Category Archives: forgiveness

Can you get “it” out of your system?

A friend asked if I hadn’t “got it out of my system” yet. And yes, there’s an underlying theme of abuse, forgiveness and recovery in my three novels. And yes, I’ve sort of got it out of my system, but, like a tendency toward migraines, “it” comes back whenever circumstances, politics, current events etc trigger it. My fourth novel will be different though; it’s a mystery, for a start. But it’s still about wounded characters, and abuse of any type will cause those wounds. For me, reading and writing are about seeing through different eyes and realizing life’s not as black and white as I’d imagined; about asking how and why others might be different from me; and about recognizing this is a broken world where none of us are perfect; where difference teaches; and otherness helps us better see ourselves. We none of us have the right to claim another’s imperfections more “wrong” than our own in this world. After all, I can’t eat wheat, though the Bible tells me it’s good…

Which leads to my other books. I’m delightedly seeing my Bible stories republished – same covers, same stories, same “inspired by faith and science” theme (the publisher’s imprint is even called “Inspired by Faith & Science,” an imprint of “Ink-Filled Stories” who have published the novels), and lots more illustrations. There are even “Collectors’ Color Editions” coming out. Getting it all linked up on Amazon will take time. I’m guessing getting the books into real bookstores might take even longer. But it’s exciting (to me at least), and it fits my theme of a broken world, where brokenness needs to be forgiven.

So here’s an excerpt from “Bethlehem’s Baby,” coming soon to print:

In the beginning, God created the universe. He made stars and planets. He made the sun, moon and earth. He made mountains and seas, flowers and trees, birds and bees, and animals and people. And everything was good.

God made the world like a painter creating a beautiful picture. He mixed its colors together, designed its patterns, and added light and dark in all the right places. When God finished painting, the earth was good enough to hang on the wall of heaven.

God made the world like an author writing a book. He worked out the details, solved all the mysteries, and linked all the pieces together. When God finished writing, he gave us his words in the Bible so we could read them. Meanwhile angels rejoiced to know what he’d done.

God made the world like a programmer designing a computer game. He set up all the scenes, made voices for the characters, and planned how all the rules would make everything work. But computer games often have bugs in them. Our world was so good when God finished making it, there wasn’t a single mistake in it anywhere.

But God didn’t hang the world on a wall when he’d finished. He didn’t leave the Bible on a bookshelf to look nice. And he didn’t sell his program to people who wanted to play humans on their computer. Instead, God made the world like a gardener who works in a park. When he’d finished planning and planting everything, God stepped right into the park to help the people look after it. God’s park was a beautiful place called the Garden of Eden.

God worked in his Garden of Eden every day, feeding animals, helping bees, watering flowers, cleaning the rivers, and pouring sweetness into beautiful berries hanging from the trees. God walked and talked with the people in Eden, loving them like a father loves his children. He taught them to play and he kept them perfectly safe. No one was ever hungry in the Garden of Eden. No one was tired or sick. Nobody ever had to work too much and no one was ever bored. Even plants and animals were perfectly safe in Eden, everything beautifully in balance, living and dying in due season with no sickness, no loneliness, no sorrow and no pain.

But then the people in God’s garden, the people God had chosen to be his very own children, broke God’s rules. They didn’t care that the rules were there to keep them safe, or else they didn’t remember. They just wanted to do as they pleased and have fun and pretend they were in charge. So they ate the fruit of a special tree that wasn’t theirs to eat…

And so the world was broken.

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https://www.amazon.com/Bethlehems-Five-Minute-Bible-Story-Sheila-Deeth-ebook/dp/B07K1RNRHR/

 

How can we forgive?

From Subtraction:

Noise filled the forest that morning, growing louder as the day went on. It was almost like a party. Crowds, of young and old alike, thronged the paths, marched through trees, and gathered around the duck pond, the bench on the hill, and the parking lot. There was scarcely space for anyone to hide. But he knew his place. He’d watched them setting up sound systems, with amplifiers and speakers, wires like vines tangling with branches and leaves. He’d heard them testing, “One, two three,” and he’d almost smiled as birds and squirrels raucously answered the sound. But he hadn’t known what they were doing it for. He’d pretended not to care. He’d pretended not to hear those fate-filled words, Memorial for Amelia, so long after death and burial had rendered them meaningless.

