Guest Post: The Miracle of Forgiveness

Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Family, Gospel, women | 13 comments

By East River Lady

(CW & TW: child and sexual abuse; suicide)

1_1

“Ask God for forgiveness first.”
“Okay. God, please forgive me…”

Right before my teenage cousin told me to perform a sexual act on him, he told me to pray to God and ask for forgiveness for the sin I was about to commit. I was around six years old at the time. I realize now, it wasn’t me who should’ve been asking for forgiveness. And I realize he was distorting the beautiful gospel principle that forgiveness is. At the time, I didn’t even think for a second my cousin was at fault. Perhaps it was because I was used to it. Around the same time, my mother had a friend with a teenage son. One evening, when my mother and her friend were in the other room talking, the son took a break from playing a computer game and came over to where I was sitting on the couch. He then proceeded to sexually molest and abuse me.

Growing up, I thought nothing of it. My uncle would make detailed comments about my body and how beautiful it looked and would have me spin around to show his brother how pretty I looked. And then I would be given a dollar. This same uncle would even watch pornography with me in the room. He told me to cover my eyes, but I could hear. It was my father, surprisingly enough, who let me see. He would show me pornographic pictures on the internet. Again, I thought nothing of it.

But my soul knew differently. I ended up hating my body. I despised the way I looked. I despised the way I felt. I despised the thought of living in my tainted body. I became suicidal. I would constantly cry myself to sleep. In middle school, I tried to escape the feelings of sadness I had. I would lock myself in the bathroom and repeatedly bang my head on the wall, hoping that the next hit would end it all. In high school, I even had a breakdown and was hospitalized for thoughts of suicide. But, thankfully, it was also in high school that I was introduced to the LDS Church.

Knowing the LDS Church helped me to know God and feel pure and undefiled love. But knowing God and knowing what I’d been through, made me question Him, even though I knew of His mercy, grace, and love for me. How could a supposedly “loving” Heavenly Father do this to me? Where was He in my hour of need? Why didn’t He protect me when it was my own family who hurt me so badly? Where was He when my mother’s girlfriend was emotionally and physically abusing me during my adolescent years? Did He not see the pain I went through? Did He even care?
It took me a long time to forgive Him. Over the years, I learned that despite the pain I went through, He allowed us agency and to choose between good and bad, even at the expense of my pain. I still struggle with that concept, but through some miracle, I forgave the God I once believed forsook me. I became aware of the fact that my God was always there for me. He had continuously provided me with blessings and assured me of His love. I knew it all along, but it took some time for me to see. I partially attribute it to this scripture from 2 Nephi 1:15,

But Behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.

I wept when I first read this passage. I doubted Him no more. My heart was overcome with peace. My soul has been redeemed from the hell I endured through forgiveness and the pure love of my Heavenly Parents. I came to forgive my God and my Savior slowly, but surely. I have come to finally know for myself that my Heavenly Parents wept for me. I also know that Christ knew every pain I felt and suffered sadness with me. Through finally realizing and acknowledging their love, I forgave them and I became completely “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.”

Forgiving God was somewhat easy. The hardest part was forgiving those who put me through my hell in the first place–– my family. Through therapy, prayer, and, unashamedly, medication, I am starting to forgive. If I ever have children, I don’t plan on my kids having frequent contact with my family. They will see and spend some time with their grandparents, but only under my strict conditions and approval. As for my extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles, I especially don’t plan on having tight-knit or open relationships with them, if any. And my children will not have any unsupervised contact with them, if they ever get to see them at all. That trust has been broken and there are some wounds that cannot be healed. My family is not forever, and for the most part, I don’t want it to be. I rely on the kindness and care of other families who set the example for the future family I want to have. They will be the close extended family my children will have. Still, I have forgiven my flesh and blood, for my benefit and for theirs. I can’t imagine the pain they went through to do what they did to me. I pray they have worked out their consciences with God and have sought His forgiveness. Regardless, it is not my place to worry about God granting their forgiveness. I only have to worry about me forgiving them and taking control.

