Grateful for Forgiveness

Editor’s Note: This is the true and very personal story of a woman who grew up amidst entrenched hatred and violence so common-place that it could have easily led her to a lifetime of cynicism, mistrust and skepticism. Instead, she chose to adopt forgiveness and peace-work as her way of life. This is her story.


Growing up in one of the most violent regions in the world has taught me that anything I care about can be taken from me at any second. As a child, I recall witnessing horrifically violent images constantly appearing on the television screen, and I still have memories of being confined in a bomb shelter during the 1991 Gulf War.

Somehow because we were children, my peers and I accepted this routine –the common ritual of periodically fitting gas masks on our heads in casegas masks; terrorism a chemical attack should occur— as “normal.” We internalized the fact that any time we rode the bus there might be a terrorist attack against it (and many times there was), and we would be left to deal with the turmoil which was the reality into which we were born.  We grew up with friends whose family members were brutally murdered in the middle of the street and who lost body parts or suffered horrific burns in terrorist attacks. Under these conditions, it was, and is, easy to hate and stereotype these “terrorists,” to wish them harm and never to consider what their lives are really like and what kinds of trauma they too have suffered.

But who are these “terrorists”? Do they have a name? A family? A dream for a safe home to return to? Is our pain from their attacks any greater or lesser than their pain? terrorists, guns, women fightersAlthough comparing pain is a slippery slope, one cannot help but wonder if we would all become “terrorists” if we were living under the same circumstances.  As it is simply expressed in the Native American proverb: “Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins.”

We can easily dwell on our personal traumas and forget that violence and loss are universal conditions that people experience every minute all over the world. Perhaps an even greater challenge is to remember which roles each one of us passively plays in the construction of violence and abuse, such as through discrimination, consumption, and unfair trade. We fight and compete for resources, land, jobs, and recognition. The battle is real, and we may even have evidence to justify it to a certain degree, but what does it do to our bodies, our health, and to our past, present and future relationships?

What I have learned from my personal experience and relationships with those families who have lost loved ones is that forgiveness is a practice. In order to move through the trauma of my early years as an Israeli, I forgiveness, peacechose to adopt forgiveness and peace-work as a way of life. I understand how extremely short and fragile our lives are, and how crucial it is to place harmony with our environment as a priority. I have determined that spending our time in bitter punishment instead of restoring balance doesn’t help anyone.

Forgiveness is not easy, but when done authentically and with a supportive group of professionals, it is a sustainable alternative to entrenched hatred and violence. A successful practice in forgiveness can become a building block in the joyful and meaningful lives we are all seeking to build. Practicing forgiveness has been restoring lives in many conflict stricken areas around the world such as Northern Ireland and South Africa.


Forgiveness is a sustainable alternative to entrenched hatred and violence.


How can we balance our needs to survive in our competitive modern world with the need to be compassionate and forgiving? For me, thispeace, justice juggling act of balancing the fragile scales of justice and mercy became easier once I uncomfortably realized that the capacity to inflict harm dwells in all human beings and that I myself cause harm unintentionally pretty much every single day. This understanding created an overwhelming emotion which left me feeling stuck in some surreal Stanford experiment. But I do believe we have a choice in transcending these animalistic tendencies by daring to embrace forgiveness and compassion, for the lives of all those involved in the conflicts. This path of action is not a quick fix, but nevertheless, it is possible.

As my colleague Siobhan Chandler, Ph.D., explains, sometimes the first step in understanding how to move forward in a situation where there Jerusalem forgiveness conferenceare multiple competing interests is to be intentional in asking for an outcome that is for the highest good of everyone involved. I believe that when we compassionately and respectfully consider the needs of others, we open a new gate of communication which re-humanizes our enemies and inches us towards a solution where it is possible that everyone’s needs are met.

My exposure to violence and conflict have opened me to participating in the growing forgiveness movement. More and more groups around the world have formed councils, restorative justice programs and healing circles, and have learned to overcome the trauma of human violence, to sit together, to talk, to listen, to forgive and to co-exist peacefully. These are people who have lost children to murder; who have lost their homes to bombing; who were betrayed and were left penniless. They have still managed to overcome the loss because they have realized that the enemy has a name, and a face, and a family and a story, just like we all do.

When the wounds of human violence are open and bleeding, delicate care and emotional sensitivity is required. The healing process often requires material and verbal reconciliation and restoration, but the foundational step is to recognize that a lack of forgiveness or justification of anger and revenge only destroys us, not our “enemy,” and makes us more physically sick, emotionally lonely and socially isolated. What if this form of “justice” doesn’t work, since whether it is us, or someone else committing a crime, when we place the stereotypical innocent victims against heartless criminals, both sides lose their humanity? Aspeace, transform the world author David Wong said: “But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.”

