I Chose to Forgive

Thirteen years ago, Tommy, one of my teenage sons, left our home on an October evening to follow a treasure hunt to a dance. While he and his two young friends were driving from the first clue to the second, their car was hit by a drunk driver. The driver of the boys’ car was killed instantly, and Tommy sustained massive internal injuries. The third passenger was only slightly injured.

I stood by Tommy’s hospital bed and took stock of his condition. With tubes attaching him to many machines, he lay unconscious with just a sheet covering him. Besides a bandage on his left knee, Tommy looked very relaxed. His spleen and brain injuries were hidden from sight.

As I stood quietly by, I realized that some would understand if I remained angry and bitter all my life about this. Looking down at my son, I let my righteous indignation turn into anger and then fury. My throat tightened, my breathing became rapid, and my hands clenched into tight fists. How could anyone do this to him!

As these feelings subsided, an interesting thing happened. I began to imagine future holiday scenes: birthdays with cakes and candles, the Thanksgiving table spread with food, and a Christmas tree surrounded by people singing and giving gifts. Strangely, these scenes all lacked any color, warmth, love, or joy.

And then I understood: That was the way my life would be if I allowed myself to be bitter over my son’s accident. Grateful for this spiritual insight, I chose to forgive the driver and pray for him right there by my son’s bedside. Though Tommy died as a result of his injuries, not once in the years since have I questioned my decision to forgive.

A few days after Tommy’s funeral, I felt impressed to write a letter to the driver. I told him that Tommy’s father and I hoped he would accept our complete forgiveness. I explained that our family had been blessed through the Spirit with understanding and peace from our Heavenly Father. Because of our knowledge of the plan of salvation, we knew that Tommy and his friend still lived. We hoped that, after due process of the justice system, the driver would be able to put his life back together, forgive himself, and live in peace.

The driver was found guilty of two counts of involuntary homicide and sentenced to two terms of 5 to 15 years each in the penitentiary. After he had spent some time in prison, his sentence was commuted to a year of maintenance service at a treatment center. We learned that he had no previous offenses, that he was a longtime employee at his place of work, and that he was considered a fine husband, father, and grandfather. He was not a habitual drinker.

When the day of his scheduled release arrived, he had a conversation with the facility’s matron that she later told me about. She complimented him on the way he had conducted himself throughout his sentence and spoke with enthusiasm about his return to his family and a normal life. Reminding him of our letter of forgiveness, she encouraged him to close the door on this period of his life and begin anew. His debt to society would finish being paid at midnight.

The driver, however, did not share the matron’s outlook. He was somber and once again expressed his shame and grief at having caused the death of two boys. He stated his belief that he could never be free of his guilt while he lived on this earth.

At about ten o’clock that night, when one of the facility’s administrators went to the man’s quarters to help him get ready to go home, he discovered that the man had passed away due to a massive heart attack.

I believe that without a testimony of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, the driver could not understand the forgiveness process. Perhaps his grief overwhelmed him. When I learned of the man’s death, I felt a strong spiritual impression regarding him, a reassurance that he would be taught the gospel in the spirit world, that he would learn of the great blessing of the Atonement—and that then he would receive his long-sought peace.

I am grateful that I followed the Spirit’s guidance and forgave the man instead of feeling bitter toward him.

Gretchen Knecht Clark serves in the area office in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband, who is the Africa Area medical adviser.

Of Dreams and Promises

It was five o’clock in the morning when my husband and I, with two of our four children, left home in our small car. A fierce downpour pummeled the windshield, making it hard to see the road. But despite the weather, we were in a state of high excitement, for this was September 1983, and we were traveling to the dedication of the temple in Santiago, Chile.

My husband, a counselor in the bishopric, had received two tickets to attend dedicatory sessions in one of the large rooms inside the temple. Our older children, Igor and Perlita, ages 10 and 9, would see the services on closed-circuit television from a meetinghouse near the temple.

Brother Basualto, the other counselor in the bishopric, and his wife were traveling with us. They would sit with our children in the meetinghouse.

As we drove, Sister Basualto recounted a dream she had had the night before. “My husband and I were in the meetinghouse with your children, waiting for the session to start,” she told us. “Suddenly, one of the ushers came up and said, ‘Follow me. There are four extra seats in the temple.’ He took us into the temple and seated us right in front. It felt so real! When it was over, the General Authorities shook hands with the people. One of them spoke to your children.” As we listened to her, a peaceful feeling came over us. The rain continued to pour down.