I am now at that point in my life where I’m learning to do that. I’m learning to take control of my life, my reactions, and my body. I used to go from thinking my body was a disgusting vessel that only housed only the empty, broken spirit inside. I am not yet empowered by my physical form, but I do have control of it now. I can choose for myself how to dress, how to use it, and what to do with it. Because of forgiveness, I can let go of the pain and sorrow I felt. I am free now to make my own choices and to regain charge of my body, my beautiful temple. I am free to regain charge of my life.

Forgiving is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It has taken everything within me to not let anger, revenge, fear and sadness to determine or control my feelings. I truly believe this is why the Savior commands us to forgive–– it is one of the most godlike qualities we can have, exactly because it takes so long and so much effort to develop. But it is worth it. It is forgiveness that has opened my heart to peace and personal fulfillment. Forgiveness has allowed me to embrace feminism and realize I can take control of my life and make my own choices. Through forgiveness, my heart is now open to the fact that I can find and experience happiness, whereas before I never thought such a thing could be possible. I no longer see myself as worthless or broken. To forgive is to become empowered. This simple commandment has allowed me the opportunity to feel the joy I never fully experienced before in life. Forgiveness has allowed me to be my true, happy, authentic self. Truly, it is a miracle.

 

East River Lady is an only child who was born and raised in New York. She now lives  in Utah for the time being and will to return to New York in the near future. She is in her last year of studying public health in college and hopes to work professionally with those who suffer from addictions, sex workers, and other survivors.

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13 Comments

  1. East River Lady, your story and understanding of the principles of forgiveness are breathtaking. Thank you so much for sharing them here.

    I struggle with forgiveness–it feels like an ongoing process. What ways have you found to keep yourself from going back to that anger?

    Again, thank you…I’m excited for your future public health clients. They’ll be lucky to have someone with your wisdom and courage.

  2. Thank you for sharing this very important and intimate story with us.

    It’s so hard to hear the pain you’ve been through, but your feelings of redemption brought me to tears.

    I’ve been questioning God a lot lately. It’s mostly in my head, an intellectual ping-pong. But reading your story has helped me want to feel God instead.

    Lastly, I really like your balance between presenting a challenge and showing how you’ve overcome it, and telling us that the story isn’t over. Sometimes as Mormon women we have the tendency to share our trials and solutions as tidy little packages as examples for RS lessons. I’m appreciate that you are vulnerable enough to acknowledge that there is still gray, that not everything is resolved. But moving forward, through the grace of God is enough.

    Absolutely loved the story. Very powerful, thank you.

  3. Thank you for sharing this powerful essay.

  4. I also want to thank you for sharing your story. One thing that stands out to me is how you talk about forgiving God. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but it’s exactly what I’ve needed to do, to work through disappointments and sadness. One of the hardest parts of life to understand for me is why God is seemingly silent toward some (really heinous) suffering while at other times good things are attributed to God’s hand. It makes no sense, especially when you’re in the midst of suffering. But this is apparently how our universe operates, and we can forgive God for it, even if we can’t fully understand it.

    I’m so glad you’ve come so far, and hearing you talk about forgiveness helps me do my own forgiving for my injuries, which are much smaller than yours.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I loved the part about encircled in the arms of his love, that is a very powerful scripture for me too. I really appreciate you bringing your perspective to these hard issues of forgiveness, and how you set boundaries while still letting go of anger.

  6. This essay is a powerful truth, East River Lady. Thank you for being so brave to write it and share it with us.

    I am especially struck my this passage:

    “My family is not forever, and for the most part, I don’t want it to be. I rely on the kindness and care of other families who set the example for the future family I want to have. They will be the close extended family my children will have.”

