As many know I just returned from Tennessee where I went on my Christmas Journey Home. It wasn’t a journey per say where I was experiencing the joy of Christmas, but a journey where I needed to let my mother know that I forgave her for the things she did to me as a youth. I have written quite a bit about my relationship with my mother over the past years, the story is available for the asking in my book, The Keystone Kid. Needless to say without rehashing that story, my experience with my mother is different than most people, it involved physical and sexual abuse, abuse in such a way that most would think that the harm done would never bring about any reconciliation.
One of the things I have learned as I have gotten older and tried to implement God’s directives to me as illustrated in the Bible, is that I can do more than I ever imagined possible with the grace of God. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of these super religious people, in fact, I don’t care a whole lot about religion. I do believe that I have been given hope, life, and salvation through the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. As a result of recognizing my own failures, my own inability to do good, I have come to realize the need for salvation in my life. I now have a relationship with Jesus Christ and as crazy as that sounds, I just don’t know of any other way to put it. I really do believe he lives that he speaks to me through his Holy Spirit and that he has given me a love letter and instruction manual called the Bible that will help me become more like Jesus as I apply the teachings of the Bible to my life. Now on that point, I also believe that many religious groups that focus on the law as opposed to the liberty, that focus on the judgment more than they do the grace, are just that, religions and in many ways, not that much different than the religious people Jesus had trouble with during his time as a man on this earth.
My life has been affected by the impact of the sins of others on my life. In many ways it caused me to sin, although I am responsible for my own sins in life, but some would say that in some areas, such as temperament, language, sexuality, and much more, I never really had a chance at understanding appropriate relationships, in some regards, I have to admit, I still struggle with some of these things, but I have come to know who has the answers to my questions, who has given me the knowledge to grow and do better than many would have ever expected. I give full credit to trying to listen to the teachings and applications illustrated in the Bible and from Jesus own example. While I am far from perfect, I am far more perfect than I was last year, the year before and so on.
In my own journey, I have realized that I needed to follow the directives of Jesus, forgive even my enemies, and forgive even those who had done me wrong. I had really come to the place of peace over the last few years that this also included my mother, if after all, I could forgive my mom, then I could forgive virtually anyone. Now this is a detailed process, a detailed and complicated thing to put into practice at times, but it is none the less, a process required by the Bible. It becomes difficult because the Bible goes so far as to say that if I can’t forgive or love those on earth who I can see, how can I expect to love God who I can’t see, or that God will forgive me in the way I forgive others. I know that I am in need of forgiveness, and I am in need of God’s love. I could as many do make all kinds of excuses to not love, to not forgive, but in my own spirit, in my own heart, I would know of my inability to do these things and would have to deal accordingly with the Bible verses that tell me to forgive and love if in fact I didn’t.
Along my journey, I have written openly and now have started videoing parts of the journey. Some ask why, I have been ridiculed by some in my family, but it becomes very clear, very fast when one looks at the responses of the many people who have been touched and helped by my journey. As long as I know people are being helped I will continue to share my journey. I do it because I know there are many people who have gone through what I have, and need to know they are loved and there is hope. My God, my Savior, was there with me all along the way, offering love, and help, others need to know that he is there for them.
How hard is this journey? How hard was this particular journey? I don’t know if it is acceptable grammar or not but I would say the simple answer to this is, VERY! That’s right, it was, and is very hard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it, I believe that all good things, even those things that are hard to come by are sometimes, if in fact, not many times worth the effort. Not for any other reason than to give my own spirit hope, and the confidence that I know I am bigger than the evil that was perpetuated on my life, and in fact, the evil I have at times perpetuated on the lives of others.
This time, my journey, the first of what I expect to be several journeys, included a long drive, over one thousand miles one way in fact, plus having to go to a place, Upper East Tennessee where I go through emotional stress, and emotional conflict every time I seem to go back. While the area is beautiful, while there are some happy memories there, while it is my “home town,” it is also the place that reminds me of all of the hardships of growing up. It is the place where I still have horrible memories that will likely have some impact on me for the rest of my life. For those that have been through abuse of one sort or another, they understand, for those who have gone through traumatic events, that have an understanding of what causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they understand. All others, just don’t get it. Imagine though, having lost a loved one, or experienced extreme tragedy in life, and then every time you get around that area, or find yourself in situations that remind you of that area, you have nightmares, you have feelings of reliving the situation and stressful event. That is what happens with me, while I have had to learn to deal with some of these things, it is one of the reasons I am up at 3 AM this morning, and sleep is a precious commodity because you don’t like the nightmares. There is much more, but my wife, my son, and others have noticed the difficult time I experience when I go home, this trip, even though for a good reason, was no exception.
