Sunday, February 25, 2018
Love, Forgiveness and Reconciliation
When we moved to Fishers, Indiana, back in 1996, we were delighted to find a home on a cul-de-sac. We'd lived in parsonages for twenty years and owning our own home was exciting. Our neighbors were friendly. The half circle was conducive to evening gatherings outside with parents talking and children playing.
The people next door to us, had a five-year-old daughter, Ella. Sam and Rebecca were professional musicians, Rebecca a violinist with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and Sam, a viola player, who had a shop in their home where he made violas and repaired stringed instruments.
We discovered early in our friendship that Sam and Rebecca were Jewish. We were thrilled with the opportunity to learn about their culture and traditions.
Over the years we shared their holiday celebrations with cards and small gifts. They honored our Easter and Christmas in the same way.
When Ella entered high school, Sam's behavior became erratic, with outbursts of anger. He sought help from numerous professionals, but nothing seemed to help him regain his stable, easygoing manner.
Life together was difficult and soon Sam and Rebecca divorced. She moved to an apartment and he relocated first to the small town in southern Indiana where he was from and then to Texas. Through the years following the divorce Sam and Rebecca kept in touch with each other through occasional phone calls and we stayed close to Rebecca. Ella, however, now in college, became estranged from her father.
The years passed. One day in 2015, Rebecca learned from one of Sam's friends that Sam, 52, and living in Minneapolis, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. The friend decided he was unable to care for Sam as the disease progressed and wanted to make him a ward of the state. Rebecca and Ella stepped in. They made plans to bring him back to Indiana and found an assisted living center in Westfield that would care for Sam.
Rebecca visits Sam as often as she can.
A Special Concert
Shortly after Sam's admission to the facility, Rebecca arranged a concert in Sam's honor. She invited all persons who had instruments that Sam made or repaired to perform. Ella, a third year cantorial student at Hebrew Union College in New York City, returned for the concert and sang several songs.
In July, 2017, Ella got married and Sam proudly walked her down the aisle. Rebecca and Ella are committed to loving and caring for Sam as he deals with the challenges Alzheimer's brings.
A few years ago, when Rebecca first told me about Sam's diagnosis and the care she extended, I felt deeply the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. His behaviors many years ago were signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's that no one considered.
The Story of Joseph
Joseph's jealous brothers in Genesis, chapter 37, plotted evil against him. The eleven brothers sold him to people who took him to Egypt. Many years later, Joseph is reunited with his brothers, who are fearful that he might pay them back for the harm they inflicted upon him.
Joseph, however, answers his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: "'Don't be afraid; I can't put myself in the place of God. You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good. You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.' So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts." (Good News Bible)
Joseph's generosity of heart and strength in God enabled him to forgive his brothers and begin a new life with them even after the horrible way they treated him.
When Forgiveness Doesn't Happen
My own story of forgiveness, unfortunately, doesn't have the peaceful ending Sam, Rebecca and Joseph's brothers experienced. Growing up in a home that was not nurturing, but harmful, left me with feelings of anger and resentment toward my parents.
I worked with a counselor decades later who suggested I meet with my mother and father, and tell them that I forgave them for the way they treated me. One October afternoon, with my counselor present, I met with my parents and offered them forgiveness of the evil that was part of my upbringing. They looked at me and said nothing. I hoped for acknowledgment of wrongdoings, but did not receive that response. Instead, I prayed they would accept my forgiveness and continued to hope for reconciliation.
None of that happened that day or later. Even during additional visits in the years before they died, no words of acknowledgment or apology were spoken. My hopes of reconciliation died with their passing four days apart. I was left feeling hopeless, defeated and disappointed.
Sam, Rebecca, Ella and Joseph
I was encouraged when Rebecca told me of her reconnection to Sam and forgiveness has given this family many opportunities for fullness of life together. Although Sam must continue to live in an assisted living apartment, Rebecca takes him out for concerts and dinner.
Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers opened the door to new adventures for their lives as a family.
My disappointment with the forgiveness and restoration that could have been experienced in my family often brings an ache to my heart. The finality of their passing closes any opportunities for admission or reconciliation. I am grateful, however, for the freedom I have that comes from forgiveness even though none was offered to me.
For Your Reflection
1. Ask for God's strength to examine your life and determine your relationship with others.
2. Is there a person or persons to whom you need to offer forgiveness and enjoy reconciliation? Pray now for opportunities to interact and experience that gift.
Here are two prayers that can move you toward forgiveness:
Prayer 1 - For all those I have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. Forgive me and set me free.
For all those who have harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free.
For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. I forgive myself and set myself free.
Prayer 2 - I let forgiveness rest on all of my memories of you. I bless you and ask God to fill you with his love in this instant and for eternity.
Prayer: God, circumstances happen in life that bring us to or knees with despair and desire for harmonious living.Thank you for giving us strength to walk through our days when disappointment comes and our hearts are heavy. Let us, with courage, walk through those hurtful moments and come to a place of forgiveness where we can experience freedom and fullness of life in you. Amen.