Freedom. What an odd concept It is more of a state of mind than a state of physically being free, isn’t it? There are so many ways a person can feel free. There are just as many ways a person can feel bound, imprisoned, chained. I loved Stephanie’s post last week regarding her prince charming and freedom from hopelessness. She is feeling chained by her own physical limitations right now. I could relate to that. I have chains also. My chains just look a little differently.
My name is Jamie Henderson, and my prison today is unforgiveness. It sounds like such a simple thing. I remember preaching to my sister before she died. I remember telling her she had to forgive people if she was ever going to get better. And boy did she. She forgave. And she got better. Not really the way pictured, but I’ll share more about that in a bit.
My sister is a subject I haven’t really touched much. I like to write about happy things and I like to offer words of encouragement. So to talk about the death of someone I love so much is the exact opposite of what I want to do.
But after reading Maggie’s post last week of personal loss and suffering, I felt inspired. Her post moved me to tears. Not because it was sad (even though it was), but because I could relate. I haven’t known Maggie very long, but her realness and vulnerability woke something inside of me. Her words reminded me of my own hurts, and for the first time since I met Maggie, I could identify with her.
Is it weird that learning about how other people struggle can somehow give you peace and freedom?
You learn that you aren’t alone. You learn that at least if you are in a prison, you aren’t in there by yourself. There is a strange comfort in that.
I am going to try to be just as vulnerable this week. So I want to introduce you to Kim.
That’s her on the left and a fifteen year younger version of me on the right. Stephanie said last week that David was her biggest fan. I would have to say that in all my life I have never felt like I had a bigger fan than she. She was six years old when I was born. She was my protector from day one. She used to tell me that God blessed me with the looks and the personality and that there would not be anything that I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it.
She also kept me safe. Our home seemed to always have unsafe things in it. There were drugs, alcohol, guns, anger, abuse, neglect, and criticism. She guarded me from as much as she could.
She was molested from the time she was 9 years old until somewhere around 15 years old. She would have killed someone if they had even looked at me wrong; yet, she endured it herself.
She began getting high to numb the pain at a very young age, but she would have kicked my tail if I even looked at drugs.
As we both got older and I began my life, she stayed the same. I moved out. She didn’t. I got married. She wouldn’t. I had kids. She couldn’t. She had been coerced into having an abortion as a teenager and the lingering effects were devastating. She felt betrayed by almost everyone in her life. But she loved me. And she loved my kids even more. She was like a second mama to them. And they adored her. She would take them on long walks and let them watch all the scary movies that I would never let them watch. She would play basketball with them and keep all their secrets.
But when we weren’t around she was deeply depressed and struggled with addiction.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving of 2007, I stumbled into a little old church with my dad and step-mom and heard a backwoods preacher give a sermon on forgiveness. He talked about how holding onto hurts could destroy your physical body. I couldn’t shake that sermon. For days I knew I was supposed to share it with my sister. But I didn’t feel like I had the right to tell her she should forgive all those mean, selfish people who had hurt her. It seemed like the whole world had just abandoned her. Who was I to tell her that she could let all that go? But God was really clear on how much He loved her and how much she needed to hear the information that I had.
So Wednesday of that week I went to see her. I told her everything that preacher had said. I told her I would walk every step with her if she was willing. I would sit with her as she talked to my mom, and to my dad, and even the cousins who had abused her. I wasn’t sure any of this was sinking in. I had been looking away from her the entire time I talked. I couldn’t even look at her. When I finally made eye contact, I could see the tears streaming down her face and I knew God was working.
She agreed! Just like that. We began having some really hard conversations. It seemed as though she was coming back to life. She made amends with my mom and with my dad. She even began seeing a doctor to get off of all of the prescription pills she had been addicted to all of those years.
Five months later we were working together. We were listening to gospel music. We were talking about salvation and Jesus. She had come off every medicine except for the one that was helping with withdrawals. She was supposed to gradually come off of that medicine over the span of a few months.
I had just begun attending Temple in Selma, NC. Kim wasn’t ready to go to church yet, but she was happy to listen to me talk about the sermons. Actually, she seemed happy about a lot of things those days. She was getting better.
But something happened. One day in April, 2008, she ran out of her medicine. She didn’t tell anyone. And she didn’t get it filled. I think she thought she was finally healed and could quit it completely. But after a day or so she began to have symptoms. She felt sick and began to shake. She sent my mom to fill the prescription but the pharmacy was out and said it would take another day to get it in. On the third day she took a full dose of the medicine and it sent her into cardiac arrest. Her heart was extremely weak from the years of drug abuse. The coroner ruled it an acute allergic reaction to the prescription medication.
I realized that night that she received ultimate freedom. I knew she was receiving freedom daily through the forgiveness that she was offering those who hurt her, but now she would never be in pain again. Me, not so much. I was devastated. She was my best friend.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to smile through the pain, but this is what it looks like. This was me greeting people at the funeral home a few days after she passed.
This spring makes ten years since she went home to be with the Lord, and I can still take one look at this picture and the pain is just as real as it was ten years ago.
But that pain is nothing compared to the pain of unforgiveness. It’s a real life prison. My sister got freedom from it just months before she died. It was a gift to all of us who were left behind.
Please, please, please come back Friday to see how God has been moving in my own heart to offer some forgiveness to a few people who have hurt me.