As mentioned in another posting, seeing my mother for the first time in some time, and since being diagnosed with cancer was not easy. Cancer is one of those diseases that tears apart and destroys the body, even in the attempt to heal, the radiation and chemotherapy appears to destroy the body. You can read about my thoughts there in the article The Sound of Death. This article however is to highlight several other things that occurred, while I know some will have to endure the length of the article, I think you will be fascinated by the events.
First regarding the filming I was working on for the possible documentary. I did not get a satisfactory solution to the sound issues, but I think there is a way to use what I have, and to do voiceovers of other sections. There are many hours of film, in many sections that will be of benefit. I was able to go into Keystone, the projects I grew up in, as well as visit several of the places the abuse occurred. I was also able to visit the place where I was saved and share my story. This was a rather emotional experience and it is evident in the footage. It was the first time I had been back to that place in approximately 30 years. I also went to the cemetery that illustrates a great deal of the tragedy in my family, and in my life. This was a very difficult situation; in fact, I had to go there twice because the first time involved a blow up, my fault that had me on edge. There is a long story here but like I said earlier, some of the events were not pleasant. There was also a great deal of the conflict that was not videoed, a blow up that involved some healing between my sister and I, and more. There were other things I wanted to video but didn’t get the chance to. I expect there will be additional trips home that will give me this opportunity and the bottom line, is there will likely be many more hours of footage to pick and choose from.
I felt compelled in this posting to share some things that won’t be easy, but should be shared and will hopefully inspire the potential of hope for some out there. These things have to do specifically with my mom.
First, I was able to go through a ton of photos that was good, I will be going back to make some copies of those which will provide a lot of use in the documentary. But besides the photos I was able to find out other things about my mom that I didn’t know or thought would be worth bringing up.
One of the things is that as many know, abuse runs in cycles,. In most situations where abuse occurs it is something that has gone on for generations. I have my suspensions as to why this is the case in my family, but I have no doubt it is the case in my family. I won’t go into detail regarding all of those situations surrounding the abuse, but there is no doubt that the abuse has gone on in my family for some time. I suspect that my sister and I have broken the cycle in our families, I suspect there are others, but I also know the impact is lasting on what we went though, and damage was done. In regards to going through abuse and hardship, when looking at my mothers life I had to come to other conclusions.
If I look at my life, and only my life, I don’t know if the healing and forgiving process is complete or not. I say this because a part of forgiveness is letting go, but another part is in finding value in the life of the person you are offering forgiveness to. This is also in the case of having to forgive my mother.
In looking at the life of my mother, I am aware now of the fact that she was also abused a great deal as a child growing up. I am also aware of the tragedy surrounding my mothers’ life. I wasn’t aware of the totality of that tragedy. I now know, my mother has never had to my knowledge a truly loving relationship with men where the relationship didn’t end in tragedy, this includes my birth father.
For years I have tried to obtain information regarding my father, for years, people have been reluctant to provide me information, I knew he did some crazy things, had a crazy violent temper, and not much more than that. On the trip, I learned that it was much more serious than that. An example was a time where my father had beaten my mother to a pulp, and then forced her to sit naked in front of a window in the house for hours while people walked by to look at her. He did this while all of the time laughing at her.
Then there was my mothers second husband, which she don’t talk about, he was killed to my understanding while trying to hop onto a train in the Chicago area.
Her third husband was extremely abusive, he beat her, and sexually assaulted her and my sister.
My mothers fourth husband was an alcoholic, while he wasn’t abusive, he ended up dying from complications related to alcoholism even after having his limbs amputated.
My mothers fifth relationship was with a man who was married, I just found that out on this visit home. It was my understanding that this man died of complications related to emphysema. While there is some truth to that, the bottom line is that he took the situation into his own hands and ended up stabbing himself to death. Because of the fact that he was married to another woman, my mother wasn’t even able to attend the funeral.
My mother has led a tough life, this is only an illustration of the relationship she has had with the men in her life. Yet, despite all of this difficulty, my mother was recently inducted into the Tennessee Union Hall of Fame, and while home saw a proclamation from the State of Tennessee that recognized her for this honor and the fact that she was the first woman ever inducted into the Union Hall of Fame. This has an implication to it that I was reminded of while in Tennessee.
On Christmas Eve, my mom who had been receiving care and help in a nursing home was transported via ambulance to the Emergency Room of the Johnson City Medical Center due to a bout with pneumonia. It was at the Emergency room on Christmas Eve that I learned something else valuable about my mom. It was here that I met a fellow union member, a friend of hers named Pastor Roy and his wife.
