June 27, 2012

The Power of Forgiveness

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 6:14, KJV).

I always thought I was a forgiving person until that beautiful morning in May.

Looking out of the window of my condo, I saw my mom walking her black Pomeranian, Precious. I looked down at my chocolate toy poodle, Tasha, and asked if she wanted to go for a walk. She wagged her tail in reply, so out we went. As we headed back home, we saw our neighbor coming out with his dog, Mary Jane—a pit bull and dalmatian mix.

2012 1518 page31Fred had Mary Jane on a leash and walked toward us saying, “You don’t have to worry about Mary Jane. She is friendly.” Mary Jane walked toward Precious with her tail wagging. But when she turned to Tasha, there was a sudden change in her temperament. Mary Jane jumped up and ripped Tasha from my arms and mauled her. I took Tasha’s harness and started hitting the bigger dog to make her stop. Finally Mary Jane dropped Tasha, and I scooped her up and ran to my condo before rushing to the vet’s office.

The doctor spent hours repairing her wounds. We were told she had a 50/50 chance of survival because of the severity of her injuries. But the doctor let us take her home and gave us everything we needed to care for her.

I kept asking myself, “How could I let this happen to her?” But what scared me most was how much hatred I felt for my neighbor, Fred. How could he stand there and do nothing while his dog attacked a small, defenseless animal? At home, I gently placed Tasha in her bed, and I lay on the floor next to her with my hand on her head, stroking her eyes and ears. I whispered to her how much I loved her, and prayed for the Lord to heal her.

That Sabbath morning the Lord answered our prayers. Tasha sat up in her bed and kissed me. I thanked God immediately for this miracle. Sadly, about eight months later Tasha died of kidney failure. I was so angry that she experienced such pain and fear in her last year of life, and I felt as though I had failed her. So I grew to hate Fred more.

Months later I noticed Fred was having a hard time walking. When I saw his son, he told me Fred had melanoma and that he might have just a year left to live. I told him I was sorry, but in truth I wasn’t.

One icy February evening I saw Fred park his car, but then he just sat there. He slumped over in the seat and stayed that way for about 15 minutes.

I was sure his sons would be home soon to help him, as he still wasn’t moving. I sensed the Lord telling me to go out and help him. So I went outside and knocked on his window several times until he responded. He opened the door and just looked at me.

“Fred, do you need help?”

“No,” he said.

I asked again, telling him that if he needed help to tell me now, or I would leave. He finally said he did.  So I helped him out of the car and started walking toward the condo. He looked at me and said, “Thank you.” Fred told me he was sorry to hear of Tasha’s death, and I thanked him for that. He also told me he was sorry about what Mary Jane had done to her.

I walked home feeling as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt peace for the first time in many months, and it really surprised me how quickly my hatred had turned to compassion.

And it made me think. How could I ask the Lord to forgive me if I couldn’t forgive Fred? I would be ashamed to ask God to forgive me for doing something wrong if I was not able to forgive others.

A few months later Fred passed away. I felt bad for his family, and I prayed that his heart was right with God. That night changed my life forever. Because out of a terrible situation something wonderful had happened:  I experienced—firsthand—the power of forgiveness.

Cathy Payne works in the Ministerial Association Resource Center of the General Conference and loves spending time with her family, friends, and pets. This article was published June 28, 2012.