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My Journey Through Forgiveness

This is an important word to me, and one that ranks highly on my list of values as a motivational speaker, and as a person - for many reasons. What is forgiveness? The ability to let go of your anger towards someone else for something they have done. Is it something we do for them? In a way – for many people feel the need to be forgiven for their actions and this is one way we show love and grace to them. But it’s something we really do for ourselves, because not forgiving hurts us more – carrying around anger, bitterness, judgment, vengeance, and hatred, causes us pain – both physical and emotional.  Often the act of forgiveness does not even involve that other person. We can forgive people without having to tell them, or having them ask us for it.

Forgiveness isn’t just a personal thing, it’s also a faith thing, and it’s even a work thing. We learn to forgive that father who hurt us. Does that mean we are saying that it was acceptable? No. It means that we are letting go of our anger at a person who wasn’t what we needed them to be.For those of us who claim Jesus as Lord, it is a faith thing. We are called to forgive as He forgave us when we didn’t earn it or deserve it.Forgiveness is also a work thing. Conflict is a huge issue in the workplace, and I believe that most of it stems from our inability to forgive our co-workers.

And so begins my journey through forgiveness. And, as usual, it starts with a story. A story that really started years ago. I just wasn’t paying attention.

I heard about prison ministries a long time ago. I don’t remember exactly when or where, but I remember that feeling of electricity running through me. I remember the hammering of my heart. I remember saying, “I would love to do that.”  Strange, I know. Most people don’t get excited about the thought of going into the prison. I remember immediately pushing the idea aside as stupid. What in the world would possess me to think I could go into the prison? What do I know about that life? How could I possibly connect? Why would they care about my hair extensions and bedazzled jackets? And so I went on about my business – the business of bringing humor and hope to a world who needs to hear it. I know, it’s not fancy. But if you think humor and hope is not important, I will show you people who don’t have any.

So as I’m going about my business and my faith – two roads that often intersect – I am praying for something. I am asking God for a cause to wrap my arms around. There are many causes – many people that need our help – many sicknesses to be cured – many who need shelter and food – the needs are overwhelming. It wasn’t hard for me to find places where I was able to help. But I selfishly wanted something I believed in – or rather felt called to. Does that makes sense? I prayed that God would show me where I could use my platform and my voice to be an advocate for something – something that would bring Him glory and bring me passion in serving. I tell people it was a prayer I wasn’t really sure I meant, because sometimes I will pray for something just because I think it sounds good to Him.

I think there were probably three or four more times when prison ministries came into my vision. Same hammering of the heart. Same electricity. Same response - why me? Same discounting it as not my thing.  Sometimes I wonder if God chuckles at me asking Him to open doors while I’m walking past the one he has opened over and over and over again.

I spoke for a literacy event recently that ended with me chatting in the back of the room after the program with a new friend who sat at my dinner table – Keith Merritt. Turns out we share the same faith, and immediately launched into one of those conversations about how cool God is. He told me about how he goes into the prisons three times a week. “Wow,” I replied. “I’ve always thought that would be a neat thing to do.” And that was that.

A couple of weeks later he called me about speaking at an event he was hosting (nothing to do with prisons) and in the process the prison ministry thing came up again. And he told me I needed to read Scotty Barnes’ story. Before we hung up I had Googled Scotty Barnes and was already launching into her story.  Two paragraphs into her story, and I was hooked. Hooked on what, I wasn’t sure. I just knew I needed to call her. I knew I wanted to tell her story. And so with tears streaming down my face, I picked up the phone – having no idea where that step would lead.

Scotty’s ministry reunites children of inmates with their parents – for one day. It’s about bringing the child and the parent together for one day with God – for reconciliation and healing – for that chance for the parent to tell that child they love them, words that children need to hear most of all – for the chance to ask forgiveness and give forgiveness. More than 80% of children of incarcerated parents end up in prison themselves. Scotty is trying to break the cycle.

Scotty and I became friends instantly. As we talked about what she does and what I do, the pieces just started falling into place. Suddenly so many things made sense. And while it was scary, and I couldn’t exactly see the vision, I knew I was walking in the right direction. I had begun my journey through forgiveness.

And that’s what this series of blogs “Journey Through Forgiveness” is about – the steps I take, and now you take with me. How a phone call turned into a journey that would change my life from the very first moment. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to learn. And I’m not sure what your part is in all of this. And I don’t know how long the road will be, or where it will lead. The only thing I know, is that it’s about forgiveness. And if you’re reading this, then you are traveling this road with me. And maybe there is some forgiveness in your future.

As I write this first post I have already been to my first “One Day With God” camp – and still I can’t talk about it without crying. I walked in there thinking I would bless them, and they blessed me ten fold. It was a weekend I will never forget. And there will be many more to follow. So while this will be about my journey, and my story, it will really be about their stories. For now you get a front row seat. And you’d better hold on, because He is working in a mighty way. Just wait and see…

Your motivational speaker on the road through forgiveness,

Kelly Swanson

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  1. Bethany07-27-12

    Hi Kelly,

    I have been enjoying quite a few of your blogs this morning. Thank you for sharing your talents with the world – you write an incredible story.

    Your journey through forgiveness is a powerful one. One thing I have learned in life is that “Happiness is a way of travel – not a destination.”

    Agreed, success comes when we are ready for it. Just know, your words are motivating and much appreciated. Thank you!

    Best regards,

    Bethany Ramirez

  2. kelly07-27-12

    Thank you Bethany! Sometimes I wonder if anybody out there is listening. Nice to know someone is. And thank you for taking the time to write and let me know. You made my day. My journey through forgiveness is going to be even more powerful once I take you down the road of service I am traveling. It is beautiful to get a front row seat to love and grace and healing. I am blessed. See you on the journey!

  3. Don Harris08-13-12

    Kelly, was just reading a few of your stories and wanted to share a brief comment: Patti, the owner of the store where I work part time, we attended the 9:00 class yesterday, 08.12.12 while at The Atlanta Jewelry Show.
    Kelly.. you were Awesome.. and your attitude was affirmation
    that the very road we are on is the very journey that you so meaningfully described. We were very blessed to be able to hear your wise and … true story…. that was both motivational and realistic… your delivery was incrediable.
    Many Thanks.

    Don Harris
    New Jewelry and Designs
    Decatur, Georgia

  4. kelly08-13-12

    Hello Don. Thank you for the kind words! I had a wonderful time yesterday in Atlanta sharing my truths. I hope I brought a little extra humor and motivation to your day. The hard job is up to you, for you have to keep the motivation going. Have a great day and I hope our paths cross again soon.

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