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For-give an Act of Justice

“If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:15)   We know that we must for-give—indeed, Jesus commands us to forgive. We all know about forgive and forget, but how easy is it to forgive?  there was a wonderful book on this subject called: Forgiving the Dead Man Walking.

I remember seeing the movie and reading the book by Sister Prejean: Dead Man Walking, and found it powerful, if not a bit naive.  But I wanted to know what had happened to the young girl who innocence was so brutally taken away.  If you don't know the story here is a brief summary:

Dead Man Walking, an autobiographical account of Sister Prejean's relationship with Sonnier and other inmates on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary.  In addition to Sonnier, the account is based on the inmate Robert Lee Willie who, with his friend Joseph Jesse Vaccaro, raped and killed 18-year-old Faith Hathaway on May 28, 1980, eight days later kidnapping a Madisonville couple from along side the Tchefuncte River in Louisiana and driving them toAlabama. They raped the 16-year-old girl, Debbie Morris (née Cuevas), who would later become the author of her book Forgiving the Dead Man Walking and then stabbed and shot her boyfriend, 20-year-old Mark Brewster, leaving him tied to a tree paralyzed from the waist down.

Sister Prejean's book does not focus, directly, on the rape of Debbie Morris, she is one of many stories in this book.  Sister Prejean was more interested in telling the reader about the life of inmates on Death Row than focusing on their crimes, but they did commit crimes.  In Debbie Morris book you learn of her life after her rape.  For years she could not shake the sense that even through Willie was dead, he would some how come back and finish what he started.  Willie had taken a liking to Morris and in his mind they, after the rape, they were boyfriend and girlfriend: 

Already familiar to readers from the movie Dead Man Walking, this horrifying crime story, related here by one of the victims, becomes an inspiring morality tale of one woman's redemption. In 1980, Morris, then a 16-year-old high school junior in tiny Madisonville, La., was parked with her boyfriend, Mark Brewster, along the Tchefuncte riverfront sipping a milkshake when two men suddenly appeared. Mark and Debbie were kidnapped: he was tortured and left for dead, while she was terrorized and raped repeatedly. With extraordinary presence of mind, she managed, incredibly, to talk her captors into letting her go. The aftershock, however, lasted for years: her relationship with Mark deteriorated; she dropped out of high school; and she suffered recurring claustrophobic fears. Her abductors, Robert Lee Willie and Joe Vaccaro, were captured, and Debbie aided the prosecution in its successful bid for the death penalty for Willie for the earlier rape/ murder of Faith Hathaway. After the trial, she discovered, "Justice doesn't really heal all the wounds." Her true path toward healing was hard won: She's often angry--at Sister Helen Prejean's attentions to Willie ("Where was the help I needed when I felt so alone?"), at her family, at God ("I'd found it easier to forgive Robert Willie than it was to forgive God"). But at the end of a journey that rings true and intensely human, she looks to her husband, son and new life and ceases to see herself as a victim, but instead as a survivor. (Sept.) FYI: Morris's story first appeared on a Frontline segment titled "Angel on Death Row."

Ms. Morris book describes the process of forgiveness and its importance.  I journey with moms who see In Matthew 6:15 a command to just forget about it as if it never happened and don't worry about it any more.  That is not what true forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is a process of many steps, some two steps forward and three back, and four forward.  Look at the word forgiveness: For-Give.  It is a relational word, a give and take.  Some one has taken something from us and we want it back.  Forgiveness is a call to justice for ourselves and the one we must forgive.  Forgiveness in mercy for ourselves and those who hurt.  Forgiveness is a process of hurt and healing.  Forgiveness is a choice.

Remembering that forgiveness is a process and that we forgive to help ourselves be released from the burden of holding onto the past and the pain that came from it.  We need forgiveness as much as the person we wish would ask for our forgiveness.  Choose to forgive ONLY when YOU are ready to do so. Here is one exercise that might help you start the process:

1. Understand that forgiveness is not: Justifying, understanding, or explaining why the person acted toward you as he or she did. Just forgetting about the offense and trusting time to take care of it will not help. It will only drive the feelings deeper inside as you try to deny them.  This will bring up destructive behaviours. Forgiveness is a two step process: Asking God to forgive the person who hurt you and asking God to forgive you for being angry or resentful against the person who offended you. Denying that you were really hurt; after all there are others who have suffered more, is denying that God's grace will heal you.  You have been hurt!  God knows that and is ready to heal you of that hurt.

2. Usually it is best NOT to forgive face to face. This tends to make the other person feel "put down" and make you look holier-than-thou.

3. Select a time and place when you can be alone for a some amount of time.

4. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind all the people you need to forgive and the events you need to forgive them for.

5. Make a list of everything the Holy Spirit brings to your mind, even if it seems trivial to you. (Do not rush through this step: allow the Holy Spirit all the time He needs to speak to you.)

6. You are going to do a guided mediation for forgiveness. So, in whatever way you would like to do this, you could: Take two chairs and arrange them facing each other. Seat yourself in one of the chairs. Or do what ever feels natural to you.

7. Imagine that the first person on your list is sitting in the other chair. Disclose everything you can remember that the person has done to hurt you. Do not hold back the tears or the emotions that accompany the experiences.

8. We choose to forgive. You may not feel like being forgiving. That's all right. Just do it and the feelings will follow. God will take care of that. Do not doubt what you have done is real and valid.

9. Release the person from the debt you feel is owed you for the offense. Say, "You are free and forgiven."

10. If the person is still a part of your life, now is a good time to accept the individual without wanting to change aspects of their personality or behavior.

11. Thank the Lord for using each person as a tool in your life to deepen your insight into His grace and conforming you to the image of His Son.

12. Pray. This is a suggested prayer to pray as you "talk" to each person: Because I am forgiven and accepted by Christ, I can now forgive and accept you, _____________, unconditionally in Christ. I choose now to forgive you, _____________, no matter what you did to me. I release you from the hurts (take time to name the hurts), and you are no longer accountable to me for them. You are free.

13. Finished by praying through the hurts you have suffered."

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