25 years | my FREEDOM day

Here’s my “FREEDOM story”
Oct 20, 2021 marks 25 years of celebrating

It was 1996. I was 23 years old.

It was a Friday. I woke up when he kissed me goodbye. As he headed out the door to work, I muttered something about us needing to go grocery shopping after work – because all we had was canned food. And it was pay day – so let’s do it.

I went to work. I did my stuff. I tried calling him to check in… several times. Finally I reached someone at work who said he had called in sick that day.

What?

He left for work before me. I don’t understand. I called home. No answer. I kept trying. Nothing. A bad feeling came over me. I left work for the day and went straight home – something wasn’t right.

I opened the front door… and stood there in shock.

The reality of what just happened played out in less than a minute… but it felt like minutes and minutes went by before I could walk into our nearly empty apartment. I stood there looking at a couch in the middle of the empty living room, with some things piled on top of it. The place we called home was now an empty shell.

Turns out he and his 3 brothers all took a day off to help him with this plan.

He was gone. No note. No explanation. Gone.

I’ll spare you some of the other details – but about an hour later I found him at the bank. He had just cashed out our bank accounts and maxed out our credit card. What transpired over the next 30 minutes (in the parking lot) was not pretty.

WHY and HOW can I celebrate this day each year?

Because the brief time we spent in a marriage was some of the hardest days in my lifetime, to date. I reflect on the journals I kept during that time and I don’t recognize who I was.

Insecure. Abused. Anxiety-ridden. Full of shame. Fearful. Sick.

I don’t look back to relive it, or to bemoan it, or to glorify any victim mentality – I look back to celebrate what God has done in my life in the past 25+ years. I reflect on what the pain of the past has done to propel me forward. I look back to give a shout out to other survivors, to link arms with those who have been there or who are currently there, to share the hope of a bright future.

The FREEDOM that was given me on October 20th, 1996 was a second chance.

It was, honestly, nothing short of a gift from God. To Him be the glory for all the healing that has happened deep within, for the spiritual growth, for the opportunities that have come to me since…

I have found new FREEDOM in the love and acceptance of my Heavenly Father. A freedom that deserves to be celebrated…

There are so many parts to this story, this chapter of my life. And I won’t really be able to tell the whole thing today – but there are parts & pieces rising to the surface that someone needs to hear. I share for that reason. I know that my testimony is empowering to others… and so I share it boldly to show God’s grace & mercy.

I had made a mistake and I couldn’t bring myself to admit it.

I ignored the signs that I should have paid attention to. I had this nagging feeling that I should have called off the wedding. I should have stood up more boldly for what I was worth. And yet here I was, March 26, 1994… 100% faking it – look at that last picture on the right.

100% pretending to know what I was doing… even though I was only 20 years old. I was in over my head and with ZERO idea what was getting ready to happen in my life.

Here I was, with all the people I should have been honest with… celebrating with my best friends and my family. Faking it. And I faked it hard. I faked it with my co-workers. I faked it with my friends & family. I even faked it with him.

But my FREEDOM came in the moment I opened the door and saw the empty apartment. Freedom flooded me when I realized that I had lost it all and didn’t have to fake it any longer. Freedom came in the moment I knew I wouldn’t have changed any of it… because these trials made me a stronger woman, the lessons learned through this chapter of my life were invaluable, the resolve I discovered inside myself was PRICELESS! And so I share my story on this day annually. I look back to celebrate the good in my life, to encourage others who are stuck in a similar place, and to offer hope.

Friend – you are not alone. And you don’t have to fake it with me.

I have celebrated 25 freedom days since 1996. Lots of reminiscing happens on this day every year. Lots of hearing from others who have gone through this as well. I live in deep gratitude today.

You are not alone, friend. You might feel alone. But you are not. You may not be feeling “celebratory” today – but know that you are not alone. You will feel free again. You will build again. You will be victorious again.

You will break through what is holding you down. You will laugh again. You will dream again.

Wanna chat about it? I’m here for you.

And I will be cheering you on the whole way…

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Freedom Anniversary 2020

celebrating freedom in
2020

Watching the sunrise this morning, and wrapping up my introspective week.

It’s been five full days of looking back on and sharing about the life-changing event that happened to me on Friday October 20th, 1996. It didn’t just happen TO me… it happened FOR me. Yep, FOR me.

FORGIVENESS has been a “thing” in my life… lesson after lesson since I was a young kid. And the lessons just keep coming… we’re always learning & growing, aren’t we? You guys, life is 80 percent personal development.

