Tag Archives: forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard for me sometimes…

      I am a self-professed bleeding heart. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I consider myself the queen of second chances. But I admit to having a hard time forgiving Wes McLean.

     This week the 31-year-old Victoria-Tobique MLA pleaded guilty to impaired driving.  He was fined $2,300 and was banned from operating any motor vehicle for a year.  He apologized to his family, friends and constituents and was remorseful in his acceptance of punishment.Image

     The charge stemmed from an incident last February. Police pulled McLean over in Edmunston. He was driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. This wasn’t just an extra beer. McLean was drunk. This is where my forgiveness gets a little fuzzy.

     Yes, he’s human. Yes, he’s young. Yes, he made a mistake and he’s really sorry.  But three times the legal limit isn’t a small lapse in judgment. To me, his decision to drive that day shows McLean has a huge character flaw – one that still astonishes me. At the age of 31, McLean is part of a generation (my generation) that has grown up in a time where drinking and driving was NEVER something deemed acceptable.He’s had a lifetime of MADD Canada ads, SAFE Grad events, and media bombardment of the serious dangers of drinking and driving.Image

     Yet, on a cold February day, after obviously having too many drinks, McLean, a member of our Legislative Assembly, a man who people in this region trusted and voted for, opened the door to his car, sat inside, put a key in the ignition and drove when he was in no shape to. McLean SHOULD have known better – and he didn’t. And that scares me.

     In my years as a reporter, I sat through multiple trials where THIS specific moment of stupidity and thoughtlessness has meant lives were irrevocably changed. People were killed, families were scarred, and those who caused this pain, while remorseful, were never truly able to make up for the life or lives they took.

     After hearing of McLean’s arrest I remember thinking “WHY BOTHER!!”  Seriously, think about it. If a young man like Wes McLean can make such an error in judgment – a man who, by all indications, follows media, knows the difference between right and wrong, has gained the trust of people, and had years of exposure to anti-drinking and driving campaigns – it makes me question where we’ve gone wrong?

     What have we not done that we should have?  What more should we do to convey the horrors – drinking and driving is serious – it kills – it is against the law – you should NEVER do this? It is when I try and answer these questions that I come to the conclusion that Wes McLean should not be forgiven easily.

     The fact is we HAVE done a lot – as a society we have educated our children, we’ve provided incentives through changes in court sentencing maximums to help deter people from getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking.  I think MADD Canada, high school anti-drinking ‘PARTY’ programs; SAFE grad events, media campaigns and law enforcement spot checks have been SPOT ON. These initiatives are making a difference.

     This is why I believe Wes McLean’s decision to get behind the wheel is more than just a mistake and shouldn’t be forgiven easily.

     I hope the government continues to exclude him from his legislative duties until his driving prohibition is completed. I hope that McLean continues to have to work and work hard to regain the trust of his constituents. I pray that this isn’t just a small ‘bump’ in his road – that his journey to forgiveness is arduous path.


Photo credit: pcnb.ca

     His arrest, his record, and his punishment must be used as an example. We can’t be quick to forgive just because he’s young. In this case I believe we must make him work hard to regain our trust BECAUSE he is young – because he should have known better- because he was educated, because he was exposed to media campaigns, and provided with ample information to understand the consequences and, despite all of this, he STILL chose to get behind the wheel of the car.

      I’m not saying I will never forgive Wes McLean, but it will take a while. I firmly believe that when these kinds of mistakes are made – serious errors in judgment by educated people in positions of trust – the road to redemption SHOULD be a rocky one.

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My Big Fat Life: I’ve never liked the song, Suicide Is Painless …

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday November 15th, 2010

You can see the original Gleaner column by clicking here

I never knew what the word suicide meant until I was about nine or 10 years old.

I was in the car, guitar in hand, on my way to my weekly guitar lesson. It was just after supper and it was dark, which makes me think it may have been late fall or early spring. When my mother drove past my Aunt Helen’s house, she slowed the car down. There were emergency vehicles in the yard – a fire truck and an ambulance.

My brother and I both asked what was going on.

“I’ll explain later …” was all my mother said.

After my lesson was finished, we drove past again, and my father was waiting by the road this time. Mom rolled down her window.

