“Are you going to Beauty for Ashes this year?” my friend, Ruth, asked. As did Ann, another friend, author and avid conference attendee. Aldyth, the organizer of this annual women’s conference for the past nineteen years, also presented this same question. They all wanted me there, and of course, I wanted to go. It would be fun to see my friends again. But how could I register when the title of the first session was, Forgiveness is For Giving?
If I went, God would expect me to make the first move. I didn’t know if I was ready to forgive the person who had wronged me two years before. I wasn’t sure if I could forgive, or if I even wanted to. It wasn’t me who’d caused the messy situation. Why should I obey the soft voice that told me I could be the one to end it?
For nearly twenty-four months I’d gone through each day with a knot tightening in my stomach every time I thought about this family member. Her husband visited our house, alone, and my hubby would go over to them on his own while I happily remained at home. For so long I’d waited for her to come on over and make right what she’d put into motion. It hadn’t happened. I had my doubts it ever would.
How can I be the one to go and tell her “I forgive you,” when I don’t feel in my heart that I have, I continually told myself. It’s impossible. It just can’t be done.
When I received the conference brochure from Aldyth and saw my photo and author bio displayed on page seven with all the other Beauty for Ashes bloggers, I thought that perhaps I should attend. Vanity, oh vanity. Of course I had to go. I’d just have to deal with whatever convicting sermon came my way that Friday night.
A week before the conference, I went online and registered, my reasons for attending mainly selfish. I wasn’t going to let myself consider that God might have His own agenda.
That first conference night was full of thoughts like:
- hurt people, hurt people—healed people, heal people
- the first to say sorry is the bravest
- the first to forgive is the strongest
- the first to forget is the happiest.
- It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
All amazing truths, but not exactly what I wanted to hear.
The most challenging truth I had to face that night was, ‘When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free to find out that prisoner was you.’
That was me. I had been trapped, for too long, bound in the prison of resentment. It was time to break free. So when the speaker asked attendees to stand if they had someone to forgive, I was one of the first on my feet. How could I remain seated? I did have someone I needed to forgive. And after hearing scripture verses commanding that we must forgive, that we need to forgive as the Lord forgave us, that love forgives, and that if we don’t forgive then God cannot forgive us, I knew I’d be paying this family member a visit before the weekend was over.
That Sunday after church, I asked my husband to take me to their house. I hadn’t fully told him what I’d decided to do or why. He didn’t ask questions.
On the way, I wrote down my thoughts on a piece of paper and slipped that into my Bible, along with the strips of paper that marked the scriptures I wanted to read. I didn’t want things to go wrong as they had the day this family member came to my home. You see, when I’m attacked, I attack back. And only after the dust has settled do I see how I could have handled a situation with more care.
This time I wanted to keep a level head, to do what was right, to make things right.
It was uncanny how calm I remained that morning. When faced with situations far easier than this one, my heart would normally thrash out a never-ending drum solo. Not this time. It continued to thrum at a slow, rhythmic pace. Only the peace of God that passes all understanding could do that.
“How I’ve missed that giggle,” she said as I walked through the door with a laugh on my lips and a mission in my heart.
We enjoyed a cup of tea and a slice of cake together first—two husbands, two wives, just sitting around making small talk.
“I should never have come to your house that day in the state of mind I was in,” she suddenly said. “I’m sorry I did.”
I nodded but didn’t say anything. We had to start this off the right way, or it could all go wrong like it had before. “We should pray first.” We closed our eyes and I asked God to guide our conversation and bring us to the place of healing.
“I went to the Beauty for Ashes conference this weekend,” I started, “although I was reluctant to go. You see, the title of the first evening was Forgiveness is for giving.” I went on to share all that God had shown me that night. And I read the scriptures I’d carefully tagged.
“I’m not here to talk about who did or didn’t do what, who did or didn’t say what, who was or wasn’t wronged—that’s not up for discussion. Not now. Not ever.” I sucked in a deep breath. “I’m here to say, I forgive you…” My voice broke and tears welled—in my eyes, in hers, in her husband’s, and I’m sure if I’d turned to my own dear hubby, I would have seen tears brimming there as well. “…and to ask you to forgive me, too. We’ve both said and done things that have hurt.”
Months before, I’d ordered two copies of a book written by one of my favorite authors—one for her, one for me. There’d never yet been a suitable time to give this gift. Now the time was right. I placed Not Marked into her hands. Inside I’d written, “A clean slate,” and the date.
Will we ever land up in a similar situation again? I don’t know. It’s very possible. This wasn’t the first time we’ve had to make things right between us, but it was the worst. One thing I do know is that this particular situation was resolved, and in an instant, a two-year-old burden rolled out of my life, forever lost in the vast ocean of forgiveness.
God had worked things out.