This chapter is from our upcoming short story collection, Christmas Jelly. It contains two of the most powerful stories on forgiveness I’ve ever heard.
May Ruth and Biggie’s stories touch you as they have me.
Forgiveness: the greatest gift to give.
You can receive it.
You can give it.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
I still think about it about foggy mornings, especially during winter.
It was a foggy November morning that changed our community forever.
Five men from our community were carpooling south to their highway department jobs in Lake Charles. A northbound eighteen-wheeler passed in the thick fog. The driver later said he veered to the ditch when he saw the Volkswagen van, but its driver did the same.
The head-on collision killed all five men. Our village and nearby Fairview community were devastated. Five women became widows; several of my friends became fatherless.
Mr. Ritchie Young was driving the vehicle. He and his wife Ruth were close friends with our family. Their sons, Bubba and Paul, were two of my best teenage friends. I watched up close the grief and loss a tragedy like this brings.
Mrs. Ruth has been my mom’s best friend for over fifty years, including the forty years since the tragedy. Mrs. Ruth, Mom, and several other ladies make up “The Posse,” a rambling fun group of Dry Creek single ladies.
I consider Ruth Young Taylor a second mother. I love her. That love and respect only deepened when she recently told me this story:
“After Ritchie was killed, the driver of the eighteen-wheeler was in jail for nearly a year. Elaine Young and I went to see him. They checked our purses as if we might be carrying on gun, but we weren’t there for revenge. We were there to extend forgiveness. ”
She smiled, “He was shaking when we walked in. We assured him of our open hearts and complete forgiveness. He shook even more, but this time from emotion.”
I studied Mrs. Ruth’s peaceful face as she continued. “Elaine and I found out his family was having a difficult time so we bought them a load of groceries.”
I asked, “Mrs. Ruth, how did y’all forgive like that?”
“Oh, you can’t do that on your own.” She pointed heavenward. “It’s got to be from the Lord.”
You’re probably wondering what this story has to do with Christmas.
It actually has nothing to do with Christmas
Yet it has everything to do with Christmas.
Christmas is a time for forgiveness.
It is the perfect time to examine of list of hurts and disappointments and wipe the slate clean.
Thinking you can’t forgive them?
If two women can extend forgiveness to the driver who their husbands, can’t you forgive a slight from ten or twenty years ago?
You need to forgive. Even more importantly, you need forgiveness. We all do.
# # #
Here’s another story on divine forgiveness that goes beyond human understanding:
Just his name intrigues me—Biggie Spears. He was a legendary north Louisiana preacher. I never knew him, although I’m friends with his son and grandsons.
In 19____, he received the call every parent dreads. His son had been injured when a vehicle struck his horse. He rushed to the hospital but it was too late. His son, _____________, was dead.
Biggie Spears then turned to a man weeping in the corner of the ER. It was the man who’d struck his son.
He went to the man, wrapped him arms around him, and prayed for him.
In his personal journal, Rev. Spears shared, “I never expected to be praying for the man who’d killed my son.”
His actions that day are worthy of his nickname.
Biggie Spears. Big in heart. Big in forgiveness.
God offers this same type of forgiveness to you. We believe that all the sins of the human race were poured on God’s Son Jesus at the cross. In other words, your sins and mine “killed” Jesus that day.
Instead of retaliation, God offers us complete forgiveness.
Biggie Spears would probably like the idea that his kind act in that E.R. was a picture of what God the Father has done for us.
That kind of forgiveness is too costly to ignore or belittle.
That kind of forgiveness is as close as your heart and your sincere prayer.
He is listening.
And His gift of forgiveness has an added benefit—it’ll help you forgive another person who needs it badly—yourself.
Often we forgive everyone but ourselves.
We carry the heavy load of some sin, great or small.
Some terrible decision that has affected your life for ten, twenty years or more.
An ancient writer, Publilius Syrus, said it well, “How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.”
Self-forgiveness is essential to our emotional and spiritual well-being.
Jesus says, “Whether you can forget that or not, I have forgiven you.”
You don’t have to carry that load anymore. And by the way, it doesn’t really matter anymore. In fact, I am powerful enough and kind enough to take this terrible thing … this invisible prison … and use it so you can better serve me.
Finally, friend, I want to tell you about the greatest gift you can give this Christmas. It’s simple but tough. Whom do you need to forgive right now?
Who has cheated you?
Left you out to dry?
Put you out on a limb and then cut it off?
That person needs your forgiveness.
Christmas is a time for dropping grudges. It’s a time to remind ourselves that “holding a grudge and hating someone is like drinking poison and hoping it kills the other person.”
To help on this forgiveness journey, start small:
- Recipe for Forgiveness
- Active ingredient: Pray for that person by name. Initially, it’ll be difficult to even voice their name out loud to God … but go ahead and ask Him to bless them. You’ll rise from your knees with a new feeling. A feeling that you have taken one step on the road of the freedom that forgiveness brings.
- Bake slowly. Forgiveness is a process. You must work through the stages of anger, revenge, acceptance, and remission.
- Stir gently. Write a letter. Tell them how you feel, and then extend your forgiveness. Then tear it up . . . if later you actually send a letter, re-write it and mail it.
- Go to them, and extend unconditional forgiveness. Remember that they need it, but not nearly as much as you need to give it.
- Avoid allowing one ingredient to slip in. Bitterness. It ruins any recipe and harms the vessel from which it pours than the one on whom it is poured.
- While extending the freedom of forgiveness, ask for forgiveness from them. In most broken relationships, there are wounds on both sides. Ask for their forgiveness first. State it succinctly and specifically and for heavens’ sake don’t use the killer word: “but.” As in “I want to forgive you, but . . . .” That’s the kiss of death in apologies.
- Also avoid the “if” word in asking for forgiveness. As in “If I’ve offended you.” Keep it simple. “I know I’ve offended you …”
Remember their reaction is secondary. You’re doing a selfish thing in forgiving them—you’re helping yourself.
Whether they accept it instantly, later, or never, is not your problem, but theirs.
Give the best gift of all
It’s called the sweet gift of forgiveness.
Someone is waiting for it this Christmas.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
The sweet gift of forgiveness.