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The front door banged open. Breathless, my two youngest children, Joe and Bethany rushed in. "Mom. Mom. Ben's in trouble. Come quick." I plunked down my tea cup and grabbed my purse. Houses flashed by as we drove several blocks. Bethany pointed to a grassy lot off Main Street. "He's over there." The car lurched to a stop. I leaped out and rocketed toward a jeering mob of high-school kids.
A blonde-haired sixteen-year-old boy jumped in front of me. Inches from my face, he launched into a slew of profanity. Two kids darted from the scene. A red pickup peeled onto the grass. The driver yelled, "Come on. We gotta get out of here." Amidst a squeal of tires he roared off.
I dodged through a crowd of a dozen or more kids running away, until I spotted my fourteen-year-old son. Ben lay motionless on the ground, arms folded over his head, knees pulled tight against his chest. Knocked down from behind, they had kicked him repeatedly. I knelt beside him. "Mom?" He lifted his head.
Bruised and beaten, blood streamed down his chin. I gasped. Inner sobs racked my body as tears flooded my eyes. "They're gone. Can you get up?"
"Yeah. I think so." He groaned as I helped him to his feet.
Everything seemed a blur. I couldn't think what to do. We piled into the car and drove three blocks to the police station. An officer took a lengthy report while another called paramedics, then photographed Ben's injuries. We headed to the nearest hospital, thirty minutes away. By the time we arrived, a sack of blood bulged from behind Ben's left ear.
Shaking his head, the emergency room doctor ordered multiple x-rays. "This violence among young people is out of control. Somebody has to do something."
Nurses cleaned Ben's wounds while we waited. X-ray results showed he had a dislocated jaw, broken nose, and a skull fracture. A nurse gave us follow-up instructions as I signed release forms. While I helped Ben on with his jacket, the doctor said, "I'm going to send you and the police department a letter detailing the serious nature of these injuries. The kids involved should be fully prosecuted."
Beginning his investigation the next morning, an officer interviewed students at the high school. From all accounts the police determined Ben's attack was totally unprovoked.
Medical bills poured into our mail box, along with the ER physician's letter. I made copies and hand delivered them to the police department as request for evidence.
Several weeks later, Ben complained he didn't feel well. The doctor discovered a rampant infection caused by his broken nose. He warned us the infection could spread through the thin nasal cartilage and penetrate Ben's brain. We spent the next four months running back and forth to appointments. Tears streamed down my cheeks the day the doctor said, "The antibiotics have done their job. He's in the clear."
Months had passed and we wondered why no word came from the county prosecutor, until one day a friend on the city council flagged me down on the street to relay rumblings within city hall. "I can't say who's saying what, but word has it the kids involved are 'good boys from good families.' No one connected with the city government wants to see them serve time for an assault, or have their reputation tarnished by a felony."
Anger burned inside me. The injustice singed my very soul. While life continued as normal for everyone in our small town, our family struggled to recover from the shock of what had happened.
Two years later a friend who worked for the county prosecutor happened across Ben's file. When she asked why they hadn't prosecuted the case, her supervisor said, "Lack of evidence. No medical records or photos were submitted with the police report."
Betrayed by people trusted to execute justice, I grew cynical and hard. Until one day my dad said, "You can't let this ruin your whole life. You need to let it go."
Finding My Way
Of course no one knocked on our door pleading for forgiveness, nor apologized for our suffering. But I'd seen people who refused to forgive. They clung to hatred like their worst best friend. Bitterness seeped in and like an oozing gangrenous wound spoiled their heart from the inside out, polluting all their relationships. I didn't want that to be my story.
Daddy's words haunted me. Though I wanted justice, I knew he was right. Would I allow this horrible event to sour my whole view of life or would I forgive? It was clear the only way to restore my own heart was to lay down my anger. But how could I forgive? It's not like I could walk into a store and pick up a box of forgiveness on aisle twelve. Perhaps some people can extend forgiveness like a handshake, but for me it took a long, steep road.
On my knees alone in my room tears streamed down my face, onto my bed. "Lord, please show me how to forgive." As if God laid his hand on my shoulder, his gentle voice whispered in my ear, "Pray."
I realized prayer was my key to freedom. Each day I prayed for our family and the kids involved. God gave me strength to battle through a tangle of emotions, breaking down the wall of protection I'd built. Before long the icy cynicism that gripped my heart began to melt. In time I forgave the youths who, in a wolf-pack frenzy, lost their own measure of innocence that day they crossed the line of decency into violence.
The most difficult for me to forgive were those granted authority to serve the public, those meant to be our guardians. Only in God's strength could I let go of my anger and see them as God does. People, who for whatever reason are broken themselves, making wrong choices.
I plowed through my heartache. Praying for the police, I asked God to give them courage to stand for what is right regardless of who they encounter. I prayed for them to have wisdom as they carried out their duty to the community.
Sometimes there is no justice, but I chose to follow God's Word and let go of the pain, fear, and anger. I accepted the fact I have no control over other people, however I always have the choice to forgive.
For a year I replaced every angry thought by giving thanks to God for his many blessings, and I prayed for people in our town. One morning I awoke, and I felt like myself again. Instead of anger, joy filled my heart.
Today friends say I have a bright generous spirit with an easy laugh. What many don't realize, it's because twenty years ago I opened my heart and made a choice to forgive.
A Heart Restored first printed December 16, 2014 in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness
© 2014 Kathleen Kohler