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Forgiveness: What It Is And What It Isn't

Updated: Oct 16, 2021

"...Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened.

Forgiveness isn't denying what has happened.

Forgiveness doesn't even mean reconciliation of relationship.

Forgiveness is acknowledging what happened and relinquishing the right to punish someone who has hurt you.

You may have every right to hold it against them, to pay them back for what they did, but you choose instead to let it go not for their sake as much as for your sake.

So that you can be free and let God deal with them." (1)

We've had an incident a couple of months ago that involved family members that betrayed and hurt us deeply. This is connected to us being attacked and chased out of our home in Denver, Colorado back in June 2020. Because of what happened, we fled and stayed with family for a few weeks. Couldn't live with that side of the family so we ended up staying with another family member for two months. Let me set up the scene. (Unless you don't want to read the whole story, you can skip to the main part of this post here.) During this time we didn't have a job. With the pandemic lockdowns still in full effect, we weren't sure how to find a job. Also being chased and threatened, we weren't sure how long we would be able to stay at any location. Due to the political climate increasing with violent acts, we wanted to be able to run if things got worse here. So for a few months, we wanted to hunker down and wait it out. Where could we run to if the violence was being flown/bused in? After the dust settled, we would have to determine what the best location was then.

Throughout August and September, we stayed with a family member who was also trying to sell her place and move out. So while we stayed, we helped clean, pack, organize and store her belongings. When she had family come over, we would help set up and prepare as well as clean up. Sadly no other family member would do this. When her husband died, only ONE other member helped out and she couldn't help much being the only person who works 12hr shifts about 5 days a week straight. We were pleased she still put the effort in as much as she did. So that daughter took care of finances and such while we took care of getting everything moved.

Now keep in mind we don't typically get out much or do much due to health. It didn't help there was a thick fear hanging over us of possibly being attacked again. So when we did do something, we tried to knock it all out in the morning in a few hours then stay home to work a little and rest. We would've been able to move her out in a week, but she kept getting side-tracked with what she would dig up. I think they had lived there for almost a decade so you can imagine the stuff that would've been hidden. And there was a LOT hidden. We sorted through what she wanted to keep, what was going to be given to family/friends, and what was going to be donated. It took us the whole two months to get this process done.

With Autism and PTSD, sleep and rest are not common. Since we recently had another dose of PTSD, our fatigue was always present no matter how long we tried to rest. We did our best to help her get everything done. With our low energy and health, we pushed ourselves frequently. Not only helping her get a storage unit, but we moved everything and organized everything ourselves so it all fit. Only ONCE did someone else help and that was only because they had the truck to move some of the bigger items (about 3 items total). My husband still helped with one of them and the other three were just doorstops. No literally. They were old and not able to physically do anything but hold a door open. The rest of the time it was on us and our family member didn't have to worry about anything except what she wanted to keep or get rid of.

My husband also helped put up her home online and within a day already had some serious buyers. It was within about two days that someone was already going to buy the place so the countdown for us to leave began. I think it also happened to be a bit more than they had originally bought the place for which was great!

John and I had been planning to leave the country for a bit to escape the possible uptick in violence. From October to the first week of December we stayed in Ecuador. Near the end, we were contemplating whether to extend our stay or head back. But our family member was wanting to move her belongings into her sister's home in the next city over. Her sister was out of state visiting her kids and grandkids and wouldn't be back for a while. The storage unit was also getting pricey as the months went on so somehow she wanted everything moved to this place. No other family member would help. So we decided we would help since we were going to be able to stay at that house too to get back on our feet.

We head back and end up staying there for a bit. Our agreement with the owner of the home was that we would help clean and provide maintenance around the house. Such as a stair chair that was having issues, John fixed in an hour. The vacuum? Fixed in an hour. The Roomba? Fixed in a couple of minutes. We even moved things around to vacuum the huge piles of dog hair that had been collecting in hard-to-reach places. We swept up outside and removed the years of accumulating cobwebs etc. Our agreement, we took seriously.

Now also keep in mind that we were back in the states and would need a job and a place to stay soon. On top of that our car had broken down back in September before we left for Ecuador and had been borrowing our family member's vehicle. We rarely went out and only to do errands so it worked out to just borrow a vehicle. By this time, it was December, and typically getting anything done is not going to happen. The holidays are always on people's minds and would be scheduled out in mid-January at the earliest. Businesses were getting ready to close up so even if we were able to speak to them, nothing could get us what we needed.