 I believe that deep down we all want to heal from the pains of losing that which we care about, to make sense of the losses we all experience in this hurting world. I wonder if at the heart of healing and forgiveness is the recognition that we all share excruciating moments (whether we admit them or not) of losing the irreplaceable – loved ones, romanticized dreams or unique possessions which we have cherished so deeply. Perhaps through this fundamental human recognition, we can decide to start healing by taking a small step and make forgiveness the topic of discussion over our next meal with those dear to our hearts.

To learn more about this writer please visit the Way of Life website at: www.wayof-life.com

A New Film About Archbishop Desmond Tutu –THE FORGIVEN

ScreenAfrica, Johannesburg, South Africa – Two decades after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission addressed South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, a new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.

The Forgiven, a film by award-winning director Roland Joffé, is a fictionalised account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to confront the atrocities of apartheid in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa.

“This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with,” Joffe says of the film. “We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”

The drama follows Archbishop Tutu and his struggle – morally and intellectually – with a brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad over redemption and forgiveness.

According to the producers, the story is poignant and timely. “It reminds us of Archbishop Tutu’s gift of forgiveness and the healing it brings, and we are honoured to tell this story.”


“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Archbishop Tutu was honored with the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime. His willingness to forgive those who tortured him, his nonviolent path to liberation, and his ability to articulate the suffering and expectations of South Africa’s oppressed masses made him a living symbol in the struggle for liberation.

The film will be released worldwide on Oct. 5, 2018. You can watch the film trailer at The Forgiven.

Archbishop Tutu, an Honorary Member of the International Forgiveness Institute Board of Directors, is the author of several books including:


 

Self-Care Tips During the Quest for Personal Growth

Many Americans make changes to their lifestyles over time; some of us are eager to improve our careers, while others want to make the perfect home for a family. Taking steps toward personal growth is an important part of life, but it can be difficult to keep an eye on your mental health at the same time. Change often comes with stress or anxiety, especially if you’re attempting to try something completely new, and that can lead to unhealthy decision-making.

To take care of yourself while you’re on a quest for personal growth, you need to make sure your physical, mental, and emotional needs are met while finding new ways to empower yourself. The key is to get organized from the very beginning so that you’ll be able to make positive changes in a healthy way. Here are a few tips on how to get started.

Spend Time Alone
It will be hard for you to make positive changes in your life if you can’t be comfortable with yourself. Spend some time alone, doing something that makes you happy, and learn what you really like and what you don’t. Think about the best ways to grow. Would you like to go back to school? Learn a new language? Become a more involved parent? Taking a time-out will help you analyze your life without distractions so you can figure out what you really want.

Get Organized
Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish. Setting goals now and getting organized will help you stay motivated and help ensure success when you’re ready to tackle something new. You might even try creating a “vision board,” which involves making a visual representation of your goals, so you can see what should come next.

Reduce Stress
Stress is one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to making positive changes in your life. No matter what you want to achieve — a boost in your career, changing your relationships for the better, or helping others — it will be that much harder to do if you’re stressed out. Find ways to reduce stress, such as exercising daily, practicing yoga, learning deep-breathing exercises, and learning how to forgive—both yourself and others. These can help you beat stress in the moment so you’re not left feeling anxious when things start to feel overwhelming. They can also help you make healthy choices. Click here for tips on how to make good decisions for your body and mind.

Sleep Well
Much of self-care comes from taking steps to keep your body healthy,  and one great way to do that is to get adequate sleep. Good rest can not only help you feel better, it can improve your memory function and keep you sharp for the next day. Start a good sleep routine that will help you get to bed at a reasonable hour every night, and shoot for at least seven hours of sleep each time you lie down. Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime, and do something relaxing in the evening so your body will be ready to recharge.

Making changes to your lifestyle to better yourself can be a long road, so it’s important to be patient with yourself and start with a good plan. Talk to your friends and family about what steps you’re going to take to stay on track so they can be a support system. By staying organized and taking care of your mental health, you can make positive change happen.

by Brad Krause


About Brad Krause:
After four years in the corporate world working 15-hour days, 6 days a week, Brad Krause demonstrated the ultimate act of self-care by leaving his draining, unfulfilling job behind. He now spends full-time helping others as a self-care guru, writer and life coach (SelfCare.info). He sums up his vision by saying, “We all have the potential to be the best versions of ourselves we can possibly be, but it comes down to prioritizing our own wellness through self-care. And that’s what I’m here to help people discover!”

