COLUMNS

My Time - January 2009

by Melissa Vanover

 

Forgiveness

All I remember is the judge slamming his gavel, announcing that my new home for the next 25-plus years would be the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio.
    
Wow! Talk about shock. I had four children that needed me and I was going away for life. But, everything happens for a reason. God will take us out of situations we can’t find the strength or courage to remove ourselves from. It always seemed easier to stay in the situation. 

The man that I truly loved and claimed to love me just the same put me in a position where I made a split-second decision that ended his life. He had complete control over every aspect of my life and, in my eyes, still had that control even in death.

I hated him for that!  All I knew was pain, humiliation, and being belittled daily.  It was all normal to me. I actually grew used to it. Every relationship had been dysfunctional in one way or another. I used to think, “God, how could this happen—why can’t he just love me—why was I even born?”

No one at my young age should have had to endure the extent of pain I’d experienced. It breaks my heart to know that so many others have felt that same pain. So many times I wanted to die. And it would be in the midst of these thoughts that one of my babies would wrap its little arms around me. I know now that it was God saying, “Even though you are hurting, this is reason enough to hang on.”  And I’d cry.

I realize now that God was with me through every cry of pain, and every broken-hearted tear. For the longest time I held hate in my heart for everyone I believed wronged me. This in turn only made me bitter and left me miserable.  Finally, I had a spiritual breakthrough in 2003 when I bid a sorrowful farewell to my cousin, who is now wrapped in our Father’s loving arms.

I turned to Christ and gave him my full attention, giving him all the baggage that has weighed me down over the years. Christ forgave me for all my wrongs.  So, how in good conscience and peace of heart could I not do the same? Although the stench of my past continues to cling to me, I turn to Christ; he knows I’m not perfect—he made me, yet he still loves me.  What a wonderful forgiving Father we have. Forgiving is not easy. Forgiveness is releasing, pardoning, setting free.

I have pretended to forgive using a person’s apology only as a means of reminding him of his wrongs. By not letting go, it kept me bound with hatred.  “Letting go,” to me, meant “failure”. I had to pray to God for a humble spirit to prepare my heart for forgiveness to enter in and close those chapters in my life, to move on, let go and let God!

I understand now that God allowed me to go through pain to have that experience to one day help someone else. So, instead of asking why, I thank him for all that I have had to endure and for the strength that got me through it. I still struggle daily, but there is strength in every struggle. 

One day I’ll be the woman he made me to be. Until then all I can do is try.  That’s all he really asks of us. I pray to be a more like him and less like me. This 25-to-life is part of his plan. Someone, somewhere, will read this and want to hear more. In fact I invite you: maybe by telling my story I’ll save a few lives and even more souls.

Melissa K. Vanover
Ohio Reformatory for Women
Marysville, Ohio

 

Jeff Hillard

Melissa Vanover