A paper bag containing two whole burgers waited in the trashcan—food cast away by the murderer’s daughter-in-law who didn’t seem hungry, though she kept on buying more meals. The victim’s mother didn’t eat of course, and was quietly fading away. She stood near her nemesis now, each with that cone of silence hanging over her head, each separately alive though they seemed like they’d rather be dead. Poised by the makeshift stage, they waited ahead of the crowds while priests and pastors, imam and rabbi, passed by in robes of pomp and intensity.

Meanwhile the stranger stayed hidden under trees. The white cat twined around his feet. “Garnet,” he whispered, remembering its name from long ago.

“I lost my daughter,” Evie said into an ice-cream microphone, candy pink and much too cheerful for her frozen face. Her thin voice snatched at the air, while electronics caught the sound, amplifying silence to crackling booms. Confidence faded backward into the trees then reflected again. Is she looking at me? “I lost my daughter right over there.” She pointed. He was glad he’d hidden himself this side of the pond instead. People stared. “A dog found her and dug her up. She was buried like a bone. So then we put her in a coffin. Were you there? Did you see? She was so beautiful.”

He, the Prowler, had seen the coffin, but he hadn’t seen the child, grown old and still. He thought she must have been beautiful; she must have looked like her mother though she’d had her father’s eyes. He shuffled his feet, wondering where the dog had buried that particular, earth-shattering, beautiful feast.

The microphone fell from Evie’s hands. He almost wanted to run and comfort her. But the other woman, the evil Lydia, picked it up and handed it back. She held her arms around the broken mother, for a while, then let her speak again.

“You know what I prayed sometimes?” Evie asked.

What? Evie prayed? The Prowler thought she’d given up prayer long ago, when God stopped answering, and the child’s diagnosis remained unforgivably unchanged.

“For my Amelia? You know what I prayed? You know what she was like.”

He had no right; he couldn’t know, because he’d left her behind.

“I prayed that God would protect my little girl, because I wouldn’t always be here for her, because a mother’s meant to die before her children isn’t she? I never expected I’d have to bury her.”

A father shouldn’t have to bury his children either.

Evie sobbed again. “I thought, you know, the same things you all thought—about how she’d never learn to cope on her own.”

He’d thought it too. He’d known. He had to leave before his daughter’s future ceased to exist, before the blame became too great for any of them to bear. But Evie always insisted on believing there’d be hope; sweet Evie, ever betrayed by his denial and her broken child. So she stood, talking now about prayer.

“I asked God to help. So I guess God must’ve decided she wouldn’t have to cope. I guess God took her away instead of taking me. I don’t like how it happened. I’m sure she didn’t like it. But God took her, and now my Amelia’s okay.”

Evie sobbed, the sound hard and fierce, as loudspeakers turned it to shouting over the crowd. “Now she’s never going to suffer anymore, and I don’t need to be scared for her.” It might have been a cry of triumph, but Evie’s voice faded, strangling the final words. She wrung her hands and held the microphone low against her waist, a leaden weight that needed to fall to the ground.

Meanwhile the Prowler crouched over the cat, burying his face in fur. He tried not to cry, tried to make no sound, and prayed he wouldn’t be heard or seen at all.

“I guess it’s me who has to cope now on my own,” Evie continued, “not Amelia. And I just want to ask you all to help, ’cause it’s so very, very hard.”

He couldn’t help. His heart was stone, and he couldn’t put those shattered pieces together, never again. He really was a shiftless, worthless soul.

When the Prowler looked up, the other woman had taken Evie’s position on the makeshift stage. “I don’t know what I lost,” Lydia said, evil Lydia, unwitting daughter-in-law of a murderer. She faced the crowd’s accusation with a gaze that trembled and wavered even more than her hands. She held the shivering microphone close to her nose, and clutched her stomach as if in pain. “I lost my father-in-law I suppose. And then it was like he’d never really been there for me to lose, like I’d never really known him. I feel like everything’s sliding away, like it’s all an illusion. Nothing’s certain anymore.”

Curled low to the ground, crouched like a dog beside the cat, the stranger knew what Lydia meant. Nothing was certain, and life slips away like water in the stream. He remembered where he’d heard her name, Lydia Markham, from that distant part of his life. The cat wasn’t hers; it was her neighbor’s, and she was married to the son from Markham’s garage, just along the road. He needed to hate her, because the man from that garage was the man in the woods, the Paradise Predator turned Murderer, the man who killed the child.

