It’s been Three years since I meet pastor Dan Ledwith. When I first meet him I was so injured I believed God actually hated me. His post hit home and made me more sure that was true. Our initial discussions I’m sure were hard for him. Say the wrong thing I run, say the wrong thing he would chase me further from God and further into horrible darkness.

He reached back anyway. Taking a risk like that had to take guts. Knowing he was leaning into a terrible darkness had to take courage. Along the way we began talking. I’m sure as I opened up and poured it out there were times he probably wanted to run away. He probably took many pauses and thought do I really want to walk in there?

He did anyway. He walked into the darkness and leaned into my pains. Along the way he began talking of forgiveness. In my rage and pain I of course wanted none of these men to be forgiven.  He told me that I had to forgive or I couldn’t be forgiven. I remember that discussion because I said I’m not afraid of hell I’ve lived it daily and I will go to hell to ensure they do too.

I tried to push him away. I revealed grizzly and awful memories to him when he said he wanted to know. When he didn’t leave I push him again and confessed that I am a lesbian just knowing as a Christian he’d say Oh no I don’t approve you sinful bitch! This was my typical response from Christians.

Instead he answered in a surprising way. An email I’ve probably read 100 times. He told me my job isn’t to judge nor does my god hate you. He poured it out verse by verse. He told me his job as a pastor was to love me right where I was. I’d never heard that from a Christian, not a single one. I was in total shock to say the least. The message was not hate, it wasn’t judgement, it didn’t tell me how awful I was nor that I was going to hell. His message said my Father loves all his children and that was the only message anyone regardless of what they’ve done should ever hear from a Christian.

Back to forgiveness, I don’t believe in hell as he a Christian does. To me you just never get to heaven and your existence is over forever. Either way I didn’t care as long as they suffered for it. He began prodding ever so gently about forgiveness not being for or about them. That God would judge them even if I begged him personally to forgive them. He reminded me God is my heavenly father and like my earthly father he doesn’t take kindly to their kind of evil.

Along the way he challenged me to define forgiveness. Eventually I did and as I began to define it I came to realize forgiveness is so much more than the evil of these men. It is about freeing myself of their evil. Letting go of the weight of it that I dragged around. Being free of the burdens.

It was a long process I can attest. One that at times had me angry at him for pushing me to forgive. Little did I realize I was angry because he was right and I was wrong. I was angry because he forced me (gently) to see I was carrying guilt and anger at myself. In this self-reflection I could see just how much I blamed myself. How much I hated myself for evil that wasn’t mine.

I could see the light at the end, I wanted the light but I had to face the truth that I’d dragged this anger and hate with me all these years. I had to face the weight of the entire situation. Worst of all I thought I had to do it alone. Until I got his email and in it he said I am right here, I am walking with you and I’M NOT LEAVING! It came at the right time for me.

He said it a few times I know. I’ve reread every email he ever sent me at least 3 or 4 times. I have a few marked as favorites and from time to time I read those. Usually when I am feeling alone in this walk. Anyway back to the story.

The day came when I finally got it and it started really coming together. I meet secret angel a friend who understood abuse very much. I was kind of reluctant to connect in a meaningful way. They were both Christian and I am not. But the day came when this song Broken Girl just kept coming up until I listened (read the words).

It hit me hard. I can’t even describe it well but I’ll say it was like a sledge hammer hitting me in the chest and taking all my air from me. I cried, I hurt, I retreated! Dan kept reaching. Even as I was ignoring him. He sent 5 emails and I hadn’t answered. I can’t imagine what he thought knowing I’d tried to die before, I was addicted to cutting and I was deeply depressed. Worse he know I’d only just begun my path back to God. What went through his mind I may never know during that week?

Did he think damn it I pushed to hard. Or damn it I lost her. I may never know. But that is the week my eyes opened.

From that moment Dan challenged me more and more to define forgiveness and we went back and forth. A lot. I struggled to define it. I probably called him a few names as he defined it. In the end I came to understand forgiveness was about me. It was forgiving so I could be free of the weight.

Slowly I placed my feet on the path and for the first time in half my life I walked the path and wasn’t carried. One foot in front of the other and this man who promised to walk with me was still there. To say I was shocked is putting it lightly. I figured he’d flee. But forgiveness still scared me. Even as I struggled to forgive the first of the men.

I cried more, I was sick to my stomach, I tried to hide from it. I tried one more time to push him away. I told him the bad things I’d done. Some of it in gruesome detail. His answer? That’s pretty normal for trauma. He stayed at my side spiritually and he kept encouraging. I can’t say pushing I was moving on my own by this point. Albeit slowly, though I was moving.

I tried again to push him away because forgiveness hurt like hell. I fell back to cutting and cutting pretty badly. Yet to my surprise he didn’t run, he didn’t judge, he didn’t lecture. He’s still here.

I felt like a coward the day I sent martin in to deliver my letter of forgiveness. He assured me the brave part was writing it. The brave part was behind me. The forgiveness part had begun and that took courage. I didn’t think so at the time. I thought I was crazy for going along that road.

But as I moved along and even as I felt weak and crazy for doing it. I would feel freer too. One small step after another. Many people were in my life but this forgiveness expert put my feet on the path and a swift kick to the seat of my pants had me walking a path that would eventually save me from myself. Did he do it alone? Nope. But he kept his word no matter how hard I push and push he just wouldn’t leave.

Why did I write this? Not to praise Dan or anyone else. But to tell the story of how one person can guide you to where you need to be. How the injured (for me near mortally injured) will try and push you away. How healing hurts, it really hurts before it gets better.

This pain learning to forgive actually hurt worse than pulling the knife from my chest when I tried to kill myself in Hawaii. I just want to encourage people that if you choose to walk with the wounded. Be in it for the long haul, be ready to be pushed away and not go away, be ready to feel some pain, and be ready for them to hate you for a time.