I have been asked time and time again about our decisions about forgiveness and the choices we made. I wanted to share some thoughts I recently wrote in response to a very confused and angry letter I received. The writer of the letter was not mad at me but she was made at JC, my family and the circumstances surrounding Tonia’s death. Here is my response. These are my thoughts on why people acted the way they did. Grief, guilt and anger creates emotions that can cause reactions that don’t always look pretty.
As far as my family, they are lost souls. I have forgiven them but forgiving doesn’t mean trusting them. I have chosen to avoid my family reunions because of the possibility of someone saying something stupid and me blowing up! I am only human and distance makes it much easier to handle my emotions. The thing I still struggle over is what to do with our story.
I have been asked to share our story and if it could help one soul come to know Jesus as Savior I will do it. But I also do not want to further hurt anyone in my life. I don’t want my point of view and our story to drive a wedge between my family and God. My desire and prayer for all of them is to come to know Jesus as Savior and I do not want anything I say to hinder that. Saying that I also understand that it is not up to me. God has been putting people in their lives and they have heard our testimony. They have to choose.
The easiest thing to actually do was to forgive JC. I do not say that flippantly but when you are thrown into a deep dark place the only way to survive is to hold onto the light. Surviving meant trusting God. Surviving meant choosing not to become angry and bitter. These two things meant that not only could we but we must forgive JC. And over time we learned to love him as the lost child of God that he is. He is in a cold, dark place in his soul and now physically in his life. The only way he will survive prison and then life after prison is to allow God in! He may be hardened to God and his judgement will be eternal separation. How horrible! I would not wish that on my worst enemy. How ugly that possibility sounds! Now we grew into these feelings over time but we chose to trust God from the beginning. It was the only way to survive the nightmare of real life during the day and the nightmares that happened as I slept!
JC will be released in January 2018! Then he will be on probation for 5 years. He doesn’t know where Tonia is buried but he could easily find out. if he wanted to visit the cemetery and asked me I would take him there. He is and always will be our son-in-law. I may not choose to have him over for Christmas dinner (but maybe one day we will) but I will continue to send him a Christmas card. We don’t own Tonia, her body, her headstone or her memory. She belongs to God. My only request for the cemetery is that it would be treated with respect and. Ot cluttered with a million “things”! I go and clean it up and take purple carnations. This is my way of saying “I love you. I remember. I am waiting to see you again whenGod brings me home. Until then I will share our favorite flowers as a way to hug you.”
As far as my feelings toward my family, I hurt inside over what they did and did not do. I wanted and expected more but I have come to realize that they were not capable nor could they understand the situation. Their focus was on themselves. Their hurts. Their desire to be loved by Tonia because she gave them unconditional love. It is hard to be a parent, grandparent, aunt or even a friend and treat a situation with tough love. When you do you are not liked very much. Their insecurities would not allow them to do anything that would possibly make Tonia angry so they said yes to everything. She learned that true love means saying no at times for the long term benefit.
Then the unthinkable happens and she is murdered! Imagine their horror. They don’t believe in God or heaven so they will NEVER see her again, love on her again! Their world with her is finished. Their anger at the person responsible overwhelms their mind and heart! They can’t take any responsibility about events in the past because the guilt would kill them! Literally kill them. Their anger is already killing them but in such a slow hard way that they don’t see it. So they blame JC. They have no control. No one is telling them anything so they feel helpless over the legal news. Now their anger is turned toward us. Give them their Tonia! Give them her body so they can control something. Let them shout and scream at the media because their rage needs to be heard. During this they hear from us at her funeral: “JC and family we will always be tied together over our love for Tonia. You will always be our family.” WOW this is a slap on their face and in their mind a slap on Tonia’s face. How dare you even allow those people to come into the church for her funeral and then tell everyone they are family! We are then part of the enemy, we must not have loved Tonia the way they loved Tonia. So the battle lines are drawn! They will defend her honor. Avenge her death! They have a new mission! But we are in their way. The media and prosecutor give us a voice. We are given the information and then we do the unthinkable, we accept a plea bargain and even tell the world we forgive him! A red flag in front of a bull has been waved!
This is their lives. They have made choices. I cannot change their choices. All I can do is to respond. Anger, bitterness and regret or letting go, trusting God and praying for their souls. I can live with my choices. God has approved. Maybe one day I will even hear “well done”! But for now I have peace over my heart. Do I still long for more at times….. YES! But God is my family, my protector, provider, comforter and friend. I WIN!
Have I ever blamed them for their SMALL part in what happened. YES, but Tonia made choices also. We made choices. So when I am tired and frustrated I try to blame someone. But all that happens is I get thrown in the dungeon. Satan gets a small foothold into my life. Anger and doubts creep in and the nightmares come back. So once again I have to ask God to forgive me for my lack of faith and trust. I ask Him to give me strength again to survive this nightmare. I need to forgive myself for the tough love choices we made, the times I got angry at Tonia and JC. Then I need to forgive once again the choices my family made. Forgiveness doesn’t happen once and it is finished. It has to happen over and over until it sticks for longer periods of time. I still have to remind myself of the little boy scared in prison crying out for his daddy to save him but not understanding which “daddy” he truly needs! So with that picture in mind, I forgive JC!
My family is also in a prison of their own making, so I have to forgive them.
I have made mistakes I regret. I can choose to live in the past or I can choose to live in the present with hope toward the future. I don’t know what the future holds but I am in God’s hands and NO MATTER WHAT He will sustain me.
Thanks for listening. I pray that God is in your heart sand that He sustains you during the dark times!