They exchanged a few words in hushed sentences, trying to prevent my brother and I from getting all the details. All I heard was something about my aunt being with family now, and that my mother shouldn’t wait up for him tonight, he’d be home late.

I do remember he kissed her before she rolled up the window.

That night my mother explained to us that our Uncle Yvon had hurt himself and died.

I found things hard to believe at first.

How could he be gone?

I mean, we were all at their house last summer for a barbecue. We fished in the river behind their house. My brother and I even played tricks on Uncle Yvon, running back up to the house telling him his fishing rod was ‘moving’ – he had it lodged between rocks down by the river. He’d come running down from the house to reel in his ‘big one’ and my brother and I would laugh and laugh, and then he’d chase us back up to where my parents were seated.

How could he not be here? He held me as we danced at his wedding. I was the flower girl. I got to stand on his feet as we bounced around the Hatchet Lake Fire Hall at his reception.

Not here? No way.

It was a lot for my uneducated mind to comprehend.

A day or two later, as we spent time with family members before the funeral, I heard the word suicide and asked my mom what that was.

She told me it was when someone ended his or her own life.

I remember asking her why anyone would want to do that. I don’t think she answered me.

Years later I found out he shot himself in their home and that my Aunt Helen was the one to find him. It wasn’t until I was married and was looking through old pictures and ran across a few from their wedding that I really cried for her and could only imagine the pain she must have gone through.

He was depressed, she told me years later. Depression is the root cause of the majority of suicides in this country. My Uncle Yvon felt that ending his life was his only option, and he never sought help. But help wasn’t something people went out and asked for back in the 1970s. Men especially suffered in silence. Many still do.

When I lived in Iqaluit, Nunavut, suicide was something I became all too familiar with.

Every week there seemed to be someone – mainly young men, but also some women, always bright lights – who felt the need to extinguish themselves.

My worst experience – one that still haunts me to this day – was the covering of the first ever suicide conference in Iqaluit.

The first day was marred by the death of a 12-year-old girl who had hanged herself in her closet. She was the daughter of the conference organizer.

The irony was horrendous. Through her pain, the girl’s mother urged conference delegates NOT to cancel the event. She felt her situation sadly demonstrated the overpowering need to do something to stem the tide.

But I don’t think the people who find the strength to go through with such violence can ever fully comprehend the pain their final act imparts on those who love them.

The guilt can be overwhelming for their loved ones.

I think that’s why I hate the song, Suicide Is Painless. My husband is a great fan of the old TV series, M*A*S*H, but I hate the theme song.

Suicide is not painless … it’s so unbelievably painful for those left behind. We all grieve, and we all wonder why, and then question our own actions.

We spend weeks, months, even years wondering if we could have done something to prevent this.

“Maybe if I had MADE him or her go to the doctor … Maybe if I was kinder … What if I told them I loved them more often … Maybe if I just hugged them more?”

People can (and have) made themselves sick with the ‘what ifs.’

I think we have to not only forgive the actions of the loved one who is gone, but also forgive ourselves. We need to let things go and not blame ourselves for all of the things we thought we should have been able to see or prevent.

A friend who was a member of my church in Goose Bay lost her father through a fishing accident. A few years later she also lost brothers in similar circumstances. A surviving brother couldn’t deal with the pain he felt at the losses he endured and ended his life at his own hands.

Her family was broken apart, wound after wound after wound. I am still astonished at my friend’s strength in light of all that had happened in her family. After his funeral we talked about heaven and suicide.

I was brought up to believe that taking your own life meant you weren’t entitled to a ‘get-in-free-card’ for heaven.

In analyzing our own relationships with God, we were able to resolve our inner conflicts with what we’d been told versus what we truly believed.

We figure that because our God is a loving God, He would easily forgive and welcome you into His Kingdom, even if your life’s end was your own doing.

God knows what’s in your heart. He also knows what pain you’re experiencing and my friend and I figured that if we are in excruciating pain – whether emotional or physical – a pain so overwhelming that it makes you take the steps to take your own life to escape that pain – that He, in his wisdom and love for us, forgives us in our failing.

I believe that those in such pain are held even closer when they arrive at the gates, that He welcomes them with open arms, holds them and allows them to weep, and then He wipes away their tears and smiles at them, forgiving them instantly.

