This story was shared by Wendy Spurgeon, a highly trained and talented life coach. As a young teen – wise beyond her years – she literally gave the ‘gift of forgiveness’ to a stepfather and in doing so, received life-long gifts in return.
I was 14 years old, I was living in rural Alaska with my mother, my younger brother, 3 step brothers, in the house of stepfather number two. Father had died in a brutal drunk driving accident. Stepfather number one was an abusive alcoholic, who died young of a heart attack shortly after their divorce. Stepfather number two was not an alcoholic, but was definitely not the prince charming he had painted himself to be during the courtship. It was expected of me to do the “men’s work” as well as the “women’s work” at home, and though I was not the oldest, as the only girl, I was often held ultimately accountable if work was not completed to my stepfather’s specifications. His form of “discipline” was pushing, slapping, kicking and name calling.
I was lucky to have my own bedroom, and it was the only place I felt safe in the house, most of the time. One day I came home from school to find that my mother had taken the bed. She had decided to put it in a rental across town, and she replaced it with an uglier one. I remember I felt out of control. Nothing was safe. Even the things that gave me comfort could be taken at any moment and I was hurt and mad at her. I decided she didn’t care about me, I was angry and I was glaring at her.
My stepfather told me to “wipe that look off my face”. I couldn’t. I absolutely could not pretend to feel any differently than I did. He back handed me.
Now, he had beaten me many times before, it wasn’t like I didn’t see it coming, but he had never done it right in front of my mother before. I was 14 years old now. I was feeling a little bigger and stronger, so I put my hands up to block him. But he was much bigger, heavier and faster and he continued to punch me, slap me, and kick me until I was backed into a corner. I lost control of my bodily functions and wet myself. I was humiliated. I was sobbing and screaming for him to stop. He stormed out of the room calling me a “no-good, son-of-a-bitch kid”.
I looked at my mother, her eyes were watery and red. She said, “you shouldn’t talk back to your father that way.” I screamed, ‘He is NOT my father! He has no right to hit me!” I made up my mind that night to run away.
And I did. One problem. Alaska. In the middle of winter. I wanted to go to my older brother’s house in Anchorage but that was 300 miles away, no car so…I came back. The lights were on. Oh shit, I’m going to be in trouble.
Mom had discovered I was gone. Her face was puffy and swollen from crying. She begged me not to go and promised that she would make sure he understood that if I needed to be disciplined, she was the one who would do it. There is such a huge difference when you are being disciplined by someone who truly loves you.
The next few weeks were very tense in the household. He did not like his power to discipline being taken away, and he told me that. There was a heavy cloud over the household, and he and I would not speak to each other beyond “pass the salt please.” I was having nightmares. Vengeful fantasies of killing him. I had never felt that way. It hurt. It was a heavy weight on my heart.I was repeating the incident over and over in my head. I would continue to feel the pain of my mother’s betrayal. I continued to beat myself up with the thought “The man who should be a father to me, hates me.” I was holding the secret. His beating had blackened my eyes and fattened my lip. Best friend told the nurse, who told the social worker, who talked to mom…..who denied it. There would be no escape into foster care.
I remember I had read somewhere an article, perhaps in Reader’s Digest, on the power of forgiveness. I remember reading that forgiveness does not mean condoning other person’s behavior, it doesn’t mean that you agree or that it’s okay. But forgiveness is a gift for yourself, so that you can move on. You do not have to be held under the weight of resentment. Let go, let God, and move on.
I had a unique opportunity to go to Japan with my high school choir. We had been selling citrus fruit as a fund raiser and saving for the trip for 3 years, and finally it was time to go. I had budgeted a certain amount of money for souvenirs for my family. It was an amazing experience, and I took the time to reflect on my situation and be guided by my higher wisdom. I had been struggling around the choice to buy my stepfather a gift or not. I had bought gifts for everyone else, and I could not stop thinking about him.
He did not deserve a gift from me. He was wrong. If I did, how would he interpret it? How would he feel if he was the only one who didn’t receive something? These thoughts were chattering away as I browsed a kiosk in Hong Kong, when suddenly a flash of light caught my eye. The ruby gemstone eye of a dragon pendant. Eye to eye with the Dragon. He was my dragon. He boasted of being born in the year of the Dragon, how he had dragon-like qualities. Certainly I was the maiden he oppressed. Here he was, symbolized in this ornate piece of jewelry elegantly posed before me. This was Don’s Dragon. And the only way it could get to him was through me.
In that moment, I made the choice to forgive him. I didn’t care if he appreciated the gift or not. I didn’t care if he understood the significance. On some level I knew, even though he was 40 and I was 14, I was in some ways the more mature of the two. I could see how childishly he behaved at times, like a spoiled little boy jealous when my mother would give me attention instead of him. It was sad. In that moment, I could see how he was a victim of his upbringing, of a culture that trained him that being a man meant being “respected” or rather, feared. I could see in that instant that he himself had been beaten far more brutally than I had in the name of “discipline”. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Children should be seen and not heard. I felt sad for him. I felt compassion. I knew he was unlikely to change at this point in his life, but I also knew I had choice. I could hold the resentment and perpetuate the pain to myself or I could release him to the Universe and be free. I chose freedom.
The day I returned home, my stepfather and mother were away on an anniversary trip. I carefully laid out their gifts on their bed to discover when they returned. Mom told me of his reaction later, she said, “At first he didn’t see his gift and he looked very sad, but then he saw it and he was so happy”. It brought me pleasure to hear that. By the time I was fifteen, I had arranged with my mother’s permission to live at my best friends house until graduation. Don never hit me again, though there was still verbal abuse from time to time. Forgiveness allowed me to float above the uncontrollable circumstances and stay emotionally and physically safe. I moved to Oregon to go to college, and only saw him one more time when he and my mother made an impromptu visit. They were divorced shortly afterwards.
Now, when I look back, I hold gratitude for everything I learned from him. We shared a love of theatre, and horses. My experience with him taught me to breath, and wait for the busy thoughts of vengeance to pass. If you listen very carefully, the heart will reveal a dragon….that only you can deliver.
What could be available to you through giving the gift of forgiveness to a ‘dragon’ in your life?
Curious to find out more about Wendy Spurgeon? Go to: http://www.wendyspurgeon.com/.