Thursday, August 18, 2011

Giving Up Hope...and Getting Somthing Better

Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past. –Anne Lamott

When we forgive, we let go of whatever it was that we wanted to be different. All the sadness and grief that we held at bay with closed hearts is then released...and felt. It hurts.

Anne Lamott was speaking of the past, but I think her point applies equally to the future. I might paraphrase this way. “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a different future.” Earlier this year, not one but two of my three daughters blindsided me with the news of unexpected pregnancies. Let’s just say they were not ready to become parents. And this was not what I was planning for my first year of retirement. After somehow managing to raise five kids to adulthood, 2011 was designated as the year of ME, the reclaiming of my own independent adult life. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Little did I know it was a train!

I should clarify here that I’m not comparing raising my kids to a dark tunnel. I love my children and I love being a parent. And I’m blessed with wonderful kids. But I was looking forward to the next stage of my life and I had a PLAN for it, by golly!

As you can imagine, there are many facets to this new direction in our family, but the one I would like to share with you today is what I experienced with forgiveness. Among the many feelings I had roiling around in my spirit in those first weeks, were anger and resentment. Understandably, some would say. I would say, too. However, while honoring those feelings, I knew at the same time that they did not serve my well being or the well being of my children. I knew that I had choices to make about what I wanted for myself, for my relationship with my daughters, for my relationship with my grandchildren. I knew that the choices I made right then would have consequences long into the future. I wanted to choose wisely.

So I went up to my cabin to be with my feelings, to meditate and pray, to search my heart, to listen to the creek. I saw that underneath my anger, one thing I was struggling with was my lack of control. (Can we say Step 3?) I was losing something I had looked forward to and I had no control over what was happening. I imagine that many of us can relate to that last sentence in ways big and small in our own lives and in the lives of those we love. I felt sad. And afraid. I didn’t know what this new reality would bring with it.

I took out some paper and wrote a description of what my life would have been like if things had gone as planned. Some of the things I had planned were still possible, so I didn’t include those. I only wrote about what I was sure I was losing. Of course, I was writing about a future not yet here, and no one knows what really would have happened, but I assumed the best. I wrote out my wildest fantasies of blissful retirement. Everything was exactly the way I wanted. It was glorious. Then I sat with that paper. I read my fantasies out loud. I said how much I would miss them. I cried over them. I wished them well. I gently placed the paper in the fire and offered my broken dreams to the heavens.

Acknowledging and honoring my feelings allowed me to release the anger and resentment. As the fire burned the paper, it burned off the crust of hardness on my heart, and the smoke carried the spirit-choking toxins up the chimney.

In the emptiness left behind, I felt something emerging alongside the sadness. Love. Deep deep love for my daughters, for the children they were carrying, and for myself. More than all my fantasies of what might have been, I knew I wanted to be present for what was. I wanted to be present for my own life. I wanted to be present for my children and for their children.

As I look back over these last months, that weekend stands out as a testament to the power and value of forgiveness. Yes, it hurt to feel the sadness and grief over letting go of all the hopes I had for myself and for my daughters. Oh, but I got something so much better. So infinitely better.

The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative. –Philip Yancey

related post: The Joy of Sadness, the Sadness of Joy


  1. Boy, can I ever relate to this post. My daughter became pregnant when I turned 50. She was single, unstable, and I knew I was in for it. Many people told me to ignore her. Don't go to the birth. Don't look at the baby. I am so glad that I didn't take any of that advice. My grandson is now almost 12. He is the light of my life. Yes, I am more like a parent to him than a grandparent. And yes, I have given up many of my dreams of life after raising children. But in the end, he has filled a place in my heart that I never knew existed.

  2. As usual, Galen, your insight and love are humbling. You are blessed.

  3. Roberta--Thank you for sharing some of your story. I'm sure I could get a lot of good advice from you! Your grandson is very lucky to have you. Thanks for commenting.

    Alexia--I am blessed indeed. And so grateful for my blessings. Thank you for commenting.