Now, if those left behind could only follow in His footsteps and forgive themselves as easily …

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.

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My Big Fat Life: Religious restoration: Faith restored by leaders who know the value of family and forgiveness

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Restoring faith: Father Bill Brennan at the altar with server Lauren MacDougall during Christmas Eve mass.
Theresa Blackburn believes Father Bill has helped restore her faith in the Roman Catholic Church after allegations of sexual misconduct by priests have come to light over the last two decades.


I consider myself a fair woman … someone who always looks at both sides of the coin, who gives people the benefit of the doubt and always tries to be unbiased.

Maybe it’s my upbringing, but I believe the way I look at situations can be directly tied to my near 20-year career as a journalist. Your credibility is closely aligned with your capacity to be objective.

When I first started my journey as a reporter the only time I had a hard time looking at both sides objectively was in the courtroom. When trials dealt with the abuse and sexual assault of children, I struggled to be impartial.

Sadly I have witnessed and had to report on more than a few court cases concerning adults abusing their positions of trust.

When I worked in Cape Breton in the early 1990s, I had to cover the trials of three Roman Catholic priests accused of sexually assaulting young altar boys.

In a particularly nasty case, the priest in question set up a weight room in the rectory and invited young boys in the community to come and ‘work out’ or wrestle. Sometimes the boys would lift weights with their shirts off, most times they wrestled in nothing but their underwear.

For more than two weeks I heard horrible stories of how these young boys were abused. In the end, this particular priest was convicted and sent to jail.

A close colleague who knew I was Roman Catholic questioned my continued faith in light of everything I knew, everything that was unfolding in Cape Breton and the horrible stories that had already been recounted in Newfoundland at Mount Cashel.

His direct question on a number of occasions: “How can you continue to go to church when you know what’s gone on?”

It is a question I’ve asked myself time and time again. Every time I question my faith, I come back to two things. This is the faith that I was raised with – it is ingrained in me, and feels comfortable. Most Sundays when I walk into our church, I feel a sense of belonging, like a homecoming.

This is also the faith that guided my father through his ordeal with cancer.

Time and time again my father was asked how he was getting through ‘this’ so calmly.

They were referring of course to his impending death. He had the same answer every time. If he didn’t have his faith, he’d be a wreck.

But here he was, in his last days, calmly taking visitors, holding my mother’s hand, my hand, the hands of my children, my brother, saying his goodbyes as we all gathered around him, as he calmly waited for ‘his time.’

It’s hard to leave something that has been such a powerful and positive force in your family.

Then I met Rose Gregoire. Rose was a church leader in her little Labrador parish on the Sheshatshiu Innu reserve. She also suffered at the hands of a priest who served her community when she was a young girl. After years of grieving the loss of her childhood and innocence, she decided that what happened to her was an act of one bad man and not an act of a church or a God who loved her.

She embraced her faith and felt that her life was blessed because of her ability to forgive her church.

Ironically, when Rose passed away a couple of years ago, she considered her local priest, Father Chris Rushton, one of her closest friends.

Every time abuse comes to the surface, every time someone comes forward and describes unimaginable hurt and reveals deep scars, I feel a guilt I can’t explain. I question my faith again, wondering if this is where I should be.

Lately a man who not only shares his faith, but his life and his own life lessons with his congregation, easily restores my belief in my church.

Father Bill Brennan is a caring, intelligent, and witty man. I count myself lucky to have him as my priest.

He may not have a wife and children, but he is a family man, and I think it’s his connection to family that makes him connect so easily with his congregation.

Father Bill is a Johnville boy, raised in a large farming family. His younger brother is a member of our parish and comes to church with his wife and young children. Sometimes his mom also joins our congregation.

Father Bill talks fondly of family get-togethers; of the new generation quickly growing in his family, and his new found closeness to his mom after his father’s passing.

When his dad died, Father Bill shared with us the wonderful stories of his youth, but also the pain he felt at losing a man who influenced him so … someone he loved.

I’ve also witnessed his emotions bubbling under the surface when he conveys stories of hurt and of forgiveness.

He looks around his community and his congregation for inspiration … and what does he find?

