One of the things I loved most about being a PW (Pastor’s wife) was the privilege of being on the ground floor as young couples start their new life together as husband and wife. After 23 years of full-time ministry, my husband, Chris, and I took a much-needed step back from professional church-life. To reset our family. Our marriage. Our life. To heal. To move on from multiple past mistakes. Forgiveness was needed, on all sides. About 2 years after we left, a friend called asking Chris if he would do his family the honor of officiating at the wedding of his stepdaughter. A lovely girl who had been involved in the church’s youth group way back when Chris was the youth pastor. We talked it over and to my surprise, Chris called back and said he’d be honored. Since leaving the church, Chris had been extremely reluctant to perform any pastoral duties as we were contentedly walking the trails of the fresh path God had set before us. When I asked Chris why he said yes to this particular request after denying so many others over the past 2 years he didn’t have a clear response other than to say, I don’t really know. I think I was just supposed to say yes.
Chris and I met with the couple multiple times. Throughout our conversations we couldn’t help but notice how often the groom-to-be referenced one of his groomsmen, Brian. He credited this man with helping him to grow in knowledge and understanding of his faith. He said he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for Brian and the relationship they share. He called him mentor. He called him friend. We were eager to meet him. The night before their big day, we gathered at the wedding venue for the rehearsal. After Chris walked the wedding party through their steps, we congregated at the groom’s favorite restaurant to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. We were fortunate enough to sit with Brian during dinner. We started making small talk, but quickly realized Brian is not a small-talk kind of guy. He had an unexpected urgency about him not typically seen in someone his age. We told him how we had been looking forward to meeting him. In return, he told us his story.
He said he is a counselor and lives where he works. An in-treatment facility for men battling substance abuse. He openly spoke of his own war with alcohol but was quick to add, I am not a recovering alcoholic; I am a recovered alcoholic. He quoted his favorite Bible verse by which he abides, “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.” I am in Christ, I am a new creature, were his succinct and powerful words.
He shared with us the living hell he put his mother through during his youngest of adult years. He said, through tears, that his mother never once gave up on him and never once stopped praying for him. Even after kicking him out of the house in a painful act of tough love. But before moving into this voluntary facility, Brian was forced to live in an involuntary one. He had made the horrific mistake of getting behind the wheel of a car while drunk. The result was a death for which there was no one else to blame. After being released from his court-ordered debt to society he floundered, working odd jobs while trying to figure out his next step. He was haunted by his mother’s never ceasing prayed for call on his life. Eventually, Brian willingly succumbed to God’s plan. He now lived as though there weren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all the Lord set before him.
After listening to his story, I asked Brian how he was able to forgive himself. He echoed to us the question God whispered to him in his prison cell. If I have fully forgiven you, who are you to not fully forgive yourself? Chris and I didn’t talk much on the way home. The silence washed the words over our souls. The next night, we drove home from the wedding reception with happy hearts and tired feet. Early the next morning we awoke to a frantic text from the stepfather of the Bride, asking Chris to please call. He told us that after the reception was over, the bridal party took a shuttle back to the hotel. Not wanting the festivities to end, someone suggested they walk to the bar across the street. After shutting the place down, Brian, while walking alongside the Bride and Groom, was struck and killed by a passing vehicle. Neither had a drop of alcohol.
I’ve never been one to attempt to decipher the mind of God, but I’m fairly certain I know why Chris felt like he was just supposed to say yes. While we only knew Brian for the briefest of moments, his impact is boundless. Every time I think of him, which is often, my heartbreak makes its peace with joy. Knowing that he is now the newest and best of creatures.
Over the years Chris and I have learned a lot about forgiveness within the context of marriage, but I think the best thing we learned is this; forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give your spouse. Forgiving yourself is the greatest gift you can give your marriage. Forgive your spouse. Forgive yourself. Be a new creature.