I was driving home from a bible study that a friend had dragged me to, and to be honest, I was less than impressed. I liked hearing everyone talk about their lives, and they seemed like friendly people, but in my mind the whole time I was critical, to say the least. These people actually read their bibles! I thought they were just the Christian version of home decor. This isn’t to say that I did not believe in God. I was raised Catholic, but my religion throughout my childhood had always been like my hand-me-down clothes: ill fitting and not my style. I left that bible study rather unchanged.
When God changed my radio station.
I hopped into my car, rolled the windows down, and let the summer night breeze finger my hair. I blared my radio, singing along to “One Dance,” by Drake. When I drove under a bridge, the station went fuzzy. When I was through and to the other side, it was once again clear as day. But the song had changed. I looked down, and, in fact, the station had changed. The sounds of Casting Crowns “Who am I,” wafted out of the windows. The lyrics shattered the stone around my heart and seeped in through the cracks. I felt a strange sense of worth that I had not experienced in years. My eyes brimmed with tears. Hot, salty tears streamed down my face. I pulled off onto the shoulder of the highway and put my hazard lights on and for the first time in years, I prayed. “Jesus, I give my life to you. I give it all to you,” over and over again.
The initial relief I felt in reclaiming my faith was short lived once I began thinking about all the ways in which I had sinned against Him. I felt guilt and shame weighing down my chest with every breath I took. I talked to my new bible study group about how I was feeling and they all told me some variation of, “Lay your burdens down at the cross.” But I knew God forgave me. I didn’t feel punished or unloved by God. It was me; I couldn’t forgive myself. It got to the point where my parents asked me to speak with a psychiatrist. I was reluctant. I felt that my guilt and suffering was warranted because I sinned. I held on to my sinful past through the white-knuckled grip of rumination. I kept wishing that I could go back in time, repeating If only I had… in my mind.
A *Good-Bye* Letter….to Myself
The end of that summer, the summer of my senior year, my bible study leader had an assignment for us. We were supposed to write a goodbye letter to a part of ourselves that we knew we were better off without. Writing this letter was one of the hardest things I have done. I wrote it and rewrote it at least four times before I had my final draft. The pages were covered in tear drops, blotting out the ink in several spots. It was barely legible, but it was heartfelt.
At our meeting the following week, each member read their letters aloud. As I read my letter, I expected that I would break down sobbing like the other members. While there were a few tears, I was overwhelmed with a sense of acceptance. I could let go of my past and start over. My letter was from myself, to myself. My letter forgave my former self so I could let her go and become a new person in Christ. We all burned our letters, and all I could think about was how the fire looked so bright against the onyx black sky. Just as light shines brighter in the darkness, the sin of my past helped connect me to a bright, joyful future.
In Christ Alone.
I was a long way from being healed completely and forgiving myself, but I saw the road clearly ahead of me. My tears were dried and I knew this: God saved me so I could save myself.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
I grew up a as a refugee although, I was born in the country that gave me asylum. My parents escaped to Sudan during the civil war that was taking place in the Ethiopia. Their journey started and they left all their beloved land looking for a safe place to survive. Despite the fact that I was born in Sudan, I was never treated like I belonged there. There were many labels to being a refugee. The system helped segregating the refugees and their children from the locals, they made different schools for refugees’ children.
As a refugee child, you can not compete in national teams for soccer, there was a lot of segregation. Children experienced bullying because we were not considered as part of the community. There was a stigma that many of the refugees and their children are not educated and skillful. Therefore, we held the low paying jobs positions in the society. We had a label from the same place that birthed us. I used to have many feelings of anger and resentment towards the system. I always imagined what would it be like, if i was born and lived in my native country, maybe I would have been treated better. I felt enraged many times at how the system instead of helping the refugees, it took advantage of them. As a refugee child you had to pay higher prices to study in universities than the local students. As a result, many of the refugee students dropout of school, because they know that they were never going to afford the high prices to go to university. Moreover, refugees did not have the same job opportunities as the locals, even when they graduate and complete their education, they are not going to be employed in a high paying positions because it as refugee you are only supposed to work certain jobs that don’t require education. I felt disappointed at times, other times I blamed my situation and I was busy complaining that I couldn’t see the positive sides of things.
However, the process of forgiveness made me realize that there were many positive aspects of living there. I didn’t pay attention to many details that impacted the person who I am today because I was busy renting too much space for my grievances. I realized that the experience of growing in Sudan allowed me to become multilingual because of that I speak four languages today. Learning Arabic as my first language have helped me to communicate with many people from different Arab countries. I made long lasting friendships and I also realized that everyone is not the same. I had many sudanese friends who are very welcoming and accepting of refugees. I had neighbors who cared for us and loved us. Living in a country where the culture is very different to my helped me become more accepting of others, while I was also learning the Ethiopian culture. Living in Sudan which is a predominantly Muslim country, while I was Christian, taught me how to be accepting to perspectives that are different to my own, I became more open to criticism and I learnt to respect other cultures. My life in Sudan have prepared me to go and study abroad in an international high school in Norway and similarly for university in the United States. Experiencing some of these injustices growing up have made me more careful about my education. I valued my education highly, it was a privileged for me to continue my education and I knew that many people didn’t make it to the end. That helped me to make use of every opportunity I encounter. I decided to stop blaming my situation and others for what I am experiencing because when I just continue complaining, I am not helping the situation or making it any better. My experience as a refugee always motivated me to improve the situation by taking my education seriously, so that I be in a position that I help myself and help change the situation for others who are going through a similar conditions.
