Dear Friends,

I won’t write about this every week, but wanted to tell you a little more of my story of when Donna was killed 30 years ago this past June 17th.  As I was recovering from my injuries I was confronted with the reality of forgiving the person who hit our car.  Here’s more of the story…

In a moment of consciousness in ICU the next day after the crash, my nurse told me there were two Hamilton County sheriff deputies who wanted to talk to me.  They asked me, “Can you tell us what happened?”  Ignoring their question I immediately asked, “What happened to the person who hit us?”  They said, “Well the driver was killed.”  I replied, “Wow, he came up behind me at an incredible rate of speed.”  One of the officers objected, “You weren’t hit in the back.  You were struck from the side.”  I insisted, “No Sir!  I was hit from the rear.”  They looked at each other as if a light had just gone on, and quickly excusing themselves, they left my room.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the guy who hit me from the rear had fled the scene of the accident.  Although the police had noticed some damage to the back of my car, they concluded that this damage must have been done previously.  I imagine the officers were wondering why my car had suddenly veered left into oncoming traffic, and my responses gave them their answer.  They were looking for a third car that had caused the wreck.

A fine young man had been traveling south on Michigan Road when my car was knocked into his path.  The worst of the collision was from his car crashing into Donna’s passenger door (see picture of our car).  Donna was killed instantly as was this young man.

The man who hit our car and knocked us into oncoming traffic must have been seriously impaired.  He had fled the scene of the crash. There was very little traffic that evening at 10:15pm so I had been driving slowly.  Just a few moments before it happened I remember speeding up to 50 MPH (which was the speed limit) thinking I didn’t want to slow people up.  I remember looking up into my rear view mirror just a split second before we were struck from behind.  The impaired driver must have been traveling close to 100 MPH.  He tried to pass us on the right gravel shoulder of the road, but hit our car instead.

As the police searched nearby body shops they walked into one shop where the man was acting very anxious.  As they searched the shop they found his car.  He was arrested on two counts of reckless homicide and one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing death.  Although the police suspected he was driving impaired, it was too late to actually prove he was drunk.

During my recovery through two serious surgeries and extensive rehab, the Hamilton County Prosecutor met with me a couple of times to get my story and keep me informed of the progress of the case.  That is when God began to deal with me about forgiveness.

In the quietness of my heart, this is how the conversation with God went:

The Lord:  “You need to forgive him.”

Me: “No Lord.  I don’t want to forgive him.  He doesn’t deserve my forgiveness!”

The Lord:  “Forgiveness isn’t a suggestion.  It is a command.”

Me:  “Lord, even if I wanted to forgive him, I couldn’t.  He took the most valuable thing in my life!  He took my wife from me!  Surely he can’t get off the hook that easily.”

FORGIVENSS STEP ONE: DETERMINE WHAT THEY OWE YOU.  Any time there is the need for forgiveness there is a sense of debt.  Determine what you are owed.  What was taken from you?  It is best to write it down on a piece of paper.

As I began to think about what he owed me I thought, “He owes me my wife.  She is the single most precious thing in my life.”

To give you the context of the depth of my hurt in losing Donna…A couple of weeks before she died I remember watching TV one evening while Donna sat nearby reading a book.  Without her knowing it I looked over at her.  I smiled as I focused on the back of her hand holding her book.  My heart was overflowing with love as I prayed a quiet prayer, “Lord, I would give up everything I have just for her hand, much less for all of her.  I thank you, Father, as I am the most blessed man on earth.  Thank you for my amazing wife!”

So when Donna was suddenly taken it felt very personal to me.  I resonate with what Job said, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25).

Now God was asking me to forgive the man responsible for her death.  I began to think about how he might be able to pay me back what he owed me.  Please forgive me for sharing this, but this is the actual thinking process I went through.  I thought, “He is charged with crimes that will only require a few years in jail at the most.  What if somehow his crime was changed to a capital offense and he was executed?  No, that wouldn’t be enough.  We would still not be even.”  After thinking about this for some time I realized there is nothing he can do to pay me back.

