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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Divine Forgiveness

Photo Credit:  Darnok from
The English poet, Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  We all make mistakes.  It’s the forgiveness part that many of us haven’t perfected.  When it comes to forgiving, we would rather hold on tight to our hurts, anger, grief, and resentment than forgive the one who has wronged us.  Over time, those negative feelings can influence and overshadow most of our thoughts and actions.  And, what is a life consumed by bitterness and hatred?

True forgiveness is freeing.  Anger can get heavier and heavier on our shoulders as time ticks on if we don’t forgive.  It can eventually break us.  Forgiveness is really a gift that we can give to ourselves.  Holding on to our hurts is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  That certainly doesn’t make much sense.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to accept the other person’s behavior.  It means we have freed up our heart to move forward and live.  Divine forgiveness is allowing the light and love of Christ to shine in and through us as we forgive the unforgivable.

It isn’t often in this life that we run across an example of forgiveness like the one I am about to share.  This is a follow-up story from my post called, “God’s Will.”  It is a letter written by Gloria Wearden, a mother who lost her son, Will, in May of 2012 to a horrific murder by a complete stranger.  The Wearden family offered a plea bargain of life in prison without parole, but their son’s killer did not originally accept it.  The Wearden family prayed that Michael Lerma would not get the death penalty as Will would not have wanted that either.  Here’s Gloria’s letter:

“I just want to convey our love and gratitude for all the kindness you all have shown since we lost our precious Will and share a little about the experience we just went through.  We were at the courthouse for a ‘suppression of evidence’ hearing.  We had no idea that the plea bargain would resurface.  After the plea bargain was accepted and all the paperwork was done, our attorney asked me if we had a victim's impact statement for Michael Lerma.  I said that we had prepared one for the hearing in July because he was considering the plea bargain at that time, but we had not brought it with us or even thought about it.  Frank and Katie May and I were the only people in our family there (because we had absolutely no clue that this was going to happen), so Frank allowed me to speak.”

“For the first time ever, that boy looked me in the eyes.  I thanked him for the decision he had made.  I said that we were devastated by the loss of a son and brother and uncle who was very precious to all of us and that we were very sorry that he had taken Will's life in such a horrible way.  I told him that if he had known Will, he would have loved him because everyone loved Will, and Will would have loved him because Will loved everybody.”

“I said that we had made a conscious decision from the beginning to forgive him and that our family prayed for him every day and had many Masses said for him.  I said that it is very painful for us but we knew it was very painful for him and for his family especially, and that his decision would bring peace to everyone involved.  I told him that the only thing that made Will's death bearable was our belief that he was now in Heaven, and that our wish for Michael is that he will live the rest of his life in such a way that he can meet Will in Heaven.”

“I don't know where all that came from but it was and is true.  It is what came next that blew me away and I don't know if I can convey how dramatic it was for me.  We had to go in a conference room for about half an hour, first to meet with the defense team and then with the Kleberg County Sheriff and Police officers who had been there to testify (but never had to).  Everyone wanted to meet with us to convey their sympathy about the event.”

“When I walked out, the courtroom was almost empty but Michael Lerma was still sitting chained down to the chair he was in throughout the hearing.  I looked at him and he was looking at me and I just smiled at him.  He smiled back and it was so heartfelt.  I felt like that interaction really brought me peace.  I hope it brought him some.  I ask you all to say a prayer for him every now and then.  He is 21 years old and will be in prison until he dies.  How sad.”

”I love you all so much.  I thank you for being with us during Will's rosary and funeral and burial, and for all the kindness and attention you have shown us throughout the past eighteen months.  I especially thank Katie for coming at such short notice to be with us.  Our family is definitely our strength.  God bless all of you.”

Wow.  Just wow.  Gloria, I see Christ in you, and I just want you to know that.  Your example of love and forgiveness has affected and will continue to affect countless lives.  To extend forgiveness to someone who took so much from you and your family is unbelievable…but, as you’ve shown us…possible.  Thank you for allowing us to witness what it means to love and forgive as Christ.

Will’s brother and sisters are so thankful for their mom’s example of what it means to be a Christian.  Annie writes, “Mom, you amaze me.  I am just so proud of you and of your strength!  I love you!!!”  Betsy writes to her mom, “Will's legacy will be one of love, and you should be proud to know you are the one who taught him (and all of us) how to be loving, even when it is not the most obvious choice.”  Winchester shares, “Michael Lerma has pled guilty and will serve life without parole!  This is the best possible outcome, and our family is overjoyed to have this closure.  We cannot fully express how much your prayers and love have meant to us during these past months without our Will.  We ask that you continue to pray for Michael's conversion.”

My sister-in-law, Stephanie, shares, “We should ALL pray for this genuine love for our enemies.  Mrs. Wearden is a true saint in my eyes because I could only hope to have her strength and conviction if I were in her shoes.  God bless ALL of Will's family and his murderer, Michael Lerma.”

And, here are a few other things that friends and family are saying: 
“Wow! Amazing grace!  What a true example of faith, hope, love, inspiration, and strength.  A true child of Christ, a mother, a sister, a admiration for this lady, whom I don't even know, is great!  My cup run over....Thank you, Thank you, Thank you and God bless!”

“We are all aware of the tragedies that occur on a daily basis in today's world, but to see it and hear it from this perspective…it really makes me think and now I have a lot to re-evaluate about myself, as a Christian.”

“As a mother to a son, who is my whole world, I shamefully admit that I probably would not have the grace that she has handled this situation with.  She is a constant reminder of what we all need to strive to be.  I wish I had her strength, and after reading this, it gives me inspiration to be that way.  This is how God would want us to live our lives.  We tend to forget that this is not our world, it is His and we are merely living in it.  Prayers to that entire family, as I know they are beautiful people.”

“Gloria, you are a wonderful example of what God would want us all to be.  You’re stronger than I could ever have been through this horrific ordeal and I admire you for your ability to be so forgiving.  Your faith has carried you and your family to be at a place of peace for Will.  We all will cherish Will's memories.”

“Your mom is amazing and such an example to all the world.  Will will be remembered by your love for him and what he is still teaching us through all of you, who love him so much.  Thank you for sharing your brother with us.  Continued prayers for your family as the healing continues.”

Mrs. Wearden extended a smile of forgiveness to her youngest son’s killer.  If THAT gesture is possible, I pray that we all can find it in our hearts to consider offering divine forgiveness to that which seems unforgivable…

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