JOY Stories

 

Michael Thomas

A Story of Forgiveness


On Wednesday, November 18th, of 2015, I received the worst news of my life. My sister, Tiara, had been shot and murdered. That morning I remember waking up and feeling good about the day. I was headed to Jacksonville, FL with a classmate of mine to present at my first conference. About 30 minutes out from our destination, I got a call from my wife, Ashlee.

Ashlee asked me to pull over and stop the car, and once I did, she told me the news. After the initial shock, I immediately exited the vehicle, ripped my shirt off, and fell to my knees in despair. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t see anything. Everything just went black.

Tiara and I just had a conversation a few days before the incident. She was excited about life. She had started attending church frequently for the past six months, had gotten engaged and selected her bridal party, and was on track to finish college in May of the following year. Her life was just getting started. Then, in an instant, it had stopped.

A few days after getting the bad news, I headed home. There was no time to grieve. We had to bury my sister. In the midst of planning the funeral, I made a conscious choice to disassociate myself from God. I still acknowledged him out of some weird sense of reverence, but I struggled to feelcovered, protected and comforted by God. I thought that you prayed, treated people kindly, and were obedient to prevent stuff like this from happening. That was the agreement. That was the contract so I thought. I felt vulnerable.

From that point on, I struggled through a two-year bout of depression. I would dream about how Tiara’s murder happened a few times a week. I struggled to peel myself from the bed each morning. I did not want to celebrate or enjoy life. I did not want to feel the warmth of the sun. I did not deserve
it. I felt guilty for being alive. I wished, on so many days, that I could have been there to protect her. During her funeral, I just wanted to lay in the casket with her. It was my job as her brother to protect her. I felt that I had broken a sacred promise.

During this time, I forced myself to attend church. I wanted to find solace in God, but it was difficult. Nothing felt real. I was numb to messages and songs about God’s grace, love, mercy, and protection. It had gotten so bad that I told Ashlee one service, I’m not sure if I believe in Godanymore.

Several months later, I picked up my bible and started reading through the gospels. I came across the story about Jesus forgiving the thief while on the cross. Prior to forgiving the thief, though, he was already asking God to forgive the people who had placed him on the cross. And, in keeping with his character, he forgave the man on the cross who sought his forgiveness.

It was at that moment that I realized something bittersweet about being a Chrisitan. If Kevin, the father of my sister’s three beautiful children, the one who committed the murder, asked for forgiveness, God would welcome him with back with open arms.

I realized God was capable of tending to my grief and extending salvation to Kevin. These things weren’t mutually exclusive. That’s when I forgave Kevin. That’s when I realized I did not know the full extent of God’s character.  That’s when I was born again and started a real relationship with Christ. 

My walk with God is rocky at times. I have moments when I think about my sister not being here and want to wallow in the uncertainties and unfairness of life. But, then, I remind myself that God gave his only begotten son so that, regardless of how far we deviate from his path, we can return home and be welcomed with his abounding love, grace, and mercy. 

I take a great deal of comfort knowing that God’s definition of love is nothing like that of man - nothing like that of mine. God, I imagine, sees us as his image-bearers. And, as a consequence, his tenderness, comfort, and forgiveness are for Kevin just as much as it is for me.

I never thought that losing Tiara would lead me to this place in my faith journey: to hope that Kevin will someday bear the title of Kevin the redeemed instead of Kevin the murderer.

Photos for Michael Thomas

 

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