Mountains and Forgiveness

We were driving through a quaint Welsh village (Betws-y-Coed, since you asked), just getting ready to sling-shot free of civilization and head for the pass at Mount Snowdon, when my husband showed me an email.

We’d been waiting to receive our security deposit back from a short-term vacation rental. The email was from the “letting” agency informing us on a “without prejudice” basis that the owner had discovered blue crayon on a wall in the property and since he had been unsuccessful in removing the crayon, he was keeping the deposit in order to repaint the room.

Because you need to repaint an entire room when you are touching up some blue crayon.

I was blinded by anger.  My face became hot, and my blood pressure soared as my stomach dropped. I raged  against the injustice.

You see, my youngest boys – who, at 2 and 3 years old are the only ones who still consider colouring fun, and colouring walls exceedingly so – do not have any crayons, blue or otherwise.

Not only that, but my husband and I went over that cottage with a fine tooth comb before we left, cleaning it as if Jesus himself was going to be the next guest there.  There were no blue crayon marks.  Not one. Anywhere.

The guy was lying and it sent me into a mental tailspin.   I was overwhelmed by fantasies of revenge.  I mentally composed my negative review for Tripadvisor (take that!), drafted my arguments for small claims court, and imagined an internet  Campaign of Destruction whereby I’d buy up all the domain names with his company name in it and write negative blog posts (SEOd up to the gills) so that anyone searching for his cottages would find my bad reviews first.  

He might be able to keep my money, but I’d damned well make him pay for it.

By the time we arrived on the other side of Snowdon, I realized a couple of things.  First, I had no recollection of that epic drive.  My mind had been so focused on revenge I had not been able to appreciate the beauty of where I was.

Second, it occurred to me that perhaps my indignation and righteous anger were not entirely in keeping with my spiritual beliefs. From Jesus to the Dalai Lama to Eckhart Tolle, everyone agrees on two things: 1) holding on to anger does you no good, and b) you have to forgive.

But it is really hard to forgive someone who stealing from you.

Luke 6:27 really struck a chord. Loving my enemy took on new meaning.  Then there is all that “you have to forgive others for their trespasses against you if you want yours to be forgiven by God”.

And I get that all of this love-your-enemy-let-it-go stuff is ultimately really healthy.  It keeps you from getting stuck – like a broken record – listening to the same repetitive, negative mental sound track where you a victim rather than an agent of change in your life.  You stay the person who was done to rather than being a person who does.

Revenge, of course, sounds lovely when you are in the thick of it. But as I sat there looking back at the mountain, which I never really took in because my thoughts were elsewhere, I realized that in 2 hours my blood pressure had really not stabilized.  Amongst the often quite creative thoughts I had of how I could get my own back, I also had the random thought that maybe this was not a healthy place to stay.

So I prayed.

I didn’t pray for much, it has to be said.  I simply prayed for peace.  I imagined myself wrapped in light, calm, composed, and serene.

But I was also at a playground with 2 toddlers and 2 snippy older kids who thought they were way above playing “Sharks and Fish” with their younger siblings, so my prayers for peace were punctuated with having to play the peacemaker after each argument, bust-up and disagreement over who tagged who, if it counted when you were on base, and declarations  of “MINE!” punctuated with a sound smack on the head.

Peace does not come easy to a mother.

It probably took most of the day, that night, and well into the next morning.  I had relapses of revenge thoughts.  I pushed them away.  I had more negative thoughts.  I told myself that money wasn’t everything.  It would be ok.  I would trust that it would all work out in the end.

I drank a lot of tea.

And in the end, I forgave him.  It did not make what did ok – lying about my kids was a terrible deception.  It would have been easier – and, in a bizarre way, more honest – if had he just taken the money out of my handbag.

But I got there.  I let it go.  

Late the following day, my husband spoke to the property management company.  He explained our position.  And they agreed. They gave us back the money.

It was that easy.

Forgiveness is a process.  In this case, I was able to work through that process in one day.  But there are times when the trespass is much bigger, much more significant. In those cases, I don’t think we should rush the process. Having gone through some of these hurts, I don’t think that anyone, least of all a loving God, would expect a mere mortal to work through that process in a single day. Maybe not in a single year.

But it helps to be open to it.  I have watched people – notably my mother – allow themselves to become walking shadows of themselves because of the offenses committed against them and the losses they have suffered.

My mother feels justified in her anger.  Only she doesn’t call it anger, she calls it something much more socially acceptable – she calls it grief and depression.

When you lose a child, who can begrudge you that?

But it all stems from the same place.  My mother has been unwilling – not unable, but unwilling – to be open to the process of forgiveness.  She has never forgiven the person who sexually abused my sister which led to her obesity which led to her gastric bypass which led to her alcoholism which led to her kidney and liver failure which caused her death.

It is a horrible thing to lose a child.  It is a tragedy beyond measure.

But I wish….

I wish she would try.  For my sake.  For my brother’s sake.  For my dad and her grandkids.

I wish she would open herself to the process of forgiveness.  

The real consequence of holding on to the wrongs others do to us and those we do to others is the suffering we cause to ourselves and those around us.  We make our family and our friends pay daily in lost joy.  We ask our loved ones to carry the burden of our suffering.

We miss out on the awe-inspiring grace of a well-lived and well-loved life: the birth of a child, the wedding of dear friend, the majesty of a mountain pass.

When we stay stuck in the wrong done to us, we allow ourselves to be stuck in hell.  And we take our loved ones with us.

