January 10, 2014

What is forgiveness?

What is forgiveness? For me, it had always been an exchange of words: a mutual agreement after a wrong had been done that all was forgiven. My life had been filled with moments where I or someone else had to ask for forgiveness—and it always felt like an easy thing to do. In the past, when I heard those sweet words, there was never a doubt that I would forgive the person and move on. I felt I had mastered the art of forgiveness at every opportunity that had presented itself, and now here I was . . . left with three people I knew I had to forgive. Only this time, contrary to everything I had experienced up to this point, I was never going to hear from any of them that they were sorry. Emmett was gone. His chance to ever say the words I needed to hear was gone. And the other two . . . well, I barely knew them.

Some months earlier, as summer turned to fall, Emmett finally passed the bar. He started talking about a paralegal he was going to hire. She wanted him to start his own criminal defense firm and she had offered to come and lead his team. He said she wouldn’t be able to start until after Christmas because she had to wait to get her giant Christmas bonus, so she would just be sending him clients under the table from the firm where she currently worked. Red flags started going off like sirens in my mind! I immediately thought back to my single years, dating guys who were still technically dating someone else but who were trying to get me to secretly date them on the side. Emmett told me the paralegal had been treated badly by her boss and she wanted him to file a lawsuit against him for maltreatment of her and other former employees. She also told Emmett she needed protection from her husband, who was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive. She wanted Emmett’s protection and help in finding a good divorce attorney.

“She is an older lady,” he told me. “She is like a mother figure to me. She really believes in me and says I’m an amazing attorney.” It sounded like trouble to me, and I told him exactly how I felt about it. If anyone was going to come work for us, I wanted to make sure we did it the right way, and had no baggage that could get us into a sticky situation. My questioning didn’t go over well. Looking back, I realize I shouldn’t have given up so easily . . . because that feeling that came into my heart was completely accurate. This woman—who professed to be so picked on and abused—would not only come to work for my husband . . . she would change my life forever.

Well, as good bosses tend to do, the paralegal’s employer figured out that she had been sending his clients to Emmett and he fired her. In a matter of hours . . . she had landed her new employment at Emmett’s bankruptcy office. And so began their criminal law office. I think I got a phone call from Emmett saying, “Well Kandi got fired . . . She is starting today and I am going to make a lot of money with her here.” Money—a very overrated replacement for relationships and love. A necessity I learned to despise. And they did. They started bringing in a lot of money. 
One day, I had a doctor’s appointment downtown, and I decided to go surprise Emmett in hopes that he had a minute to take me to lunch—something we had never done since our move to our new town. I pulled into the parking lot behind the office. Directly behind Emmett’s truck was her car. It was parked at an angle, almost touching his. I remember just staring at it. In hind sight, it was like she had parked behind him, as if to say . . . “I own you now. You don’t leave the office until I do.” Her license plate read ‘Kandi’s.’ I got a pit in my stomach. I hobbled my pregnant belly up the ramp and walked back towards Emmett’s office. Everyone was looking at me as if I were wearing no clothes. Was I missing something? His office door was shut. I was about to knock when one of the secretaries said, “He is in there with Kandi. I dare you to just walk in!” And so I did. They were giggling, and then turned and looked at me as if I were a ghost. That was the first time I met Kandi. She had on a mini-skirt and hooker boots. Her cleavage was everywhere! She was older . . . she looked like she was being paid for her “not-so-professional” services. I felt nauseous. I felt she was definitely not the type of woman to whom Emmett would be attracted. She was older . . . and that was reassuring to my poor mind that had been playing tricks on me at an incredible rate since hearing about this situation. I felt like a crazy person! One minute, my heart would tell me they were having an affair . . . and then my logic would kick in and calm down my nerves. “She is old. …You are a great mother and wife. He loves you. … You are the one who is the mother of his soon-to-be five children. You have always given him everything when it came to being intimate. …You are enough. You are encouraging and supportive. … Why on earth would he want her?”

And so began my many months of this internal battle. I knew she was no good, and yet . . . I believed every word I heard about her from Emmett; but I entertained every doubt that bubbled up inside of me and that inner instinct was like a fire ready to ignite. Something wasn’t quite right.

Kandi and I met on a few other occasions, mainly when I showed up at the office. One time, after the baby was born, she even held him. He had just fallen asleep in his car seat, and I really wanted to just show him to everyone. Emmett was adamant that she hold him. She sent Emmett home with beautiful gifts: blankets and outfits for the baby, and even a care package for me. She even offered to babysit him so the rest of us could go to a movie. That was an idea I quickly squelched because of my internal battle about whether she really was just a kind, older woman who believed in Emmett . . . or if she was trying to destroy my family. She was always kind. She even sent me thank you notes on Facebook for her Christmas present.