You can contact Brad at Brad@selfcaring.info.

After Nine Agonizing Months of Captivity, Elizabeth Smart is Freed, Forgives Her Kidnappers

The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com – You’ve probably read or heard the story, but it’s worth repeating with a final twist.

In the early morning hours of June 5, 2002 — the day after she received awards for excellence in physical fitness and academics at Bryant Middle School in Salt Lake City, Utah — 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home at knifepoint.  The next day, the FBI told her parents, “If she’s not home in the first 48 hours, she’s probably not coming home.”

Smart did not return home quickly despite a massive regional search effort involving up to 2,000 volunteers each day, as well as dogs and planes. The search continued for weeks.

Her abductors, homeless street preacher Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee, held her at encampments in the woods 18 miles from her home and in San Diego County, CA.  They kept her shackled to a tree with a metal cable to keep her from escaping.

Nine agonizing months of captivity

Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart during her captivity, sometimes multiple times daily, told her she would never see her family again if she tried to escape, and regularly threatened to kill her. He often forced her to drink alcohol and take drugs to lower her resistance, and he both starved her and fed her garbage. 

Elizabeth Smart (left) and her captors.

Smart endured the unimaginable for nine agonizing months before she was spotted with Mitchell and Barzee in Sandy, Utah, on March 12, 2003 by a couple who had seen Mitchell’s photos on the news. Smart – disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil – was recognized by officers during questioning, and Mitchell and Barzee were arrested.

After years of delays and mental evaluations, Mitchell was found guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity. On December 11, 2010, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. For her role, Barzee eventually was sentenced to concurrent terms of fifteen years in state and federal prison.

Forgiveness is not acceptance

For Smart, the ordeal carried a heavy price tag but she says she has long since forgiven her captors and has not allowed it to define her life. During a recent presentation at Indiana University Kokomo, she explained it this way:

“When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a victim anymore. I see an activist, I see a wife, I see a mother, I see a friend, I see someone I’m proud to be. 

It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we decide to do next, how we move forward, how we pursue our lives.

It’s not the acceptance of the action done against you. I don’t think forgiveness is saying, ‘It’s OK that you raped me.’ It’s not saying, ‘We’re going to be friends now.’

I will never be OK with the act of rape. There is no circumstance on earth in which I will say rape is OK.

It is not that you accepted the evil that was done to you. It is an acknowledgment that it has happened, and that you have dealt with your anger, your grief, and your pain, and you are able to then move on.

It’s loving yourself enough to let go of your pain and move forward.

If I get to the end of my life, if I die, and I find out religion is one big lie, I still won’t regret it because it’s helped me to live a better life, to be a better person, to care about people, to believe in forgiveness, to believe in hope.”

Since her abduction, Smart has gone on to become an advocate for missing persons and victims of sexual assault. With encouragement from her family, Smart has stepped into the public eye, writing two best-selling books, and lobbying with her father for laws to protect children including the Protect Act of 2003.

Smart also founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, to raise awareness of predatory child crimes. She is now married to Matthew Gilmour; the couple has two young children.


Read more:

Kidnapped at 14, held captive and raped, Elizabeth Smart says now: I was lucky – The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com

Elizabeth Smart shares story of hope, triumph, forgiveness – Indiana University Kokomo 

Elizabeth Smart Biography – BIOGRAPHY.COM


Send us your comments. Tell us what you think of the Elizabeth Smart saga. Enter your comment below under “Leave a Reply.”

Teen with Terminal Cancer Responds to Cyberbullies with Forgiveness

The Daily Signal, Waco, Texas – Jeremiah Thomas—a 16-year-old all-star, state champion football player from Waco, TX—was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive bone cancer just four months ago. Since  then, he has battled chemotherapy, radiation, a collapsed lung, and paralysis from the waist down. 

Cancer-fighter Jeremiah Thomas

Unfortunately, Jeremiah has also had to endure despicable scorn and  taunts from many  social media trolls. With perhaps only weeks left to live, Jeremiah has been accosted numerous times on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with some deplorable messages:

“Jeremiah … You aren’t dead yet? God, do your job!” taunted one anonymous writer.

“Good Riddance,” another posted to Jeremiah’s prayer group page on Facebook.