Fair-haired Lydia looked around the crowd, seeing so many faces, but not the man’s. She confronted their knowledge of her father-in-law and called it their mistake too. “Did you take your cars to him? Some of you did, I know. If you talked to him in the garage, if you met him on the street, aren’t you wondering the same things as I am? How could we not have known? How could we all not have known?”

But no one had known that the man who mended cars would break the child.

—If the stranger had stayed, if he’d still been there in her life, could he have kept her from the predator in the woods? Could he have made her safe? Would he have known?

“I lost my memories of my children’s grandfather, and my husband’s father.”

—He’d lost his child, the life he’d thrown away when he left that day.

“All the things I thought he was, the things he could have been…”

—But Amelia could never be more, would never have been anything at all. She didn’t deserve what had happened to her.

“And then my little boy comes up to me and says, ‘I still love him.’”

—Does Evie love me still? Did Amelia?

People in the crowd turned toward each other, anger perhaps on their faces, disgust or something else. “My son still loves him,” Lydia announced firmly, sudden confidence infusing her voice. “His memories, my son’s memories, he’s holding onto them. They were real, those things he remembers; they’re part of my son, part of who he is. And I’m thinking maybe that’s alright, because I’m not sure how to tell him it’s all wrong.”

The Prowler sobbed out loud, knowing everything was wrong, everything since the day he left, since he’d thrown his own memories away. Afraid of little Amelia at three, he’d never known her at seven, at eleven, thirteen. He’d lost that right.

“Everything that’s happened, all these awful things, they don’t change the past.”

—They don’t change the fact that he wasn’t there when he was needed.

“The only thing that’s changing is the future.”

—He had none.

Hearing nothing now but a roaring pain in his ears, the Prowler crouched to the ground. A child’s high trill broke through, impossibly, but he wouldn’t listen. “Daddy, it’s okay. Daddy? Daddy?” The cat clawed his knees and he was still hiding under trees.

“I wonder,” evil Lydia asked, still standing in front of the crowd, still speaking into the microphone. “Is it possible for someone to be two people at once?”

—Could that be him? Could he be lover and betrayer, father and stranger both? Was that why he felt so torn apart?

He crouched in the shadows, waiting for the crowds to depart from the park again. He was well hidden. But then the stranger, husband, prowler, devourer, or father, felt a hand on his shoulder. He heard a once-loved, once-familiar voice whisper his name.

“Hello Andrew.”

“Evie?”

Sylvia had to forgive herself for not speaking earlier. The community needed to forgive itself (and forgive Lydia) for not knowing. And Andrew has to forgive himself for not being there. In the end, they all have to forgive the world for being a place where bad things happen to good people… forgive God for allowing such a place, though it’s we who broke his perfect creation… In the end Andrew has to learn there’s still good in the world. And for all our shouting, all our demonstrations and complaints, all our desperation, there is still good in the world. For that I thank God.

Subtraction by Sheila Deeth
https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Mathemafiction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/194960005X/

Why remember now?

The voice on the radio told me how memory works; how traumatic memories get “coded” into the brain, details locked into a fabric that won’t be torn or worn down, even while other recollections fade—as the speaker revealed, which antagonist pushed her into the room might be vague; who lay on top of her is not.

My “code” is mathematical, tied to science and astronomy. I looked into the light and shade of my own memories then, and imagined my trauma like a black hole in the fabric of my universe. Draw too close and I’ll be drawn in. There’s no element of choosing. I can’t decide to forget, or even when to look or turn away. In traveling from this place to that, my path might cross the black hole’s invisible influence. Suddenly I’m spiraling to a place I don’t want to go. Listening to the radio, I spiraled and clung tight to stay controlled.

The voice on the radio spoke out to the world, or at least to this corner, this country of the world. They asked her, “Why now?” “Why remember?” “Why so sure?” And I, who am supposed to have moved on, forgiven, recovered… I almost asked the same just days before. Was that because I didn’t want to go near the black hole in my own memories?

Of course she remembers now, and always. Of course she doesn’t want to speak now, or ever. And of course she does speak, because now the black hole’s right in front of her and there’s no escaping it, and because she’s brave enough to stand up for the rest of us, and because she doesn’t want to fall back into her past every time his name is mentioned on the radio. So I’m sorry I didn’t immediately jump to support her. I’m sorry I imagined that something so long ago perhaps shouldn’t color a man’s future. I realize it colors hers, as such things do mine; so of course it ought to add a shadow to his. I’m sorry I hid behind my neighbors’ platitudes.

