Forgiveness in Action
Donna, 52, Campbell, California

On January 19, 1999, we were chosen by a birth family to adopt their child. We had been trying to create our family for 18 years and had been blessed with an adopted son who was 7 years old. We took the baby home from the hospital and named him Steven. We rearranged our lives to love and care for our new son.

Two-and-a-half months later, we received a call that the birth family had changed their mind, and that the birth father's mom would raise the baby. We took Steven back to the adoption agency and kissed our son goodbye.

I was in a state of anger. I thought there would never be real joy in my life again. I realized I had to forgive the birth family, or I would not be able to go on. I imagined how it would feel to be the birth father's mom. I had to put my victim story aside and get a heartfelt experience of her situation. This helped me to feel compassion for her and have peace of mind.

At Christmas, we decided to send the birth mother's family a card. We wanted to let them know that we were doing fine and had no bad feelings towards them. We didn't want them to feel guilty about what happened. They responded very quickly and thanked us for writing. It felt good to not have bad feelings toward each other.
Don, 59, Palm Springs, California

In 1986, [returning from a four-day trip] I pulled in my driveway, and a car pulled in behind me. I got out of the car and a man got out of the other car with a gun. He told me to open my house and get inside.

He told me to get in my bedroom…He told me to strip naked…He took my wallet. It was empty. He was furious….I told him to take the three jewelry boxes in my dresser. I had just moved…and had packing boxes everywhere. He grabbed the jewelry boxes. He told me to get on my knees and lean against my bed. He cocked his gun, put it at the base of my neck and told me he was going to shoot me.

I started praying The Lord's Prayer out loud. He told me to, "Shut up." I told him that if I was going to die, I wanted to pray to God for his soul. He stood behind me quiet for what seemed like minutes. He then withdrew his gun from my head, told me to count to 1,000 and left.

My only regret was that one of the jewelry boxes contained my dead mother's jade ring that she gave to me as she was dying. One month later, I unpacked a box full of towels. At the bottom was my mother's jade ring. It was my sign to forgive the robber—I know it was. From that moment on I was at peace with the robbery, and I forgave him.
Tianna, 23, Tuscon, Arizona

For many years I could not forgive my mother for taking her life. My mother had a lot of problems …[in] her 29 years, but I could not understand why she would choose to leave me alone in this world. She committed suicide when I was seven—I was in the room next to hers.

I [was] angry with her for many years because I … had no one to turn to once she left me. It always made me so sad to think that I was not good enough to live for. This was not an accident; she chose to leave me—a 7-year-old child—alone. Only recently have I come to terms with this. This had nothing to do with me. She obviously [had] a lot of pain in her life to take such drastic measures.

I have chosen to succeed in my life despite the fact that many people thought I would end up just like her. I chose not to use my past as an excuse to not succeed. I will do great things in my life due to all the adversity I have overcome. In realizing that, I had to forgive my mother for not being as strong as I am. I forgive her for letting go of all the pain.

I carry her memory with me everywhere I go, and when I accomplish something, I believe she would be proud. Forgiveness is a blessing. I can now honor her memory instead of defending it.
Stephanie, 21, Houston, Texas

I've never experienced anything very traumatic in my life. I've never been shot, robbed or anything of that nature. My story is a typical one of the absent father. Like many other African-American [children], I was raised by a single mother. My story of forgiveness comes when I became old enough to realize that being bitter towards my father for the rest of my life would only allow the cycle of single women in my family to continue.

In my family, there were no positive male role models, and for a young woman that can be devastating. I had to work through the hate and confusion to realize that if my father didn't have someone to show him how to play the role, how could I fault him?

Instead of bashing my father when the issue of dads comes up, I speak of the good my dad has taught me. In order to break the cycle, I have made it my [goal] to marry a responsible man who will be the father of my son, and we will work together to ensure he grows to be a responsible man, thus the cycle I start will continue.

Forgiving my father allows me to break the cycle. The only way to make the past worthwhile is to use it to make your future better. That's my promise to my future offspring.
Diane, 53, Mequon, Wisconsin

It's a typical mother-in-law story. Eleven years of resentment [and] misunderstanding results in a bitter letter from my mother-in-law. I was in therapy for depression at the time, and her letter devastated me.

Some of her letter was true, however, I realized that she didn't have a clue who I was. I wrote an apology [in which I] described my favorite things—from movies to art and old lace. Her apology came over the phone and days later in a box containing pieces of old lace and a book on Georgia O'Keeffe. Her box changed my life because I also didn't know who I was! My childhood dream to be an artist gave way to a major in interior design and a steady income.

