Monday, April 20, 2009

A Forgiveness Test

My mom is 71 and a widow.

Last week, someone made her cry.

She called me on Friday morning to tell me about it, and she could barely speak.

She was trying to get estimates from local businesses to work on the gutters on her old home. She was dreading the calls, though, because she didn’t want to find out how much this work would cost. She was hoping to find some understanding and kind business owners who would be willing to check out her house.

What she found instead was a nightmare.

It’s hard for my mom to do this kind of stuff. My father died 17 years ago. So every time she has to tackle something of this nature, it just reminds her that he’s not around anymore to help her figure things out. In such moments, she feels vulnerable and alone.

I could barely understand what had happened during that phone call she had made. All I could make out was that the woman had peppered my mom with questions … which made my mom feel defensive. She asked the woman if she wanted her business. “No, I don’t,” the woman answered, adding that my mom was “a liar,” because she hadn’t been answering the questions. Then she hung up on my mom.


What to do?

I thought maybe my mom was making a big deal out of nothing, but I also wanted to get to the bottom of what type of circumstances would leave her in tears like that.

So I took down the business’s number and called it. When the woman answered, I explained who I was and asked why she’d hung up on my mom.

“I certainly did hang up on your mother, and I would do it again,” the woman shouted into the receiver.

“What happened? What did she say that made you so upset?”

And then I experienced what my mom had experienced. The person launched into a diatribe about “widows” and how their expectations are unrealistic. She said she became upset because my mother wanted an estimate before agreeing for the company to do the work. She said she had a right to ask my mother questions and that she had a right to put people in their places if she was not treated with respect. I had no idea what my mom might have said to her, but I know my mom, and she can lay on the Georgia peach charm with the surliest of people. This lady’s story wasn’t ringing true.

When I asked why she’d called my mom a liar and had accused my mom of talking out of both sides of her mouth, the woman became more defensive than ever. She raised her voice. I raised my voice. I told her I’d be filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau for her treatment of my mom. She told me she’d be calling the local police department and filing a harassment complaint against both of us.

Then I did something I’m not proud of.

I told her that she sounded like she was mentally ill and that she really needed a prescription for “a happy pill.”

Well, you can imagine what happened after I said it. She hung up on me.

Strange, strange, strange.

I called the Better Business Bureau (as I’d promised). While I was on the phone with them, my phone beeped.

I checked caller ID.

You can guess who it was.

I excused myself from that call, then switched lines so that I could continue the disagreement with the woman, who was calling me again.

Was I ever surprised at what happened next!

It indeed was her … but she was contrite. She was crying a river. She explained that she knew better than to act in that way. She told me that she realized I was defending my mom … and that she would’ve done the same for her mother. She added that the minute she hung up the phone, she saw that she’d behaved badly against an elderly widow.

“I know you’ll have to take action with the Better Business Bureau, and that’s fine,” she said. “I just wanted to call back and say I will accept the consequences, whatever they are, and I’m very sorry.”


What would you do?

I realized immediately that this was a person who might really need compassion.

I have to be honest with you – it’s a lot easier for me to forgive someone who sins against ME than to forgive someone who sins against my MOM. I want to protect my mom, to stand in the gap that my father left. When my mom cries out to me, I feel the same sense of anger as I would if someone attacked my child.

But I heard God speaking to my heart, just as loudly as if He were shouting into my ear:

“Tell that woman you forgive her. I forgave you. Give her your forgiveness willingly.”

So I did.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “We all have bad days. Let’s just let it go.”

She gasped.

“I’m a stranger, and I treated your mother so badly. And you would forgive me?”

“Sure, and I really appreciate you having the courage to call me back,” I said. “I’m no saint. I’ve behaved in ways that I’m ashamed of, and God has forgiven me. Let’s just let it go. I hope you have a nice weekend.”

She said thank you again between choked sobs and hung up.

Sometimes witnessing to Jesus’s grace isn’t about sharing a story about Him.

Sometimes it’s putting into practice grace and forgiveness.

Sometimes … passing the forgiveness test is the loudest message you can send.


  1. This IS ye ole Georgia Mama. What a wonderful spirit of compassion and forgiveness
    you have shown to the "impossiblr-lady-to-talk-to." I have rarely cried for 17 years, but she WAS a "ticket". Thank you for caring enough to "take up my cause" and help me get a resolution. Your blogs are the BEST to read.Your Christian response to unkindness is a lesson each of us need to hear, regardless of the cause of conflict. Forgiveness is a lesson to put into practice over and over again. I would call her up again and be kind BUT I'm afraid I'd burst into tears. Ho!

  2. im glad she called you back and begged for your forgiveness....?

  3. She did call back and ask forgiveness ... I suppose I should have also asked HER forgiveness for telling her that she was mentally unstable, huh?
    We are all at fault -- even when we are goaded into doing wrong, we are still at fault. It was an important lesson for me, because it is so easy to get angry and self-righteous and withhold mercy when one feels justified. In truth, none of us are worthy of forgiveness, but that's what makes the picture of Jesus so spectacular.
    Thanks for your question, anonymous.

  4. Wow. Something I have always tried to improve about myself is that I take things too personally. After reading this, I reached down deep asking myself if I could do what you did. I don't know, but the test will come one day. I hope I can look at this much bigger picture next time I am faced with a similar situation. My hat is off to you right now.