And Jeremiah’s mother, Kendra Thomas, quoted one person as saying Jeremiah has “a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic [sic], hateful” agenda, and another as saying “He’s garbage and is suffering as he deserves.”

All that hate and vitriol was generated because Jeremiah made a “legacy wish” through the 38-year-old Make-A-Wish Foundation that some social media respondents apparently found offensive. As his final wish, Jeremiah dared to call for the abolition of abortion in Texas.

When that wish circulated around to Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, he called Jeremiah and spoke with him in his hospital bed in June about passing a bill to abolish abortion in the state in order to make Jeremiah’s “legacy wish” a reality.

The teen made his reasoning for that request public on June 24 by posting “A Letter to My Generation,” describing his Christian faith and writing in part:

We have grown up in a culture of death, sexual confusion, immorality and fatherlessness. This culture of death I speak of consists of abortion, homosexuality and suicide. One-third of our generation has been wiped out due to  abortion; 60 million babies have been murdered. Over 25 million people have died as a result of AIDS. We have been handed a bill of goods that has completely destroyed us. In our nation, we have chosen death and received the curse.

While struggling with his terminal illness–known as osteoblastic osteosarcoma–would certainly be enough suffering for most people, Jeremiah has been handling the hate mail gracefully.

“Its kind of sickening,” Jeremiah says.  “I pray for them…What has happened to people to make them think like that?”

Jeremiah’s mother adds, “Jesus has given him a special grace to forgive. He tells his siblings, ‘Just forgive. We can’t return evil for evil.’”

Jeremiah’s family had set up a GoFundMe page three months ago to help raise money for surgery. It had reached $118,659 as of Aug. 11.


Read more: 

‘Just forgive’: Pro-life teen with cancer responds to pro-choice hate

Teen With Terminal Cancer Forgives Cyberbullies as He Fights ‘Culture of Death’


 

After Near-Fatal Shooting, Woman Forgives Husband Who Hired Hitman to Kill Her

BBC (UK) World Service Website, Carrollton, Texas – When Nancy (Shore) Howard drove home from church one day in August 2012, she was confronted in her garage by an armed masked man who grabbed her around the neck and demanded her purse. As she struggled to get free, the man shot her. The bullet traveled through her head and pierced her left eye before lodging in her right lung.

When she recovered consciousness, Nancy could barely breathe and was in excruciating pain. Somehow, miraculously, she struggled into the house and was able to call emergency services.

Nancy Howard’s story is told in the book
The Shooting of Nancy Howard

At the hospital, police were able to contact Nancy’s husband– John Franklin Howard, known to everyone as Frank–who quickly flew home from an out-of-town trip. The three children the couple had raised during their 30-year marriage were also soon at their mother’s bedside.

While Nancy is undergoing painful repairs to her face, throat, and  paralyzed right arm, detectives aggressively pursue suspects, including Frank. They first discover that Nancy’s husband has been having a three-year affair. A few days later, they uncover connections between her CPA husband and a group known as the East Texas gang. The story becomes increasingly bizarre as evidence surfaces of a murder-for-hire conspiracy initiated–to Nancy’s horror–by her husband.

Investigators eventually uncover evidence that Frank has been paying large sums to the criminal gang–apparently to kill his wife–and that gang members were exploiting him for more and more money. The money source is Frank’s rich client, from whom he has extorted over six-million dollars, some of which he has used to give his mistress extravagant gifts. Frank is arrested and charged with attempted capital murder.

At Frank’s trial, the jury took only two hours to find him guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison and will have to serve 30 years before he will be considered for parole. By then he will be about 85 years old. A year later, the shooter is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to sixty years.

Nancy Howard Pic3
Nancy Howard after multiple surgeries, fitting of prosthetic left eye, and months of rehab. Photo by Daniel Bostick, BBC.

“I have forgiven him,” Nancy says of her husband. “The Bible says that if we don’t forgive those who have harmed us then we are unable to be forgiven and I couldn’t afford not to forgive him because I couldn’t live with bitterness.”

She goes on to say, “It’s because I still loved him at the time, and you know I have to say I still love him, not in a romantic love, but in a love that he’s the father of my children, and there’s always going to be a love there.”

Nancy says she “vigorously” celebrates every birthday she has had since the shooting and still experiences joy singing in the church choir. Nearly six years after the horror of the attack on her doorstep, she is moving on.

“I’m able to be thankful once again for how God has saved my life and the healing that’s happening in my children’s lives, it’s awesome,” she says. “I’m excruciatingly happy.”


