Today’s post, by Kathleen Maher illustrates the point I’m going to make tomorrow. Forgiveness is rarely a one-time event, as you will see in the following story. Come back tomorrow as we discuss the things that keep us from forgiveness and how we can overcome them. Then, on Thursday, we’ll talk about continual forgiveness–what do you do when the person you’re trying to forgive continues to hurt you? Although in truth, I don’t have definitive answers for these, I’m going to throw some things out there for you to chew on and pray over. Ultimately, only God knows the steps each of us need to take. Ultimate healing and freedom comes through obedience and continual surrender. And at times, as you will see in Kathleen’s story, the journey of surrender will be painful, but God has promised to hold us through it. Through ever tear, every disappointment and rejection, He is might to save and His ear is never too dull to hear.

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490 Degree Forgiveness

Three-year-olds absorb the world from maternal arms, like an extension of Mother’s experiences, going where she goes, seeing what she sees and feeling what she feels.

As a three-year-old, I saw my mother’s world—raging arguments, chaos, turmoil, events I could not understand. Her grief hung like a paralyzing fog over our home, and took siege of my own heart. All I knew is that my father stopped loving us. He stopped coming home. He would call, though, sometimes. For money. For rides from the bar. After a while my mother stopped answering his calls entirely. And I didn’t understand why.

My mother would play Jim Croce’s song Lover’s Cross and I came to understand through the word pictures it painted that my mother had been a longsuffering martyr to an abusive, alcoholic man. When my father left her, it hurt, but slowly, she healed. And so did I. Until he showed up with a new family.

I had been the baby of the family, and now, my Daddy had replaced me with a little baby boy. He had a different wife, too, and though she was kind, she was strange to me. I felt betrayed. He loved her and that boy, but he didn’t care that I’d had a birthday or that Christmas had come and gone for me with no Daddy.

I knew I had to love the baby because it wasn’t his fault. I forgave. And my father forgot—he disappeared from our lives again.

My mother had a little bookmark in her Bible with a picture of a child nestled into a big, masculine hand. The image called to me. I related to that child, because I felt very small and vulnerable. I wanted to be that child, treasured enough to be held in a Daddy’s hand. I remember reading the caption. Isaiah 49:15-16. “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? Even if that were possible, I would not forget or abandon you—I have carved you in the palm of my hand.”

For the first time I understood that God wanted to be my Heavenly Father. That even though I couldn’t see it, His hands held me, comforted me, and guided me. He wanted me as His daughter.

God had brought me 360 degrees from abandonment to redemption. But I still had a journey ahead.

In my teen years, I learned that my biological father had begun yet another family. His alcoholism and violent outbursts had apparently summoned the Foster Care system to take his new children away. It sickened and embarrassed me. He brought my mother shame in our small community as word of his behavior trickled back like daggers into her genteel heart. I hated that my mother, who had raised me and my siblings all by herself and sacrificed so much for us, had been hurt once more by his evil and selfish choices.

I looked to God for peace and comfort once again, but this time, His hands did not hold a child, they held the imprint of a nail. They held the weight of the world’s sin. My father’s sin. God showed me the price He’d paid to forgive. He told me that my peace would come only through forgiveness. I had to go the extra mile, beyond my 360 degree redemption, to 490 degree forgiveness. Seventy times seven.

I forgave, and it has set me free.

I had the chance to serve him in his old age. I took him food, I prayed with him. I know he heard the gospel on several occasions. My father passed away three years ago, and I attended his funeral. My sisters and I spoke on forgiveness and shared the salvation message to the small assembly.

I think of Joseph in the Bible who endured great suffering at the hands of his earthly family. He forgave, and God was pleased to use him “to save many men alive”, his family in particular. He named one of his sons Manasseh, which means, “I will forget the pain of my father’s household.” His other son he named Ephraim which means “fruitful in the land of my suffering”.

Perhaps like Joseph, God allowed the pain of my childhood so that I would have compassion on others who have suffered. Through God’s grace, I have been blessed to talk with a few of my half-sisters. I Iearned that God reached down into the chaos and pain of their childhood and brought them to a Christian foster family who adopted them. Perhaps God has used the healing He has done in my life to help them.  I earnestly hope so.

Memories still creep up, which can resurface hurt, anger and resentment. When confronted with these, I go back to that simple math equation.

Q: How much is 70×7?

A: It is a lifetime commitment. 490 Degree forgiveness.

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Now, I leave you with this video.

Kathleen L. Maher’s passion for fiction began in preschool with the cuddly hero from The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Writing soon followed, and she had penned her first novel by the time she was a freshman in high school. Having put her writing on hold to raise her family, she recently picked it back up. In 2009 and again in 2010, her romance novel placed second in the inspirational category of RWA’s Launching a STAR contest.

She’s been an active presence on several writing loops, and will soon mark three years with ACFW. She serves as co-moderator for Civil War HIStory yahoo group, and with her critique partner, Debbie Lynne Costello, founded CROWN Fiction Marketing Network. CROWN promotes the work of a dozen multi-published CBA authors through a quid pro quo system of reviews, blog tours and social network campaigning.

Kathleen holds an Associate degree from Corning Community College where she studied literature and journalism and contributed articles to the school newsletter. She has been an occasional guest writer on blogs such as Uncommon History, and Faith, Fiction and Friends. Her own blog features upstate New York history and book reviews.

She shares her passion for history and writing with her critique partners from ACFW’s Scribes 213 group. She and her beloved husband live in an old country farmhouse with their three children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, and two “rescue” Newfoundland dogs.

Something happens during the teen years. That child that used to follow you around with wide-eyes and constant questions disappears and an independent, resident expert on all areas of life takes their place. Or at least, that’s the way things are in the Slattery home–most days. It’s almost comical how far the tables have turned. My doting little princess is growing up and now I’m the one following her around, bombarding her with questions, hoping to find a way into that ultra-independent heart. Which makes those rare moments when my adult-sized, emotionally-childish teen curls up beside me, special. A stop-all-time-and-grab-the-moment-with-both-hands special.

Yesterday was one of those days. It couldn’t have gone any better if I had planned it. Before my daughter left for school, she curled up on the couch beside me. And we sat like that, for a good ten minutes, not saying anything. As I held her, my mommy instincts took over and I had an urge to protect, even though there was nothing to protect her from. I didn’t want her to do anything for me. I didn’t need her to say any magical words. All I wanted was her. And I could have sat there indefinitely.

She left and I turned to my to-do list. After four days zonked out in bed with the flu, it had quadrupled. The house was a mess, laundry was piled so high I was ready to send out avalanche warnings, and scene upon scene of my next story was burning in my head crying to be written. But another voice was calling just as urgently, although much softer. In fact, it was just the faintest whisper. If I chose, I probably could have ignored it. Even convinced myself I didn’t hear it. But somehow that tender moment with my daughter had opened my heart, reminding me of another parent recently forgotten.

In Isaiah 6:5 I hear the tender heart of an ever-pursuing father in God’s words, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.”

And in Isaiah 65:12, “For when I called, you did not answer. When I spoke, you did not listen.”

Only this time I did. I ignored my to-do list, let the clutter piled around my house wait, turned on some praise music and grabbed my Bible. And I could have sat there in my Father’s arms, indefinitely. He didn’t need me to do anything. I didn’t need to say any magical words. All He wanted was me. It was one of those stop-all-time-and-grab-the-moment-with-both-hands experiences.