What is Forgiveness?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about forgiveness lately.  

What is it, exactly?

If I forgive then must I also forget?  If I forgive then must I also allow unfettered access into my life?  If I forgive then do I have to pretend the wounds inflicted by the offense don’t still hurt?

Here’s what I have so far: 

  • Forgiveness means letting go of the feelings surrounding the offense.  It means no longer expecting an apology, restitution, repentance, restoration.  It means trusting that whatever work needs to take place in the heart and life of the one who has injured me will have to be done in and through them by the power of God, not by me holding their feet to the fire.
  • Forgiveness means extricating my own heart from the bonds of expectation regarding the other person.  We start fresh.  Clean slate.  I lay down my hopes for how that person should/will/might treat me.  It’s a way of liberating myself regardless of whether they choose to remain in bondage to bad habits, a bad temper or unfruitful relationships.
  • Forgiveness means I have stopped looking to the other person for healing.  I must tend my own wounds, work my own field of feelings, deal with my own shortcomings, poor choices and habitual sins.  I can no longer use another person’s action or inaction as an excuse for my own delayed healing.
  • Forgiveness means that I can and should erect appropriate boundaries.  Every relationship is not a mission field.  I am not required to lay down my life to enable another person’s bad behavior.  If the person I forgive chooses not to change hurtful behavior, then I do not have to give them access to my heart and life.  I can be kind, receptive and compassionate but I do not have to hug them close just to make it easier for them to hurt me again.
  • Forgiveness means that I don’t use my injury at the hands of that person to malign his or her reputation.  If I have released that person from obligation to me through forgiveness, then I must choose to lay down the offense and not mention it to others.  (This, to me, is a good test of whether or not I’ve forgiven someone.)
  • Forgiveness is an act of my will regardless of the other person’s response to my choice.  Love, kindness and forgiveness are in essence the proffered hand.  If the person to whom it is extended slaps it away, then it’s on them.  I may be ready for a sea change, but the other person may still be resisting

forgiveness is not forgetting

Some people are easy to forgive!  

They recognize how their actions or words have wounded my heart and they ask for forgiveness. 

Others are much harder!

They either choose to ignore or are unable to see that they have hurt me.  

But I am called to forgive regardless because I have been forgiven.

forgiveness is difficult because it involves death and grief brene brown




I’ve spent the past two days fighting anxiety and panic.

Breath caught mid-throat, chest pounding, sobs threatening, head throbbing-just like that first day 47 months ago. 

A series of events broke down the defense I’ve carefully constructed that helps me make it through most days without tears.

I did pretty good. 

I managed a family dinner, church and a covered dish luncheon with no one any the wiser.  

Underneath it all I was barely hanging on.  

I love that my words give expression to my feelings, thoughts and experience and also help others give expression to theirs.  But sometimes I’m afraid that the people closest to me think that because I can write about it, I must be a bit beyond it-detached, clinical, untouched.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

I feel every. single. thing.  

My heart hurts like every other bereaved parent.  My brain struggles to comprehend the reality of my son’s death and a lifetime without his earthly companionship.  I fight for my faith.  I cry out to God.  I feel lonely, misunderstood, abandoned, frightened, and so, so sad.

grief bubble

I am fragile. 

Like moth’s wings. 

The slightest touch threatens to undo me.  




Nagging Guilt in Child Loss

I should have known.  I should have been there.  I should have called, texted, spoken one more warning or given one more hug.

Should.  Should?  Should!

wistful woman looking out wet window

I have yet to speak to a bereaved parent who does not harbor guilt of some kind over the death of his or her child.

Not one.

Why didn’t I know?  What did I miss? Why didn’t I say “I love you” one more time?

Hindsight being 20/20 means that there are always threads a heart can pull to guide it back to some moment when it should have been obvious what was about to happen.

reaching hand in grief

We comb through days, months or years of evidence like a crime novel detective, determined to find the clue that unravels all the mystery surrounding our child’s death.

Guilt is a relentless hound nipping at tired heels.

I know there are circumstances where a parent may well be responsible in some measure for the death of his or her child.  If that’s you, then I hope you have a good counselor to help you work through all those feelings.  It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but it can be done.

But for many of us, the guilt is phantom pain. It has no basis in reality.  There was nothing we did or didn’t do that contributed to our child leaving this world.  Nothing we could have done to prevent it.  No way we could have known it was going to happen.