So today’s post comes with a challenge: Is there someone in your life you need to offer forgiveness to?

Ouch? Yeah, I know. That’s not a comfortable question. Do you need to forgive yourself? Maybe a parent? A former friend? A former spouse?

How do you do that? You just DO IT. Do you need to write them a letter that goes in a desk drawer and never gets sent? Do you need to find the resolve in your heart to just LET IT GO? Do you need to sit down with them and have an eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart conversation? Do you need to just move on?

Holding on to bitterness (and letting the victim mentality guide your actions, your words, your future relationships) doesn’t hurt the person who hurt you. It eats YOU up. Only you can change that. That’s right. Only YOU can let go of whatever it is you’re holding on to…

This forgiveness thing might take you years. That’s ok. It did for me too. And then all of a sudden I released it all. So, I’m not pushing you to do that TODAY – but I am pushing you to do it. Love you, mean it! ūüėė

Friends, if you feel this – you KNOW this to be true. You were not created to live a comfortable life. You were born to be an influencer and a radical world changer. Don’t shrink back from the call God has for you! Step into it. He will lead you. He will guide you. He will part the sea for your courage. I stinking P-R-O-M-I-S-E you that!

And I’m here for you. You’re not alone.

A Call to Reconciliation

Have you read the book of Philemon? ¬†It’s a half page towards the back of the Bible. ¬†And while it’s a story of forgiveness – it doesn’t even mention the word. ¬†Check it out. ¬†You may have to look it up in the index to find it. ¬†That’s ok… it’s worth it.

Here’s some background on the book. ¬†This guy named Onesimus worked for this guy named Philemon. ¬†Onesimus up and left one day, without telling Philemon. ¬†Apparently this was bad as Onesimus also owed Philemon a debt. ¬†Onesimus came upon the Apostle Paul in a jail and they chatted it up for a while – and Paul led Onesimus to Christ and talked to Onesimus about the importance of reconciliation. ¬†Paul wrote a letter to Philemon explaining what had transformed in Onesimus’ life and asking Philemon to transfer the debit to Paul and accept Onesimus back into his life. ¬† ¬†Paul then¬†asked Onesimus to hand-deliver the letter to Philemon. ¬†Can you imagine the reconciliation that took place that day?!

I have a personal story to share in line with this… when my parents’ pastor was made aware of my Campouts, Quicksand and Cesspools project¬†he inquired if I would be willing to share a personal story ahead of his sermon this weekend. ¬†It’s the weekend before Easter, and we are all being called to reconciliation with Christ … as I prayed over the following story I prayed that God’s people would truly take to heart the impact of reconciliation.

Can you envision what our churches would look like if we forgave each other of both minor and MAJOR offenses?  Can you imagine how much of an impact our testimonies could have on the rest of the world if we truly grasped this in EVERY area of our lives?

grace

I was raised in church and inwardly reconciled to God at a very young age. ¬†However, my life chapter of outward reconciliation (meaning ‚Äď truly extending forgiveness to others) picks up on about, oh…. ¬†page 542. ¬†I sat in church on a Sunday morning and heard, for what felt like the very first time, the story of God‚Äôs mercy. ¬†I was 39 years old at that point. ¬†(What can I say? ¬†I’m a late bloomer.)

In those moments I truly recognized the depth and vastness of God’s unconditional love for me IN SPITE of my imperfections.  As this soaked in it occurred to me that He asks us to love each other in the same way… that’s right, in spite of each other’s imperfections.

As Mark Batterson says, ‚ÄúGrace is the catalyst that turns guilt into gratitude.‚ÄĚ ¬†Over the next couple of weeks I processed this new revelation. ¬†With this heart-knowledge I knew it was time to extend forgiveness to some people who had deeply hurt me.¬† Those red-hot coals of bitterness had been smoldering long enough ‚Ķ it was time to turn over the soil and extinguish them once and for all.

I’m a list person.  So what did I do?  I made a list of people I knew I needed to forgive.  Simply writing some of their names was difficult.  But I committed the people on that list to God.  I prayerfully sought God’s will and timing and trusted that He would orchestrate these conversations.  I even asked for Him to reveal to me anyone I left off the list.

Recognizing that some people might not react well to hearing someone say ‚ÄúI forgive you, friend.‚ÄĚ I trusted that God was working on their heart at the same time.

I knew that good things were getting ready to happen!