I had no obvious reason to doubt Emmett’s assurance that she was an amazing paralegal who would make him lots of money and help him start his business.

Now for Rob. I had only actually heard his name one time before March 11, 2011. It was just a few weeks earlier, on our way back from the movie when Kandi had insisted on babysitting Tytus. All seven of us were in the car. Emmett had posted something on Facebook about a run-in with a Californian . . . “who could talk big . . . but couldn’t walk the walk.” I asked him about it. He said that it was Kandi’s husband, Rob . . . “who needed to get a clue.” I finally asked a question for which I had wanted an answer for a long time. I said, “I understand that you are worried about an employee, but why is it your job to protect her?” He didn’t answer right away. I am sure he was debating in his mind what the real answer was, and what the answer he wanted me to hear was going to be. All he said was, “Well someone has got to.”

As a person, Emmett was a protector. He was an amazing friend, and would always have anyone’s back. That was one of his qualities that caused me to fall in love with in him. And yet, in that moment, my heart wanted to pound out of my chest. I felt a panic, as if there were more to this story about these people. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. So, I was left to hallucinate in my mind the “whats” and the “whys” to try to make sense of it all.

Rob Hall. I knew his name, but I had never seen his face. Then, for the year and a half after March 11, Rob Hall was just a mug shot in my mind. A mug shot I would scream at while driving alone in my car. A picture I would silently talk to every morning as I sat alone in my bathroom doing my make-up. For a year and half, while awaiting the trial, his mug shot silently consumed me. I saw him . . . or her . . . in every store I entered, and in almost every person I passed. I scanned the room in restaurants before sitting down to order my food. I looked out every window I walked past at my home . . . searching for that mug shot, expecting him to be pointing his gun at me.

Three people; three different crossroads that had all collided and exploded. Everywhere we go, we meet people. Each of them different. Our paths cross, sometimes without a sound. And other times, as they cross, they destroy our paths and leave a hole. We aren’t really given a map of where to go in life, but we are given those feelings inside. Those deeply rooted impressions that something is not quite right. I never got answers about those feelings, until after the explosion—probably because I was na├»ve . . . but mainly because I didn’t believe in myself. I doubted impressions that possibly could have made a difference.

As I knelt in my closet that night after Emmett’s death, I thought the answer to my prayer was that I had forgiven each of them—like putting a check on a list of the things Heavenly Father was asking me to do. I thought for sure, if He was asking right then . . . that I could accomplish said check marks the moment I knew I had to let it go. Little did I know that my pain and my anger and my need to forgive would literally start eating me alive.


breena rae said...

Ashlee, what a strong person you are. Thank you for your amazing example. I hope that a family reunion brings us all together some day!

Anonymous said...

You're such a blessing to so many people going through hard times. Such a beautiful women of grace with a true Christ like spirit! I am so sorry you lost your husband and children's father. But you are so blessed as you said he had walked you through every step of every day. As he did for me. Although my situation was no where near as heartbreaking as yours. My husband also met a woman at work and started acting really different I knew too something wasn't right. I had 3 girls and my youngest was 8 months old. It took me so long to get over the betrayal and the what did she have that I didn't I just couldn't understand...but God didn't leave my side and got me through every moment. It took me a lot longer to forgive because I hated her for almost destroying my family. I just dwelled on it and started making myself physically ill until one day I just prayed and prayed and I finally felt peace like never before. I am so greatful to have found your blog. Thank you for your wonderful encouraging, inspiring words! You have a beautiful family!

Corine Moore said...

I don't know why... but forgiving was always SO HARD for me - during times when the person who hurt me did not apologize. If someone expressed sorrow for hurting me, somehow it made it so easy to forgive, but until recently I depended upon that to let go and move on with forgiveness. Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was just that I thought I NEEDED that apology SO BADLY - TO HEAL, that I didn't want to forgive for fear that if I did the one who hurt me would think I was OK and that they didn't really need to make amends... Mind games. Fears. Conditional forgiveness and conditional love. All tactics of Satan's to keep me down. But like you, I learned to stand. I learned that the personal, proactive act of forgiveness is so much MORE HEALING - than simply witnessing another repent or say "I'm sorry."
PS. I LOVE that you think and say such GOOD things about Emmit. That you have not allowed bad to cloud your mind of the good. That you have allowed those GOOD MEMORIES to live inside of you... YOU ARE A WONDERFUL EXAMPLE! :) Thank you...

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