10: The Strength to Forgive
Stories in this episode: Crishelle learns how to move forward after a deep betrayal causes her to question everything she once knew about her family; After a traumatic car accident, Kaitlyn discovers forgiveness is a process and not a one-time event; A very naughty puppy teaches Sarah the love and understanding that can come through Christ’s Atonement.
KARYN LAY: Welcome to This is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
The stories in this episode couldn't be more different, but they all have one important thing in common: they're about forgiveness. Today we'll hear from three people who found themselves in the iron grip of resentment and anger and blame and decided that enough was enough. How they found peace and reconciliation through Christ is something that we can all learn from. Our first story comes from Crishelle, who experienced a deep betrayal from someone she should have been able to trust. A quick note for our listeners, this story does openly discuss pornography, and it's related addiction.
CRISHELLE: From the outside looking in, I grew up and the ideal Mormon family, really. I'm the oldest of five beautiful children, and my parents loved each other and we really looked ideal. Family prayer, family scripture, study, all the things. And my parents were actually the pilot missionaries for the Pornography Addiction Recovery meeting, which was awesome. And I just chose to believe for a long time those like, they just are experts, and Jesus-- joke was on me.
I remember one day, I was just 12 years old and like this little beehive, I was sent by my mom to an errand to my dad's home office, I knocked on his door and walked in, I think with his lunch, and I caught him relapsing in pornography. It just automatically felt like so wrong. And so I like left the lunch and ran. And I remember going to my room and just like locking myself up in my room and sobbing and not wanting to come to grips and to terms like, this is the reality. And my dad, who was supposed to be this knight in shining armor, and this protector and provider was the bad guy. So it was really difficult and I didn't want to talk about it. And it wasn't like, my dad never talked to me about it. My mom did, I guess my dad had told my mom like what happened and my mom came and found me one day and just was like, "Hey, let's talk about what happened." And I was like, it's no big deal. Like I knew, like, whatever and just kind of brushed it off. It was just not something that I wanted to address and not something that we had gotten to a point as a family that we could be very open about. Even though my parents were very like involved and open with it felt like everyone else.
As a 12-year-old and then growing up as a teenager, I did not know how to interact with guys. Like I did not want to trust any of-- I knew all the statistics because my parents were talking about them often in their presentations and stuff. And so I was like, I know you all struggle with pornography, like, I don't trust any of you. And it was really hard for me to just be even in touch with my emotions as a teenager because, like, I don't want to feel it. And it was easier to just like put that away. And though I was seeking Jesus, like, I just wanted to believe that, like they told me it just worked like magic and I was fine. And I believed that and I do believe that like Jesus helped me a lot and that's why like I was able to function. And by the time I went on my mission, my family had grown and progressed and it felt like everything was really good again, things were going really well, I left for college. And by the time I went on my mission, I felt like I was like so ready to teach people about Jesus because my family had been there. Like we'd like almost been destroyed so many times for pornography and we made it, we're doing good.
So I go on my mission, it was so wonderful. I was always worried about my dad, but like, I don't know, he was gonna figure it out but didn't think too much of it. And I came home from my mission and my dad and my mom had had experiences while I had been on my mission that were really hard. And I'd seen my dad humble himself and really like-- I was like, yes, he's getting it. He's closer to God than he ever has been and I was stoked about it. And I had started dating someone and we were falling in love and like, just about to get engaged. And, and my dad and my mom went on a date, one Sunday night, they went to drive and I was like, "Oh, they're in love! This is so wonderful and this is perfect." God's blessing me, I went on a mission, this is so perfect, everything's working out. And that night they like didn't come home 'till late, which again, I was like sweet, they're like, having a good time. The next morning is when I saw them again and I will never forget that morning. My dad was kind of MIA and I was like hmm that's weird. Normally he's like up and making breakfast, you know. And my mom walks through the kitchen and I will never forget the look on her face because I knew in that moment that it was either everyone had died in our family, or my dad had committed adultery.
And it was just like one of those moments where I realized nothing was going to be the same. Everything was going to change and it was heartbreaking, to say the least. And I remember just hugging and holding my mom that morning and being like, "Mom, what is happening?" And she couldn't really tell me and just could feel the pain with her. The next couple months unfold and turns out that my dad's pornography addiction had turned into a full out sex addiction. And there were countless women involved and it had been five years of a double life that we had no idea about. To say it was earth-shattering feels like an understatement, but it also feels like I'm fine. Like, I'm still alive, like why am I complaining like I still have a beautiful life. But at the same time, like the core of what I believed and the man who taught me to love God and to make covenants, who'd baptized me, who had been there when I received my endowment in the temple and it made the same promises that I did, had totally disregarded all of those promises, and our family and everything.
