MY MOST REMEMBERED THANKSGIVING
J. Grant Swank, Jr.
Jesus tells His children of grace to forgive. Jesus makes it serious business. He gives us this counsel in what has been called The Lord's Prayer.
Yet forgiveness is hard at times. There is so much injustice in our spiritually fallen world. However, God's grace can see it through for two primary reasons.
The first is because Jesus has forgiven us of our awful, atrocious, self-centered sins. All of us have fallen short. All. Either sins of the flesh or sins of the spirit or both have separated us tragically from the Father above; no one is exempt. Yet this kind God has forgiven us simply on the line of our repentance and confession from sincere hearts.
Second, when one does come upon divine grace by which to forgive another, then the healing secret is out. Further, that secret flows in two directions: toward the one forgiven and just as powerfully toward the one who has extended the forgiveness.
This reminds me of a Thanksgiving season when my family was swindled out of thousands of dollars by a first-class con artist who was dying of a slow-moving cancer. I befriended this young, skinny fellow as he lay in a hospital bed with tubes in his arms.
"If I could only have a piece of homemade apple pie," he said one morning when I made a pastoral call. It was in short order that John had his apple pie--the whole pie.
And so it was that over months of visiting him that he and I became fast friends--more glued than I had wished later. Nevertheless, in naivete over time I handed over monies for investments to this self-proclaimed financial wizard.
He claimed to have all sorts of money connections, for example having worked professionally for a national pizza chain, inspecting worldwide their newly constructed buildings and so on. Further, he said he served on this board and that regarding sound financial holdings.
It turned out to be a very long long and sad story. However, I found out too late that his employment with the pizza firm proved bogus when they discovered that he was a fraud. They had failed, however, to check out thoroughly his application form where he had listed a wife, children, education, degrees, titles--none of which he had! In the end, nothing--even to his name, address, social security number, etc.--was certain about this mortal but that he was male.
Near to the close of our friendship, he was placed in my home for several days' stay in order for him to relocate for further rehabilitation before he breathed his last.
It was then in the middle of one awfully dark sleepless night that it came to mind that several factors related to me by John simply did not add up.
The next morning, I confronted John with my quizzings regarding this and that. In an instant, he turned into a bizarre creature--fierce and unbridled. Then I knew that I had been had--royally.
I gave John his breakfast, then told him I would be back at the house within minutes. I had an errand to run at the church nearby. In moments, I got through to the pizza firm's vice president, only to learn in quick order that I had been taken, just as their firm had been taken. Indeed I was dealing with a man wanted by the FBI.
I phoned the police. In minutes, a plain-clothesman was in my living room, questioning a bathrobed John seated on my sofa. By noon, John was behind bars. But I was out of my money. He put it far behind him in one purchasing job or another so that it was impossible to retrieve what I had given him in good faith.
My mind was reeling. My body was numb. My family was taken aback at what we faced come Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. How could all of this have happened to us when simply going out of our ways to minister to a young fellow dying of cancer?
But it did happen.
Then came Thanksgiving Day itself. As I thought of our own festivities--the comforts, luxuries of our culture, food upon food platters to satisfy the most hungry, relatives and friends gathering for celebrations--I thought of John in the county jail.
"John," I greeted him.
In shock, he lifted his head, looking into my face as if in unbelief. "What are you doing here?" he asked, startled beyond belief.
"I thought that I would visit you today. You know--have some prayer and then read some from the Psalms--like before. After all, today is Thanksgiving and you have no one to be with you for this special day."
He motioned for me to have a seat there alongside him on the bench. So I did.
And to my amazement--utter amazement--I discovered a new part to my
heart. There was simply no rancor present, no hope for revenge, no inkling at all for getting even or settling some score. None. And, with me, all of those notable qualities of character do not come naturally, nor swiftly. (I have a hunch that some others are similar to my make-up.)
"I will be praying for you, John, whether I see you again or not." And with that, I waved him good-bye.
Within days, he was moved out of state. I kept in touch with him via the local police stations' computer system's info of such persons held in custody. But then the years wore on so that I almost forgot his name.
Yet to this day, I must admit that that Thanksgiving has become the most remembered one in all my life. I don't try to figure out the reasons for that, except to start to understand that it was the opening up of a new room in my heart. Really.
It taught me how to say "Thanks" in a very special way--particularly to the Lord above who counseled me gently how to find forgiving another as the secret key to heaven's healing door.
With that, I learned also that it is a healing which flows in two directions--to the one forgiven and to the one who extends the forgiveness.
It is nothing short of divine grace. Thank God.