And, just like God likes to do, He brought one of those people into my path within a very short period of time. ¬†(Of course He did! ¬†There are no coincidences in life, right?!) ¬†One day I was out shopping and saw one of the people on my list across the store ‚Äď and my instinct was to hide or put down my things and leave.¬† But instead I said a quick prayer, and approached the person with a gentle spirit.¬† I smiled.¬† They smiled.¬† We hugged.¬† And God did a wonderful thing in the aisle of the store that day.¬† There were tears, and hugs and a reconciliation that I never could have imagined possible.¬† It was certainly not something I could have done without God‚Äôs grace in my life.

 

And I shift back to the story in the book of Philemon. ¬†Onesimus, once reconciled to God, was returning to Philemon with Paul‚Äôs letter in hand.¬† You see, Paul knew God was going to do a good work in the relationship between these two men.¬† Imagine the look on Philemon‚Äôs face as Onesimus approached him, letter in hand.¬† Trust me friends ‚Äď no matter how deep the hurt and resentment, no matter how long the rift in the relationship‚Ķ God can take those red-hot coals of bitterness and turn them into something better.

Catch-up blog…. Forgiveness, the theme for 2013

While writing my blog post for 1/1/14 I realized I never blogged about the theme for 2013. ¬†Parts of it were addressed here and there… but not all in one place. ¬† And that was for a reason. ¬†This is all very personal… and at first I thought I didn’t want to “put it all out there”. ¬†The raw underbelly of life, so to speak, is often times too painful to post on the world-wide web.

But, I have always lived by the fact that I am an open book. ¬†God works through my mistakes and successes and I hope to show His light through all I do. ¬†So, not in an effort to boast or brag (especially about the mistakes!) but in an effort to live as “salt” in this world… I share from my heart.

And while (at first) I didn’t necessarily want to POST about these moments, feelings, thoughts, actions, etc while going through them I have shared a bit about this topic with a number of people over the last year ¬†And the more I shared, and followed through with these acts of forgiveness (and asking for forgiveness alike) the more I knew it was necessary to write this post. ¬†Maybe it’s not a good idea to share the nitty-gritty details (in an effort to protect the guilty, uhhh, innocent… anyway, no names will be listed here) but the overall idea… yes. ¬†It must be shared.

So, here’s a snapshot of what happened in my heart around Thanksgiving time of 2012, which brought about the theme for 2013: ¬†FORGIVENESS

As happens annually, close to Thanksgiving, I start to reminisce over the past 11-12 months and think through what I’m grateful for… for all I have to be grateful for, for all that has been achieved over the year, for the lessons I’ve gleaned along the way, etc… and I start to think forward about what I’d like to see accomplished in the next year, how I can improve upon myself (spiritually, creatively, in my relationships, etc). ¬†During the week of Thanksgiving 2012 I was hit square in the face with the theme of FORGIVENESS. ¬† It was real clear to me that this sensitive topic was getting ready to come to the surface. ¬†And I better be prepared to deal with it… because here it comes.

I’m a grudge holder. ¬†And I don’t like that about myself. ¬†After all, I do believe that people change. ¬†I have changed. ¬†I have seen God work in lives of my family and friends… and I see change in their lives. ¬†It’s true! ¬†God changes people. ¬†So, I don’t have to continue to hold these grudges. ¬†He wouldn’t want me to. ¬†And I don’t have to continue to believe that these people who have hurt me are still that hurtful or want to see me hurting still. ¬†I vowed to stop holding grudges… as difficult as that sounds. ¬†A huge part of forgiveness is letting that go.

This is my personal inward definition of forgiveness:  Let go of the grudge and hold out hope that God has brought about change!  (in your heart or theirs)

The whole topic of FORGIVENESS is humbling, especially for a Christian.  I am saved by Grace.  What does that mean?  As a Christian, I believe that my eternity will be spent in Heaven because (and only because) my sin/rebellious nature/ugly-duckling soul-stuff has been FORGIVEN.  No strings attached.  God sent His son, in the form of a man by the name of Jesus, to walk this earth and share the gift of GRACE with all of us.  That grace is offered freely and we are loved and accepted, just the way we are, UNCONDITIONALLY!

While I was raised going to church every weekend, forgiveness is still a concept that took me a long time to truly, truly grasp and understand. ¬†I was¬†told what it meant. ¬†I was told what it looked like. ¬†But until I truly learned this concept, deep down in my soul, I didn’t understand the significance of forgiveness.