    It took me a long time to forgive my family for things that are similar to what you described in your family. I finally learned through an LDS counselling resource for marriage that “forgiveness does not equal trust.” Though the resource was for couples who experienced infidelity, it is just as disloyal, if not more so, when a family member trespasses against you.

    Forgiveness heals, but it does not forget the lesson, nor does it offer blind trust. Thank you for expressing this powerful point. <3

  7. This is powerful–especially the concept of forgiving God.

    I am impressed with your wisdom about how to forgive, but move on from, your family. My mother, a survivor of sexual abuse, tells me of the day she realized that she was endangering her own children by attempting to treat her pedophile brother-in-law like everyone else. Forgiveness is letting go of hatred–not safety.

    I am grateful for people like you and my mom who have the bravery to speak out. Others will make the mistake of sacrificing safety for the sake of forgiveness if we do not openly talk about the difference.

    • Well said. In LDS culture we tend to use “forgiveness” to describe what is really denial in some situations. Thanks for this comment.

  8. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and redemptive. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, East River Lady. I love this glimpse into how the gospel has helped you find peace and healing.

    ” My family is not forever, and for the most part, I don’t want it to be. ” I think you have voiced here a feeling that probably many LDS who have been abused experienced. It makes me wonder how teachers and leaders in the church can be more sensitive when teaching about forever families.

  9. Beautiful essay. Thank you for having courage to share your experiences and feelings in a public forum. No doubt, your words will touch many souls. They’ve touched mine. God bless you.

  10. After experiencing a heartbreaking betrayal of trust and trying to work through it, I attended a stake conference where Elder Cook spoke on forgiveness and I was looking for guidance in moving forward. I remember sitting there thinking – as he was speaking – that he has absolutely no idea what forgiveness is or what it means. He’s never experienced that depth of mis-trust, so how could he speak on this topic. IMO. He made it sound so trite as the words rolled off his tongue. I’ve since come to discover that forgiveness is a process, that needs time – as much time as it takes, humility, and compassion. We can never forget what happen to us as we move on, but with the Saviour’s help, we learn how to move forward with grace, dignity, and with a greater love for ourselves and others.

  11. Thank you all for the wonderful and heartwarming comments. I am glad that you were able to glean some positivity and affirmation from this.

    Forgiveness is always a work-in-progress and it’s hard not to relapse back into anger and fear. But if I keep holding onto those hurtful and vengeful thoughts, I continue to give those who hurt me control and power over my life. It is not something I forget, or ever could forget. It still hurts and it still pains me, that my innocence was lost at such an early age and that my own family members are the ones who trigger me. But I have so much to look forward to and I choose to have the power to decide where my life is going and where my energy goes. It’s not easy, but I’m still working on it. It’s hard.

    Here’s to the journey.

  12. East River Lady, I learned from your story. Thank you so much. I have learned a lot about forgiveness because of my own circumstances. I have learned that forgiveness is like planting a seed (like faith). If someone asks for forgiveness and we grant it, they are thinking, “Whew, that’s done.” But we are thinking, “Yes, I will try to forgive you, but I will have to revisit this every moment of every day. And sometimes I won’t feel like forgiving you.” Just as faith co-exists with doubt, forgiveness co-exists with anger.

    Forgiveness means: 1. I will stop hating you. 2. I will not judge you, I will leave that to God. 3. I will try to see you with compassion, but I don’t promise I will always be able to do that. 4. I am forgiving you for my benefit more than for yours.

    Forgiveness does NOT mean that you can remain in my home or my life. No, for my own safety I will choose whether you stay in my circle. It also does not mean I will ask a judge or a bishop to go easy on you. No, you have to pay the consequences of your actions.

    I was once in a place where I could have prevented something terrible from happening if I had only known about it. Why didn’t God give me a clue? I’ve had to forgive God for that. And I had to forgive myself for not hearing if in fact God was whispering to me. We live in a fallen world. The only way to be at peace is to have hope in God. I focus now on my love for God above all else. I wish you peace going forward.

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