And that is really, really hard, I was so mad, I was so hurt and I was furious at God. Like how could he let this happen? And how could we not know? And how is it that when everything felt like it was just perfect that it just totally crushed.
He was excommunicated, he was diagnosed with a sex addiction and started an intensive outpatient treatment program. It was such a hard time in my life. My engagement was broken off shortly thereafter, I just been hit by so much trauma and I didn't know how to deal with it at all. And the guy I was dating definitely didn't know how to deal with it. I mean his response was, "you just need to study forgiveness more." So it was just like, it was a very difficult time in my life where he just like could not understand what my family was going through and could not understand what I was going through and so for better that it all ended, but it was really hard. And I remember this time and this was this is probably like rock bottom for me. I was at BYU, I was trying to go to school and like live a normal life and go on dates and all these things. And I found myself and this happened often, but this one, in particular, I just like couldn't handle life anymore. And I was bawling next to this bush on the hill by the duck pond, just lost it just completely lost it. And people were walking by and they didn't know what to do and like just kept walking, I was just losing it. And I realized as I was just mad, I was so furious and I couldn't believe that people were worried about homework when I was like how do I move forward, how do I forgive? How do I have a relationship with my dad? How do I work out the fact that somehow my parents are still working on their marriage, and they want to stay together? Like there's just so many-- and how am I supposed to go on dates? Like this is absurd, bless all of the boy's hearts that I went on dates with at this time. I was a hot mess. Anyway, I realized the I was really upset at the Savior. I was so mad because I was like "You atoned for this, like, why am I suffering? I had nothing to do with these choices. Why is this so hard? And why is it affecting me so much? Like why can't you just remove it."
And I realized through this, and it wasn't just this moment, but I started changing the way I was talking to God, instead of being so angry at him, I was still angry for sure, but I was able to turn to more of like seeking and pleading. And like, "Please, like help me understand and help me learn and help me come to know Jesus because he did suffer. Help me understand how that applies in this situation." I think something that helped me to get there was nothing else was working, like being angry, wasn't working anymore. Like, it just like wasn't enough and it wasn't helping me get the relief that I was looking for. And I realized that I needed more help and understanding the gospel. And I needed it to come not from my parents, I needed it to come from my heavenly parents, I needed it to come from the Savior himself. And so it just kind of opened my heart and I'm just so grateful that I had the willingness to turn to Him after being so upset and angry and mad and heartbroken. But that really, that really helped me start turning to my bishops and start turning to like all of the books that I could find on the atonement, on just everything. I wanted to understand addiction, I wanted to understand, like sexual addiction and healthy sexuality and how to have better relationships. And I just wanted to understand what it was that I needed to change and what I needed help with. Another that's been a continual process too, of forgiving him, like when he was getting baptized, again, like that was so hard for me. I didn't realize I was going to be angry, like, I was gonna be angry that someone's getting baptized? I love baptism, that's all I wanted for people was to be baptized. And so for me to be like, you don't deserve to get baptized. Like I gotta work through that. And so it's been such a beautiful journey to see my dad progress and grow. And especially to see the growth that I've had. I hope it's not like this is how it works for everyone. And I never want to parade my dad's story in a way that downplays his repentance process. He and my mom both are working with therapists and working with church leaders and really working to reconcile this and has helped them to share it and want us to even share it so that we can help other people.
It's been four and a half plus years, and I finally met the man of my dreams, which is so wonderful. I met like never-- there is a point in my life where I never thought that this would come. And I would get to marry the most incredible man who loves God and who I can trust. Like that was my biggest issue, I dated countless, guys and It was really hard for me. It was really hard for me to trust, it was really hard for me to feel safe around men. And it took a lot of work, and a lot of therapy and here I am, in three days, I'm getting married and in three days, my dad is going to witness our marriage in the temple. And so his blessings have been restored. I am so grateful for all of these experiences because they turned me to Christ. And they helped me to really seek the Savior and help me really want to have not just like a knowledge of Him, but a relationship with Him. And such that He is the only way for me to be able to love and to forgive and to trust and to move forward. If the gospel had been this beautiful story that I've been told, that I loved and I'd felt, but now it's really the only way for me to live. I've just seen that Christ really is the answer. And I just love him. And I'm so grateful that he provided a way for me to have the life that I really want to create with Him.
KARYN LAY: That was Crishelle. As she discovered, the path to forgiveness is such a personal experience for each of us. And the good news is that Jesus Christ is always at the ready to guide us and to teach us personally along the way. Our next storyteller Kaitlyn, first shared this story on our pitch line. When we called her to develop it for the podcast, we loved the way her story illustrated the actual practice of forgiving. Here's Kaitlyn.
