This is a true story and one that I was privileged to witness. My knowledge of the incident began with a mysterious letter from prison. No, I was not the recipient. It was sent to the senior minister at Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte where I worked as a church administrator. I don’t know if it was specifically addressed to George Thompson or only to the current senior minister. He read it in his office and then rushed up to the front offices to tell us. I remember the astonishment on his face. At first, he was speechless, but finally uttered the words, “You won’t believe what I just got.”
A few of us gathered around to hear what he had to say. He told us that the letter was from a man that was serving time in prison for robbing and beating an elderly lady in her home several years ago. She was later found by her son who was worried because he could not reached her by phone. Tied up, badly injured, and traumatized, she had to be hospitalized. This dear lady was a member of the church. Because she died from an illness a few years before I came on staff, I never had the honor of meeting her.
Are you ready to hear the wonderful thing that happened from this tragedy? While she was being beaten by the man, she kept saying to him, “Jesus loves you. God loves you.” I imagine she didn’t stop there, but said other profound things to make him change the course of his actions. In his letter to Pastor Thompson, he said that over the years he was haunted by her words. He began to feel deep remorse for what he had done and wanted to repent and receive Jesus into his heart. He started going to a Bible study group in prison. He wanted someone connected to the woman to know he had changed, and he remembered her church. Thompson was overwhelmed and joyous over the good news. He made plans to reach out to a fellow Methodist minister who lived near the prison to ask him to visit and counsel the man.
Very soon I will publish on my website my annual Christmas story. This year I have written a story called “Charlie O’Malley Skipped Christmas.” It is about a bitter old man who refuses to forgive someone who has wronged him. He, too, receives a letter of forgiveness from prison, but he can’t bring himself to open it until the miracle of Christmas Eve.
One of the hardness things I have ever had to do is forgive someone who didn’t ask for forgiveness. I wasted years being bitter, angry, and hurt. Then I realized that person still had power over me to make me miserable. When I was finally able to forgive, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
I still remember when the letter came from prison and the happiness we all felt that day. I love this quote from Gandhi: The weak never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.