Ever since I read Beth's post on forgiveness, I've wanted to write and share this testimony about my brother and what I learned about forgiving others.
The theme in all my books is reconciliation through forgiveness. Whether my manuscript is historical or contemporary, that is the theme. I suppose that is my brand. When readers pick up my books, that’s what they expect and that’s what they get. Sometimes the forgiving and reconciliation is with God and other times it may be person to person, but it’s there.
Forgiving others for wrongs they do is one of the most difficult things that many Christians have to do. When we or those we love have been deeply hurt, embarrassed, or humiliated by another, forgiving is the last thing on our minds. God’s forgiveness is unconditional, and quick to be given when we ask Him, so why then is it difficult for us to do the same?
I had this lesson brought home to me in a very real and meaningful way with my brother. Ever since he was a teenager, he’d been in trouble with the law. He was in and out of juvenile institutions until he reached adulthood. What happened to him in those places is too horrible to even describe now, but we didn’t know those things then.
When I married, he was at my wedding, but not many months later, at age fifteen, he was once again in detention. When he was finally arrested as an adult on drug charges and sexual crimes, I gave up on him and turned my back.
Off and on for the next ten years he tried to rehabilitate, and we’d once again have contact, but I didn’t want him around my sons. His lifestyle led him in the wrong direction that completely alienated me from him. My mother and father were deeply hurt by his actions, but they never gave up on him and supported him whenever they could.
However, at one point I decided I’d had enough and wrote him out of my life. I no longer had a brother and never talked about or mentioned him to anyone. To me, he no longer existed. That went on for many, many years until the year our oldest son planned to be married. Two weeks before the wedding, my mother called to tell me that my brother had been arrested again. This time he’d taken a young boy and left town with my dad’s credit cards.
His name, crimes, and arrest were all over the front pages of the newspapers and on TV news reports. I was thankful my last name was now different and no one would connect him to me. No one did, but God knew.
Very early one morning, mother called to tell me that he’d been visited in prison by her pastor and that Johnny had made a confession of faith and asked forgiveness from the Lord. I told her that was impossible and didn’t want to talk about it.
Later, as I was praying and getting ready for my day, a feeling came over me that I cannot describe. It was as though I was suddenly completely alone. After seeking out our chaplain at school and telling him about my brother, he handed me his Bible, open to a verse in Matthew, and simply said, “Martha, you know what you have to do.”
I read the words of Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Tears filled my eyes and I sobbed to my Heavenly Father and asked his forgiveness for my actions, and then forgave my brother and let all the bitterness flow from me.
That feeling of being so alone disappeared and once again the arms of our Lord wrapped around me and assured me that no matter what my brother had done, he had been forgiven. I wrote a letter to him and told him what had happened. He was convicted as a pedophile and sentenced to sixty years in prison. Since that time we have corresponded regularly and since our parents’ deaths, I’ve been the one to support him and make sure he has what he needs while in prison.
The ironic thing is that my friends didn’t turn away from me in disgust when they learned about John, but surrounded me with love and compassion and admiration. My testimony in the months and years since then has touched many lives and became the basis for my writing theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. Johnny is still in prison, but he is also a son of our Lord Jesus Christ and my brother.
Some of you have shared difficult times in forgiving others, but the peace that comes is from God for having been obedient to His teachings and commands.
Which is more difficult for you, seeking forgiveness and saying you're sorry or that you were wrong or forgiving someone else for doing something to you or a loved one?