma.  I’m sorry, Momma.”  He was almost in tears.  I repeatedly told him that it was not his fault.  I told him he could not help it that he was sick.

I was concerned about Jaren not having spare clothes to wear home.  A few minutes later, the staff member returns with an Outback Steakhouse T-shirt for Jaren and an Outback bag for Jaren’s wet clothes.  She apologizes to me because she says they only have a large.  I graciously thank her and Outback for their kindness.  I put the t-shirt on Jaren, which covers him completely.  Then we gingerly walk to our table looking around wearily.  I am prepared for an evil eye or a remark from someone.  I pay the check and gather our belongings.  As we walked out, trying to make as little eye contact as possible, I sense compassion from patrons.

To this day, I still wonder why Jaren felt he needed to apologize.   I think he felt compassion for the others eating and he felt bad about what happened.  At that moment, I felt like it was a pivotal moment in his childhood.  One that could have an impact on his emotional well-being.  I needed to convey to  him so that he understood that he had no control over what happened and that it was in no way his fought.

 

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In Christianity, we have several stories that are used to provide an example of forgiveness.  One parable has a traumatic story.  The other appears to be an average familial story.  Both stories involve jealousy, greed, and ego.

Let’s take a look at the Prodigal Son story.

We have one son who lavishly wastes his father’s inheritance.  When he has nothing left, he returns home.  Ashamed of himself and his actions, he asks his father if he can return to the family as a servant.  To his surprise, his father welcomes him back home, not as a servant but as his son.  He even celebrates his son’s return.  The older son is upset with his father for welcoming back his younger brother and celebrating his return.  The father explains to his older son that he will in fact inherit everything almost as if he needs to insure his older son that the return of the younger brother will not financially impact his inheritance.

In this parable, we have three parts to forgiveness.

First, we must realize that neither the father nor the older brother searched for the younger brother who left home with his inheritance.  Forgiveness is not seeking out and searching for someone so you can forgive them, especially someone who does not want nor seek someone’s forgiveness.

Second, when the younger son returns, he is not cocky or proud.  He does not shout or complain to the family that they should forget about what happened, get over it, or move on.  No, he is actually the exact opposite.  He has been humbled by his experience.  He comes home submissively.  He knows his choices have consequences.  And he has prepared himself for those consequences.

Third, we have a father willing to forgive because he sees his son’s heart has been humbled.  His father believes his son is truly sorry and has learned from his experience.  And… he is his son.  It is easy for a parent to forgive their child.  But the older brother on the other hand doesn’t really care that his younger brother is truly sorry or humbled.  His jealousy prevents him from forgiving his younger brother initially.

In the other story, Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, jealousy again appears to be a factor between the brothers.  The brothers decide to take drastic matters.  First, they planned to kill Joseph.  Then, they put him in a well but had planned to rescue him later.  Then they decided to sell him.

Joseph goes from being a slave to second in command and a ruler over the land of Egypt.

Twenty some years later, Joseph’s ten older brothers come to buy food in his land.  They don’t recognize Joseph, who is now dressed as a prince and seated on a throne.  Joseph recognizes them.  However, Joseph is not ready to make amends just yet and decides to not disclose who he is to his brothers.

The story then tells us that Joseph wished to be sharp and stern with them to test them.  He wanted to see if they were still selfish and cruel.  The story unfolds much slower than the Prodigal Son story.  Joseph is not easy to forgive.  And who can blame him.  His story is much more traumatic than that of the prodigal son.    Still, Joseph has a desire to forgive his brothers.  So he continues to test them until he realizes that his brothers are truly sorry and no longer cruel and selfish.

Again, as in the Prodigal Son story, Joseph never search for his family who wronged him.  Surely he could have.  He was pretty powerful and had lots of resources.  He could have gone home and told his brothers that he forgave them without them offering an apology to him.  He could have gloated about his position and his wealth.  He could have used his power and demanded they show remorse.  Or he could have punished them.  But he didn’t.  Joseph didn’t allow what his brothers did to him make him hard, resentful, hateful and cruel.  Joseph remained humble and true to his heart and to his God.  He continued moving forward with his life.  Joseph knew his worth as a human being.  Not as a powerful ruler over Egypt but as a messenger of God.  It seemed that God was working through Joseph and had big plans for him.

Another thing to point out is that Joseph didn’t forgive his brothers at the first sight of them.  Before Joseph could forgive his brothers, he needed to be sure they were truly sorry and not the same as before.  Forgiveness did not come forth as easily for Joseph’s brothers as it did for the prodigal son.  Only after Joseph was sure his brothers were not selfish and cruel was he able to forgive them.  His brothers were sincere in their humility.  They were submissive in his presence and sincerely remorseful for their actions.

For me, when I hear Jesus speak about forgiveness, these are the elements I think about.