My black hole still waits. The memory doesn’t go away just because I’ve “dealt” with it. And traveling from this place to that might still take me dangerously close to its path, especially as I listen to the radio. Sometimes I’ll feel like I’m being used, an object rather than a person, my opinions and my feelings irrelevant. I want to run, lash out, scream and shout. Sometimes I’ll feel those things wrongly, inappropriately. And sometimes I’ll tell myself that’s what’s going on, before I respond inappropriately. Sometimes I won’t. The black hole doesn’t have power because I give it power; it has power because of the way my memories were made, coded into my brain, wired, in-erasable.

I forgave and moved on, but the story’s hardwired into me; some details horribly clear; some distant and vague. I forgave and moved on, but I still steer a cautious path around the black hole in my mind. I pray that path might be clearer now, for listeners to the radio, than it would have been had that brave lady stayed silent. And I thank her for speaking for all of us.

Forgive and Remember?

Someone commented on one of my posts that I shouldn’t confuse forgiving and forgetting. How very true, but how often we’re told in church and school to “forgive and forget,” as if not forgetting were somehow tantamount to refusing to forgive. If true forgiveness is divine, what on earth does that make forgetting?

We do indeed ask God not to “remember” our sins, and we have done, ever since the days of the Psalms. How nicely the nuns in school used to explain it though, not as a cruel demand on us to do likewise, but as mercy from God. They said we should imagine a timeline of our lives, with every sin, every error, every misunderstanding marked out clearly in black. What a mess, they told us, as we all knew it must be. But then they said we should see that line through God’s eyes, with every sin “crossed” out in the name of Christ; God looking at our messy pasts in delight and declaring “What a wonderful, most perfectly obedient son!”

Maybe that’s divine “forgetting.” Replacing the past—which only God can do (being, as the nuns also explained so well—for a mathematically and scientifically inclined little nine-year-old girl—“outside all time and space”).

God will indeed “remember their sins no more,” as the Bible promises. But today, in time and space, in this time and this place, maybe it behooves us sometimes to forgive and remember; to protect ourselves (those selves for whom Christ died); to protect the sinner from temptation to reoffend; to protect our neighbors… and even to remember; this is how I allowed myself to be hurt; with His help, I’ll not do it again.

The Bible doesn’t tell us to forgive and forget; only that God will forgive, cover our transgressions, cast our crimes from us as far as the east is from the west… and that we, being forgiven, should strive to “forgive.” Which we do, not always succeeding. But whatever would make us imagine we might also cast another’s crimes so impossibly far?

I will try, when I can, to forgive and not hold a grudge. I will ask, when I can’t, that God forgive others for me, and heal my grudge. And I’ll remember to protect myself. I’ll remember, in order to protect myself. Because God loves me, and God considers I’m worth it—he paid the ultimate price for me, so that one day, outside of time and space, neither my sins nor any committed against me will be worth remembering.

What if you can’t forgive?

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Sometimes it’s debts; sometimes it’s trespasses; but the meaning’s the same, and Christians pray these words, in one form or another, every day when they say the Lord’s Prayer.

Sometimes it’s comfort; sometimes it’s condemnation. And sometimes we turn our faces to heaven and ask: What if we can’t forgive? What if the debtor’s dead, or the sinner won’t apologize? What if the crime was committed against others, and I’m just so angry, and anyway, it isn’t my place to forgive? What if…?

Did Jesus really mean that God would forgive my abuser and not forgive me, making my unforgiveness a greater crime than what was done to me?

The secular world told me I should stop letting memories have power over me. It certainly made sense of what I felt. Every time I sensed even the faintest hint that someone was “using” me my anger would rise—misdirected anger; a fury still raging inside. I had no power over it.

So I tried to “understand”—my secular solution—and called it forgiveness in my mind. I knew (far more than I should) of my abuser’s past and how he’d been hurt. I could see the reason for his actions, though I didn’t condone them. I could stop myself from feeling angry at every thought of him… but the anger still waited for any half-hearted excuse to explode out of me. The memory still had secular power. The “sin” of unforgiveness still lurked. In a spiritual sense, I was unforgiven.