Don’t stay stuck.  Give yourself time. Just be open to the process.   

And know that the grace and mercy of God are yours for the asking.

You only have to ask.

Spiritual Paper Cuts

Julian of NorwichThis blog was started a year ago in the weeks after we lost our house. It was one of the most devastating experiences of my life.

One minute I was a home owner….

And in the next the bank was changing the locks.

We didn’t even have time to get everything out of the house. The court made the order to repossess just a few days before Christmas and we decided to spend the holiday celebrating with our kids rather than packing.

Most folks would say that loosing your home has to be one of the Most Terrible Things Ever. And it’s true. When the bank forecloses on your house, you feel like shit. To deny that would be a lie.

But here’s the thing – it’s not at bad as you think.

And in some ways, it’s a gift. At least it was for me.

Continue reading Spiritual Paper Cuts


Life, of late, has not been easy.

Three months ago my mother fell down the stairs, cracked every bone in her thorasic spine, put her head through the dry wall, and in general came within a whisper of ending it all.

Thankfully she is still with us.

But after her stroke last October, I could no longer stay in England where I live when things in Virginia felt so…fractured.

So I came home.

Home has always been where my parents are. They have not lived in the house I grew up in for some time, but their house is full of the touchstones of my life – a book, a photograph, the blender my mother has had since 1968.

Entering their house is like entering a time warp.

Except that unlike the blender, my mother is not the same woman she was 46 years ago. Even 10 years ago, before everything went wrong, my sister died, and the world shifted on it’s axis.

I thought that by coming home I could lift my mother spiritually and emotionally. I had not been home in 5 years and I thought that my presence would be a dose of medicine for my parents.

In some ways, being here has been wonderful, especially in the early weeks when my mother was bed ridden and medicated. As the weeks have gone on however, her body has shown improvements, but not her mind. I find myself…intolerant of her whims. Her drinking. Her mixing opiates and alcohol and not telling her doctors the truth when confronted.

My mother has become a pale version of her former self and it is so difficult to have to sit by and watch and to know that whatever I say will be the wrong thing and that my very presence drives my mother further to drink so that she can escape my presence and condemning eyes.

My faith began to waiver. How could my family, whom I love so dearly, have become a shell of its former self, an iteration so far removed from the original that I barely recognize it? Why was this happening? I felt powerless to change anything. Worse still, I felt a growing anger – at my mother for not being her former self, at my husband for suggesting I should come in the first place, at my two young boys who are just 2 and 3 years old and make every day an almost impossible challenge.

Truthfully, I felt abandoned by God.

A few days ago, I read the story of Isaac and Abraham, where God tells Abraham to make a burnt offering of Isaac. God says, “Abraham” and Abraham replies, “Here I am, Lord.”

His faith never waivers. But then again, God speaks directly to him. I wonder what it must be like to have God speak to you in unequivocal terms. I wish She would do the same for me – just tell me what I am supposed to do, for crying out loud, because I don’t know what I’m doing any more.

Needless to say, She didn’t speak to me or even send me a text. Instead, my boys dropped a 5 inch stick down a drain in the front yard which led to back flow in the basement which led to a flood. So I guess it was Biblical in that sense.

In the process of shifting boxes away from the water, I came across a box of some of my sister’s old things, including a slim, red volume of seasonal sermons written by the Reverend Doctor Francis Wade, formerly of St Alban’s in Washington, DC, where my sister was confirmed. I flipped to the sermon from the beginning of Pentacost. It talked about faith and how baby eagles learn to fly by getting thrown from the nest if they seem unwilling to accept their parent’s assurances that they can do it and fly out on their own.

I do not believe that God will ever speak to me as directly as He did with Abraham. But maybe the last few months have been a process of letting go of the nest, of the twigs being removed, one by one, until I have no choice but to spread my wings and go for it.

To forget who I was and take a leap of faith.

God didn’t call my name. Instead, He send a flood, raised the dead, and called a preacher to share the Good News.

The message has been here all along and I’ve just been too tired to see it.

Here I am, Lord. I’m listening now.


“Do Not Be Afraid, For I Am With You”

Jesus said, “It is written…”

Lent has begun.

To be honest, I never got Lent. I went to Catholic school and everyone would debate what they were going to give up, but I never really understood how to turn this sacrifice (as if giving up potato chips or chocolate is sacrificial in the context of the man we were trying to emulate) into something spiritually meaningful.

Lent always felt…childlike.  Like we could give up partying, smoking, or gluten and magically get right with God.

Somehow, I always felt this was not exactly what God had in mind when he sent his only begotten Son.

It’s taken a few years, but I am starting to understand.

Continue reading “Do Not Be Afraid, For I Am With You”

Lessons on Failure

There are many things in life that will make you afraid.  Some will even keep you awake at night.

I do not  mean “The Boogey Man is hiding in the closet/I’ve had a bad dream/I don’t like heights” kind of fear.  No, I am speaking of the “self-doubt/risk averse/I’m not good enough” kind of fear that haunts us all.

To learn how to live with fear such as these is to lead a life of courage. And it isn’t always easy.

Here are some lessons on how to live with fear that I want my children to remember:

1. You will fail

failedYou are a child of the Most High, my own little piece of Cosmic Stardust, capable of moving mountains and lighting up the Universe with all that you have the potential to achieve.  But there will be a time in your life when you will fail.

Epically.  And it will hurt something fierce. Continue reading Lessons on Failure