Read the full story on BBC World Service: “My husband hired a hitman to kill me – but I forgive him”

Listen to Nancy Shore speaking to Outlook on the BBC

Read Nancy’s story: The Shooting of Nancy Howard: A Journey Back to Shore
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Son Forgives Abusive Father Who Fractured the Boy’s Skull 14 Times in 3 Years

Ciril Čuš, who grew up during the ’60s in Žetale, a small Slovenian parish on the border of Croatia, comes from a traditional Catholic family with two brothers and a sister. But there was nothing traditional about his childhood, his abusive father who nearly beat him to death, and his long journey down the path to forgiveness.

Ciril’s  father worked as a builder and one day took a fall from 16 feet, spending a month in a coma. After the accident, he wasn’t the same. He started drinking, becoming very aggressive — and young Ciril was often the target. Between the ages of 7 and 10,  Ciril’s head was fractured with a blunt object 14 times.

When his father was sober, he was a wonderful man; he taught his children a lot. But when he was drunk, he wasn’t safe to be around.

Ciril had to escape through the window several times and spent many nights in the barn. He was afraid to sleep because he had terrible nightmares. He had learning difficulties and barely finished school. When he was 10, he contemplated suicide. At 12, he took a job picking produce so he could get away from home and pay for his education. At 14, he wanted to run away from home but felt he had nowhere to go.

The abuse and distance from his father led Ciril to take up karate in school. Determined to prove himself — and protect himself — he won the national Slovenian kickboxing championship and became a kung fu coach.

After secondary school, Ciril got a job and moved to a nearby town. But, with a lot of time on his hands, he would often visit the local library. It was there that he started reading the Bible. ”I was drawn to the word of God, more and more every day.”

Convinced by a neighbor to accompany him to a Sunday church service, Ciril was revulsed by what he saw as the antics of the charismatic worshippers and he decided never to enter a church again. But his friend convinced him to try it a second time and that was when he heard a woman speaking about her husband who beat her and cheated on her, but she was still able to forgive him.

“For the first time in my life, I realized what my biggest problem was — that I was not able to forgive my father.” Ciril remembers.  “I was so angry that I even considered killing him.”

In order to be able to forgive, a priest suggested that Ciril pray so he prayed a Rosary for his father every day and even made a solemn promise to God that he would pray until he could forgive his father. After a year and a half he realized that prayer alone was not enough, that he had to go to his father and tell him he forgave him.

Although he was somehow able to generate the courage to go meet with his father, there was no mutual forgiveness but from that point on Ciril prayed two rosaries a day instead of one.

After three years of praying, Ciril approached his father again. He apologized for everything he had done wrong. He told him that he was his only father and he loved him very much. In response, his father grabbed a knife and shouted, “I will kill you like a pig!” Ciril escaped while his father ran to the garage to get a chain saw. Ciril’s response: he began praying three rosaries a day instead of two.

Nine months and more than 800 rosaries later, Ciril learned that his father was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, coughing up blood and that his doctors told him he only had a month to live. Determined to forgive him before his father died, Ciril approached him once again.

“I took his hand, looked him in the eyes, told him I forgave him, that I was sorry for everything, and that I loved him,” Ciril recalls. “I held his head close to my heart. It was the first time in my life that I hugged my father.”

From that moment on, Ciril’s father stopped drinking and peace returned to the family. For the first time ever, Ciril saw his father embrace his mother and heard him tell his brothers and his sister that he loved them. His father lived another 16 years.

”Once I forgave, I was happy, joyful. This real encounter with God is more powerful than any hatred, curse, suffering or distress,” says Ciril. He never stopped praying, either. Today he is a parish priest in a small Slovenian town.

Ciril now says he realizes that he had to walk his path of suffering to be able to understand and help people who go through similar experiences. His life bears a powerful witness. He travels a lot around the world, witnessing about his experience of forgiveness.

”If we do not forgive, we stop God’s blessing from entering and God cannot work within us” Ciril says. “Forgiveness means establishing a new relationship with another person. And that is a great gift from God. But everyone has his own path. Sometimes it takes a long time.”


Read the full story: His father abused him, fracturing his skull 14 times, but he was still able to forgive – Aleteia, June 6, 2018

Aleteia (aleteia.org) is an online publication distributed in eight languages (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Polish and Slovenian). Its website “offers a Christian vision of the world by providing general and religious content that is free from ideological influences.” With more than 430,000 subscribers to its newsletter and more than 3 million fans on Facebook, Aleteia reaches more than 11 million unique visitors a month.