While in the emergency room, I fellow came in with a smile and a deep Southern accent. For all of my friends who think I have an accent, I can only assure you, as has been affirmed by others, I have indeed lost a great deal of it, to hear Roy or my mom or many others in East Tennessee speak would be more than enough assurance of this. Roy it seems is a pastor of a small Baptist church in or near Roan Mountain Tennessee. He is also a union member and has spent quite a few of the last number of years speaking to, and working with my mom.
While in the emergency room, I did something I needed to do, I knew that Roy had been working with my mom, and as some from outside the family are ones that can address spiritual things I asked him, “have you had time to work with my mom or speak to her regarding the Lord.” His response was strong, solid and brought a number of tears to my eyes that night.
Roy proceeded to tell me that I had nothing to worry about. While my mom was a tough, at times, mean and angry woman, she had made the commitment to commit her life to the Lord. She had done so once as a young woman, but realized the need to do so now. Roy, along with his wife, told me of the years it had taken to get through with my mom, and in fact it took years as there was so much she was unwilling to talk about. After years of work though, she finally got to the point of sharing her life, and recognizing her own need to have relationship with Jesus Christ. Roy told me how moved he was, his wife assured me of the reality of that decision and then he said something else I in all honesty had not expected.
In the process of my mothers decision, and his efforts, Roy shared how my mother had shared personal things with him regarding her sins and her past. He implied that she had shared about the abuse. I will certainly talk to Roy more about this in the future, even hoping to video him telling of my mom’s conversion and life as he knew it, but there was something else Roy shared. The thing that touched me, almost broke me in the hospital was Roy sharing with me, “Boy, your momma read everything you ever wrote. When it came to teaching, she would read it, try to understand it, and if there were things she didn’t know or understand, she would print it out and bring it to me to help explain it to her. Even then, I think she printed off almost everything you ever wrote and brought it to me.” I must tell you, even now I have tears as I write this. You see as a part of the mission of The Virtual Pew, I have stated that one of our goals is to touch one person a day. Not that we only want to touch one person, but each single person is important to God, so many ministries don’t see that, they are so focused on large numbers. There is nothing wrong with all of those numbers as long as we see the value of the one person. Luke 15 in the Bible makes it clear, each of those single, individual people are important to God, they should be important to us. I firmly believe this and it is one of those things that hopefully make this ministry different. While I had hope of this, while I had the belief in this, I never contemplated that my mother, the woman who had abused me, would be one of those people this ministry would have an impact on. The sacrifice, hard work, was worth it before, but now the value of that has gone up tremendously. I can’t explain that, I don’t know if I even want to try to, but I know in my heart, in my soul, this has been a God thing.
This wasn’t all Roy shared with me, he shared as well that my mother, who had gone through so much tragedy, had done so much to help so many. There was a reason she was the first woman inducted into the Union Hall of Fame, she had been a strong advocate for the poor, the oppressed, those taken advantage of and so many more. Roy made it clear, she at times could be angry, even mean, she was never reluctant to let people know what she thought. For those who think I can be blunt, be blessed you didn’t know my mother. I recall my mother telling a former member of the Hells’ Angels who was covered with tattoos, stood around 6’2” tall while holding a snake that, “If you don’t get that snake away from me, I’ll smack the shit out of you!” Larry, the member of the Hells’ Angels told me, “Mike I think she meant it.” “Larry” I replied, “she did.” Despite this tough attitude from my mother who was mean, at times extremely violent, there was something about her, I think her own experiences, that drove her to help others. I never saw this, never really thought that much about this, but it was a reality, and a state proclamation from the State of Tennessee hanging in her home office, demonstrates this.
There was much more that happened, some of which will likely be in the video once it is completed. I did have the chance to sit in the hospital room with my mother, alone, holding her hand, and tell her, “Momma, I know life has been hard, I know there are a lot of things about our past that have been wrong, Momma, I want you to know that I love you and I forgive you.” My momma is struggling right now with speaking, she can in fact speak only with a faint whisper. I reminded her at times that after all of those years of working with bands I had a hard time understanding her. I would have to often times put my ear next to her mouth to hear her speak. She would tell me, “Michael, you can’t hear and I can’t talk.” She would then laugh. The moment I shared my forgiveness and love though, I had no trouble hearing her reply, “Michael, I love you to, and thank you.” There was more that was said, but I don’t know if there was anything more important during that conversation than that moment. I have that moment on film, and it will likely be in the documentary at some point, not to bring any glory to myself, not to manipulate or use my mother in any way, but to let people know, that even in tough situations, even in hard times, forgiveness and love is possible. I now have a mother, if only for a short period of time in my life that I can love. Some will question what made that possible, I will reply, nothing but the blood of Jesus, which provides healing, comfort, forgiveness and love made that possible. It made it possible because the Jesus that offered himself as a sacrifice for my sins still lives. He has not only provided these things for me, he wants to provide them for you.
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