Running from guilt can keep a heart from doing the work grief requires.  It can build barriers between us and the people that can help us most.  It can lead our minds down a dark path into a bottomless pit.

Guilt is a thief and a liar.

Guilt will steal what I have left if I’m not very careful.

When my heart is overwhelmed by the “what ifs” and “shoulds” and “should-have-knowns”, I scream, “Shut Up!”.

I force my thoughts to turn instead to the things I know for sure:

  • Dominic was (is!) loved.
  • He was (still is!) a beautiful, thoughtful and capable soul.
  • His death was an accident and nothing I could have done would have prevented it.
  • He is safe, right now, in the arms of Jesus.
  • This separation is temporary.

I still have work to do and people to love and I can’t do either if I’m obsessed with the past.

It’s a costly act of will to stop the guilt soundtrack playing in my head.  

But it’s worth it. 

heart leaf torn



Repost: My Heart Hurts

Oh, how my heart hurts!

Deep down where no one can touch it-it aches for my missing child, the family I used to have, the lost opportunities, the missed moments.

And there is no cure.

Yes, there is  a Balm in Gilead-there is hope in the Person of Jesus Christ.

And it soothes the pain, takes the edge off, makes it bearable.

But it does not take it away.

Read the rest here:  My Heart Hurts

Breathe In. Breathe Out. Repeat.

Almost four years and I still have those moments. 

I know from other grieving mamas that I always will. 

But sometimes they catch me by surprise.

Motoring home from Walmart, a campaign sign catches my eye.  The candidate is young and running for District Judge in our county.  That could have been Dominic.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Repeat.

Walking by the wall of photos in my hallway-something I do every. single. night.  I turn and two-year-old Dom is looking right at me.  Innocent.  Full of promise.  Smiling wide.  I kiss his picture because that’s all I have left.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Repeat.

Reaching for the jar opener Dominic brought home one day, suddenly I’m crying.  He was always looking for ways to make my life easier.  I hope he knew how very much I appreciated it.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Repeat.

Water the plants we got for his funeral. 

Walk by the car he drove to school. 

Wash his cup hanging unused under the kitchen cupboard because it’s covered in dust.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.


Heartache, Healing and Hope

I spent last weekend with eleven other bereaved mamas in a small Christian camp in Mississippi*

I’ll be honest-what sounded like a great idea a few months ago had begun to sound like an awful and intimidating idea about three days before I was supposed to go.

Even though I felt more prepared for this event than the  Through This Valley Conference in October, I was still filled with trepidation at facilitating five sessions over three days with women I had only “met” online.


melanie at hhh retreat 2018 last session (2)

I wanted to go.

I wanted to take this next step toward sharing and serving and healing for my own heart.  But I was still more than a little scared.

I am so, so glad I went!

Every single mama who came through the door brought one more measure of grace into that cabin.  Every heart that cracked open and shared spread the sweet aroma of brokenness and compassion rose up to meet it.

hhh retreat pics of kids (2)

Every tear was acknowledged, every sorrow counted, every story heard.

It was beautiful.

I was overwhelmed by the grace, mercy and love that flowed in, around and through the women there.  It was a perfect picture of how God intends the Body of Christ to work!

We were all poured out in service to one another.

No need for a kitchen committee or clean up crew because it was natural to reach out and pitch in.

I am oh, so sorry for the reason that brought us together.  But I am absolutely amazed at the blessing that ran like a river through that place.

hhh retreat hugging cristal (2)It was a river of healing and life.

No one left “healed”But we all left a little better equipped for this journey.

No one received “answers”But we all left with a few more truths tucked into our belts.

Our hearts are knit together because we chose to show up and be vulnerable.

It is a gift I will carry with me wherever I go.

healing power of exchange


*If you are looking for a lovely place to hold a children’s camp for your ministry, please consider  Abby Acres Christian Camp Facebook Page

Love in Action: Just Say His Name

I’m convinced that many of our friends and family DO want to talk about our missing child but they need permission to do so.

They just aren’t sure if it will make things better or worse.

And if we cry, they feel responsible.  They don’t realize that many times they are tears of joy that our precious child is still remembered. ❤

I know you are afraid.

You think that speaking his name or sharing a memory or sending me a photo will add to my sorrow.

I understand.

But even when it costs me a split second of sharp pain, it is truly a gift to know that Dominic lives on in the hearts and minds of others.  It gives me courage to speak too.  It creates space where I can honor my son.

It helps keep him alive.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Just Say His Name