 

Trying to think back to Thanksgiving 2012, I’m not sure what brought it on… but I remember being blown away by ¬†how obvious it was that I needed to address some issues of forgiveness in my life, in my heart… to give up this grudge-holding mentality.

Is it just me or are other people haunted by an imaginary list of names/faces that they don’t want to run into at the grocery store, gas station, coffee shop, etc? ¬†Ok, it’s not just me. ¬†::: phew! :::

While I won’t share my list, by name or event (except for one), I will say the list is varied. ¬† As I got to thinking through where the topic of forgiveness needed to be addressed I started a list in my head. ¬†(After all, I didn’t dare type it out/write it down, for fear that would “make it real” or it might be like admitting that I actually have to address this topic. ¬†::: hmph :::

Yes, I just said “list”. ¬†It might sound odd to non-list makers… that’s ok. ¬†But I’m totally a list maker. ¬†Currently, I have at least 15-18 lists going: ¬†Grocery, Target/Wal-Mart, TO DO, craft projects, planning, brewing blog posts, Next Weekend, etc… and that doesn’t include the lists I have for work!

{And since I’m in confession mode I’ll also tell you that I have some strange rules when it comes to making lists. ¬†Granted, sometimes the lists don’t have to be written down… but if it IS written down then it should be written in the order of occurrence. ¬†For instance, if I’m making my grocery list… I may as well type it out in the order I walk through the store, right? ¬†I mean, why would anyone else do it another way?! ¬†Honestly!}

 

Anyway, as I thought over the word / idea of FORGIVENESS a number of names/faces kept popping into my head. ¬†So, what did I do? ¬†First I prayed. ¬†I prayed for wisdom on how to approach forgiveness, specifically for several people/scenarios and how to best approach the topic. Then I started a FORGIVENESS list. ¬†In fact, there were 3 lists… “people to contact”, “praying for a forgiving spirit” and “God – I need your guidance here”.

The first list was titled “People to contact” … which consisted of people I needed to call, email, or talk to in person …

The second list was titled “Praying for a forgiving spirit“. ¬†This list consisted of names that I wouldn’t be contacting in any way. ¬†I had prayed over these names/people and understood that forgiving them in the quiet of my heart was probably for the best, and for a number of reasons. ¬†For instance, the first person on this list was an individual who would not have taken the “Hey – I just want you to know that I forgive you” message in the right manner. ¬†Another person on this list was an individual who I simply wouldn’t be talking to: ¬†my ex-husband. ¬†I don’t know how to get in touch with him, but it’s probably not a good idea to do so anyway.

The third list was titled “God – I need your guidance here“. ¬†This list consisted of individuals that I was still waiting on a clear answer as to how to address the forgiveness topic. ¬†Might I run into them in town? ¬†Will there be a face-to-face conversation? ¬†Should I write/send a letter? ¬†I continued to pray on these names and left them in God’s hands.

And then I stood back and watched God work (in my heart and in their hearts). ¬†It’s amazing what happened next! ¬†(But when God is involved, why am I amazed?! ¬†I mean, honestly!) ¬† ¬†Here’s what only¬†God could orchestrate… a chance meeting in a coffee shop, a heart-to-heart conversation at a friend’s anniversary party, phone calls ¬†and emails from across the miles, Facebook messages sharing hope… and even more amazing, a repairing of my broken, grudge-holding, bitter heart. ¬†I am happy to report that God did some amazing things through the great Forgiveness Project of 2013! ¬†And I can vouch for the fact that He still works miracles!

As Max Lucado says, the grace-given give grace. ¬†And the theme for 2013 was forgiveness… and it was just as much about God’s grace (and His eternal forgiveness) as it was offering that gift to others. I have forever been changed by His grace.

 

More thoughts on grace:

The Grace-Given Give Grace, by Max Lucado

How Can I Forgive Myself?, by Charles Stanley

Fruit of the Spirit, by Charles Stanley

 

It’s true what they say about forgiveness … here are some inspiring quotes on forgiveness:

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.‚ÄĚ ¬†‚Äē¬†C.S. Lewis

‚ÄúForgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.‚Ä̬†‚Äē¬†Henri J.M. Nouwen

‚ÄúAs I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.‚Ä̬†‚Äē¬†Nelson Mandela

‚ÄúBe the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.‚ÄĚ ¬†‚Äē¬†Marvin J. Ashton

‚ÄúThroughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.‚Ä̬†‚Äē¬†Will Smith