My grandmother was born at a time when African Americans, both young and old, referred to any mature Black woman as “Ms.”, which meant that everyone on the Black side of my small town called my grandmother Ms. Magnolia. But I called her Grandma. She was warm, round, and always smelled like Red Door perfume. I still dream about her German Chocolate cake, even though she passed away fourteen years ago. I spent almost every summer day with Grandma while my parents worked. There was a lot about my grandmother’s life that didn’t make sense until I got older.
As an adult, I realized that the choices my grandmother made when I was a child would become the footprints of forgiveness God would use to save my life as an adult decades later.
Before I was born, my grandparents divorced because of my grandfather’s infidelity. I only saw Granddaddy on the holidays, even though he lived in our little small town. Grandma’s hurt and anger blended into bitterness, resulting in dangerous bleeding ulcers and frequent hospitalizations. The seriousness of Grandma’s medical problems sparked a wake-up call in her life that she needed to lean back into her Christian faith. As Grandma began her forgiveness journey, her body began to heal and her joyful attitude returned.
When I was around ten years old, I ran into my grandma’s little apartment and discovered that my grandfather was there. He’d had hip replacement surgery and no one else was available to help him. As a kid, I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I was able to see that my grandma took care of my grandfather when he couldn’t take care of himself.
After my grandfather recovered, he began stopping by our house almost every day. He’d bring my mom fresh catches from fishing or hang out with my dad. He’d pick me up from sports or drive my sister and her cello to school. Grandma’s forgiveness helped her recover physically and emotionally, but it also opened the door for Granddaddy to become part of our lives. Her forgiveness changed our grandfather, who found ways to regularly slip money to my mom and aunts to help take care of things my grandmother needed.
Little did I know that my grandmother’s journey would one day become a path to healing and peace for me.
A week after my grandfather’s funeral in 2003, my grandmother told me that the best life decision she had ever made was to forgive my grandfather. While she never minimized the pain that his choices inflicted on her and their children, Grandma had experienced the blessing that came with letting go of her pain and bitterness. While there were bumps and setbacks over the years when certain triggers got pushed, Grandma’s footsteps of forgiveness didn’t fade away and her example was imprinted in my mind.
Seven years after my grandmother passed away in January 2009, I was the wounded wife. For a time, anger, bitterness, and self-righteousness started tasting pretty good. Yet, God used my grandmother’s forgiveness footprints to gently press conviction across the raw shreds of my broken and bitter-leaning heart.
On a cold day that January in my prayer closet, I had to make a choice: Would I get better or give in to being bitter? God illuminated the memories of my grandmother’s forgiveness footsteps and wooed me toward better. Following in those footsteps took time. But every step I took away from bitter toward better loosened the chokehold that anger and hopelessness had on my heart. Each time I made the choice to forgive, I experienced a little more freedom and peace, which is what my heart longed for all along.
Much has been written about Jesus’ teaching to Peter in Matthew 18:22 about the 70×7 forgiveness principle:
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
When we’re hurt, our desire is to cut people off in the hope that the pain cuts off as well. Part of our struggle with forgiveness is that the pain doesn’t go away immediately, so our attempts at forgiveness can feel like a failure. Yet, as I reflect on the context of Jesus’ teaching and my grandmother’s example, I see forgiveness as a journey more than just the number of times we forgive someone. Even as Jesus’ 70×7 teaching prompts us toward obedience, could it also be a reminder that forgiveness may need to be repeated over long periods of time?
Life hurts, but God doesn’t want unforgiveness to hold us hostage in negativity and bitterness. So, if we stop seeing forgiveness as an instant action and instead, we live it as a symbol of a process or a journey, we put ourselves in a position to experience God’s freedom and healing peace much sooner. One day at a time, friends. What matters is that we keep moving in the footsteps of forgiveness and do not give up.