With tears running down his face, He said, “ I need to forgive someone at this table,” It was the Monday after Christmas holidays and our first executive council meeting of the new year. When opening the meeting, I asked the vice presidents to unpack their souls and lay on the table the thing that God had called them to be most vulnerable about in their lives for 2018.
For a moment the silence was as thick as the fog that hovered over the field in front of the church outside my window. But when his words broke the silence, my eyes shifted to the picture of my dad and sons that hangs next to the window. An indescribable feeling rushed over me when I heard his voice. The room stood still; but some kind of mysterious, redemptive wave moved the mountain of souls that surrounded the table.
These words were spilled out of a broken heart. You see, he had been dealing with the stark reality of his wife struggling with cancer and his heart had been plowed up like a garden and tendered by the sleepless nights and lonely prayerful battles in the church. God’s timing had brought him into a new place. A place where forgiveness lives and breathes without reservation. A powerful, clear view of what really matters.
After his declaration changed the room, the next words from the vice president who sits beside him were, “I have to let it go.” His arms stretched out and his hands reaching up. It was said like a bottle being turned upside down and emptied out. The emotion splashing out into the atmosphere. By this time, I just sat and listened. I knew something special was happening and I did not want to get in the way. It seemed as if twenty years of tangled up relationships were unwinding in front of me or at least the courage to say what had never been said was coming to light.
At that moment, the last vice president blurted out, “I was going to play it safe…but I can't…sometimes I feel like my world is falling apart.” His tearful response revealed brokenness and we each leaned forward with a sense of compassion. At this point, I felt compelled to enter into the moment and I said, “So, we all want to change the world for Jesus. We go to church, read our Bible, attend Sunday school, and pray for peace in the world but we walk by our wounded brother's office every day and never take the time to stop and offer him the love he needs. God forgive us.”
The next few days around the office I watched forgiveness at work. One by one, they went to each others office. After one visit for a couple of hours, the vice president came by and said, "We just spent two hours shoring up twenty years of misunderstandings and neither one of us was thinking the right way.” This was the beginning of the “Forgiveness Initiative.”
The first of February brought our first Board of Trustee meeting and we had been preparing for months to report our progress. I had all the reports and agenda ready when this feeling came over me in the shower the morning before the meeting. A clear, strong impression in my heart led me to this singular thought. You have all the numbers and facts prepared but that's not what is most important. Give your report on Forgiveness. What? Forgiveness?
So I battled with this thought all morning but when I stood to open the board meeting, I said, “I have everything down to report what we have done to move this institution forward in the last quarter but let me take this opportunity to tell you what is happening in the hearts of our leadership team.” It was like an out of body experience. I heard myself speaking but I could not believe I was going off script so completely.
I told the board what had happened at our first meeting of the new year. Little did I know, this message was perfectly planned and hit dead in the center of what was needed. There had been rough waters prior to my coming to Connie Maxwell and there was a need for healing amongst the board. One board member stood to his feet and said, “I was going to resign from the board today but revival has started here and I want to be a part of it.”
After every board meeting, there is traditionally a staff meeting to report what happened at the meeting. By this time, I knew what God wanted to say so I surrendered and shared the story of forgiveness. The staff listened to the report of the vice presidents and I could feel that the message once again was moving the hearts of those present. It was truly like I was sitting in the audience watching the conductor lead a well-orchestrated symphony. The music was beautiful and it washed over the room like an ocean wave across the shore. I could feel the waters bringing a new order…a new day….a new heart.
My next stop was at the nominating committee for the convention. This meeting is comprised of the president of the convention and all eight institutions, along with 50-60 pastors across the convention. I listened to the other presidents talk about their institutions. I was close to the last person giving my presentation. Right before I presented, I decided to talk about the need for leadership to facilitate forgiveness. Beyond metrics, strategic plans, and programs, we need leadership that has the courage to lead in building unity amongst its people. I strongly suggested that forgiveness is the key to unity. In fact, I stated, “If you want to see a revival in your churches, forget all the plans for buildings, fundraising, and creative programs. Lead one individual to openly forgive someone that they have hated for years…and you will experience revival. Forgiveness will bring revival.”
As we embark on the beginning of our strategic planning process, I knew exactly where to start. Unlike any other planning process I have ever experienced, the first phase of planning for the future is Forgiveness. I don’t understand completely why this unorthodox process has emerged. I just know that it is bigger than me, bigger than this institution, bigger than my little mind and longing heart. We began our planning efforts with a campus-wide Forgiveness workshop. My friend and mentor had written a wonderful book on Forgiveness and I asked him to come and spend a day leading a focused effort on what it means to forgive.
I learned that forgiveness begins in my own heart. It is not a lesson to be taught. It is a divine miracle that must be believed and lived out. I must accept the forgiveness that God has offered me. Then I can learn to forgive others. Most importantly, I heard God whisper, “If you want to heal your children and make them whole again, you must teach them to forgive, How can you heal and make others whole again if you are not healed and whole yourself? Beyond all our buildings, programs, and fundraising is the need for each child to look into the eyes of those who have broken them, abused them, left them alone and hungry and say, “I forgive you.” Only then can true healing and wholeness take place in their lives.
Forgiveness is the curriculum at Connie Maxwell Children’s Home. Forgiveness is the answer in my own life. Forgiveness is the key to unity and peace in the world. Forgiveness is the Heart of God. Forgiveness.