Friday, October 8, 2010

Fear and Forgiveness

A little over fifteen years ago I lived in a women's shelter.

I mentioned this time in my life briefly in A Mother's Heart, but the things that took my mom, sister, and I there are something I rarely talk about.

As I mentioned before, it was a shelter for abused women and children, a hideout for victims who had no one to protect them, and no place to feel safe.

The years leading up to this time we lived with an abusive man. My mom met him straight out of prison, and she was decieved by his charming ways. They were married almost immediately.

I hated him from the beginning. I am sure he is the only person I have ever really hated.

The abuse that happened over the next year and a half took many forms. Physical, emotional, and the worst of all, psychological.

Things that were done and said instilled fear in us that has remained until today.

Most of his adult life up to that point was lived between Vietnam and prison. We knew many of the horrible things he had done, but there were even more horrible things we didn't know. We knew all the ways he wanted to kill us, and there were times he almost did.

The following is taken from my journal and was written long ago:

"He would remind me that he could kill me with a jerk of the neck. He would grab me, and I would fight him. I would kick and bite and elbow the best I could. He liked that; that I would fight. I never got out of it. One time I almost escaped, and I would have if it wasn’t for my long ponytail. He grabbed it as I ran away. If I could have I would have cut it off in order to escape. Still, I would have come back and it would have been the same thing all over again, but I would have had that one time I got away.

When he got me in his grips, he did not do what one would expect in a typical abuse situation. He would hold my head with his hand, his other arm across the front of me like he was going to snap my neck. I am honestly surprised he never did. There was so much evil, I could see murder in his eyes, but for some reason, he let me live. God's plan for my life is the only way I can explain why he did not, in the midst of his insanity, kill me. Sometimes he would hold me there for 10 minutes, whispering words of death. Once he even grabbed a knife, and holding it to my neck suggested it may be more fun to slit my throat than snap it. When he let me go he would promise 'tonight.' Tonight, while I was sleeping, he would kill me then."

For a year and a half a woke up every morning wondering if that was the day he would kill me.

After 18 months my mom gathered the courage to tell him to leave. It was much easier said than done.

You see, we lived with him for less than two years, but the abuse continued long after.

The divorce began a fifteen year streak of restraining orders, self-defense classes, gripping fear to come home to an empty house, and moving constantly in attempt to stay one step ahead. He would break in and steal things, which would then end up in curious places months later. Once he sat right outside my bedroom window and smoked cigarette after cigarette while I slept, leaving the pile of cigarette buds as his sign that he had been there. He wanted us to know that he was there, and that he could have killed us. He would leave us notes and death threats. My mom would drive the car down the steep hill at one of the houses where we lived, and my sister and I would walk to the first stop sign before getting in, for fear that the breaks had been cut. Something as small as a call hang-up would turn our world up-side-down, because it was a sign that he had found us once again.

At one point, many years later, I made the decision that I would no longer live in fear. I stopped letting the fear control my life, but that does not mean I was not afraid.

Every time in the last fifteen years that I have come home to an empty house or walked across a dark parking lot, I have done so with fear. I have not let the fear stop me, and I have learned to cover it well, but it has been there.

In total it has been 17 years of fear. But today, for the first time in 17 years, I walked into an empty house without fear.

He will no longer threaten my family, because he died today.

When I first heard the news, I cried.

I had to stop and process and ask myself why I have tears for this man.

First, I know that they were tears of relief. After all these years of wondering if he would finally make true of his promise to kill me and my family, I know he never will. We have survived.

Second, I think I cried because I realized I would never find the closure I desired. I desired for him to one day send me a letter saying he was sorry. I desired that he would one day explain to me why he did what he did. And I desired that he would want my forgiveness. I also desired to tell him that I had forgiven him.

Lastly, I cried because I was sad.

Yes, this emotion was unexpected. How in the world could I possibly feel sadness for a man who had terrorized nearly my entire life?

I realized in that moment that I had truly and honestly forgiven him, and I was sad for him. It wasn't necessarily his death that made me sad, but his life. Somewhere deep down I truly desired for him to find salvation and healing.

Many years ago, not long after I wrote the words from the journal entry about him wanting to kill me, I wrote:

"It is easy for me to forget that he is human, because with that fact comes the reality that at some point he too has been a victim. I realized I know nothing about his childhood. I wonder when he forgot his goodness. I wonder if he was hugged or ever truly loved. I wonder about the first time he hated someone, if that was what devoured him. Hate can do horrible things to a person."

I believe I wrote that on the day I chose forgiveness over hate.

I find it hard to admit that he caused so much fear in my life. For years I have claimed the verse "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." God is perfect love, and he is the breath that gives me life, so how could I, for 17 years, live with fear?

I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that today I am letting go of things I have been holding onto for so long. I do know that my heart is ready for healing. And I do know that today I will walk free of fear, and maybe in that freedom I will find the answers.


Mark Langham said...

Anything I say will be small....but thank you for transparency. Thank you for your testimony. Thank you.

JD said...

Sweet sister, your words resonate with me so deeply. That his death may not have brought the closure you had hoped to have hurts my heart alongside of yours.

I grieve with you in these words: "It wasn't necessarily his death that made me sad, but his life. Somewhere deep down I truly desired for him to find salvation and healing." Oh Rebecca, you know that I understand all too well.

So bittersweet, to grieve a life so lost, prior to death and after death... and to celebrate the end of a fear that has come at such a price... I am here, in joy and in sorrow -- I understand.

You are loved, and you are not alone.

Michelle said...

I'm at a loss for words, but know that I cannot just read and say nothing. I am sorry for the years of terror and anguish. I hope that your healing process allows you the freedom you deserve.

Cathrine said...

I can't imagine the hurt you've gone through. I can't fathom it. But praise God that you're still living and breathing for God. You're loved, and safe, and prayed for.

Rebecca said...

Thank you all for your sweet love and support.