Oh, did we mention that this location was a little bit out there? It was a pretty rich family member so they had a nice quiet area that definitely needed a vehicle to get around the city in. With many businesses still in lockdown, the job pool was needing to widen further and further away. While we were waiting for a better time to get started on the job hunt, we tried to finish and follow up with various medical appointments. Being back in the states from a different country, we still had medical issues that had to be addressed. Much of it, we learned, was due to just the altitude and temperature of Colorado. So after about two weeks back in Colorado, we made a decision to save up and move to a state that is closer to sea level.

Now during our stay, we found out that we could be randomly kicked out if three others wanted to stay there. It made sense that we would need to leave if the owner was going to return. But her health wouldn't allow her to travel yet. So that worry was taken care of. The other two reasons were ridiculous as there were four bedrooms in the house and only two were being used. Also, our family member decided it was now HER house and decided to make the rules. If our aunt wanted to stay we were going to be kicked out (even though our aunt and this family member were known for not getting along well and could only manage a decent time together for a couple of hours at most). Also, we had two other bedrooms. And John and I usually keep to ourselves so it's not like we would interfere with them. It was two stories and they could have the upstairs with no problem. But no.

The other reason was my husband's sister suddenly wanted to get married to someone she had met in college for only three months. So we would be kicked out so they could play 'house' and plan a wedding.

Keep in mind, we had fled from violence, lost our car, our home, AND our jobs trying to restart. We spent our time helping our family member move her belongings into her sister's home and keeping up with a few other responsibilities that we couldn't get a job yet. So we couldn't plan on anything if we weren't able to at least find a possible job.

As my dad put it, we don't get to choose where the job is, we go wherever the job is. Since apparently, this family expected us to suddenly get a job in a difficult area that required a vehicle, during a time where businesses were forced to be closed, and during one of the most difficult times of the year to get appointments before the year's end. We tried to get as much done as we could but had accepted that the real search would have to wait until January.

Also, did I mention there were FOUR bedrooms and only two were used? But apparently, now that we got everything done, we were going to be kicked out. Funnily enough, John's sister also doesn't do well with this family member and can only stand her for a short amount of time. After we got kicked out, they only stayed for maybe a week and then left.

So we got kicked out and they didn't even STAY? We only needed to stay for about 2-3 months to get things going. We even had an agreement beforehand but this family member liked to 'change her mind' and then go against her promise when it fit her. We left Ecuador early to help her when we could've stayed in a safer country, for cheaper AND be able to save money with a visa extension. We gave up a lot to head back early.

Oh, it got worse. We had stayed with them a little while longer and they kept letting the guy stay over. We didn't know him and didn't trust him. Being through traumatic experiences and being around people who suddenly backstabbed you, caused high stress. They basically told us we were being difficult and to get over it. Just get over TRAUMA? Wow. If it were only that easy. So we would overhear them talking smack about us upstairs. Our bedroom was right below the kitchen where they talked loudly, the sitting area downstairs was right by the stairway to go upstairs and their conversations were traveling to us. The crap they were talking about was very manipulative, backstabbing, and stupid. (Really? You got mad we weren't wearing masks inside a home we had been living in for a month already then you barged in suddenly and demanded we wear them? No. YOU leave if you aren't comfortable with it. We had already covered every inch of the house to clean and repair things.)

Not only was this family member trying to kick us out, but apparently John's mother was also in on it. Manipulating family members make it extremely uncomfortable for us to be there. My heart rate, when waking up, would jump to 148BPM. It stayed pretty close to that the whole time we were there. That stress is NOT good for the body since I had to live in that for almost a week.

Oh wait, and this was also after a huge incident this family member did to us over New Year's. That's another story but a huge insult and a slap to the face. She never apologized to us for that and tried to pin the blame on us.

We couldn't live like this with random people just coming and going. We wanted to at least be informed ahead of time, who was coming and for how long. But they wouldn't even respect us with that information. We spoke to this family member, John's mom, and sister to be all on the same page. We made an agreement.

Then they broke that agreement in less than 12hours because our family member believes it's her house. Legally, we started paying some rent to the actual owner of the house so we would have been in the right to have a say in what was going on. But they didn't care and wanted us out.

I kept thinking if the house burned down...who would get the fire insurance money? Of COURSE the house owner. Our family member wasn't even on anything related to the house and wouldn't get a dime. So it is not HER house. But she kept acting as if it was. (Heard later on that when her sister wanted to return back to her home...she was told to stay at a nearby hotel...) Didn't help John's family kept pushing that narrative. Then she tried to play victim saying she got upset that we weren't letting John's sister and her boyfriend stay she bought them a hotel room to stay for the night...and tried to blame us and make us pay for it.

Are. You. Serious.

