Have you ever done something and people just look at you like you’re crazy as they shake their head in disbelief? They just cannot seem to comprehend your action or response to a situation because it’s so backwards from what most people would do. This happened to a friend of mine and I wanted to share her inspirational story. My friend, Andrea, experienced just how offensive the gospel can be to an unbeliever when her family went through a terrible tragedy.
Her family lived in Guam where her husband, John, was stationed. By her accounts the military families stationed on the small, Pacific island are a closeknit community. Everybody knows everybody. Early in 2011 John took their two children, along with their daughter’s best friend and next door neighbor Erynn, on a hike to nearby beautiful, rocky cliffs. Andrea was in the United States for some medical tests and to visit family and friends.
It was an early Sunday morning at 1:15 am, while still in the US, that Andrea received the call no one is ever prepared for. While her family and their neighbor were hiking, there was a rockslide. Heroically, her husband attempted to save his daughter’s best friend. But tragically the majority of the rocks fell onto Erynn. Her injuries were too severe. She did not survive. The unbelievable grief of the family and friends of this remarkable young girl was overwhelming. The small, closeknit community had lost one of their own – one who died much too young. One who had so many unfulfilled dreams and ambitions ahead of her. One who was a precious child of God. One whose parents had lost their daughter and were experiencing unspeakable grief. One whose family turned to their Heavenly Father for comfort and peace during this tragic time.
Although it was a horrible accident, Andrea’s husband was questioning if he could have done something differently that could have saved her life, something that would have prevented this whole nightmare. He fully expected Erynn’s parents, Gary and Kathy, to be angry, hurt, and to question him as to how he could have let this happen. He prepared to apologize and take full responsibility as he and his children sat in their home, right next door to the home of their dear friends who had just experienced the unthinkable.
While John tried to make sense of what had just happened, Erynn’s parents had gone to hospital where their precious child had been taken and where they were met with the confirming news that their daughter had died. Their next step was to go home to tell their other children. Friends and neighbors had begun to gather at their home. Two families. Two homes side by side. Both families trying to make sense of what had just happened.
After awhile Gary, Erynn’s father, got up and walked out of his home without saying a word to anyone gathered there. He headed next door to John and Andrea’s home. As neighbors and friends watched, they assumed Gary was going to confront John. After all, one father sat in his home with his daughter alive and safe while he had just lost his daughter.
John didn’t know what to expect when Gary approached him in his home. But to his disbelief, Gary hugged him and told him it was ok. He offered John forgiveness. Erynn’s father offered him an apology for the pain he was going through. There stood John still wearing the bloodstained shirt he had on as he carried Erynn from the accident scene. And her father hugged him and offered gratitude for John’s efforts to save Erynn’s life. Gary prayed for him to find peace in God’s comforting presence. The family who had just found out their daughter had died was offering comfort and forgiveness to the one who felt responsible for her death. John was awed by the love of Christ Gary modeled that night in response to a tragic event that will forever mark all their lives.
But what ensued in the days and weeks following the accident was far more shocking than the selfless actions of this Godly family during their darkest hours. As Andrea’s family continued to grieve with their neighbors, the rest of the community began to murmur. “How can the Haywards continue to spend time with the Mayers after what the Mayers have done to their family?” “Why did John save his own daughter and not theirs?” Why are the Mayers grieving? They didn’t lose a child.” John was hurting because he had been entrusted with something very precious that he was unable to protect when tragedy struck. John and Andrea needed the support and comfort of their community. But what they received was negative comments, rumors, people avoiding them in stores or staring. Both families were hurting but only one received acknowledgement of their pain.
Through the whole situation they learned that people want to be front and center when the drama first happens but once the dust settles and it’s time to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding, they disappear. The relationships John and Andrea had been most intentional about building during their time in Guam were the first ones to let them down. There were families who selflessly stood by them the entire time. They were there to give to the Mayer family, not receive for themselves. But unfortunately, many turned their backs on them.
The second thing John and Andrea learned was that God must be first in your lives both individually and as a family. When your priority is to pour yourself into other people, serving, or involvment in the community, you’re priorities are out of order. With so many opportunities and so many needs, it is easy for God to come behind things we deem more important in the moment, even good things. God must be first, period.
And finally they learned how Sovereign our God is. God knew long before the accident that it would occur. And He set Christian leadership in place at the highest positions on the base who would have the wisdom and discernment to handle the aftermath and assist John in getting orders back to the United States to be near family and close friends. They learned that God’s grace is sufficient and His consuming love for us is abounding. They learned His love alone can comfort and heal our deepest hurts if we will allow it. They learned that a family who models the love of their Lord and Savior will offend those in darkness but will bring hope to those who believe all hope is gone. They learned what true forgiveness is and how to freely give and receive it. They learned that there is no one like our God and even in the midst of tragedy, He is good.
Forgiveness is rarely easy to give and many times there is a cost attached to it. Jesus was willing to pay the ultimate price to give forgiveness to us for our sins. What price are you willing to pay to give forgiveness to others – humility, embarrassment, loss of relationships of those who think you’re wrong for doing so?
The more important question you need to consider is this – what price are you willing to pay to hold on to unforgiveness? It will cost you more than you think.