FROM LOW POINT TO FORGIVENESS
By Sean Womack: I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing basketball just after the past New Year. "Ruptured" is medical-speak for "it snapped in two." It felt like someone hit me in the leg with a bat. Down I went. Two strangers carried me off the court and laid me on my back. They resumed their pick-up game, and I began what I now know will be a year of recovery. For the past ten weeks, I have worn a boot that keeps my ankle isolated. I walked on crutches for eight of those weeks.
My work requires me to travel a little bit. Twice I've flown to New York, once just after the accident. It was painful and slow getting around the airport and the city on crutches. But something incredible happened. People helped me. Total strangers carried my bags. A woman carried my Starbucks to the gate. And if I saw anyone else on crutches, then we would both stop to talk. We'd share stories about our injuries, talk about what a pain crutches are, ask about rehab and then go our way. Even in a city like New York, where no one stops to talk on the street, people would stop and talk. The crutches were an instant bond.
It dawned on me why, as I sat down to write my second chance story. Crutches are a visible symbol of injury. Crutches broadcast to the world that you are vulnerable. You cannot hide your brokenness when you are hobbling around on them. Everyone sees. Everyone knows. And everyone else who is on them knows exactly what you are going through. It's a brotherhood of pain and suffering. Some worse than others, but no one is measuring the quality of injuries. You are just sharing your story.
But pain, injury and failure in life doesn't always require you to walk around on crutches. Many of us are good at hiding and covering it all up. We put on the face. We smile. Say the right things. But sometimes you get dealt a public blow. Sometimes we go down on the court of life with the stands full and everyone knows. Everyone sees. And unlike the game, not everyone applauds when you limp off the field. In those moments, the people supporting you off the field and tending to you on the sidelines are the most beautiful people you will ever know.
In December of 2006, I was fired from my job as a Vice President in the marketing department of the world's largest company. It was ugly. It was painful. It was high-profile. And it was a low point in my life.
They don't call it a firing when they are letting you go though; they call it "choosing to separate." And separation was the right word. I'd been separated from my wife for three months, separated from my three children, separated from friends, separated from God. Separated. The right word.
And there was no one to blame but myself.
Then something incredible happened. My wife forgave me. I remember the phone call. She didn't say the words, "I forgive you." She didn't need to. For months every conversation was tense at best and usually a fight. But this phone call was different. When I tried to spar, there was no one returning punches. She wasn't resigned to our status. She hadn't given up. She had forgiven me. I knew it when I hung up the phone, and it changed everything.
This was the person who I'd harmed the most out of all the people I've ever known in my entire life. This was the woman I promised to love faithfully for my entire life. This was the woman who was suffering the worst pain and tragedy of her life at my hands. And she had forgiven me. Without me asking. She'd done the unthinkable. Against the advice of friends. Against the circumstance. Against what even seemed right or just. She forgave.
Maybe there are words that could capture what this was like to experience. But I could write every day for the rest of my life and not be able to express to you what that act of grace did to me. And she did not stop there. She loved me when all hope seemed lost. When every indication pointed toward our marriage and family breaking up, she held on to a hope and a faith that everything could and would turn in the end. And it did.
Her forgiveness was the catalyst for my own heart change. I wish I could tell you it was immediate, but it wasn't. It took months. It was pain-filled. But it happened. I limped home. And that year of healing and restoration is the most profound and the most beautiful year of my life.
Broken places heal back stronger and rarely ever break in that place again. Every day that I limp around on my healing leg is a reminder that I am fragile and vulnerable. Sharing my story lets other people see the crutches, and it gives me to opportunity to hear their story. No one would choose to go through the pain, but no one would deny that's when you learn the most.
To experience that kind of radical grace is a gift I cannot repay. I suppose that's what makes it grace.
Have you ever been forgiven in a truly radical way?