We arrived at the temple, which stood stately and majestic in the storm. Shielding ourselves under a huge umbrella, we left our children and the Basualtos at the meetinghouse and hurried to our seats in the temple. The dedication was an extraordinary experience, with the Spirit gloriously in attendance. Even thinking about it today, I have a sweet and peaceful feeling. After the session was over, the members of the choir continued to sing with all their hearts in hymns of praise to the Lord.

My husband and I left the temple and went to the meetinghouse to join our children and friends. They were nowhere to be found. Concerned, we inquired if anyone had seen them. We were told, “Just before the session began, someone took them into the temple.” We looked back toward the temple and saw the four of them walking in the gardens.

Soon we were greeting one another. “Everything was just like my dream!” exclaimed Sister Basualto with tears in her eyes. How thrilled they had been to be seated inside the house of the Lord! They then tenderly described how, at the conclusion, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency, came up to our son Igor and spoke to him through an interpreter.

“How old are you, son?” President Hinckley asked.

“Ten,” said Igor.

“Will you promise me, here in the house of the Lord, that when the time comes you will serve a full-time mission, no matter what the obstacles?”

“Yes,” Igor replied in a quiet voice. “I promise.”

President Hinckley then turned to our daughter Perlita. “And you, my precious child, will you promise me that you will keep yourself clean and pure so you can be married in the house of the Lord?”

She, too, shyly responded, “Yes.”

We all wept as we thought of the marvelous events we had witnessed that day and of the beautiful promises the children had made.

Now, more than 10 years have passed. During that time, President Hinckley has become President of the Church, and my husband and I have watched both our children withstand the darts of the adversary. We have watched them stand firm and keep their childhood promises. Igor served as a missionary in the Chile Viña del Mar Mission. And his sister Perlita married a returned missionary in the beautiful Santiago Chile Temple—the same temple in which she and her brother had made special promises to a servant of the Lord and had witnessed a dream fulfilled.

Perla García de Bravo is a member of the Enrique Olivares Branch, and serves as Relief Society president in the Santiago Chile Javiera Carrera Stake.

The Book of Mormon Changed Our Missions

With frustration welling up in my heart, I sat on my top bunk desperately praying and searching the scriptures. Sitting just below me on her bunk was the person I believed to be the cause of all my distress: my missionary companion. How could this be? I asked myself. I only want to do the work we were called to do. But today, as I look back on that experience, I recognize that I truly learned in a beautiful way the great power the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring into our relationships with others, particularly at those times when we could allow contention to grow between us.

A convert of three years, I had entered the mission field with a great desire to share my newfound testimony with the people of Chile. Four months into my service, my mission president had assigned me to a companion who was struggling with desires to go home early. My assignment as her junior companion was to help her regain the spirit of missionary service and honorably finish her remaining six months.

At first I felt honored to be entrusted with such a responsibility. My enthusiasm soon dwindled, however, as the difficulty of my task became apparent.

My companion would not participate in finding new families or working with investigators, even though my Spanish was limited and I needed her help in teaching lessons and answering questions. Before long, she refused to leave our house at all. Because few sisters from the branch were available to accompany me, my missionary service became limited to studying at home while my companion slept.

She is ruining my mission, I thought as I lay on my bunk.

Suddenly a gentle, familiar feeling of admonishment broke through my anger and despair: perhaps I was ruining my own mission. I mentally reviewed the case against my companion and angrily recounted her failures, but the feeling persisted that I also was in need of repentance.

Indignantly, I gave my scriptures a shove. The pages fell open to 1 John, chapter 4 [1 Jn. 4]. As I read the chapter, I felt my spirit gradually soften and submit, especially as I considered verse 19: “We love him, because he first loved us.”

Love my difficult companion? I pondered.

But how? I pleaded with the Lord to help me.

Swiftly and surely came the needed direction. I felt impressed to read the Book of Mormon with my companion. I began fasting from that moment and resolved that the next morning we would begin studying the Book of Mormon together.

The next day, my companion was unresponsive when I placed her scriptures in her hands. Nevertheless, I read a chapter aloud to her in Spanish. The subsequent morning she greeted me negatively, but again I read another chapter aloud.

After about a week of this routine, I was overcome with emotion one morning when my companion opened her scriptures on her own and followed along. As the next days went by, her attitude improved until one glorious morning she suggested that we alternate reading five verses each until the chapter was finished.

From then on, the rebirth of my companion’s spirit was clearly evident. Each day the light of Christ shone more brightly in her eyes as the scriptures came alive in our hands. My own spirit was affected as well: I marveled at how each verse touched me more in Spanish than it ever had in English.

Finally, one morning after we had read and prayed, my companion closed her scriptures and headed for the door. Looking back at me with mock impatience, she asked, “Pues, ¿vás a venir conmigo?”—or, translated, “Well, are you coming with me?”

