October 27, 2013
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #301: A Life-Giving Gift
I love giving gifts. Choosing the perfect item, saving up for it, presenting it, and seeing the recipient’s look of surprise all bring me joy, especially when I know the gift provides a benefit that is lasting.
As a child, I loved getting gifts, and the bigger the better. And I was good at showing my gratefulness. Words, hugs, thank-you notes, and even the constant use of the gift all demonstrated how much it meant to me. The problem I discovered, however, is that some gifts are too big for an adequate level of appreciation, especially when I’ve been given something I could never afford to acquire myself.
I’ve been given a car, a van, a secret school scholarship, missions trip support, and many other large gifts over the years. I’ve had outstanding debt forgiven, and I was told once that I’m not bad-looking, which was clearly a gift.
As great as these gifts were, their memories are all that remain today, and most would not be useful to me today, if it were possible for me to receive them again. (I could really use a tall ladder and heavy gloves, though.)
No gift I’ve ever received compares to the one I was given this weekend. Never have I felt more overwhelmed, small, undeserving, and grateful than I do right now. I am still in a state of shock.
Though my crimes were against two victims, the effects of my crimes were shouldered by many more people. My family, my friends, my ministry partners, their families, their friends, their community … all were negatively affected by my actions.
Prison isn’t the only consequence of my crimes, though it is the most obvious. Besides the lifetime legal consequences I face, my victims and their families face a lifetime of healing, pain, and other issues as a result of what I did to violate trust and innocence. And though I bear the responsibility for my behavior, it is nearly impossible for me to ever fully know what suffering I caused in the lives of others.
I don’t know how I would handle this situation were it perpetuated upon me or someone in my family. I can’t imagine the hurt. I may be able to eventually forgive an offender, inside my heart, so I could heal … but I don’t know if I could extend that forgiveness to the person who hurt my family.
I don’t blame people who don’t want to write to me or to be in contact with me, even if my actions didn’t directly affect them. A close family member doesn’t want to have a relationship with me any more, and others don’t respond to my cards and letters. I’ve created this awkwardness and weirded people out. I don’t blame them, and in fact, this response is to be expected.
A few months ago, I wrote about forgiveness I’d received from one of my victims and the overwhelming mercy from God that flowed from her and her family. This past weekend, at great personal expense and much anxiety, she visited me here. (For her sake, I won’t share details.)
I received the assurance of forgiveness from her and her family—an overwhelming gift I didn’t even know how to receive. Rejection is easier, is what I deserve. There was no way to prepare for this unexpected, unexplainable, unconditional forgiveness, love, and acceptance. Who does this? Who puts himself or herself aside and blesses another? Who “blesses those who curse you and prays for those who spitefully use you?” I am unbelievably blessed.
I told two inmates (whom I’ve known for more than four years) about the visit with this young woman, and both said how convicting this gift was for all of us. Those of us who find it difficult to forgive others for minor offenses are left with no excuse in light of this young woman’s actions.
May God richly pour out His grace and favor upon her and her family. Thank you for praying!