Midst Roses and Concrete
Finding forgiveness for the deepest hurts.
by Shirley A. Reynolds
On a concrete bench in a mausoleum courtyard, I tried to muster courage. Shaking my fist at the foliage, I said, “I’m not leaving until I’ve emptied my heart of this anger toward my mother.”
Oh Mama, I thought. Why did you use a rosebush vine as a switch? Why did you make a little girl sit for hours on a dark basement landing? Why didn’t you love me?
Hands pressed against my head, my body shook. I’d had enough! Why does the past keep wiggling its way into my thoughts? I wondered. I looked up at my parents’ names set in stone. “Oh Daddy,” I cried. “I wish I could have told you what was happening. I didn’t want to hurt anyone!” Then my mind traveled back. . . .
“I’m gonna be five today,” I said, putting on my party dress and favorite pair of shoes. As I presented myself to Mama, she yanked bobby pins out of my hair and stretched out my long curls. “You can play outside, but don’t get dirty!” she ordered.
Leaning against the porch railing, I daydreamed about the presents I’d receive at the party that afternoon, about the red scooter I’d seen in the Sears catalog. It was all I really wanted for my birthday.
Suddenly I looked up to see Mama looking down at me. She noticed the dirt on my dress and my long curls blown to straight strands by the wind. I’d tried hard to do what Mama wanted and once again, I’d failed.
“I told you not to get dirty!” she yelled. “And don’t say a word to your father, or you will be punished!”
“I won’t, Mama!” If I said anything else, she’d accuse me of talking back.
I knew what to expect. She broke off a thorn-covered rosebush vine, grasped my arm, and dragged me toward the basement door. Stumbling along, I felt the sting of thorns against the back of my legs. My chin quivered as the basement door slammed shut. In darkness, I made my way to the landing, a few steps down.
“Mommy, please open the door! I didn’t mean to get my dress dirty!” I called. The welts on my legs were swelling into stinging bumps. I sat with my knees pulled up to my chest, rocking back and forth, singing “Jesus loves me, this I know. . . .” Did Jesus really love me?
I wish Daddy were home! I thought. He loves me. But I can’t tell him what happened. Mama would say I’d lied. I wanted to go to my room, but I had to wait.
I watched through a basement window as the sun disappeared. My stomach growled and my head ached. Then I heard Mama’s voice: “Come upstairs and change clothes!”
I longed to tell my father about the switching and the basement landing, but I feared worse trouble. Right now, I longed for his hug, his story telling, his hand on my forehead at bedtime.
When he arrived home, my father called, “Where’s my baby?” I hugged him tight and wondered if he saw my red eyes, but he never did.
As my friends arrived, Mama acted as if nothing had happened. After I opened other presents, she brought out the red scooter and said, “I’m giving it to your cousin; she doesn’t have anything to play with at her house. But you can go outside and ride it for a while.”
I looked at my father in shock, but he put his hands up as if to say, “I don’t know anything about this!” I rode the scooter up and down our front sidewalk, then watched as my cousin took it home.
Something happened to me that day. I wanted to grow up, be an adult, and live in my own house. I loved my father, but I couldn’t tell him my secrets. I’d watch him come home from work, hug me, sit in his chair and read his Bible, then read me stories. When he tucked me into bed, he’d kiss me good night, pray for me, and turn out the light.
Switchings continued up to my twelfth birthday. The day I came home from school with the measles, things changed. Confined to the couch for five days, I watched our new television and listened to my mother as she ironed. “Oh, by the way, it’s time you knew you are adopted,” she said. “It was your father’s idea to have a child, not mine.”
Her words stunned me. My father, the perfect picture of Jesus to me, had loved me all this time for both parents. My continual childhood prayers, asking God to make my mother love me, were futile. Nothing I could do would change her feelings.
She continued. “My mother died giving birth to me, and I made a solemn vow to never become pregnant. But your father’s firm insistence won.”
After this, I retreated into my bedroom after school and spent my time there. Avoiding my mother seemed easier than being the object of her anger.
Before I graduated from high school, my mother grew ill. Diabetes, heart problems, and Alzheimer’s ravaged her body and mind. During that time, I attended church with Dad, who did everything he could to bring normalcy to our family. Then Mom took pneumonia and was hospitalized, with a poor prognosis.
Standing by her bed, I held her hands. “Mama, I know I’ve been a burden to you,” I said. “I wanted to love you, and I wanted you to love me! I’ve met a special man, and we are going to be married after I graduate.”
She turned her head to the side. “Get out of my room. I don’t know you!” Mama died two days later.
Dad chose to live alone in their three-story home. A short time after I was married, he married his childhood sweetheart. Together, they took care of the rosebush Mom used to punish me.
Desire and decision
After we’d been married four years, our baby girl was born. When I first looked at my daughter, all the memories of my childhood flooded over me. I knew I had to rid myself of the anger I had carried into adulthood. Unforgiveness felt like icy fingers holding me in a vice.
Oh God, if I’m going to teach forgiveness to my daughter, then I’m going to have to let go, I thought. All I knew to do was go to the cemetery.
Then my father had a severe stroke and died. It happened fast, and I believed my whole world had crumbled.
It was time to let the anger go, time to let God take ultimate control.
I made the journey.
Thirty years later, I stared at the gray fortress. The memory of the basement landing was fresh in my mind as I smelled the sweet aroma of yellow roses encircling the mausoleum. The quiet cemetery solitude wrapped its arms around me. A gust of wind sent shivers up my spine, and everything inside me seemed to say, Run as fast you can!
Saying I was sorry now seemed futile, but I needed freedom and healing.
Tears fell in rivulets down my face. “Lord, I came here today to ask You to take away the anger burning inside me toward my mother. I believe now that she loved me in the only way she knew. But Lord, I have to ask Your forgiveness for these angry feelings I’ve harbored for so many years. They are eating me up. I want to leave here knowing that my heart is clear. I cannot carry the load any longer!”
Speaking as if my mother stood beside me, I said, “Oh Mama, I am so sorry. I have spent years trying to understand why we couldn’t tell each other ‘I love you!’ I need to say it now. I do love you, Mom!”
Free at last
When I opened my eyes, the whole world seemed brighter. I turned around and leaned against the cold concrete. I knew God had removed a huge burden and brought healing in its place.
Wiping my tears away with my coat sleeve, I walked away. Was I crying for a lost relationship? No, I was crying because my life had been healed!
I noticed the birds chirping and the wind kicking up the leaves before me. In the distance, a wind chime tinkled. There was relief in my mind and lightness in my steps.
As I looked back on the cobblestone pathway, the mausoleum did not seem as ominous as before. The bright yellow roses seemed to bow in acknowledgment; their fragrance was beautiful! I shut the door on the basement landing, once and for all.
Before I climbed back into my car, I said, “I love you, Mom,” and meant every word.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
Lord, Heal My Hurts
by Kay Arthur
Love Beyond Reason
by John Ortberg
Freeing Your Mind from Memories That Bind: How to Heal the Hurts of the Past
by Fred and Florence Littauer
Come As You Are
by Sheila Walsh
1. No matter what you’ve gone through, search for God with all your heart and soul. Give up your heart and life to His direction.
2. Never blame yourself for anything that has happened in your life, but try to turn it around into something that can help someone else. The things a person goes through can become a powerful story to help others.
3. As you trust in God’s love, begin to believe in yourself. You have the greatest power in heaven at your disposal.