Tears filled my eyes as I grabbed my scriptures and followed her. As we left the house for a day of missionary work, I marveled at the change the Spirit had wrought in my companion. I also noted with immense satisfaction how I too was changing. My outlook was brighter and my feelings toward my companion were less critical and more tempered by understanding, patience, and love. I was reminded of the great blessings in store for those who cultivate the habit of working through challenges with faith as they seek the eventual fruits of their labors (see D&C 58:3–4).

Before long I was again transferred. During the long bus ride to my new area, I opened my scriptures and was surprised when a handmade bookmark fell out. I noticed “Alma 5:14” written on the bookmark. Looking up the passage, I read, “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”

Inside my scriptures, I also found a dried, pressed rose petal carefully inscribed with these words: “I loved reading the Book of Mormon with you. I love you.”

Several months later, I received a letter from my mission president informing me that my former companion had finished her mission “in a blur of baptisms.” The president declared that I had been a tremendous blessing in her life, but I knew that the blessing had come from the scriptures, from the Spirit, and from our Heavenly Father. Nearly 16 years later, I still cherish that rose petal as a reminder of the mighty change that can occur in a person’s life—in two persons’ lives.

Candace K. Elder, a member of the Glendora First Ward, Glendora California Stake, teaches Relief Society and teacher development.

My Bumper Crop of Faith

In the spring of 1990, my husband, Dave, and I decided to alleviate our financial crunch by investing extra time and energy in a garden. The turn of the economy had brought Dave’s job at the university to an end, and we were scraping to make ends meet for our large family while Dave searched for another job. In addition to planning a vegetable garden, I made sure our fruit trees were sprayed and pruned early so we would have a good fruit crop.

The weather that particular spring was unusual. It warmed up early, and the trees quickly reached full bloom. Having spent enough money on seeds and supplies to pay for two weeks of groceries, we expended much energy planting and cultivating the garden.

Everything seemed to be going fine until the weather changed and we had a late freeze that ruined every blossom on every fruit tree in the yard. Then it rained almost every day for more than a month, making our vegetables grow too fast and become thin and spindly. Many seeds didn’t germinate because there was too much moisture, and when the weather did dry out, the soil baked until it was too solid for the tender seedlings to break through. Nothing grew well except the peas, which soon reached five feet in height—but the pods didn’t form until midsummer, and they shriveled in the heat before they could mature.

Rarely in my life have I been more discouraged. I became so angry about the failed garden that one evening I asked Dave, “Will you please read Malachi 3:11 [Mal. 3:11] and tell me what has gone wrong? Haven’t we done our part? We’ve paid a full tithing. We’re serving the Lord to the best of our abilities. But our fruits have been destroyed, and the vines have cast their fruit before their time. I just don’t understand!”

Dave picked up the Bible and turned to James 1:3. “‘The trying of your faith worketh patience,’” he quoted. “Honey, maybe the Lord thinks we need patience more than we need the food, and this is a trial of our faith. We need to just keep doing what we have been doing and not give up.”

By the end of the growing season, we had harvested only a few tomatoes and a half-dozen bitter cucumbers. I was so discouraged about the garden that I completely gave up on it. When spring came the next year, I told Dave I wouldn’t invest ten cents on seeds. In my opinion, they were a total waste of money.

Spring was short that second year. The trees bloomed for about a week; then the frost hit and refroze all the blossoms. I tried to pretend I didn’t care when the apricot blossoms turned brown; then the peach, cherry, and pear blossoms followed two weeks later. By mid-June, the weeds in the yard were high. I decided to weed the flower beds first, since they had grown just fine for me.

As I began to weed the flower beds, I noticed that several parsley starts and squash plants were coming up. The squash plants turned out to be watermelon vines from seeds that someone had spit into the flower bed the summer before. I soon found that our whole yard was alive with volunteer vegetables from last year’s crop, which had gone to seed prematurely. Potatoes, corn, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, pole beans, cucumbers, beets, and tomatoes higher than the chain link fence were spontaneously growing in our backyard.

Then I discovered that the blossoms on the fruit trees were brown not because they had frozen but because they had been pollinated. We had bumper crops on every fruit tree. Few of our neighbors had fruit that year, but we were blessed to have all we could use and some left over to share.

We had reaped where we sowed and even where we had not intended to sow. Humbly, I realized that the Lord had looked out for us after all. He had taught us to have patience and faith, and he had kept his promise to “open the windows of heaven, and pour … out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10).

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert Anderson McKay

Coleen Bay teaches Relief Society in the Brigham City 25th Ward, Brigham City Utah South Stake.