  4. Wow, thank you for being so transparent & sharing this part of your life. I cannot imagine that. Being single with a dog, who's antics make me laugh but also test patience, is a whole lot different than raising a child, not to mention more than one child.

    Your visit to the cabin and thoughtful grieving over what was lost as well as realization of what's most, is inspirational. What a healthy way to deal with your anger and disappointment, and something I plan to do (not visit a cabin, but to write out the areas I've been struggling to control & let them go). Again, thank you for sharing and for being you. You ARE a blessing.

    May these precious daughters and grandbabies be a rejoicing to your being all your days.

  5. Your insightful post is a testament to the unexpected blessings that come to us when we are able to let go of what we can't control and accept life as it is. A very effective way to do this is to address and process our "unwanted" feelings (which I call honoring our Personal Truths), as you did so well.

  6. That must have been quite a struggle to let go of your hopes for your daughters and embrace your unexpected grandchildren as the blessings that they are. Your daughters are very lucky to have you.

  7. "I gently placed the paper in the fire and offered my broken dreams to the heavens."

    Once I had a God box. I put my worries in there, turning them over as I could not handle them. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience.

  8. Galen,
    Forgiveness is wonderful but so is humor. I have to laugh when reality reminds me that I'm not the captain of my ship but more like flotsam in a fast flowing river. The Serenity prayer says it all for me. Have a great weekend.

  9. Thanks for posting your story about forgiveness! Read out your feelings and speaking it out, it's a form of giving up in order to be restored and blessed emotionally ! It's great that you made the decision to give up anger in order to continue to be a blessings to your children!

  10. There is the possibility too... that we are capable of handling way more than our current limited belief system might think we are. By this I mean... whose to say we can't have our cake and eat it too? Who's to say a new grandchild [or two in this case] will prevent us from fulfilling [and perhaps enriching] our plans and dreams along the way.

    Don't worry Galen I'm struggling with a not dissimilar situation returning to formal education and having to give up my freedom and all the creative stuff that makes me... well me.

    I'm teetering on the brink... but maybe I don't have to decide at all. Maybe it's not a choice? Maybe I can do both? [although my rational brain is screaming "I don't know how"]

    Presently the jury is out. But I'm beginning to suspect that my limiting beliefs [about what I am truly capable of] is at play here somewhere.

    How funny life is in delivering us so many challenges. Just when we thought we had it all figured out LOL

  11. Nan--The cabin is a physical place that feeds my soul, but you are right. We can go "inside" wherever we are. Thanks for your comment.

    Danny--"Unexpected blessings." That is exactly what these babies have turned out to be! Now I can't imagine my life any other way. Thanks for commenting.

    Kara--Yes, it was a struggle. However, I was really amazed that all the work I've done with the 10 Steps really kicked in. I thought, "Wow, this really works!" I got through the transition much more quickly and with less trauma. And now I really do see the blessings! Thank you for commenting.

    restoring--A God box is a great idea! Thanks for sharing that. And thanks for commenting.

    Riley--Yes, humor helps things along, doesn't it?! I've had a few good laughs over this change of plans! Thanks for your comment.

  12. Hi Galen,
    Thank you for sharing this. We all plan for certain things & as we know "plans" can go astray. I've missed the plot here as I don't understand what you need to forgive. You will have the blessing of new children & the (I assume) continued love of your children. Sorry if I missed the message. I wish you well as always.
    be good to yourself

  13. Tyler--I think when we really understand what that anger is costing us, we are motivated to transform it! Thanks for commenting.

    Jean--You are right. We can do much more than we think, and we don't have to hold ourselves back with limiting beliefs. But some things we have to acknowledge are gone, and we grieve their loss. The Tao Te Ching says, "The sage chooses this and let's go of that." Not everything is mutually exclusive, but when it is, we have to choose. I admire you for going back to school. I know you are having to give up things to do that, but you are choosing to in order to get something you want. So, for example, you might have to give up something in order to be in class. This isn't really a limiting belief. This is just reality--unless you have figured out how to be in two places at the same time! Maybe you have--you are an amazing person, so it wouldn't surprise me! Thanks for commenting.

