“Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:31a, 32 (NCV)
As I sat outside the government center with my preschooler watching her favorite machine do its job, my thoughts were anything but constructive. Secretly, I wished the crane operator would drop the large preformed concrete wall it was lifting onto the building below. Tears streamed down my face as the darkness of my thoughts surprised me. Never before in my life had I wished physical harm on another soul, but housed inside the jail was the woman who killed my child.
While she sat in safety, I was trapped in a world of surgeries, therapies, sleepless nights, and bills we could not pay. Anguished, I cried out to God. We did nothing to cause this, but there is absolutely nothing we can do to fix it!
Although God was present in so many ways, that moment in the parking lot he appeared silent.
In the months following, well-intentioned souls tried to remind us of “a thing or two” about forgiveness. I am surprised I still have a tongue. The taste of blood on more than one occasion was an acrid reminder that none of those advocating forgiveness had ever walked in our shoes.
There was no reprieve from our darkest day because no matter where we went, every conversation, newspaper story, television or radio broadcast had some new detail of the school bus crash we wanted to forget. As if enduring exhausting days wasn’t enough, we were also thrown into the middle of a media firestorm exacerbated by the immigration status of the woman driving the van which hit the bus. There were many words said in anger for and what felt like against us. It was heartbreaking to watch our personal tragedy diminished to politicized soundbites.
We chose not to attend the trial because doing so wouldn’t change our reality. Our son Reed wasn’t coming back, and our other two children who had been injured on the bus would not be miraculously healed.
The tentacles of sadness and bitterness tangled into a chokehold around me.
When, God? When will this nightmare be over?
Although the trial led to a verdict of guilty, the conviction brought no solace. I poured my heart out to God and scoured every promise in his Word, never allowing myself to linger at any mention of forgiveness. Guilty was also a fitting description of my heart; I wanted her to hurt as badly as I did.
Is there no balm in Gilead, Lord?
Eventually the day of sentencing came, and we were to give a family impact statement. I wanted her to look into my eyes and see the pain she had created. With such intense media coverage, I had allowed my imagination to make her a larger-than-life creature rather than one of God’s children.
Sitting in the crowded courtroom, the nervous anticipation made me want to vomit. I would soon be face to face with the woman whose poor decisions shattered my family’s idyllic existence. Suddenly there was a commotion outside the guarded door. Before I realized what was happening, there she was – a tiny woman, heavily shackled, escorted by six armed law enforcement officers.
Is all this really necessary? Even I could knock that slip of a person down, and I know those big men could easily contain any threat she might offer. It seems almost cruel.
The thought was there before I had to time to process for whom my heart was feeling.
Like many others impacted by that day, we shared our story. She said hers, which only added salt to our wounds because there was no repentance, no apologies given. Yet despite it all, God used that one moment of humanity to thaw my icy reserve.
I have heard it said many times that God’s light shines brightest in the darkness. After that day, in the dimly lit corners of my broken heart, I continued to seek him. One day, God placed a persistent thought on my mind.
Wouldn’t it be great if one day she met Reed?
No, God. It would not.
Like Jacob of the Old Testament, I continued to wrestle with God. My heart conflicted with what I saw as God’s crazy idea. Yet, the thought of forgiving her so she could meet Reed was never far from my mind. In my quiet times of devotion, the thought would pop up again and again. While driving one day, I heard a sermon on people who were reluctant to trust Jesus. The pastor’s words cut straight to my heart.
How many of your sins were in the future when Jesus died on the cross?
I sat sobbing in my car just a few blocks from the place where I had wished the cement wall to drop. I realized that the twelve-year-old boy who had loved God with all his heart would probably be one of the first to think God’s “crazy idea” was actually a good one. As the sadness, bitterness, and exhaustion which had punctuated my days ripped my heart apart, I felt a lightness as God’s words poured through that radio show. All my sins were yet to transpire on the day Jesus died. Yet, my hope lay in his sacrifice because through it I live confidently, knowing I will see my son again.
Hope and bitterness, light and dark, cannot coexist in a heart. In that tear-filled moment, I realized I could no longer live clinging to the hope of all that Jesus promised while simultaneously living with an embittered heart. In that moment of revelation, the image of my red-headed boy sitting down with her in heaven made me smile through my tears. I prayed, asking for God’s strength and comfort as my soul wrenched by forgiving her. While she was still behind locked doors, I learned that the imprisoned heart was actually mine. God melted my bitterness and transformed it into airy lightness the moment I chose forgiveness. My heart and my days had never felt so free.
This post was originally published in the Minnesota Bridging the Gap Ministry annual Fall Thrive Conference Devotional. The theme this last year was iChoose. Normally, I don’t provide devotional responses in my personal blog, but given what I have seen occur in our country in the last few days, I am going to go out on a limb and say that we can all use a big dose of forgiveness. Please do not misunderstand my words to mean that God doesn’t call us all to action for what he stirs in our heart. I believe he does. I additionally believe that for any group, organization, and yes, country to succeed we have to be willing to look past our differences and love. Sometimes in that loving, we will be asked to forgive and many times we will need to ask to be forgiven. By taking that step, maybe – just maybe – we can have conversations to realize that while our approaches might be different, many of us want the same things – to live and to love. I am a sinner in need of a Savior and every day, I try to live a life of revolutionary love because I have been loved extravagantly by all of you in the midst of life’s trials.
The last time I shared about the very personal and private side of my family’s story, I took some body blows of hatred and meanness. I am going to state that while my first reaction was shock (I mean, really, who wants to spew awfulness at a grieving mom?), my next reaction was wanting to hug the person who sent the nasty messages. Because in my heart, I believe that anybody who would beat up on the grieving must be hurting pretty badly to begin with. I am definitely not perfect and have many downfalls, but to anyone who wants to use this post for ugliness, I may get knocked down, but I am going to get right back up and love – even those with whom I may disagree.
And who knows maybe some day God will reunite Reed and the woman who took his life. If he does, I can only imagine that in that moment there will be nothing but love.
Reflect and Respond
Is bitterness, anger, or hurt clouding your heart? God wants to share your burdens. Spend time in his Word, soaking in his promises to carry you through the storms of life. Take time to pray and ask God if forgiveness can help your heart heal.