KAITLYN: So I was in my early 20s, I was engaged and I had a good full-time job that I enjoyed. It had started out like any other day. And one of my roommates had asked me if I wanted to go with her to pick up her dog from her parent's house in another town. We had been kind of getting on each other's nerves lately, and we weren't getting along super great, so I decided this would be a good way for us to reconcile and just hang out.
It was a warm summer day, but it had been raining in the morning, the roads were dry, but everything else was still wet. We were almost home and we had just gone around the bend and it was like it happened in slow motion. We are in a rollover car accident. For some reason, she had overcorrected, but the car rolled a few times and we went through a fence and the car landed upside down in a water run-off, like a ditch in a field off to the side of the road. I remember waking up and we were hanging upside down. And we were covered in mud and grass, I felt like I was suffocating. And so I just started saying over and over again, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe."
And the paramedics got there and we got to the hospital and they rushed me into a room. I had to cut all over my face and there was blood all over. And on top of that, it literally looked like someone had dipped me upside down in mud. And they found that my lungs were full of some substance, but they weren't sure what it was. And there was just so much mud and blood that they couldn't get very clear images. So they decided that I needed a higher level of care, so they put me in a helicopter and I was life-flighted. They found that my lungs were filled with mud and water that I had inhaled during the accident and they also found that I had some fractures on my neck and spine.
And finally, later in the day, they found that my fracture was stable and that I could be released to go home. I stayed at my parent's house and I mostly just stayed in bed and slept. I woke up everyone in the house one night when I had a night terror and I just began screaming about not being able to get my seat belt off, all while I was still sleeping. I returned home to my apartment, I just wanted to have my life return back to some kind of normal. But my life was actually full of doctors appointments and evaluations and more x-rays and because of my fractures, I was put on bed rest. It was actually really, really hard for me to take it easy all the time and I just wanted to have my life back. Then the medical bills began to pour in. My roommate became frustrated, she had bills coming in too, but she was also upset about everything she lost. She talked about how her phone was ruined, her brand name clothes had been ruined, she had received a ticket for the accident that also had a fee she needed to pay, which she thought was unfair because she'd already been through so much.
Looking back now, I know that her feelings were valid. But at the time I was really bitter, it made me really hurt and really upset and angry. She was worried about all these materialistic things, but I couldn't go to work and I had a limited fixed income while I was out for my job and I had a life full of medications and doctor's appointments and bed rest and I was receiving astronomical bills that I couldn't pay and I felt like I lost so much more. And I began to resent her for it. And I don't even know if she ever knew that I felt this way because I never talked to her about it. And I began to dwell on the anger and the bitterness again, I was just so upset that I had to go through all of this and that I had to endure this. It was so hard and it just felt like there was no end in sight. But during that time, during those years, I had come to a realization. Me being angry and bitter and upset was my choice. I was choosing to let those things consume me. And it wasn't hurting anyone but me.
She probably didn't even know that I had felt that way, and had those thoughts. And so it wasn't affecting her, but it was hurting me. I realized it wasn't up to me to judge her in any way. And so I gave it up to God. And it wasn't just a one time experience and it was done. It was a process, I had a lot of heartfelt prayers, pouring out my soul and the things I needed to let go of. And gradually, the feelings went away. As I focused on improving myself and my relationship with my heavenly father and my Savior, the anger went away. And I didn't feel bitter. I just felt gratitude for the life I had and the many blessings I was given. And I realized that because of this car accident, I learned a lot of things that I might not have learned otherwise. And I learned so much about forgiveness, about gratitude, and ultimately about Christ-like love.
KARYN LAY: That was Kaitlyn. I loved Kaitlyn's reminder that forgiveness and peace don't always come at once. It's a process that requires a regular connection with our Father in heaven and His son. Our final story from Sarah begs the question, "What in the world can a brand new puppy teach us about forgiveness?" You'd be surprised.
SARAH: So it was my idea to get the dog in the first place. Looking back, I'm not sure why but I had this vision of our children growing up with a puppy, with a little dog spirit running around the house that was close to them. And I wanted, while our kids were small, for them to have a dog in the house. And so when I was pregnant with my third child, I convinced my husband that we should get a dog. So we had a three-year-old, a one-year-old and a pregnant mom and a new puppy. It didn't take long for me to be like this was the worst mistake I've ever made. Puppies are super hard. And we actually got a really good puppy, but they're still hard. And when I was pregnant, it made it that much harder. It was just constant extra work, which was the last thing I needed at that time, to be dragging my huge exhausted body up and downstairs to let the dog in and out and like getting up and down off the floor to clean up. There were other moments like I'm changing my son Bradley's diaper and the dog, Lucy, comes running up and just grabs a ball of poop out of the diaper and runs under the bed and eats it. And I was pregnant so I was like gagging and losing my mind and saying, "I'm never going to touch that dog again, that is so disgusting."
