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I was flipping through the channels and stumble across a TV show called I Forgive You. I thought this should be good because I use to love Forgive or Forget with Mother Love! I was kind of paying attention until the last story. The story was about a lady named Mary Johnson. Her son, Byrd got into a mindless altercation with Oshea Israel at a local nightclub. Israel pulled a gun on Byrd and shot him four times (three to the chest and one to the head). Israel was unable to pinpoint his reason for even killing Byrd. Of course, my first thought was, "Jesus if anyone ever did that to someone I love...I don't know what I would do..." I continued to think, "Maybe they end the show with one story of un-forgiveness and this must be it!" Israel was sentenced to 25 years in prison and Mary felt justice. She hated this boy and believed he was an animal that needed to be caged. About 10 years into Oshea's sentence, Mary asked him repeatedly can they meet. I was thinking, "Why in the world would she want to meet him?" Once he finally agreed, Mary met with him and asked him to explain why he killed her son. He explained the alcohol-fueled altercation and how one thing led to another. Right before Mary left, she told Oshea that she forgave him. She actually said, "I want you to know that I forgive you." I thought to myself, "Why would she want to do that?! How is that even possible?! He doesn't deserve forgiveness! He took your son's life for no reason!" Oshea told Mary that he would never hurt her again and asked to hug her. She got up and began to fall and cry. Oshea had to hold her and lift her up. Can you believe that? The very man that murdered her son had to hold her so she wouldn't fall. He had to hold her in her time of need. After she left the prison, the bitterness, anger, and animosity fled from her body. Mary knew at that moment that she truly forgave Oshea. Over the years, Mary and Oshea developed a friendship that grew into being neighbors after Oshea's release. This even led to them sharing their story with the world. They created an organization called From Death to Life to help others heal. Mary and Oshea have grown so much together that they call each other mother and son. After watching that story, I thought to myself "There has to be a God. That type of forgiveness honestly seems humanly impossible....but if she can forgive the murderer of her son, why can't I forgive my friend?" After the show, I actually dropped a few tears because it inspired me. It made me realize that no amount of vengeance would bring back her son or make her life any better. It inspired me to seek after God, which led to a brief discovery...
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Jesus commands us to forgive others as He forgave and continues to forgive me daily. (Ephesians 4:31-32, Matthew 6:14-15 Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13) When I choose not to forgive, I was holding onto anger and hatred in my heart. This caused my Holy Spirit to grieve. (Ephesians 4:30) I felt convicted. I started to realize that forgiveness is not for her or me, but for my love of Christ. I had to choose to forgive out of remembrance for Christ forgiving me for my sins daily. I had to choose to forgive to relinquish hate from my heart out my love for God. I learned a hard lesson that day. Jesus Christ teaches us that forgiveness does not have a limit or ceiling. I have been commanded to continue to forgive those that hurt me. (Luke 17:3-4)
Forgiveness does not mean that you have to be friends again or even acquaintances. Forgiveness means finding peace. Finding peace is more than that typical "it doesn't bother you anymore". Peace means all of the malice and hatred about that person stored in your heart is no longer there. You can show that person love and not expect anything in return. This is what being a true follower of Christ is all about...putting His love on display. How can we say we love Jesus Christ, but hate our friends, parents, etc.? Jesus asks us, "How can you hate your friend, which you have seen and love Me, which you haven't seen? (1 John 4:20)
Some people will NEVER know or understand the peace that Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel have found. Oshea had to admit his wrongdoings, and then have the courage and humility to accept the forgiveness Mary offered. Mary was given the grace to see and accept his change of heart in order to forgive him. Forgiveness is not an overnight phenomenon! It took these two 12 years to truly forgive, but it did not take Mary 12 years to make the decision. Making a decision to forgive and going through the process are two different things. Mary had to decide if she would continually allow the death of her son to eat her from the inside out that would ultimately destroy her or start the process of forgiveness. She chose healing.
We are no different than Mary Johnson. As human beings, we are not that unique from one another in this regard. We all have the capacity for love and forgiveness as well as for hate and resentment. It is all about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. Will you choose misery or will you choose joy? The choice is yours.
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Next, we must seek God for guidance on how to handle the situation and even professional therapy somtimes. When we do things through Christ, He will provide you strength, guidance, and love. Mary Johnson sought after God's own heart to understand that she could not carry those bags any longer. When she sought after God, her life was enriched with joy, happiness, and especially peace. (2 step process was inspired by James 5:16) You may believe this story is rare, but it doesn't have to be for you. Remember we are not meant to carry those bags so cast your cares upon the Lord and forgive others just as Christ forgave you. I challenge you today to reach out to someone that you need to forgive. Forgiveness is not easy, but it is Christ-like and worth it.
To learn more about Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel story, click here to watch a great video!