As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. – Genesis 50:20
I read an article this afternoon telling the stories of those who died during the “Dark Night” shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Honestly, there are no words to describe a tragedy like this, so I won’t even begin to try. Twelve people died, in a matter of moments. Twelve people! The youngest of which was a six year old little girl––a girl the age of my own daughter. Not to mention the dozens of people left wounded.
A tragedy like this leaves behind it a wake of destruction. It affects so many. It affects not only the victims, but the families, the friends, and even the acquaintances of those who died or were wounded. They have all been changed by this senseless act and will never be the same.
Certainly, there were physical wounds that will need healing, yet what we oftentimes breeze over is that there are emotional and spiritual wounds as well. These are the wounds that soon become scars that run deep into one’s soul, robbing those affected of the joy and peace that God intends for us to have. Yet, I now know that it doesn’t have to be this way.
I know what it’s like to be in the place of these victims––to have tragedy strike in an unlikely moment and to be forever changed by a senseless act of violence.
On August 5, 2000, my dad was murdered. I will never forget the moment I was told. This moment forever altered my life as did the weeks, months, and years that followed. It is in these moments that nothing seems to make sense. You feel as though your entire world is crashing down upon you and that your heart will never mend. The ache is intense, and you wonder, in both astonishment and anger, how could this have happened? How will I go on? Will my heart ever heal? The pain that you feel seems too much to bear.
As I imagine many of those close to this tragedy are feeling right now, I felt rage. It was much too intense to simply call anger. And while these feeling subsided bit by bit over time, the anger had unknowingly taken root in my heart as the roots of bitterness began to run deep. Now, I didn’t know that any of this was taking place inside me. Honestly, even as a non-Christian at the time, I knew that I needed to forgive Anthony––the man who murdered my dad. So, for years, I tried to will myself into a place of healing. I tried to move on with my life. And honestly, I thought I had done a pretty good job.
Still, after nine years, it all came back up again. And this is when Jesus came into my life and saved me. Soon after, I felt God beckoning me toward forgiveness. Yet, I was confused. I thought I had already done that. But then God began showing me that while I had forgiven Anthony to the best of my ability, I needed Him and His grace to forgive completely.
Then God took it a step further: Love your enemy, He said. I didn’t know how to do that. So, I cried out to the Lord, and said, Ok God, I get my need to forgive Anthony, but how am I to love my enemy? Immediately, I heard His call, bring him a bible. That evening, I battled with what God was calling me to. But ultimately, by the grace of God, I chose to obey, not knowing the amazing work God would do through my obedience.
Anthony and I began writing letters to one another, which continued for over two and a half years, as we worked toward forgiveness together.
Now I know that the path toward forgiveness will look different for each of us, but one thing remains the same––it will be a difficult path to take. I’d have to say that this was one of the most difficult seasons I’ve been through, but it was also the most fruitful and worthwhile. It was a period of intense blessing through hardship. And through it, God brought me the healing and peace that I so desperately wanted and needed.
Most importantly, at the height of the whole mess when Anthony was far from where I wanted him to be, God gave me the grace to forgive Anthony unconditionally. It was this act of forgiveness that God used to heal me from my past.
Our story continued to evolve in indescribable ways. Anthony was transformed as I saw his heart change and begin to seek Jesus with his whole heart. At one point, after I had forgiven Anthony, I encouraged him to live life to the glory of God while in prison. Since this time, he has been doing just that. In one of his more recent letters, Anthony wrote, “Now your forgiveness has truely settled into my heart. I won’t let your dad’s life nor mine be in vain, I promise.” God is good! And He has used Anthony mightily to impact other inmates and encourage them to seek the Lord in their lives.
Nine months before I witnessed this change in Anthony’s character, I reluctantly began praying for him simply out of obedience to the scriptures. One prayer I recorded in my prayer journal specifically asked God to change Anthony’s heart––to bring him to repentance and allow him to be used mightily in the prison to the glory of God. I have to say, I thought it was one of those “pipe dream” prayers. I knew God could do it, but I just didn’t think he would. But then, this is exactly what God did.
At once, I understood the power of prayer, and the significance of praying for our enemies. It was then that I felt God saying to me, Laurie, this is what your journey has been all about. Redemption. Bringing good out of evil. Beauty out of ashes. This is where it’s at. Not in the past. But what I will do with your past if you continue to follow me wherever I lead. Ultimately, this is God’s intention for his children. He wants to take the horrible chapters of our past and create beauty out of our darkness.
I’d like to encourage those affected by tragedy––whether you are a victim of the Colorado shooting or you have experienced any other tragedy––to seek Him in your suffering, for He is our Redeemer. He is our Healer. He is our Comfort and our Guide, and it is His desire to see you healed of your past. And apart form God, we cannot heal, nor can we forgive.
Recently, I read about one of the victims of the shooting, Pierce O’Farrill, who has chosen to forgive the suspect, James Holmes. While sitting in his hospital bed, still pained––physically, emotionally, and spiritually––by what took place mere days before, Pierce––a Christ follower––chose to forgive.
This is where it starts.
It begins with choosing to forgive. And through much prayer and the grace of God, you too will see God use all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).