I prayed, “Father, as I have thought this through, there is nothing he can do to pay me back!”

FORGIVENESS STEP TWO:  CANCEL THE DEBT.

My prayer continued, “Lord, he can’t pay me back.  It is impossible.  So the only thing I can do is to forgive him.  But Lord, I can’t forgive him.  If I said I forgave him right now I would be lying.  You know my heart and how badly I’m hurting.  I can’t do it.  But Father, I’m willing to be made willing to forgive!”

At that instant God’s supernatural forgiveness flooded my heart.  Instantly my anger and resentment and unforgiveness were gone.  It was replaced with this incredible sense of peace…and freedom…and even love.  This was so unexpected that it shocked me.

That’s when I learned real forgiveness is supernatural.  Our part is being willing.  The actual forgiveness is a supernatural gift of God.

FORGIVENESS STEP THREE:  NEVER REINSTATE THE DEBT.  Anytime you are tempted to harbor unforgiveness remind yourself that the debt has been canceled.  He doesn’t owe me anymore.

The case against him worked its way through the court.  The prosecutor met with me again to tell me that a plea bargain had been offered reducing the charges to involuntary manslaughter from reckless homicide.  This didn’t trouble me at all because he didn’t owe me anymore.  He owed us (our community / society) and whatever the courts decided was okay with me.

LIVING OUT THE FORGIVENESS:  Since a plea bargain had been accepted there was no jury trial.  However I was given the opportunity to speak at the sentencing, which was in front of a judge.  The prosecutor, the defense attorney and the convicted man were sitting at tables in front of the judge.

When it was my turn to testify I took the stand directly in front of the man responsible for Donna’s death.  I carried Donna’s Bible with me to read portions from Proverbs 31 which was her life verse.  The pages in her Bible at Proverbs 31 were soiled and worn from her often reading and meditating on this special passage.

I read,

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life…She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks…She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (Proverbs 31:10–12, 17, 25-31).

When I finished reading I closed the Bible and said, “I wanted you all to know what kind of woman my wife, Donna, was. This was the goal of her life:  to be a ‘Proverbs 31 woman!’ “

Then I looked straight into the eyes of the defendant and said, “Because Jesus has forgiven me, I forgive you.  And it is my desire that you, and you, Mr. Defense Attorney, and you, Mr. Prosecutor, and you, Your Honor, and everyone in this courtroom today would experience the incredible joy of being forgiven by God through faith in Jesus Christ!”

I stepped down from the stand and returned to my seat.  This was one of the single hardest things I have ever done.  But I could sense the pleasure of God in my heart.

My kids have given testimony that watching me process my forgiveness helped them heal properly from their Mother’s death.  They tell me that since they saw me forgive him, they knew they must forgive him too.

UNDERSTANDING FORGIVENESS:

  1. FORGIVENESS IS FOR YOUR BENEFIT not for the benefit of the person who harmed you. My sister says, “Holding unforgiveness and resentment in your heart toward a person who has harmed you is like you drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  Unforgiveness is poison to your soul.  It is like remaining locked in a prison when you are holding the key.

Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart” (Matthew 18:34–35 (NLT).

  1. FORGIVENESS IS COMMANDED BECAUSE OF CHRIST’S PAYMENT OF SIN DEBT.  Do you realize God didn’t just let your sin go, as He asks you to do?  He demanded payment in full for your sin debt in order that He might uphold justice.  It is on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice that God has demanded us to forgive.  We are forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice therefore we must forgive others.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13b).

  1. FORGIVENESS DOES NOT NECESSILARY MEAN THE RELATIONSHIP IS RESTORED.  You can forgive someone and yet not continue in relationship with that person.  Some hurts require separation from the person who hurt you.  You can still forgive the offender, and in fact must forgive, if you desire to be free.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.  Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:18–19).

So what?  Who do you need to forgive?  Is God asking you to trust Him and work through the healing process of forgiveness?  I would encourage you to obey.  It will be an incredible source of freedom and wellness.

Onward in His forgiveness,

Pastor Gary