I had just begun to dabble in art again when the box came. I picked up the book, read the chapter on Ghost Ranch and called my best friend, Kyle, [who] had been contemplating taking a workshop there. We got the last spots in the class.

My family has been connected to Ghost Ranch, a place for healing, ever since. It was there I shed my skin as an interior designer and shouted to the rocks, "I am an artist!" I am [now] 100 percent a fine artist: painter, printmaker and jeweler. I owe this to my now-beloved mother-in-law and forgiveness.
Lisa, 37, Castle Rock, Colorado

In 1988, when I was 18, my brother, Ken, was killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Until September 11, 2001, this was the worst terrorist attack against Americans with the loss of over 260 lives.

[I]n college I did my senior thesis on Islamic terrorism, hoping it would answer the question, "Why?" But it only left me with more questions. I went to law school and [helped seek] justice against Libya [which was believed to be responsible for the bombing.]

But as a Christian, I was challenged. The Bible said I was to "love my enemies" and forgive. [I]t has been a journey learning what it means to love my enemies while also pursuing justice. After Abdel Basset El-Megrahi was convicted of bombing the plane and Libya accepted responsibility, I sent a letter [telling] him that I must forgive him.

Two years ago, I took my journey of forgiveness…to Libya. I met with government leaders and [other] people. I found the power of forgiveness as grown men took me into their arms and cried, thanking me for coming. I have started the Peace and Prosperity Alliance, which is [planning] a reconciliation event in Libya. I am also writing a book to share my journey to forgiveness.
Annie, 73, Barra de Navidad, Mexico

I can still hear her screaming. My little sister was being spanked (with a butter ladle) for lying about breaking a jar of jam. The reality is that I was the one who had lied. I had accidentally knocked my favorite raspberry preserve off the shelf. Now at 73 years old, I realize that I have never gotten over this most heinous of all crimes. How could I have been so cruel?

Now, I have grown to realize that forgiveness is not the condescending pat on the head, holier than thou kind of absolution that we were all taught to bestow on our "enemies." Forgiveness is the realization that there is no longer anything to forgive. It is letting go of all blame.

But my true test is—can I ever forgive myself? Sixty years after the event, I confessed my guilt to my sister. It was a step. Now I want … to forgive that beautiful little girl who was so afraid that she just couldn't drum up the courage to take the rap. Truth be known, she was always jealous of her sister who was really beautiful.

I am so sorry, my dear sister, Ruth. And Annie, I forgive you. My true "at-one-ment" is to remember that we are all one in our humanity, created in pure innocence and divine beauty: Our mom, my sister and I.
Jack, 89, Bellingham, Washington

Between the ages of 16 and 30, I experienced prejudice [as a Japanese-American]. I couldn't use … the public swimming pools, and shortly after Pearl Harbor, my draft classification was changed from 1-A to 4-C (alien ineligible for the draft). [In 1942], I was made a prisoner in U.S. concentration camps.

The FBI [later] cleared me to leave the camp to attend college at the University of Utah. After the 100th Battalion (a Japanese-American unit) proved their loyalty, I was reclassified as 1-A. I reported [for duty] but was rejected for bad eyes. Instead, I worked in a machine shop until V-J Day. I enrolled at [Case Institute of Technology, married an American woman and worked for] General Electric and various scientific companies in management positions.

I reflect on my past and realize that I was fortunate to have lived in the United States. I was not killed in a gas chamber. I was the recipient of so many good advantages. The old prejudices were gone. So, it occurred to me that I should look at the brighter, more positive side of things and that I should forgive all of the bad experiences. So, that's what I did, and I feel much happier and have no bitter feelings. It's just a clean, wonderful sensation!
Carol, 45, Newark, Delaware

She slammed her car into my husband's car. He suffered a brain injury, lost his job, our health insurance, our dream home, and his personality. He had to re-learn how to walk, how to make change for a dollar, how to use a cell phone.

At first, I was stuck in anger. Then I heard Oprah say "surrender." I surrendered to the situation, and realized that God had a plan for our family. I wrote the woman [who hit my husband] and told her what her actions had done to our family and that I had forgiven her. From that point, I was able to move on, to make the best of what we'd been dealt and to realize that even though the accident was a surprise to us, it was no surprise to God.

