Grappling instantly with grief’s piercing pain, I wanted to recoil, to search inside myself for some way to make sense of what had happened. But, much as I longed to find solace in isolation, I was immediately confronted with the fact that my life was intertwined with those around me. My very existence was wrapped up in this same community, who also faced this same heartache. I was not insulated—I was exposed. And so were they.
On day one, the Amish extended their arms to me with an astounding outpouring of forgiveness. In the midst of their own grief, they graciously exhibited a gentle love. Their initiative challenged any inclination that I may have had to disconnect. Seclusion was not an option. How could I reject such an offer of compassion? And so I embraced their gift of acceptance, still wrestling within, yet so grateful for the whisper of hope it sent to my soul.
I soon saw in the Amish community a metaphor for forgiveness, a truth I had previously learned—and now felt tangibly. According to their custom, the one offering forgiveness does not do so abruptly and then move on. Theirs is not a distant, obligatory nod that, once completed, frees them to placidly ignore the offender. No, theirs is a gesture of relationship.
When the Amish forgive, they enter into a new level of interaction with the forgiven one. They recognize that two paths, once intersected through grim circumstances, now enter fresh territory, forever interwoven. In this, they demonstrated to me the forgiveness that God lavishes on us, not dismissively but welcoming us into a stunning relationship of peace. God reached out to us through Jesus, spanning the distant separation of sin and rescuing us from wallowing in desolation. When we experience this mercy, there is no need to cower in a corner, alone and abandoned. The two sides are now joined together, no longer apart.
In facing a friendship of this magnitude, how could I not be compelled to reach out to others who were also navigating this territory of frayed nerves? I needed to be open to the pain beyond the borders of my own mind.
Accepting that what is in the past will never be the same gives hope for the tomorrows. If I tried to hold too tightly to the memories of days now distant, it would be only harder to discover a future. Thoughts spinning in past tense squelch the possibility of joy in the present, of strength for what is coming. Embracing this joy may be a slow progression—but it is not out of reach.
As I watched for God’s plan to unfold, my relationship with the Amish community gave me a glimpse of the healing that may eventually be possible. We naturally yearn for healing, yet we cringe at the thought of reaching out to the very relationships that could usher in a restorative breeze.
There are no easy prescriptions for healing, yet our existence is undeniably grounded in community. Are we willing to admit our need for interaction? Resolving not to hide in a narrow crevice positions us to openly encounter the resources we need. God is worthy of our trust, and His unwavering care often comes to us through unanticipated realities, through unexpected people. It begins with an embrace.
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Terri Roberts travels the United States and the world speaking about the Nickel Mines Amish school shooting, forgiveness, and hope. She has been interviewed by CBS News, the Associated Press, and Reuters. Terri is a mother of four sons and a grandmother of eleven, including two step-grandchildren. She and her husband, Chuck, live just south of Strasburg, Pennsylvania.
Learn more at JoyThroughAdversity.com.
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