Forgiveness: The gift you give yourself

One of the most complex subjects human beings grapple with is understanding and embracing the concept of forgiveness. “…62 percent of American adults say they need more forgiveness in their personal lives, according to a survey by the nonprofit Fetzer Institute,” reports www.johnhopkins.org.

To be honest, I’m certainly not an expert on forgiveness. That’s why I was really surprised when a personal story of transitioning from unforgiveness to forgiveness that I wrote, was included in the recently released book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Forgiveness Fix.”

Like a lot of folks, I have secretly wrestled with this tricky topic for most of my life. According to the article, “What is Forgiveness?” on www.greatergood.berkeley.edu, “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”

There’s the complicated component, forgiving someone who has harmed you who might not “deserve your forgiveness,” especially when they aren’t remorseful for their actions. Two decades ago, I learned a lot about undeserved forgiveness from a Jewish Holocaust survivor named Elisabeth “Liesl” Sondheimer. My late friend, Liesl, eventually made her home in Lima, Ohio, after she fled her German homeland during Hitler’s reign of terror.

Liesl celebrated our wedding as if she was the grandmother of the bride.

Like the famous Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the horrific account of the World War II extermination of more than six million European Jews to countless audiences. She was featured in the regional Emmy award-winning documentary, “A Simple Matter of God and Country.” Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness highlighted in his book, The Sunflower, Liesl always maintained, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.” The silver-haired survivor’s ability to forgive astounded me.

Oh, I knew about forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I grew up mouthing these words as a Catholic school girl, almost daily reciting this line from “The Lord’s Prayer,” also known as the “Our Father.” Although I recited words about forgiveness, in my heart I had no idea how to forgive childhood trauma. I was the ultimate grudge keeper wearing my unforgiveness as a badge of honor.

In my twenties, shortly before one hospitalization for depression

As a vulnerable teen, I became consumed with a lack of forgiveness, which resulted in depression, migraine headaches, ulcers, and a failed suicide attempt. As a high school senior, I was committed to Toledo State Mental Hospital. During the 1970s, the barbaric institution only intensified my desire for validation, that I was the one who had been wrongfully treated. Yet when we are victimized, we become a further victim when we hang onto the hurt and bitterness. Thus, I spent years in and out of psychiatric facilities battling depression.

There is a famous quotation that’s been circulating for decades, it says, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Our health truly can be affected. “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards…lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure and levels of anxiety, depression and stress,” this according to the article, “Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on it” from www.johnhopkins.org.

Don’t get me wrong, this column isn’t about “cheap” forgiveness, which is denying the offense or violation. Nor does forgiving a grievous offense mean the perpetrator should be spared from consequences. Whether it’s a prison sentence, a permanently broken relationship, or instituting healthy boundaries; there are circumstances where we must protect ourselves or those we love from physical or emotional abuse being repeated.

For less serious matters though, it’s crucial to remember, no one’s perfect. It’s a pretty lonely existence when we refuse to forgive. In addition, the hardest thing can be to forgive ourselves when we mess up in a major way. Forgiveness is truly a gift we give ourselves. It is the condition of the heart where we let go of bitterness, anger, and a desire for revenge, and find emotional freedom.

2014 – Me reading my first Chicken Soup for the Soul book as a contributor – such a happy day!

But back to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Forgiveness Fix book,” which was released on Nov. 5, 2019. This is my third title as a contributor for this inspirational series of uplifting books. I’m beyond thrilled to have my story of embracing forgiveness as one of the 101 stories included. After all, for a girl who once was a champion grudge holder, this seems like a consummate testimony to the extraordinary power of God’s grace.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and author who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV Show and CBN’s 700 Club. Her recent inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online retail outlets. Amazon link.

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Mom’s Advice about Getting Older

My Beautiful Mother

The anniversary of losing someone you love can be quite painful. The calendar date, month, or season can bring back the feeling of the initial grief, as if you are reliving the loss all over again.

Some folks believe this anniversary business is best dealt with by shutting themselves away for the day. Other individuals make a plan to do something special to honor and celebrate their late loved one’s life.

This past October, I couldn’t help but contemplate the sights, sounds, and even fragrance of fall when death came unexpectedly more than once leaving such a gaping hole in my heart. For instance, nine years ago, my seemingly healthy 78-year-old mother died suddenly of a kidney stone gone terribly wrong.

The fall afternoon my mom breathed her last breath the sky was vivid blue, the leaves were breathtaking shades of red, yellow, and green, and the crisp autumn air smelled invigorating clean. This scene is forever etched in mind, because it was such a sharp contrast to the gut-wrenching task of saying goodbye.

Still, with time grief lessens. The shock, heartbreak, or even horror of death and mourning are often replaced with pleasant or poignant memories from happier days. Like the seemingly meaningless event which occurred on one of my last visits to see my late mother who lived out of state.

Mom and me on our last Christmas together 2009

When family was visiting, Mom would usually awaken early and brew a pot of coffee and set something out for breakfast. We were in the kitchen alone on one of these occasions, when I noticed her bathrobe was threadbare and shiny. In her late 70s by then, she and my stepfather lived in a newer Philadelphia suburb.

At this point in her life, she had the financial means to buy a new bathrobe. As a young mother of seven biological children, her situation had not always been so prosperous. In the early days of mothering, she often sacrificed personal items for herself to purchase groceries or something for one of her children.

That’s why sometimes my mother could be more than thrifty when it came to spending money on herself. This is probably a quality most nurturing moms can relate to. Yet her once pink housecoat had faded to a pinkish ivory and was glaringly worn. Realizing she was entertaining my husband and myself that weekend, I knew it must be her best robe or she wouldn’t be wearing it in front of us.

When mom and I were alone, my concern overwhelmed me. Without meaning to be unkind, I blurted out, “Mom, you desperately need a new bathrobe. Yours is so shabby I can see through the fabric. It looks awful.”

“Oh, thank you for telling me,” Mom said sincerely, appearing blissfully oblivious to the shape of the garment. Thankfully, she wasn’t insulted by my remark, sensing my heart in wanting her to have better.

“Didn’t you realize it was worn out?” I asked with concern, surprised she seemed unaware of its condition, especially since Mom was the family fashionista. The truth is, I was frightened my mother might be experiencing some cognitive impairment as a result of aging. The dreadful word, “dementia” menacingly flashed through my mind.

“No, I didn’t notice how worn out it was, and I really appreciate you telling me,” Mom said candidly. “You see, honey, sometimes as people get older, they don’t notice the condition of the things they see on a daily basis.”

Mom’s advice has served me well this past decade

Gradually with aging myself, I have come to more fully understand what Mom was saying. Complacency or a desire for comfort can make it difficult to be objective when something has passed its stage of usefulness and needs to be replaced with something new. It might not be merely an old bathrobe, but a more important item like an unsatisfying career, a toxic relationship, or an unhealthy lifestyle requiring a dose of reinvention.

My mother’s practical advice has served me well this past decade even though I continue to miss her greatly. So, I decided to honor her memory by passing it along. Besides, I don’t grieve without hope, because Mom and I had a shared faith and trust that Heaven really is real. I like to think of her waiting there, brewing coffee and opening the box of donuts. Oh, what a joyous reunion that will be.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award winning freelance journalist, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and author who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV Show and CBN’s 700 Club. Her recent inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online retail outlets. Amazon link.

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