In church, they offer the perfect example and tell us to follow it. Jesus forgave from the cross, they say, so why can’t—or why won’t—we. (Of course, Jesus healed, but we don’t pretend we can heal. He raised the dead…. But that’s not the point.)

The I realized—what Jesus said on the cross, what the Bible tells me he said, wasn’t “I forgive,” but “Father forgive,” instead. Jesus, my Savior—his human part at least—did not forgive, for all that he “understood” and could generously claim “they know not what they do.” His understanding of them wasn’t forgiveness, any more than my understanding of my abuser. So he asked his Father to do it for him.

I can cope with that. I can copy that, too, so I did. “Father, forgive my abuser.”

“Father, forgive…”

Forgive our society that allows such wrongs. Forgive our churches that closed their eyes. Forgive our families that couldn’t understand. Forgive our neighbors, our friends, the living and the dead. Father forgive, because we can’t, and sometimes, honestly, we confess, we’re not even sure  we really want to. But you can do it, Lord.

I don’t understand any Greek or Aramaic. I can’t say how good the Bible’s translation is of any verse. But I’m going to go with “Forgive us our sins, as we ask you to forgive those who sinned against us,” because it fits the message of forgiveness in the Bible, it doesn’t relieve me personal responsibility in desiring forgiveness, and it’s almost the same as the words I was taught. I can cope with being spared from condemnation, and I’ve been given both secular and spiritual relief.

The anger’s still there, sometimes. But it simmers more quietly now, takes longer to stir, and is easier for me to answer with a prayer—with the Lord’s Prayer.

Prayer and Prey-ers in Pennsylvania

It comes as a shock, even when you know it’s coming; even when you’ve seen it coming for years, heard about it, talked about it, listened to the news… it still comes as a shock. So now we’re hearing and talking about Catholic priests again, as if it hadn’t happened before, as if it were only Catholics and only in one place and only… And then we ask how didn’t “they” know because it’s so much easier to say than “how didn’t we?”

It’s horrifying, especially if it’s your faith, your church, your background that’s brought into question, because then you, like me, might wonder if we need to share the blame. And then we have to make sure we won’t share it… maybe we’ll leave, never darken the doors of a Catholic church again, never believe in a God who allows such evil, never…

And the evil will continue, not just in Catholic churches, nor even in Christian ones, and not just in secular neighborhoods… because evil doesn’t go away, and all too often we don’t know, we don’t see, and we retreat into blame when we ought to be opening our eyes.

My abuser was a Christian leader, a pillar of church and community, a wonderful man (not Catholic) who led many people to faith, counselled and supported the struggling and the weak, helped his neighbors… and abused me. I’ve been told God wouldn’t use an abuser to bring people to faith, but I’ve been told wrong. I’ve been told abusers are beyond the pale, beyond forgiveness, beyond redemption, but I’ve been told wrong. My abuser was a good man and a sinner. I suffered for his sins. But that doesn’t alter the fact that many others were greatly aided by his kindness. How should I come to terms with that?

And how should Catholics around the world come to terms with news, again, of priests abusing children? These priests are sinners. These children, now grown, are victims. They’re wounded. They’ve lived with that sense of unworthiness, that isolation as if only I could be stupid and helpless and foolish and evil enough to let that happen to me, that sense of unending guilt and shame.

It’s wrong. It’s wrong that I once felt like that. And it’s wrong that we perpetuated a world—yes and a church—where such things couldn’t be spoken about; where the wounded child knew he or she would only be more in the wrong if they dared to speak; where victims knew they wouldn’t be believed; where the accusation, on those rare occasions where something was finally said, was taken as an isolated incident because nobody else had spoken and no one in authority shared the information… because we, as well as “they,” didn’t talk about such things. So we, as well as they, must share the blame.

I would have spoken, as a child, if I’d dared, but it would have destroyed my world if I was believed, and it would have destroyed me if I wasn’t, so I kept silent. When will we learn not to destroy our children’s worlds even more than their abusers do? When will we learn that good and evil reside in each of us and can’t be divided so must be talked about? When will we end the silence, so our children can safely speak, and so those whose sins are found out can be dealt with at once, before the isolated evil becomes a pattern, before the whole world has to end for the child who just wanted one single thing to be changed?

It’s not a Catholic problem. It’s not a problem with priests or with faith or with God. It’s our problem, and one in four people sitting near you as read this has been a victim. It’s time we changed the world.