An unexpected lesson in forgiveness.
by Marcie Nootenboom
“I can’t forgive them!” I cried out to God. “They ruined my life!”
I was really saying, “I refuse to forgive them” — my ex-husband and his second wife.
It began when I was twenty and our son was about to turn a year old. My husband, Red*, told me, “He’s so young. He won’t understand it’s his birthday or be able to unwrap any gifts.” Red put the gifts we bought Kevin away in his dresser.
When Kevin’s birthday came, Red told me, “I’d like to take Kevin out for a ride. I’ll be back shortly.” I offered to come along, but he protested, “This is father and son night. We’ll be back soon.”
He put Kevin in his car seat and they left.
“Shortly” turned out to be several hours. I sat alone, imagining the worst. We had no phone, so I turned on the television to see any reports of accidents. Nothing.
I paced the floor. By the time they returned, I was convinced they were bleeding in some ditch.
After Red brought Kevin into the house, he returned to the car to carry in numerous boxes. “I had so much fun watching him try to unwrap his presents,” he said. Excited, Red went on and on as tears slid down my cheeks.
Red had stolen my baby’s first birthday from me. “Where did you take him?” I finally asked.
“Oh, to a friend’s house. We work together.”
I now knew for sure that there was another woman. Periodically over the past several months, Red had asked for a divorce. I was hurt, of course, but struggled to be the wife I thought he wanted.
I prayed repeatedly to do the right things that would make Red happy, but nothing worked. Struggling with the possibility of losing my husband, I began having serious headaches.
After I spent the night sobbing, I told Red the next morning, “You may have your divorce.”
He grinned. “It’s about time.”
Kevin and I returned to California the next day.
I raised Kevin alone for a number of years. Red didn’t send child support for long, so times were often rough.
Every year on Kevin’s birthday, my mind went back to that first year and loss of my marriage. Even worse was the memory of Red and his girlfriend stealing my son’s special day from me. Though I’d had all of Kevin the next several years, I resented what I’d lost.
One day, when Kevin was nine, I received a letter from Texas — from Red’s second wife, Felicia, the woman who’d taken my son’s first birthday from me.
At first, I wanted to throw it away, but curiosity got the better of me. With shaking hands, I read her letter.
It said, in part: “Red and I are now divorced. I know this may be difficult for you, but I’d like to keep in touch for the sake of your son Kevin and my two children, Rachel and Ron.”
Not sure how to respond, I listened the following Sunday as Pastor Mike spoke on Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (NKJV).
Red’s and Felicia’s names popped into my head. I can’t forgive them. Not after all they’ve done to me.
However, that Bible verse wouldn’t leave me. A few weeks later, I wrote to Felicia. Each letter I wrote to her after that became easier. As I worked on forgiveness, my bitterness toward her began to disappear.
Months later, Felicia wrote and asked if Kevin and I would visit her family so the kids could get acquainted.
After much soul-searching and prayer, I agreed to go. We chose July, since both Kevin and Rachel would celebrate their birthdays that month.
When we arrived, Felicia informed me, “Red heard you’d be here. Sorry, but he’s on his way from Michigan. He wants to see all three of his kids.”
I was dumbfounded. Red would be in the same house with two ex-wives and his three children — and on Kevin’s birthday.
When I saw Red, my head pounded and I wanted to escape. My emotions ran wild. He was still handsome.
At first, I couldn’t say a word to him as I watched him play with the kids. I don’t know what I was afraid of. Actually, I was glad Kevin could spend some time with his father, since Red had only visited us twice in California. However, I still felt the anger from that long-ago birthday.
Then Matthew 5:44 came back to my mind. I knew I had to completely forgive both Felicia and Red. “Lord,” I prayed, “I don’t want to forgive Red. You know all the horrible things he did. Please don’t make me forgive him also.”
The next day Red suggested we all go to Six Flags over Texas. Felicia and I consented.
The next two days we went on more excursions. On the third day, Red asked, “Would you ladies mind if I took the kids to a baseball game tonight?”
Felicia had no problem with it, so I agreed to let Kevin go.
When they left, Felicia suggested, “How about if you and I go out to dinner?”
At the restaurant, we ran into friends of hers. When she introduced me as Red’s first ex-wife, the strangest look came over their faces. After they left, Felicia and I looked and each other and giggled.
I didn’t expect to have that much fun laughing and talking. We also compared notes. Red had treated Felicia the same way he’d treated me. Only her time with him was much longer than my fourteen months.
“You know he’s about to get married again, don’t you?” she asked.
I shook my head, surprised. But I shouldn’t have been.
When it was time for me to return to California, Red asked, “Marcia, I’d like to take Kevin to Michigan to see his grandparents. Felicia said I could take Rachel and Ron.”
I wanted Kevin to have this privilege, but I was also scared. In times past, Red had threatened to kidnap Kevin.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Red told me. “How about if you come with us? I’m sure my parents would love to see you as well.”
As the three kids and I drove to Michigan with Red, I realized he needed me to pray for him and his life. I shouldn’t continue to carry the anger of all those years long ago.
“Lord,” I prayed, “I want to forgive Red as well as Felicia.” The bitterness and anger completely melted away. Even though I asked God for this, and the Bible said I should, I was completely surprised when it happened.
When we arrived in Michigan, Red stopped to pick up Karen — who was to be wife number three — before he dropped the children and me off at his parents’ home. We had a wonderful visit.
I was glad we had the chance to go. A few months later, Kevin’s grandparents died a week apart.
Peace and freedom
Though Red had stolen my son’s first birthday from me years ago, Satan had stolen much more: my peace of mind and heart.
But that all changed. As Kevin and I flew back to California after our visit, I thanked God that my anger and resentment against Red and Felicia had disappeared — thanks to prayer and the power of Matthew 5:44.
* Name has been changed.
About the Author
Marcie Nootenboom has sold well over 300 articles and short stories in such publications as Aglow, Evangel, Joyful Woman, Light and Life, Secret Place, and Power for Living. She is past president of Oregon Christian Writers and has taught at several of its conferences. Marcie lives in Golden Valley, AZ.