I started a company, Pike Creek Coffee, [through which] my husband began to regain his skills. The coffee bean is an analogy for our life. To make a good cup of coffee, a green bean has to be roasted at high temperatures, its outer layer removed and ground up [before] near-boiling water is poured over it. That's the hope I hang onto, believing that we will see that from the challenges of this accident, our family is better and stronger than before. And none of this would have been possible without forgiveness and surrender.
Donna, 60, Redway, California

My only daughter, Marcella, was raped and murdered in 1984 at the age of seven. It has been a journey of pain, hurt, sadness and finally the relief of forgiveness.

I said some things when Troy [the man who killed Marcella] was convicted that I thought I felt at the time. Through the journey, I have challenged my old beliefs (ignorance, biases, fears) and prayed and worked toward new ways. One is that of forgiveness. I was able to forgive Troy fairly early but not the adult Troy. Rather I forgave that frightened abused child that he was.

Troy sits on death row in San Quentin. I wrote a letter through the chaplain over a year ago stating my forgiveness and hope for Troy. I have not heard anything more.

I believe that forgiveness has allowed me to experience great joy in my life. I feel that I show great respect for my daughter's life through forgiveness. Even though we all have a path, I know for sure that we can help each other along the way. I am so impressed with those who can forgive immediately. I pray and take strength from the fact that it is humanly possible to do such a thing. It is my hope and prayer that as we know better, we can do better and the world and all of us in it will reap the rewards.
Crystal with her husband
Crystal, 24, Arlington, Tennessee

I came home early from work to discover an extremely depressed, drunk and suicidal husband. Before this day, I was aware of his depression but not his severe alcohol abuse.

I checked him into the hospital where they told me his blood alcohol level was .39. I was shocked. I also found out that he had been drinking every day for at least two years behind my back. He stayed in the hospital for five days and is in intense outpatient therapy every evening after work.

Meanwhile, I feel like my life has been destroyed. I've been very angry with him. I've been trying to deal with the destruction he created in my life—wondering, was he drunk here; did he drive drunk and how he could do this to me?

I told [him] how important it was for him to acknowledge the pain he has caused and I recognized how holding onto the resentment and anger was tearing me apart, so I'm beginning my journey of forgiveness. I also had the most amazing weekend with a husband who seems like a different person who can become a present part of my life. I know it's only the beginning, but I feel like we are taking all the necessary steps to have a healthier relationship. Getting help was his first step and starting to forgive him was mine.
Briana, 30, Kansas City, Missouri

Everyone loved Mom. She was the fun, hip, beautiful woman. She had a smile that warmed your heart, a love that encompassed you, a laugh that filled the room, a courageous, beautiful spirit. I had just graduated from college when I [learned] that Mom had breast cancer. She was going to be fine. Other people died from cancer, but [not Mom.] I believed this and prayed like crazy. I was sure that someone was listening.

[The] cancer spread to her lungs. [During] long stays at the hospital, I [would] look at her thinking how could God do to this wonderful person? [When] she told me that she could not fight anymore, I laid my head in her lap and bawled like I have never cried before. What did my mom do? She comforted me! She stroked my hair and told me it would be okay. I hated God for doing this to us. She passed away later that month.

[A few years have passed and] I find myself talking to God …so I know he is back. I have forgiven him. I have also forgiven myself for my immature, selfish behavior [while Mom was ill]. My own forgiveness [was] one of my bigger struggles after Mom's death. In hindsight, it was in vain, because I know Mom…and I know I had already been forgiven.
Amy, 45, Cedar Park, Texas

It was November 3, 2006—a normal day in Austin, Texas. With car windows down, sunroof open and fall sunlight streaming in, I was waiting at an intersection not far from my home. Within seconds my life changed.

A man approached the passenger side of my car, stuck a .357 magnum in the window and demanded my car. As I got out of the car, he pulled the trigger. The bullet entered my chest inches from my heart, punctured my right lung, grazed my liver and broke two ribs as it exited my body. It's a very long story from here on. Eight days in the hospital. Doctors shaking their heads, saying it was a miracle I was alive. Then the weeks of police work until the [alleged] shooter was caught.

Have I forgiven him? Of course. I have been forgiven, so I forgive. The size of the trespass matters not. I want to be fully healed and not suffer emotional and spiritual consequences from bitterness and un-forgiveness. I want to model for my children what it means to rise above personal tragedy and grow from it. I had a hole next to my heart. It's healing. He has a hole in his heart that led him to a life of crime. It is my prayer that through forgiveness and that age-old song of redemption, that hole in his heart is healed someday.