Here is my story. It starts in March of 1995 when I was born into a broken family. My dad, a new undocumented immigrant to the U.S, decided that he wasn’t ready for a kid, so he got scared and ran. My mom quickly became a single mother on government assistance and working many jobs. When I was two, we finally settled in Northern Michigan with my grandmother, after having lived in several different places.
I started school just like a normal kid, and then the bullying began. First it was centered around my weight; then it moved to my physical disability, and finally it landed on the one thing that had defined me up until this point: I am fatherless. Kids were cruel and didn’t hold anything back. I was told to jump back over the wall, to clean my skin, and that I was nothing but a piece of trash my dad had thrown out. As a young child, I took these to be true. Seeing myself as worthless and abandoned stayed with me throughout my middle school and high school years. I began to seek attention from boys who would only use me for sexual pleasures and then toss me aside. Of course, this only served to validate my negative view of myself. I went down a deep spiral of depression and engaged in risky behaviors. At one point, I had to be closely monitored because I experienced suicidal thoughts and ideations.
I reached a point in my life when I realized I had to discover my true identity, and I chose to start this journey by working on forgiving those who had hurt me.
At the beginning of this journey, I would defend those who had hurt me because I felt I wasn’t worth anything more than that. But, I wouldn’t forgive them. And I especially wouldn’t forgive my dad. Real forgiveness requires that you name the offending action and feel the hurt. I know, personally, I am not good at this, especially if it has to do with someone who matters to me.
My dad isn’t the most important man in my life, for sure, but he has had a drastic impact on my life. He gave me brown eyes, tan skin, my love for tacos and musicals, and my Mexican culture. All throughout my life I had been defending his actions and acting like they were normal or that I deserved them. This made me out to be a victim of his psychological brokenness, instead of seeing him as what he is, a capable human who made the choice of leaving his daughter and never looking back.
So, I began going to therapy and my therapist told me to start journaling. I wrote pages upon pages and drew pictures and wrote poems that all described the hurt I had felt since that time at the age of 3 when I realized that my dad wasn’t coming back. I wrote about the wounds of having been raped, bullied, teased – and I hurt myself further in the process. You see, if you haven’t really forgiven, all your old wounds will resurface when you think about your past. I didn’t what to do at this point. Now I had all these feelings written down and bubbling up inside of me.
Society tells us to “forgive and forget” or “forgive and move on,” but this makes it seem like it is all about me. When you examine the actual word “forgiveness,” you will see that the root word of forgiveness is GIVE, which implies a recipient outside of oneself.
Miroslav Volf puts it this way: when you give someone a gift, it is a gift for them. You didn’t just decide one morning that you are in a giving mood and want to give a gift to some stranger on the street. No, you pick a gift specifically for someone and until she opens it, it hasn’t fully been given. It is out of love that you give that gift to that person.
Love is the prerequisite for forgiveness. I don’t just forgive so that I will feel less bitter and less weighed down – even though that often happens. I forgive to take the burden and guilt away from the one I am forgiving. But where do you find the strength and grace to forgive and even love the person who hurt you?
God was where I found that strength and grace. Through the process of trying to find myself, I found God. I realized one day as I was listening to the Christian radio in my mom’s car that I was not just some worthless human being. For one, I was loved by God, two, because of this I had meaning and worth, and three, I had been forgiven. Wow, that really blew my mind. In one song, I heard the voice of truth telling me that through forgiveness I was whole again. I had been forgiven for so many things in my life and in that moment, I realized that I needed that forgiveness. So, when I started to work through forgiving my dad, I realized that I had done a lot of things towards him for which I needed forgiveness for as well.
Forgiveness, as the Bible puts it, is not just a one-time action, but a continual mindset or a space in which we can live. In this space, there’s no bitterness or anger. Instead, in its place there is joy and truth. God’s grace and presence, I have found, enables the forgiveness that guides me forward. Now this is not to say that staying in this space is easy. I am still in the process of figuring out how to live my life in this space, offering love and forgiveness to those who have caused deep scars in my life.
My first step in forgiving my dad was to name his offense specifically so that I would know exactly how much it had hurt me. This was not easy to do. So, what did I do? I looked up, raised my hands high, and said “Jesus, I need help.” You know what? The help came. God helped me to be vulnerable in the process of forgiving someone whom I don’t even really know yet – someone who has hurt me to the core and has had a big influence on my life.
I ask for help daily and sometimes hourly from God. This is not easy because it puts me in a vulnerable spot. I must constantly revisit this idea of forgiveness when it comes to my dad. The one thing that is great about living this way is that I have developed such a strong relationship with my God and His truth. I have daily conversations with Him and His call for my life is so much clearer. Living my life in the circle of forgiveness allows me to hear the truth about my identity as a daughter, friend, girlfriend, student, social worker, and as a Christian. It lets me know I am loved, I am forgiven, and I am not alone.
Would you please pray with me?
Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that You would open our eyes so we may know and personally receive Your unconditional love and acceptance. We renounce the lies of Satan that question our worth and value. We choose to believe that we are accepted in Christ and that we are never alone. We ask that you help us forgive those who have hurt us and those that we love. May you grant us the strength to give grace and love to those who are hard to forgive. God, show us the path to our true identities, that we may find them and accept them to be true here on earth. Amen
Maddie Poindexter is a senior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids MI. She will be starting a MSW program this upcoming year. Maddie currently serves as a student representative on the Board of Directors of NACSW.