I believe that if someone is truly repentant of their actions that caused us harm and apologizes, then we have an obligation to forgive them.  Truly forgive.  However, if it becomes a repetitive cycle, as in abuse, that’s a very different story.  When a person is truly sorry and remorseful for their actions, they don’t retreat back to cruel or selfish acts over and over again.

On the other hand, we may or may not ever hear an apology or an admission of guilt or remorse from a person who directly or indirectly harmed us.  However, we cannot allow what happen to freeze or burden us with anger and hatred.  Whether or not we ever get an apology or are given an opportunity to forgive, we cannot allow the actions of someone else who meant us harm to keep us from our good.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:20 (NIV)

 

 

Forgetting the Past

I get perplexed when I hear someone say, “Forget the past,” or “In order to forgive you have to forget.”  I can see if these phrases were used as metaphors but in most insistences, they are not.  Truth is, some folks take it literally, as if we as human beings can willfully forget a memory.   Can we?

Sometimes our minds will voluntarily remove memories without any conscious effort on our part.  And it seems our brain is not biased on which memories it chooses to retain (pleasant or unpleasant memories).  I’m talking from personal experience.  Wouldn’t it be nice, though if we could just delete or transfer unnecessary data, especially recollections that contain wounding memories?  I wonder if it would make us better off as human beings or worse off.

Remembering a bad memory could benefit us, right?  Example, my son burnt himself on the oven stovetop.  I warned him previously, probably several times over the years about touching the top of the stove.  For whatever reason, he touched it and as a result burnt his hand.  In this scenario, we have a human being and an object.  Seems silly to ask my son to just forget the incident and forgive the stove.  I’m sure initially, this was a bad memory; he was hurt and he cried.  However, in this case, I want my son to remember so the next time he is near the stove, he will be more cautious.  He now has had an experience with the stove and has felt the result of his actions after touching the stove.  This memory will hopefully keep him safer in the future.

Stoves are different than humans.  It wasn’t the stoves intent to burn my little boy.  Part of its job is to heat up and cook food so it was doing what it was designed to do.  My son’s burnt hand healed in a couple days and there was no scar.  While my son’s actions caused this temporary wound, he probably forgot the incident itself but kept the memory of the consequence.

What if someone was burnt from head to toe by an incident that was not caused by their own actions, but by someone else’s?  Would the memory fade away as easily for this burning victim as it did for my son?  I would think that this person would be reminded often of the incident.  Would it be fair to tell this person to just forget it?  What about the wife who was abused for years by her husband or the parent who lost their child or relinquished their infant, or the kid who was physically, sexually or emotionally abused?  It’s human nature to remember.

I don’t buy into the “forgive and forget theory.”  Here is why.

If anyone has adopted an animal that was abused, then you understand the ramifications of how a bad memory can have everlasting effects.  Like the animal, we may also flinch when someone raises their hand, or run and hide in our bedroom behind locked doors to avoid verbal or physical abuse by the perpetrator.  Do we believe that we can just tell the animal to forget the past?  Do we believe that just stating this one line sentence has the power (if we so choose) to eradicate a bad memory of an upsetting experience?

When a parent or an authoritative figure bullies a child, the child’s voice and feelings are suppressed because they fear the repercussions of defending themselves.  The abused child is unable to grieve and therefore is unable to heal.  As that same child moves into adulthood, they may carry some effects of the “abused child” with them.  As an adult, they finally have their voice and are now capable of defending themselves but more importantly, healing themselves.

Truth is some memories just last longer like the ones that cause a wound of the heart.  Damaging or critical words barked at us can remain etched deep in our brain like a leech unwilling to loosen its hold.  As much as we would like nothing better to forget the memory long after we are free from the situation or the people who helped create those painful incidents, we still carry those memories with us, like it or not.

I am not endorsing hate or revenge but what I am saying is that we should not use a blanket policy for the “forgive and forget theory.”  It is a little more complex than that.  Otherwise, we are making light of a situation that may need some serious treatment or intervention.

We have seen tried and true results in support groups helping people with common issues to heal from their past and/or unhealthy habits.  Who better to understand you than a person who has had a similar experience?  Support groups understand that it’s okay to feel denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.  These like minds do not tell their fellow comrades to forget the past or make someone feel trivial for feeling as they do.  Support groups allow each individual to speak about their struggle and they listen with empathy.  They come together communally so each person understands that they are not alone.  In due course, they allow each individual to evolve from a place of lack to a place of abundance.

Telling someone to forget a memory or incident is like telling someone to ignore the problem.  If you ignore a serious flesh wound, you risk having more serious complications.  It could become infected, or gangrene could set in, or a number of other conditions. Unlike a computer brain, we cannot reprogram our mind; take it back to manufacture’s settings, or wipe the memory clean.  In order to heal our mind’s memory, we have to actually remember the incident, the people, the words, and the actions until all those things have no power over us any longer.  Once we have reclaimed our power and we can remember with no pain or hatred, then we have forgiven.    Image