I believe the words “I forgive you” are some of the hardest words to say.
Sometimes forgiving someone means letting go of anger — anger that may even be justified. Sometimes it means letting go of hurt. But letting go is often the only way to heal.
Katie Couric hosted several people on her show this week who have learned the incredible power of forgiveness — forgiving others, and especially, forgiving themselves.
The first young woman, Jessica Randall, spoke tearfully of a night when she made the decision to drink and drive, and how it ultimately led to a terrible crash and the death of her best friend. She spoke of going through months of physical rehab to train her body to learn how to walk again and how only after the physical therapy was complete was she able to start on emotional healing.
“Going through this, dealing with it, the legal aspect, physically, spiritually, that’s hard enough. How I got from being the murderer to being the survivor to be able to look at yourself in those two different lights that’s unbelievable.”
“But then you went to teacher,” Katie Couric said. “Because you’ve made it your life’s work to talk to teenagers about drunk driving.”
The first school Randall spoke at was her former high school. She spoke to the kids a few weeks before prom about choices and consequences. She told them about that horrific night so many years ago, and urged them to make good choices. Later she learned that there was not one single incident of drinking and driving that year, and that the school thinks it was Randall’s example that made the difference.
Randall’s ability to start forgiving herself allowed her to look past her life to help others.
Keith Blackburn has done the same after almost killing a woman while in his teens.
Misty Wallace was only 18 years old when a gunman shot her point-blank in the cheek and left her to die.
“The bullet stayed (in my throat) for several years,” Wallace told Couric.
That would-be murderer was Blackburn, a troubled kid high on drugs and alcohol the night he shot her.
When he was released from prison, Wallace got a temporary restraining order against Blackburn.
“And yet, you still wanted to know why he did this to you,” Couric said. “So you Googled him.”
A picture of Blackburn came up with him standing next to the first lady of Louisiana and Miss America.
Wallace was intrigued. She decided to take it one step further and contact him on Facebook.
“Why?” Couric asked.
“Because I needed closure,” Wallace said. “I need forgiveness. I needed to move on with my life.”
“You needed to forgive him,” Couric said.
Couric then brought out the very man who almost killed Wallace.
“I’ve tried for the last 20 years to put that bullet back inside the gun,” an emotional Blackburn said.
“You’re ministering to felons and prisoners and teaching them to turn their lives around,” Couric said.
“My whole passion is to help men that are in that similar situation start that journey toward their forgiveness, toward redemption,” Blackburn said. “I understood it from a religious standpoint, to be forgiven by God. He created us, so he can forgive us but when Misty sent me that Facebook message, my whole body shook. Up until that point, forgiveness was a concept, just a little bit out of reach. But now because of her grace and her forgiveness, it has a face.
“Twenty years ago, I did to her what she didn’t deserve and two years ago, she gave me something I didn’t deserve.
“Forgiveness has transformed everything I do.”
Now Wallace and Blackburn actually call each other friends, although they joked Wallace has yet to make it “official” by accepting his friend request on Facebook.
This amazing story, despite the horrific details, turned out to be a beautiful prelude into this Easter weekend when we celebrate our Savior’s resurrection and ultimate forgiving power. After watching Katie’s show, I began to wonder if I show that kind of forgiving love in my life? My day is filled with constant reminders for my little ones to “say sorry.”
“Did you hit him? Please apologize.”
“Did you take away his toy? Please say you’re sorry.”
But how often have I asked the “victim” to say, “I forgive you”? Those words are so very powerful. They are healing. They can transform us. They can lessen the anger. They can heal the hurt.
That’s a goal I have now. To teach my children to say, “I forgive you” every time another says, “I’m sorry.”
I don’t believe forgiving someone means that whatever it was they did is suddenly OK or acceptable.
For me, it means releasing them from my mind and allowing us both to move on and turn to our Savior.
“Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37).
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.