Stories he can share that connect us all. And really, isn’t that what a church should be? A place where you feel connected?

Father Bill never wants to be put on a pedestal. He wants to be seen as a person who walks the path of faith with you, not in front of you.

He’s not afraid to share his ‘humanness’ with us, and that restores my faith in my church. Personally I think too many church leaders are disconnected with the people they serve.

Thankfully Father Bill does not fall into that category.

And while I will be the first person to stand up and remind my church to take responsibility for what has happened to many children under their watch, I am also one of the first to stand up and remind people that my church is not defined by pedophiles.

And the strength to stand up for my church – to stand up for my faith – comes directly from people like Rose Gregoire and Father Bill Brennan.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and diets in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.

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My Big Fat Life: Remembering a very pregnant Christmas and the power of forgiveness

Published Monday December 14th, 2009

My first child did not arrive at the most opportune time. I was 20 and in my first year of college. She was oblivious to the upheaval her pending arrival was causing.

At first I wanted to give her up for adoption. Being pregnant and being adopted myself I imagined what joy such a gift would bring.

I knew first hand how great my life had been up to this point. I assumed it would be easy to provide her with great future, compliments of parents I didn’t know.

It was all planned, all organized, the paperwork mostly filled out … and then I held her and everything changed.

But not before I had to spend Christmas with my family and pretend I wasn’t pregnant.

My pregnancy was not what you’d call a “happy” occasion. I was in school, I was not married, and I was unemployed with no prospects. Really, I was a statistic “¦ a big, fat, bulging statistic.

My parents, at the time, with the “sweep it under the rug” mentality of their generation, thought it best if we just kept this little family secret ‘to ourselves.’

I was away at school and only home on weekends, our family was big and far-flung so distant relatives need not be “bothered” with the information. After all, I was going to give this child up, erase it from our collective memory, and act like nothing happened afterward.

So my “condition” wasn’t openly discussed. In fact when I was home on weekends, words like baby, pregnant or swollen ankles were never spoken.

My doctor appointments happened throughout the week when I was away. The plan was that I’d probably have the child in the same community I went to school in.

It was all packaged nicely in a quiet little box for us to wrap up and put away in our mental attics after the fact.

But Christmas was hard … and I was huge … and people came to visit … and I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

Pictures that Christmas are visibly bereft of any full body shots of me. Pictures are taken from my chest up. In some pictures I am standing behind people to hide my plight. In a group shot where we’re all situated around a couch, I am on the floor so only my head and shoulders appear in the picture.

Some nights when people came I feigned not feeling well and went to bed hoping to avoid questions about my weight gain, or knowing stares.

This embarrassment (both my family’s and my own) of course all vanished at the sight of my daughter and the announcement that I could never give her up for adoption.

But my feelings of guilt stayed with me after her birth. I had let my family down, had people look at me – call me one of “those” girls.

Two days after the birth of Kristen my grandparents came to visit. My grandmother hugged me and held the baby.

When she was looking into Kristen’s eyes she said, quite plainly, that I was not alone in this family.

“Many girls got pregnant and had to get married right after the war,” she said calmly.

“Two of your great-uncles had to marry their girlfriends right after they got back from overseas.

“You’re not the first … you won’t be the last.”

And there it was – an acknowledgement of my horribly embarrassing situation from this unexpected source – my Nan. My grandmother is the most prim and proper woman I know. With her everything is perfect, her home, her finances, her upbringing and the upbringing of her children.

And this person who likes things to be proper and perfect sits here and tells me about imperfections in her own family … imperfections that could have brought about shame to her parents had her brother’s not married their girlfriends.

Yes I had a problem, yes it was pretty shameful and hard to hide, but I wasn’t about to rush into marriage because of a child. I wasn’t ready … it wasn’t the right time for me.

But in doing all of this, I carried a burden, brought about shame and felt I had to ask for forgiveness over and over again. While I think I was granted it verbally, I don’t think I was ever really granted it wholly until Kristen was much older. Publicly I know people still stared and talked … but “they” didn’t matter.

When Kristen was a toddler my brother said that me having Kristen was one of the best things that had happened to our family in a long time. My parents chimed in quickly … easily.

You have no idea how wonderful forgiveness feels.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and diets in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.

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