I’ve always been drawn to stories of forgiveness. I’ve written some and I’ve lived a few. I've probably dreamed even more.
I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not because I’ve committed some grievous crime that requires it, though I’m definitely as imperfect as they come. More simply, it may be that on occasion I’ve had difficulty forgiving others for harmful things that reshaped my life.
Recent events have invited those feelings to the surface again, like a scrap of litter knocked loose from the bottom of a mossy pond. And whenever I find myself swimming with that distinctive-smelling trash, I strive to remember one of the most tremendous families I’ve ever known.
You should know them, too.
I met the Snow family of Albemarle County, Va., when I was an 8-year-old boy who couldn’t sit still during church. Bob and Vonda Snow had three daughters and a son named Robert. He was a year older than I and no less wiggly in the folding metal chairs of worship.
Through the years I grew close to Robert and his family. He had a nearby uncle and aunt and many cousins I admired and enjoyed spending time with. The Snow family name was always synonymous with service and charity. It still is.
Perched atop the family tree sat Leroy Snow, Robert’s grandfather. Leroy was a well-known and well-respected businessman in the area and one of the most generous people you’d ever meet. One summer when my father was ill and in the hospital, I often walked from his dull gray room to Leroy’s house.
While my dad’s room predicted heartbreak, Leroy’s house guaranteed the happiness of a cool backyard swimming pool. Sometimes Robert met me there and we took turns diving off the board and away from adulthood as fast as we could.
Over the years, young Robert and I also fished and swam in the Rivanna River behind his house, tormented Boy Scout leaders and double-dated with other good friends from church and school.
Then, in 1984, a phone call triggered a lesson in forgiveness I should have never forgotten.
Late on the evening of July 6, after returning from a week out of town, Leroy, then 72-years-old, surprised an intruder. The thief was someone Leroy knew well; he’d helped him many times by hiring him for yard work and other odd jobs.
But that night he left with more than Leroy’s wallet; he left with his life. Leroy Snow was stabbed to death.
Police arrested the man the next morning and he confessed to the murder. By that night, the Snow family was already talking forgiveness. At the funeral, Bob Snow invited the accused killer’s father to sit on the front row.
When the wheels of justice turned, because of police error — namely interrogating the accused without his attorney present — the confession was tossed and the man was acquitted.
Could you forgive your father’s killer? Bob and Vonda Snow did.
As you might imagine, the experience was transformative for the Snows. Bob and his immediate and extended families were united in their capacity to forgive publicly and privately. All quickly returned to their eye-on-heaven routines with no looking back and, evidently to those around them, no harbored hatred. They said there was no other option.
Then, in 1990, a second phone call triggered a second lesson in forgiveness I should have never forgotten.
Robert, then 20-years-old, was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Phoenix. I thought of Robert often and was proud of him. We all were, and I remember sending him a letter to tell him so just days before the phone rang.
On June 7, Robert and his companion were riding with a woman from church that had volunteered to pick them up for a dinner appointment. In a flash, a drunk driver swerved across six lanes of traffic and struck their vehicle. The woman, a mother of eight, was killed. So, too, was Robert.
I wept for days.
When I close my eyes after 22 years, I can call up the memories quickly, like a mental web search. I see myself carrying a casket too heavy and too soon. I see his three sisters wiping the tears of others and his parents giving more comfort than they received.
Back in Arizona, the driver was arrested, charged, tried and sentenced to three years in prison. He was released after 18 months.
Could you forgive your son’s killer? Bob and Vonda Snow did.
With the same energy that many of us might use to fuel hatred or revenge, the Snow family forgave. They said there was no other option.
Their rationale is divine: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10).
Make no mistake: the Snow family is imperfect, like the rest of us. They still grieve and they still struggle with life's long journey home. But they do it with forgiving hearts, and that makes the baggage much lighter.
What a blessing that the Lord put these people in my life. When the scriptures, prayer or personal revelation haven't been enough, he’s placed people like the Snows in my path as living, breathing examples of how it’s done.
At times like this, when I'm fighting to forgive others for things less dire, I wish I’d recognized earlier and more often those invaluable life lessons. If good souls like the Snows can forgive those who kill, can’t I forgive those who lie, offend or steal?
Perhaps it’s time to do more than sink that trash to the bottom. Maybe the time’s come to throw it away, for good.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.jasonfwright.com.
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