"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" - Luke 23:34
This famous quote is from one of the most known stories, and the most famous being in the Christian faith. As people were crucifying the human life of Christ, he exemplified his spiritual deity by choosing to forgive everyone. And He appealed to His father for help, because He knew that a key factor of a loving God - and a loving Dad - is genuine forgiveness. I know this because I've seen it firsthand.
For many, MANY years, I have watched Mike Benjamin, time and time again, turn the other cheek. Like Peter probably thought as Jesus healed the soldier who would arrest him on trumped up charges, I often responded to my Dad with bewilderment: "how could you let them run all over you like THAT?" And with pained but peaceful eyes wrapped in love, my Dad would often remind me that forgiveness is the only way towards freedom. Whew.
Now this is not a performative forgiveness; on the contrary, this is a forgiveness that starts deep within - a complete, unshakeable belief that all that we see happening around us and to us is not the complete story about how life works out. No, life is more beautiful than the brokenness we've experienced, and as Bryan Stevenson wrote in Just Mercy: "each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."
True forgiveness has never been about the outward display, but a reflection of the restorative work that has taken place in our hearts. The way we respond to pain received from a person who means to do us harm is the tip of an iceberg of what this life has always been about: reclaiming our innate worth through seeking reconciliation and receiving redemption. And how can redemption be obtained without the harm being addressed and forgiveness being extended?
"and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us." - Matthew 6:12
I've always resented the story of Jesus admonishing Peter after he jumps to Jesus' defense. Love my enemies? Nah, no thanks. But that's because I've been looking at the act of pain, and not the brokenness of the heart behind it -- a heart not unlike my own when I choose to be honest. What my father and other father figures have demonstrated through different challenges in their lives is that while this sharp pain of transgression must be addressed, I've first got to release the bitterness before it takes a foothold in my soul.
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." - Ephesians 4:31-32
Lately I've been resenting a lot, and I realized this because I was being SOOOOOOO cantankerous these past few weeks. Ask my parents and brothers, bless their hearts. 😅 So I decided to step all the way back, turn inward and seek God for the way out of bitterness and back into peace.
That's when I heard was the voice of Christ, the light in my darkness shouting:
"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!"
No, this wasn't a message towards me, but a calling to show up like my God, my Dad, and many of the powerful men in my life have consistently shown me: to choose forgiveness is to acknowledge the pain, but then to reject bitterness and choose life, peace, wholeness and freedom instead. Like Jesus Christ did for me, and for you.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8
Choosing forgiveness is choosing my future.
*This* is the heart of a good father, and I'm glad to be his daughter.
Some may say it was a physical manifestation of my inner being; the extra weight in my cheeks and thighs as years of heaviness dropped my emotional heart to my stomach and often stayed there, digesting and internalizing what my eyes saw and ears heard. I've since observed that anxiety presents itself in my life through binge eating, and stress the only contributing factor to my chronic body aches. Alas. It was not well with my soul.
Growing up a Black girl in the United States of America is a long walk towards an undoing. Because no matter how hard you work, or perform, or present, it is your Blackness doing the heavy lifting when it comes to how you're received. At some point, all that hard work, all that performance, all that presentation to make yourself fit in a world that was never meant for you to exist, let alone thrive -- at some point it's gonna to have to give.
"Like ships in the night
You keep passing me by
Just wasting time
Trying to prove who’s right
And if it all goes crashing into the sea
If its just you and me
Trying to find the light"
My parents have been spending a lot of time these past few quarantined weeks looking at old family photos. I see in my eyes exactly how I felt: I didn't like myself then. For all the effort my parents put into telling me I was beautiful, the world I lived in made it clear that something about my dark skin and kinky hair and puffy cheeks and pudgy legs made me a pariah of sorts. I knew it wasn't something to be proud of, let alone something worth loving. And so I actively rejected my parent's persistence. I decided I'd never be loved, so if God was going to make me stay here, I might as well make myself useful.
So I built ships for shoulders. I made myself available to anyone and everyone. I had no boundaries. I offered my services free of charge and often went into debt trying to buy my way into shaky friendships, fleeting romances and rocky partnerships. I was lost at sea; my ship-sized-shoulders took on way too much water and she began to sink. But I kept working, kept performing, kept presenting anyway. I cringe thinking about it now.
"Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest." The voice that cried out in the darkness of my soul beckoned me to lift my eyes to the hills; help was on the way. Like Peter, I'd lost my focus, choosing to fix my eyes on how much the world hates Black bodies, especially those with vaginas. (crude, but true) Until I began to readjust my vision. To look beyond the lies and embrace something stronger: the truth that God, who began a good work in me, would be faithful to complete it in this life while waiting for the hope He offers through Jesus Christ in the next.
I finally reached out & showed up at my first appointment with a licensed therapist on October 20, 2017 in Guayaquil, Ecuador and began the hard work of my undoing. Things got darkest before the dawn, but as I began to learn where my boundaries had to be placed, and began to remove the ships and allow my shoulders to just be... shoulders. I found rest for my weary soul at the feet of Jesus.
The past few years has been me on this continuous process of learning to be more and more comfortable in the person God had always made me to be:
I went off script last night during a group conversation, and I freaked out afterwards, thinking I said all the wrong things and brought bad energy to the gathering. I asked a few good friends about their take on it and was reassured that I was in my head. One responded that I always seem to know what my boundaries are, and when I'm being pushed in a way that may cause it to break, I will express myself. Ha, well, that's a confirmation I'm on the right track, closer to freedom than I've ever been.
I'm coming out of hiding. No more anchoring myself to destructive lies. Black girls and Black women are beautiful just as we are. We must no longer work so hard, perform so polished, nor present an image of what we think the world wants to see. Loving a Black woman is a risk that seemingly few are willing to take; but I see you, and I finally believe you.