Forgiving Through the Savior’s Grace
I don’t remember my mom. Sometimes I’ll catch the smell of Channel No. 5 and my brain takes me back – way back – and I can see fuzzy shadows of people I knew then but I just can’t find her face. I know she made juice popsicles in ice trays with toothpicks. I also remember the really ugly sheets she must have bought for my bed (they were so seventies . . .). I remember with crystal clarity the day my sweet Uncle Fred pulled up outside my Grandma and Grandpa’s house and said something friendly to me before he went inside. I was eating a carrot. A few minutes later I was invited in, too, and he told me mom was dead. She had died in a car accident on her way to get me and my sister. I was only four, but I immediately knew we needed to pray. I don’t know what we prayed for – as if there was anything that could help – but the adults there knelt with me and prayed. I don’t know how I knew it was time to pray. Mom must have taught me that somewhere along the way.
Thank goodness for Grandma. I loved her so much. I know it was because she loved me fiercely. I can feel her love today, yesterday, whenever I want it, and she is there. She mothered me after mom died because Dad just couldn’t do it. He was so sad; all he could do was drink. I prayed hard again the night my Dad came and took me from Grandma. She was in the hospital and didn’t know he had come. She never would have let us go if she had known. She would have taken us and hidden us like she had many times before. I prayed in the car while I cried. That’s when I started to wonder if anyone was listening.
My sister and I had developed a game out of watching for Dad’s headlights coming down the long road to our house. We would run to bed and pretend we were asleep because it was always so very late when he would come home – kids should be in bed asleep at that time of night, but we never were. I prayed really hard when he would come home that he would just go to sleep and not call me or my sister out of bed. Sometimes that prayer was answered, but mostly not. Maybe it was answered when the police came and picked me up from school to take me to some stranger’s house to stay for a while. It seemed the answer came way too late.
When I was a teenager and lived with my Uncle and his family, well-meaning people at church would tell me that trials would make me strong and someday I would see that I was being blessed, that God had a great plan for me. I would nod and smile. Really??? As I got older, my silent and cynical reply was “Yeah, I feel really badly for all you sorry saps with a mom and a dad and a real family. You must feel robbed that you don’t get to have all the ‘blessings’ I have.” By that time I knew God had a plan for me and was most surely in charge. Frankly, I didn’t really trust His judgement.
Once I got married and had kids I knew I needed to play the role. I tried to put my doubts away for a while and just do my duty. I even had some good experiences along the way. I was trying to do what I knew I ought to, even though my heart was crusty hard. I didn’t know it, but all those unanswered prayers I had said as a kid were still waiting for me. Maybe the Lord was just keeping them safe for me for a while until I was ready to hear the answers. He was patient even though I wasn’t. He loved me even though I was angry at Him. It felt great one day when someone I trusted told me that I should tell God how I hurt and ask Him why He abandoned me. So I prayed again. And the answers came. Slowly.
I didn’t think my Dad deserved forgiveness. People who live like he did and hurt people like he did are monsters who can’t possibly be good enough to make up for the dirt. That’s what I thought. So when he got baptized, I watched and waited for him to blow it again. And I was hurt. Hurt that he became a church member in good standing. I felt like the Lord had betrayed me yet again.
It erased me.
My pain and anguish didn’t seem to matter to God at all. Why did HE get to repent? I guess I thought the Savior needed my permission to forgive him.
I knew I needed to do something to be at peace with my relationship with my dad and my God. I called trusted clergy for support and guidance. He agreed I needed to make a call, that this needed to be resolved. One day my dad would stand at the bar of God and be judged for this and I had an opportunity and responsibility to help him complete the repentance process.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I sat on my bed and breathed hard. As I reached for the phone, it was as if I were pushing my way through quicksand. When he answered the phone I warned him that this would be a bombshell. Then I unloaded. I had a laundry list of grievances that ran from kidnapping to neglect and abuse. I wanted to make sure I covered all the bases because I didn’t want to ever have to do this again. So he was quiet while I choked and talked through my tears. It was a miracle that I said what I did, because in my family, no one says anything like that. The greater miracle was his response: “I am so sorry. I could never possibly do anything to make up for what I have done. I am not worthy of forgiveness. I’ve been told that at some point I need to stop looking back and start looking forward, but I just can’t.” I knew why he couldn’t look forward: While he had confessed all that he recalled of injury and abuse in the past, he still had unfinished business with me and many more like me that were still hurting. I was blessed that I was able to help him resolve some of that.
By the end of the conversation I felt nothing but compassion and love for my dad. It was absolutely a gift of the spirit because it was so beyond what my human heart was capable of doing. I told him that if I forgave him and loved him and if I could do that, he could do that for himself.
In the days that followed, I could think of nothing else. My husband called me ‘The Dragon Slayer.’ I appreciated that he knew how hard that was. My family was amazed and so glad that someone had finally done what we all had wanted to do for so long. I tried in my mind to reconcile the man my dad once was to the man he is today. I couldn’t. The man who was my dad when I was young is dead. The dad I have now talks differently, acts differently, even wears different clothes. He is reborn.
I had always thought that since I had always tried to do the right thing that I was somehow more worthy of the blessings of the Atonement than my dad. Even though I had always been taught that we could be washed clean by the Savior’s blood, I knew for sure that my dad’s garments were so filthy, he could never be clean. So I felt cheated that he could inherit the same blessing I could. I was reminded of the parable the Savior taught about the laborers who each served the Lord in his vineyard for different periods of time but were all given the same wage at the end of the day. I was like the laborer who had worked since morning and felt it was unfair that the one who had worked only since the eleventh hour got the same reward. I needed to know what the Lord had to say about that. In the 20th chapter of Matthew, the Lord spoke to me when he said in verses 13 – 15, ” Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”
With that verse I was given the final piece I needed to this puzzle. In the world’s eyes – in my eyes – when I put my deeds and my dad’s deeds on the scale of righteousness, the balance was not equal. But when we put that scale in the Savior’s hands, we are the same. I always envisioned that I would have a day with my dad where I would get my say and I would be vindicated, but it turned out so differently than I thought. Instead of using my self-righteousness to condemn him, his humility and love humbled me beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
The truth is that neither one of us merits the Savior’s love and Atonement. Yet he gives it freely. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” is the question he asks us because it is HIS gift to give to us all. Our human hearts and minds can not possibly comprehend the breadth with which the Atonement cleanses us. Nor do we fully understand how sinful and hopeless and fallen we are without Him. I often look upon others with a yardstick in each hand, measuring and weighing my way through this life – using others’ weaknesses to justify my own.
I need His blood every drop as much as my dad does.
So here was the answer to my many, many prayers. The answer wasn’t to save me from pain and sorrow. It was to show me the miracle and grace of the Atonement so that I could turn to the Savior and have hope in the reality of my eventual sanctification through His blood. I wouldn’t trade that answer for anything.
So maybe He was listening after all.
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