    David--Sorry I wasn't more clear. I felt angry and even a bit betrayed, and I also blamed my daughters for making choices that affected my life, too, and the plans I had. That was my forgiveness work. Working through that opened my heart to the true gift and blessing that was happening in my life. Thanks for letting me know I needed to explain more, and thanks for commenting.

  14. I am so sorry you are going through all this. I am thankful that you have found forgiveness and love, yet still ache for your heart and your future plans. A few months ago I asked a Senior Citizens group if they ever stop aching for, praying for and worrying about their children. They said no. And on the front row was a couple 94 and 97 year old. I pray God continues to both work in your heart and in those of your daughters.

  15. Galen - Another post that has so inspired me! Someday soon, I'm going to have a little 'burning ceremony' of my own ..Will keep you posted. Love you for all you are .....

  16. I am a big advocate Galen for acknowledging your feelings. There is so much we can learn just by doing this. Forgiveness is key and your heart has been opened up that much more and is much stronger because of this. Sometimes we find ourselves going through things to get to this point. Very inspirational and thank you for sharing! ;-)

  17. Shanda--I was sorry, too, at first. But truthfully, now I can't imagine things any other way. I've seen some major miracles in these last months, not the least of which is the change in my own spirit. I've also seen one daughter (my youngest child) transform into a responsible young woman, ready to be a mom and totally in love with her baby. I'm so grateful for the shift I was able to make early on so that I could witness and be a part of this amazing happening. We all can't wait to meet these new little people who will be here in the coming months. Thanks so much for your comment and good wishes.

    Corinne--Let me know how it goes! Thanks for commenting.

    Kenya--Very true about acknowledging our feelings. This is something I had so much difficulty with for much of my life. My life got better when I made friends with my feelings. Thanks for your comment.

  18. Your wisdom and love is humbling. I have much to learn about this kind of forgiveness. Thank you for sharing this part of your life and letting others learn from it.

  19. Inspiring--I have a lot to learn about it, too! Thanks for your comment.

  20. Hey Galen!How have you been doing? This is a very beautiful post; I can relate myself with this post.I think we all experience anger sometime in life, but there's also something beautiful awaiting us.;) Check out my blog, I've given you a blogaward.

  21. Galen,

    I love this quote from Anne Lamott. Even more, I love the way you applied it. You are so amazing in your willingness to sit with an arising feeling to discover what's underneath. It's always the underneath stuff that's the true problem, isn't it?

    It's funny how we retain this illusion of control. We all do! Yet it's such an illusion.

    You are so courageous. I truly admire your authenticity and the way you share your raw experiences with us.

  22. Sharda--I have been doing very well, thanks. And thank you for the blog award! And for your comment.

    Sandra--Yes, it is funny that we keep thinking we can control things. It's a lesson I learn over and over. I appreciate what you said about how I sit with feelings, because it shows me how much I've changed. I was not on a friendly terms with feelings for much of my life, my feelings or anyone else's. Thanks so much for commenting.

  23. Thank you Galen for sharing your story. Having grown children myself I like to tell people to enjoy them when they are small after they become adults the problems can get much bigger, but if you have the right attitude they can be a blessing.

    I have one that has just gone through a divorce and has 3 small daughters. What has been the hardest for me is to sit back and let them make there own mistakes when you know that something is a mistake. All you can do is be there for them. When they fall pick them up, even when they are getting a little heavier to pick up.

    I like that you went to your cabin to think about things and sort through them. We all need to remember to do that when those not so go news happens.
    Blessing to you and yes, grandchildren are a blessing.

  24. Debbie--So true! Although having a small child with autism seems like the biggest problem I've encountered as a parent, so in that sense.... I hope things get better for your daughter. Having been a single parent myself, I know htat raising children on your own is its own challenge. Good luck to her. And yes, grandchildren are a blessing. Thanks for commenting.


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