I wrote my article last month on how forgiveness can be a tremendous expression of love, for both the forgiven and the forgiver. Then, this month, as a Relief Society teacher in my ward, I was asked to teach a lesson on Sis. Kristin M. Yee’s Conference talk, Beauty for Ashes: The Healing Path of Forgiveness.
I shared with my class a difficult personal experience involving my oldest daughter, Amber. Amber was severely bipolar. She struggled for several years with this disease, and often felt discouraged to the point where she would try to take her own life. We had gone through numerous suicide attempts. Fortunately, through the grace of God, she had somehow survived each attempt.
She began a path of improvement which she sustained for several months. It was our first glimpse of hope. But then her progress was upended as her boyfriend suddenly, without warning, broke up with her. She was devastated. Even though she had been making progress in handling her disease, we were especially worried about her vulnerability at this time.
When this occurred, she was working as a waitress at a local restaurant. Almost immediately after the break-up with her boyfriend, Amber announced that she had decided to move in as a roommate to one of the girls who she worked with. I’ll call this friend, Chelsea (not her real name)
Suddenly Amber began to change. She began to wear inappropriate clothes, and to use dirty, inappropriate language. She visited less and less frequently. She stopped attending Church and became quite antagonistic to the Church. We were even afraid to mention the Church in any conversation when she was around, because she would explode and yell at us, telling us she hated the Church.
Finally, Amber announced that she was in a relationship with Chelsea. She informed us that they were determined to get married and asked us if we would help with the wedding. As you can imagine, this was an interesting challenge on several levels!
During the time that Amber had been involved with Chelsea, we noticed that Amber was returning to her old struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. To be very honest; to me, Chelsea seemed like the devil. I felt that she had taken advantage of Amber at a time when Amber was particularly vulnerable. Plus, it was hard for me to accept this relationship, because we didn’t feel that Amber was gay. She had always been a bit “boy-crazy” and had enjoyed dating a number of young men. Now, this turnabout seemed to be threatening to destroy our child. I must admit that I had a “warring heart” towards Chelsea.
In her Conference Talk, Sister Yee challenged all of us to examine ourselves and see if we had a “warring heart” against anyone, and if so, challenged us to have a “mighty change of heart.” Looking back at my situation, I have to admit, a change of heart seemed impossible. I desperately hoped that there would be a break-up between Chelsea and my daughter.
When Amber asked us to help her with the wedding, I admit that inside, I was struggling. Then one day, I was stunned as Amber informed me that she had decided to break things off with Chelsea. Whew!!! I admit, I felt a huge sense of relief. When I asked her why, Amber said, “Well, you know mom, I ‘m not really gay.”
Truthfully, I was just grateful that Chelsea would no longer be in the picture. But then Amber informed me that this break-up would be difficult, and she felt she needed to leave town and go study at a university away from Atlanta, so that she could more easily make this transition. I was more than happy to help facilitate that!
Everything went well for a couple of months. Then one night, Amber called to tell us that she had received a phone call from Chelsea. Chelsea had been evicted from her apartment. She was staying in her car but was in hiding because her bank was trying to repossess her car. It was winter and cold. Amber was so worried about Chelsea. She told us that Chelsea was terrible with money. She didn’t seem to understand how to control it properly. Amber informed us that during their time together, Amber had paid for the rent, the car and all the bills—even Chelsea’s cell phone!
The last thing I wanted was for Amber to feel like she needed to come back to Atlanta to help Chelsea, so I told her not to worry—I would personally make sure that Chelsea was taken care of.
Was I crazy??
I wondered how in the world I could help, especially given the way I felt toward this young lady.
But I forced myself to call Chelsea’s cellphone and hesitantly told her, I was aware that she had been evicted and was living in her car. I told Chelsea that I was coming to get her. We had an extra room in our house, (Amber’s old room) and I told her that she would be welcome to it. Seriously, I hung up the phone and felt that I had just invited the devil to move into our home.
