FIRST-PERSON: The blessing of forgiveness
BARRE, Vt. (BP)--When I entered the crowded room yesterday, I saw her across the room. My heart was strangely warmed to know she was here with me. It brought back a flood of memories from nearly 12 years ago. Some of those memories were sweet, some painful, but all were laced with the fragrance of forgiveness.
Her name is Mary* and she nearly killed my family more than a decade ago in a car accident. Mary had struggled with alcoholism most of her adult life, and on that fateful morning so long ago had been heavily drinking. She drove her car head-on into mine. The accident was so severe that the police who responded were amazed that anyone survived.
My wife's arm was broken and required major surgery. My leg was so shattered that at first they thought it would have to be amputated, but after surgery and many months of physical therapy, I learned to walk again. My youngest son was the most severely hurt. His back was broken and he suffered massive internal injuries. The small hospital in our area was unable to treat him for his injuries and rushed him to another hospital that had a pediatric intensive care unit. I remember the doctor telling us to say goodbye to him before they put him in the ambulance because the doctor did not think we would ever see him again. For three days his life hung in the balance. But the Lord of Glory chose to use His power to spare my son's life and, though he spent months in a body cast, he made a full recovery. He is now a junior in high school and involved in both basketball and football and one would never know how serious he had been injured as a preschooler.
Years later the word "hate" sounds so harsh, but to be honest, that is exactly what I felt for Mary after the accident. I had moved to a small village in Vermont to serve as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. My specific ministry was to be the pastor of a small congregation of less than 20 that was struggling to survive. I was supposed to tell people like Mary about Jesus so they could be freed from their sins and be transformed into holy living Christians. That was such a glorious dream, until Mary nearly shattered it.
I had nightmares for months about the accident. I would wake up in a cold sweat and the hatred I felt for Mary would wash over me in waves. One part of my mind knew that I needed to forgive Mary, but another part easily justified the fact that Mary did not deserve forgiveness. One night, as I wrestled with those feelings, I tried once again to explain to God what Mary had done to my son. God listened patiently. He's good at that. Then He responded with a still small voice and explained to me what I had done to His Son. God the Father showed me the depth of my own sin that had made it necessary for Jesus Christ, His Son, to die upon the cross. God reminded me that He had graciously spared my own son in the accident that Mary caused, but that Jesus, the Son of God, had to die because of my own sin. That night I asked God to help me learn to forgive and it was the first step in a long journey of healing in my own life. It took time, but I did learn to forgive Mary.
I invited her to church and she agreed to come. I sat behind her during her trial and subsequent sentencing. I went to visit her in jail as she served time for the accident. These were not easy steps for me, but they were important in the overall process of forgiveness. When Mary was released from jail, she began coming to church regularly. One Sunday Mary asked if I might come to her home and explain more about how she might trust Jesus. A deacon and I went and sat in her kitchen and -- surrounded by bottles of alcohol -- I shared that Jesus loved her and had a plan for her life. It would not be an easy plan, for it would require significant change, but it would be a plan that would be for her good and if she would choose to follow it, I promised her she would not regret it. That day Mary trusted her life to Christ and the woman who nearly killed my family became my sister in the Lord.
A few months later, after I had recovered physically, I was able to baptize Mary. In the years since she has become a glowing Christian. She has served on the church board. She has been involved in a variety of ministry opportunities at the church. Though I have since moved on to a new ministry in a town not far away, Mary continues to serve the Lord in that little village church.
Recently I attended the annual meeting of my denomination's regional organization. The meeting was filled with reports from the various denominational entities as well as reports of the missionaries and staff members serving the churches in New England. Each church sends representatives to hear the reports and vote on various issues to give direction to the denomination for the next year. As I walked into the room, one of the first people I saw was Mary. There she sat across the room, the woman who nearly killed my family 11 years ago, now sitting in the same room helping me make decisions for how our denomination will reach other Marys with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, that is what living like a missionary is all about. I can honestly say that Mary is a blessing to my life. Seeing her across the room at that meeting reminded me of the blessing of forgiveness that I have received from Christ. I can do nothing less than offer that same blessing to others as I seek to live like a missionary and share the forgiveness of God with anyone who will listen.
*Name changed. Terry Dorsett is director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association. For information, visit VermontBaptist.org.