The process of forgiveness was not easy in the beginning, but understanding that ruminating in the negative aspects are not going to help me improve the situation and I am just stressing my body. Trying to think about the positive aspects that living in Sudan have brought me helped me with the forgiveness process. Also, understanding that I might not receive justice or an apology but that I do not have to let these situations define me. I had to forgive for me to move on by being relieved from that constant feeling of anger and resentment. Acknowledging that I am affecting both my mental and physical health has helped forgive.
I Don’t Want to be My Daddy’s Girl
My father has always been a controlling, manipulative and alcoholic man. Growing up he abused my brother, my mother and me. He didn’t have respect for any of us. It wasn’t until I was seven years old that my mom had filed for a divorce. This cause an uproar with my father. Slowly he was realizing he didn’t have the control he wanted over my mother. But the one person that still struggled with seeing his ways was his little girl, me. As I grew older, he wouldn’t let me go hang out with my friends. I was given a strict list of things to do such as wash the floors, power wash the house and do the dishes he had stacked up while I was gone at my mothers. I thought this was how kids grew up. I would be punished for doing things that the other kids did like playing sports, participating in clubs and even staying after school to talk to teachers. He would make me feel guilty for doing the things I enjoyed. I knew he was trying to hide who he was. Often, I would get ridiculed for not having my priorities in line. He would attempt to pick fights with me and put all the blame on me. My father would always win
How I Almost Got Away
One night at one of my basketball games my father showed up. He never came to these because he didn’t support me. The school had actually contacted the police to be on site because they were so unsure of his actions. During the game he had walked by the stands and yelled “you’re such a bitch” at my mother. He was intoxicated. After that night I never returned to his house. I started to realize what I was deserving of. I deserved respect. I deserved freedom. I deserved to pursue the things I loved. But at the same time, he was my father. On February 4th, 2017 I reached out to him over text message requesting him to not show up to any of my games anymore and that I wasn’t ready to talk to him. He then demanded that I said it to his face then he wouldn’t show. I continued to tell him I wasn’t prepared to see him, but he just kept saying “I will see you at the game, and I am sorry your mom is making you do this.” Eventually our conversation became so intense that he asked me if I wanted my mother’s maiden name and that is where I cut my connections off with him. I now have my mother’s maiden name. But still my father won
How I Finally Escaped the Pain
This year 2019, is when I finally escaped the pain. No, I didn’t get revenge. No, I didn’t receive an apology. Nothing like that could ever excuse the things he did to my family and me. This year I found forgiveness. I forgave my father. I understand that this may have happened, but it will no longer have the ability to lead me to an unhealthy life. I am stress free. This is how I escaped my pain. Instead of dwelling on the past, I look back on everything that happen to me as a blessing. It seems kind of odd saying that.
Alex’s Story: In his own words:
An autistic teenager from Rochester, MN, started to rebel against his Individualized Education Program by throwing desks around the classroom. All he wanted was something every teen in the resource social skills hour wanted: further integration with their peers despite their disabilities. His malevolent anger was directed at the system that separated him from his peers for one of his seven periods.
He didn’t hate anyone. He hated the system that forced him to be separated from the other students. Why? Because it wouldn’t help him live in society.
He began to hate the society that kept him from living freely and independently.
A big change took place in college. He realized that his acting out “against the system,” was the behavior that kept him in the Individualized Education Program.
It was then he understood that he was holding a grudge against the society that was trying to help him and that by holding this grudge, he was preventing himself from growing as a person. He realized that his anger and hatred was keeping him in the IEP. He learned to accept the difficulties his autism created for him, as well as responsibility for his own behavior.
He forgave those who put him in this place, and yet still understood that he didn’t have to condone how this system was set up.
His story is also my story. I grew up as a person on the spectrum, and for a good amount of my life, I hated being a part of it. About a year ago I learned about how forgiveness could help me overcome my hatred. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t have it.
- I ultimately wanted people like me accepted into society. It’s my long term goal.
- I shouldn’t let the situation define me.
- Forgiveness helped me accept an uncontrollable situation.
- Anger and hatred isn’t always directed at a particular person. Sometimes it is generated by feelings of injustice and unfairness. But it does affect relationships with many other people in my life.
- Forgiveness, of myself and others, helped me find a renewed sense of peace and hope.