By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
While working at Shelterwood, Heather reconnected with Tyler. The two spoke often, and after Tyler graduated from college, he asked Heather to marry him.
"I wanted that," she says. "But I had put a lot of pressure on him to fill a lot of needs in my life. He was a good guy, and I was such a crazy person that I figured he would balance me out."
The two made all the arrangements for their wedding, booked a venue, sent out invitations. Heather picked out a dress. And then, several weeks before they were to wed, Tyler called Heather and backed out. She was crushed, started drinking again, left her job at Shelterwood. She had to find herself all over again.
"I really think this last year has been as difficult as any of them," Heather says. "But it's been really interesting, because I've found that when times are really hard, I become a way-better, more well-rounded person. There are times in life where I have swung so hard to the right, to doing everything the good, clean way, that when I swing back to the left, it's that much more severe. This last year has been about finding the balance. Learning that you can still have fun, be normal, do social things, be a regular person without everything being so rigid."
Today, Heather works at a dinner playhouse in Golden and says she wants to open a coffee shop/performance space of her own. In the meantime, she's moving into a downtown apartment and taking business classes at Metro State. At 22, she loves traveling, meeting new people and hearing their stories. This past summer, she went on a sweeping jaunt through Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Greece and Israel with Jenn.
And encouraged by Eckhardt, her friend and mentor, Heather has begun telling her own story. "We started going to the same church, Lookout Mountain Community Church," Eckhardt explains. "Two summers ago, they asked me to give a talk on forgiveness, and I asked Heather to come and share with me. People were overwhelmed. After her talk, people were coming up to her, weeping. They were so moved by her words."
Heather has spoken to several groups since then, and Eckhardt is encouraging her to speak more. If she does, it will be because Heather sees how her words affect audiences.
"People are so awesome after I speak," she says. "People are so loving. That first time I spoke, I was hurting so bad, with the wedding and everything, but people were coming up to me and were like, 'For the first time in my life, I can forgive my dad for beating me; for the first time in my life, I feel like I have that freedom.' As much as it is difficult for me, it makes it worth it. It lets them see that you don't have to mess up your own life because of what happened to you in the past. You can forgive and move on."
Not that it's easy. Heather struggles every day.
"The thing I've learned is that forgiveness is a life thing," she says. "Every time the pain comes again and you feel the need to take revenge and do whatever you need to do, you have to forgive again. That's been a huge theme in my life. Because when I was younger, I forgave my dad. As horrible as everything he did was, I knew how badly he was hurting. Everyone is capable of pretty atrocious things given the right situations. So it's like, all right, I can forgive my dad, and I'll move on or whatever. But then something will come up, or even just little events, things like high school graduation or going to college, and it's like, well, damn it, you're not here for me again! And that pain is brought up all over again. I miss having parents so much, especially at this age where you can actually be friends with them and get to know them in a whole different way. I would love my mom's advice right now in life. And I know when I get married, I'm going to have to deal with the fear of what happened with my parents and their marriage.
"All the right you think you have to get even with people, you have to let go of. You have to forgive again," she says. And forgive both little and big things. "For example, I hated golf for years and years and years because my dad loved golf. Anything to do with golf, I hated. Or lawyers -- I hated them. Just because it was an easy thing to hate because it was associated with my dad. But then I had to be like, okay, golf in and of itself is not an evil thing. I had to let that go. It's just things like that. It's a choice and it's a hard choice, for me and other people.
"Some of the girls I worked with at Shelterwood, I don't even know how they function in life with all the awful things they have been through. But I've learned, and I hope they learn, that it's possible to be a normal, functioning person and to love and to take risks with life and to forgive and give up all your hate. Forgiveness is a constant struggle, and that's what I want to tell people. They seem to understand that. It gives them hope to see that I'm not so screwed up."