Now there are a LOT more details and incidences that go along with this story but I think you get the picture. With the stress we were living in, we had to leave ASAP. So with what little money we had, bought a crappy car and found a place to stay in two days. Thanks to my parents for helping us find the place to stay and helping us get in!

It's been at least six months since then and we have put some distance between us and that side of the family. We don't appreciate those who will make promises to our face and then completely turn around and do what they promised NOT to do. Oh and twist what we said to fit what she wanted us to have said. We can't trust them, especially with how much we did for them. If we tried to have a written down agreement they would get upset immediately and start an argument. They wouldn't even attempt to write out any agreements as they took at it as an insult. Though now knowing that if they see mutually agreed-upon guidelines and rules as 'insulting', then you don't want to deal with them all. Then they can manipulate anything the way they want and pin the blame on you. The compromises we asked for had been the same for at least 3 years and the same that we held at this family member's house when we were helping her sell it. It hadn't changed and wasn't ever going to.

God does command us to forgive those who had wronged us. He has commanded that we forgive over and over again as He has forgiven us. We also forgive and let go of anger because it benefits us. Holding onto this anger is like holding onto a flame. We only hurt ourselves.

"When we forgive others, we are not saying what they did was OK, but we are releasing them to God and letting go of it's hold on us. Forgiveness does not forget, but it does set free from bitterness and grudges." (2)

But luckily we happened to listen to a really good sermon during that time. It also goes along with what psychology and therapy will support as well. Forgiveness does NOT mean there has to be reconciliation.

We do have a right to not rebuild a relationship. Especially if we do not trust them and if they also make no attempt to amend the relationship. Since that incident, she has not once messaged us to apologize, let alone just message us for anything else. (update: It took her 9 months to send some kind of apology but it sounded half-hearted/vague and as a setup to ask us for help on things like she always does). We aren't going to reach out and 'fix' a relationship we do not want. If anything, we are fine with cutting off parts of the family and never talking to them again. We don't trust many people as is (huge parts due to Autism and PTSD) and when they betray us not once, not twice, but actually THREE times with no apology, we are done. I didn't go over the third incident but it was close to along the lines of the other two incidences already mentioned. I just didn't want to write another few pages worth.

So seeing that she is not remorseful or sincerely apologetic for the pain she has caused us, we are better off just going our separate ways. Good luck to her on finding anyone in the family willing to do for her what we have done for her in the past couple of years. Even when her husband died and the family came to visit a few times, they only left messes and never helped with anything. We cared for her greatly, and it still makes me cry just writing this because of her betrayal. But we have been doing much better without them. What also hurts is having other family members insisting we should talk to her again, pushing that re-establishing a relationship is forgiveness. It is NOT. God does understand that some people are not meant to be back in our lives, though we should not let the separation cause more damage than trying to amend anything. We can forgive people and love them from a distance. Also, if we are going to forgive someone, it should be when we aren't strongly bitter towards them. We are allowed to separate and have time apart to heal. What they did was a huge blow and would not be forgotten so easily. We don't believe in 'forgive and forget'. Forgetting will just have you fall into the same traps over and over (whether with the same person or with others). The point is to remember, but not use that incident against them if you are trying to rebuild a connection. If you aren't ready to, then don't and wait until you are. The key part of that though is not to reinforce your thoughts of anger and resentment but to constantly remind yourself to let the pain go and move on.

"We are the ones who suffer most when we choose not to forgive. When we do forgive, the Lord sets our hearts free from the anger, bitterness, resentment, and hurt that previously imprisoned us.

Most of the time forgiveness is a slow process:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

Jesus' answer to Peter makes it clear that forgiveness is not easy for us. It's not a one-time choice, and then we automatically live in a state of forgiveness. Essentially, Jesus was saying, keep on forgiving until you experience the freedom of forgiveness. Forgiveness may require a lifetime of forgiving, but it is important to the Lord. We must continue forgiving until the matter has been settled in our heart." (3)

I really like how this was put. We can't just 'forgive' because we say we forgive them. Sometimes, it takes time. We may not be able to even be in the same room with them until we are able to accept in our hearts that they have been forgiven. Though I believe I have forgiven these family members for what they have done, I still feel pain and a little bitter of how it went about. I am moving in the right direction for full forgiveness, and it will be accomplished on my time. My healing process. And not when others demand I forgive them.

It has taken me quite some time to write this and edit it enough to post. I think you can tell I'm still hurt and upset, but I hope that I don't sound too angry and aggressive about it. I've been trying to step back and stay calm when addressing this incident. But with another push from John's family side to contact this family member keeps bringing back up this painful memory. So it is a means of therapy to write it out, publish, and let more pieces of that ordeal go. Resources:




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