I was born in 1961 during a time when our country was in an internal war around race relations and segregation. I am the byproduct of a white mother and a black father who were caught in a tug of war of the times. My father was a charismatic entertainer and my mother was a wide-eyed young woman infatuated by his charm. When she became pregnant with me my paternal grandmother told my father, “Son you laid down with that girl, you are going to stand up with her and marry her.” My parents married and I was born.
Their marriage was short lived and one day my mother took me to a friend of hers to babysit me and she never returned. I was somewhere around the age of three. My life was never the same. From that day on I lived with my father and my paternal grandmother. I was tossed back and forth between living with my father and staying with my grandmother at her home. My father was very unstable at the time. He was caught up in a life of riotous living. He turned in his instrument as a drummer in a band, to dice in his hand. He became a gambler; a petty hustler of all types and I was caught in the middle of his ways and I eventually became a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of my father with no mother to protect me. By the age of six, I was abandoned by my mother and sexually abused by my father.
As far back as I can remember my grandmother, also known as Mother Dear, taught me the importance of family, community, and church. She made sure that I respected my family and my elders, and was involved in the community and attended church. My grandmother was born around 1900 and migrated West from the South. She didn’t know how to deal with the lifestyle of my father and the only way she knew how to protect me was to keep me as busy as possible. I began to see church and community as my haven. I enjoyed the love and support I received from being involved in the church and the community that I did not get from parents. I felt like I found my safety net. One of the things my grandmother emphasized to me as a child was to pray for my parents. She would tell me that the bible tells us to honor our parents and it doesn’t say to do so only if they act right. This was my first step towards forgiveness.
When I was a junior in high school my father had a heart attack. I remember clear as day when my grandmother told me that he was in the hospital and that I should go and see him. Honestly, I didn’t know how to feel at the time. I loved my father even despite what he did to me, but I wasn’t upset that he was knocked flat on his back. Truth be told, they weren’t even sure if he would live and I was numb about that statement. My father was in the hospital for quite some time and when he was released, he came to live at my grandmother’s house to recover. This was strange because now my father was living in the house where I felt safe, but it was also the house where he was raised. His journey to recovery was more than just a physical journey, it was also an emotional and spiritual healing for him.
Over the years people who knew my mother would often say to me that I looked just like her. I found this fascinating because I didn’t really know what my mother looked like and I didn’t even have a photograph of her as a reference. This piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know who my mother was and where she lived. When I was in college, I began my journey to find my mother to hopefully reconnect and get to know her. What was interesting is when I found my mother, she lived less than thirty miles from where I grew up my entire life. This truly represented the saying, so close yet so far. When we met there was such a gap in her emotions, I didn’t know whether to call her Mom or Karen. It would take another 12 years before we would come together.
I met my mother when I was 18 years old, when I was 30 I received a call from her telling me her husband had passed away and she had nowhere to go and she wanted to know if I would help her. I told her 'yes' and she came to live with me. Remember, my grandmother told me I had to respect my parents. She would be part of my life for the next 11 years. I took care of her until she passed away. During this time my father was going through a metamorphosis in his life. The same Christian foundation that my grandmother put into my life she also put into my father’s life and he returned to his roots. This time he answered a call to ministry and eventually became a pastor of a local church. My mother was living with me at the time and she began going to church with me and my family and she eventually accepted Christ at his church. Her first husband, my father.
Remembering the foundation that was placed in me by my grandmother as a child and experiencing the life struggles with my parents, I was motivated to start an organization called Forgiving For Living (www.forgivingforliving.org) to provide tools to help people forgive and hopefully live a better life. From this process, I developed what is known as, “Healing Without Hate: How to Forgive to Live.” 10 Steps to Forgiveness.
1. Prayer or Meditation – When you are praying for someone it is difficult to hate them. When hate is not in your heart it helps you on your path to forgiveness.
2. Counsel – Don’t be afraid to seek the help and counsel you need to heal and forgive.
3. Confront – It is important to be willing to confront the truth. Know when to look in the mirror and see if you are at fault on an issue and know when to look through the window and see when it is someone else.
4. Release – In life there are times when we must learn to just release and let some things go. There will be times when we will never understand why certain things happen.
5. Forgive – When you say you forgive someone do you “parole” them or “pardon” them? When we parole someone there are strings attached which means they still control you. When you pardon them, you release them from the bondage of having a hold on your life. This does not mean what they did to you is okay, it just means they can no longer control you, what you do and how you feel.
6. Attitude – It is important for us to always embrace an attitude of gratitude no matter what we’ve been through in life. The fact that we are still here means we have another chance to have a better life and help others.
7. Joy – When I was a little girl growing up in church, I was taught that joy is about what is inside of us that no one could take away. We must all learn to find that core inside of us that is our center and balances us through it all.
8. Goals – When working on forgiveness or getting over something it helps to have something to look forward to. Goals give us hope for a better future. Set goals that you can see and measure your progress.
9. Give – I always tell people we all have something to give to others. When we take our eyes off our own problems or off ourselves, we find joy through giving. Whether it is our time, money, resources or the gift of helping someone get through something we overcame, remember we all have something to give.
10. Live – Finally, I encourage people to try and live each day to the fullest. Tomorrow isn’t promised and we must embrace life today and just do our best. Our best is often what others need to see to be encouraged to get through whatever they may be facing.
Healing Without Hate: It’s a Choice, It’s a Lifestyle, Pass it On! Forgiveness is a decision and a choice we make every day. Are you willing to go there to have a better and happier life?