But again, I forced myself to go get her and bring her to our home. I never could have guessed what would have happened in the ensuing months.
As I got to know her, I learned some things about Chelsea. Her mother had died shortly after her birth. Her father was aloof, being involved with other women. Chelsea was essentially on her own to raise herself. No wonder, she didn’t understand financial responsibility!
My husband, John, started working with her in the evenings, teaching her principles of budgeting and financial priorities. He helped her to work out a plan to get on her feet financially.
In the meantime, I quickly realized that Chelsea had not had any training from a mother. She was eating all her meals at fast-food restaurants. She told me she didn’t know how to cook. I taught her how to make a week’s menu and a grocery list. We went grocery shopping together and then I taught her how to cook. We spent a number of enjoyable hours in the kitchen together. I also realized that she needed some training with hygiene, exercise and a healthy diet.
I worked with her on appropriate social interactions with people. As she lived in our home, her language changed, her dress style changed. We taught her how to do various things, like, to ride a bike, play basketball, etc. We celebrated her birthday together. We came to love Chelsea.
After a few months, Chelsea announced that she felt she was ready to move out on her own and take on responsibilities that previously had seemed overwhelming to her. We helped her to find an apartment, pay the startup fees for gas, electricity, trash pick-up, water etc.
She said she felt nervous, but cautiously confident. As we left, she gave me a big hug and with tears in her eyes, told me that I was like the mother she had never had. She thanked me profusely. At that point, we were both weeping. I was so ashamed of the warring heart that had hardened me to this young girl who had struggled so severely in her life.
In the end, I feel that I was the one who was truly blessed by Chelsea. How grateful I am to God, that He gave me a second chance. I now agree completely with Lewis Smedes’ comment that “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you”.
As meaningful as that experience was for me, it pales greatly in comparison to the following true story of Amy Biehl. Amy’s story pierced my heart the first time I read it in the newspaper. It continues to be an inspiration to me.
Forgiving the Unforgivable
Amy Biehl was an American graduate of Stanford University. After graduation, she wanted to go to South Africa to work against apartheid. Although her parents were very concerned about her safety, they supported her in her desire.
One night, as Amy drove three friends home to the township of Gugulethu, outside Cape Town, on August 25, 1993, a mob pulled her from the car and stabbed and stoned her to death, while a black mob shouted anti-white slurs.
The Cape Town newspaper reported, “Supporters of the three men accused of murdering [her]… burst out laughing in the public gallery of the Supreme Court today when a witness told how the battered woman groaned in pain.”
Four people were convicted of killing her.
Her mother, Linda just couldn’t reconcile herself to her daughter’s death. She felt that she had to see the place where her daughter died. She and her husband, Peter went to Cape Town. When they got there, they were so appalled at the crushing poverty of the black youth, that they decided they couldn’t just leave.
So, Linda & Peter Biehl stayed and started a charity, the Amy Biehl Foundation.
Two of her killers are now learning a trade at their charity. “I think Amy would be very proud of what she achieved in her short life,” says her father. “Also, at the same time, she would be wanting to achieve a lot more. And so, her best chance, and her dreams—can really be fulfilled through these two guys, in large part.”
“If they make it, they are clear evidence to the new South Africa: Two people can pull themselves up from the very worst of possible situations and make something of themselves,” he says. “That’s her dream. And I think that she’s living that dream today, through these two guys.” (South African History Online; www.sahistory.org.za)
To me, this was an incredible, incredible, soul-changing story.
Carrying around a warring heart towards Chelsea had darkened my own life. This is a burden that none of us need to bear! Thanks to the gift of the Savior, Jesus Christ, who led the way for all of us with His unbelievably forgiving words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” as He hung on the cross, powerfully teaches us that nothing is unforgivable. I realize that many wounds run deep, and their pain is excruciating. But I sincerely believe we each can follow Jesus’s sublime example and through His Atonement, can each reach out for the light of forgiveness, lay our warring hearts down, find divine healing, and live life with love, absent of hatred.
It is by far, the best way to live.