Then another time, I sliced a whole pineapple for dinner and I have it in a bowl on the table. And I go to like help do something else and then while I'm in the other room, Lucy jumps up on the table and eats the whole bowl of pineapple. Like a human shouldn't eat a whole pineapple themselves but the dog did in like a minute and then she ran upstairs under our bed and barfed it all up on the carpet under the bed in the middle of the bed. I'm pregnant, I can't even get under there to clean it up, it was just so gross. And it was just gross all the time. And I just hated her guts and I had this rage about our dog. And now that I have met our son, who I was pregnant with at the time, he is kind of a high testosterone kid, kind of got the personality of like a Viking warlord. And I feel now that when I was pregnant with him, I had a lot of different kind of anger than I've had with any of my other kids and I think maybe that's why. Anyway, with all of that, and the dog, I was just so angry all the time. This kind of rage that was not me, normally. And because of that, I was yelling at the dog all the time at like, partly it was because it was so hard to get up and to stop her from doing something so I would just yell, but then it turned our house into a house full of yelling. I'm yelling at the dog and then the kids start yelling all the time and just it was a bad spirit and an anxiousness and an angriness all the time. And finally, one day my husband was like, "I think you need to evaluate maybe how you're feeling about the dog because you're really, really angry, and it's not great in our home." And I appreciate that he kind of held that mirror up for me.
Anyway, I started-- I mean thinking about it, I was like how do I get past this? And I thought well, the atonement is for all of our challenges, even ones that seem stupid, or that we brought on ourselves by wanting to get a copy when you're pregnant with your third child. So I started praying to help me forgive the dog and to have more empathy to see that it's not Lucy's fault that she's acting like a puppy, she's a puppy, she's doing her job to sniff everything and eat everything. And it's kind of crazy that I need to forgive her for that but I felt like I did. And I needed help letting go of my anger about it and my resentment of how hard, how much harder it was making my life. And I discovered that, just like in the hymn, it says "Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast," the very thought of Jesus would change my heart when I was so mad at that dog that I wanted her to die. Oh, in fact, a family that we know had a dog get sick and die and I heard about it and my first thought was, maybe it's going around, maybe our dog could die too. It was terrible, that was kind of a wake-up call moment for me that I needed to change. It was just, I was amazed at how I would be so mad at that dog and wanting to yell and I prayed for help remembering that I wanted to do better. And the answer to that prayer was it became easier for me to, in the moment of anger, to remember I'm trying to do differently and to seriously just the thought of Jesus, just picturing him in my mind thinking of him. I didn't even have to say what would Jesus do about Lucy the dog? Instead, I just thought of him and I felt my heart relax physically, physiologically, I felt my body soften and change. And I felt the anger drain away a little bit. And a little bit more every time until I could keep it all in perspective and not be so upset all the time about it.
I thought a lot about forgiveness while I was going through this. And I also thought it's kind of weird to think about forgiving a dog for being a dog. It's different than forgiving the people who hurt us. But I think a lot of the practical aspects of it are the same, that forgiveness is moving past anger or resentment, or the bad feelings that we're holding on to where we're stuck, that aren't serving us that aren't serving me that don't help me, that don't help solve the problem and in fact, cost me more emotionally and spiritually. And in the feeling in my home and my access to Heavenly Father's guidance, forgiveness, is Heavenly Father's grace in helping us let go of those things and move past so that the relationship changes. And maybe it's even that I don't even feel like I have to forgive anymore. I understand where she, my puppy, is at and I can allow her to be her, or the person who hurt me I can allow them to be who they are, where they are. And all I'm in charge of is me and my feelings and my choices and how I respond to them. So although it's a silly story about my dog and how hard it was to have a puppy, it taught me more about the atonement than anything else has in the last few years. And so I'm really grateful for my little dog.
KARYN LAY: That was Sarah. I think the takeaway from today's episode is that whether we're learning to forgive a dog or ourselves or seeking the strength to move past the pain of a betrayal, we can be sure that God will bring each of us the opportunity to practice forgiveness in whatever way we will learn it best. And as promised to us is that he will not leave us alone in our efforts and that is the beauty of the gospel.
That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. Thank you to Crishelle, Kaitlyn, and Sarah for their stories and their faith. And thank you for listening. If you have a story to share, call our pitch line at 515-519-6179 and leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. And of course, be sure to check out our past episodes of this podcast at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. If you love the stories we've shared, leave a review on the Apple Podcast app or anywhere you listen to your podcasts and tell your friends. It'll help more people find us. Have a great week.