Yesterday I had the most amazing, enlightening experience.
Bishop Bradshaw, a guest speaker, shared a powerful message with us in a special combined third-hour meeting at church. He was the Bishop in the Utah state prison system for eight years. During that time, through a series of humorous and frightening events, he became acquainted with Ronnie Lee Gardner. For those of you who don't know, Ronnie Lee Gardner was the man executed by firing squad in Utah on June 10 for two murders.
After his time serving as Bishop, he was able to visit the prison quarterly, always with a request from Ronnie to meet. He was able to develop a relationship with Ronnie and witness him try over and over again to become a better man. Let me be clear, Bishop Bradshaw saw Ronnie as a son of God, but felt Ronnie should die for his crimes. Ronnie also felt very certain he should die for his crimes. But these two men were able to change each other.
Bishop Bradshaw was able to spend most of the evening with Ronnie the night he was executed. He sat and talked with Ronnie while he ate his last meal, discussing everything you can imagine you would talk about if you knew you only had four hours to live.
One item they discussed was a phone call Ronnie received from the son of one of the men he had killed 25 years earlier. This son was now a Harvard grad with a bright future. The two of them talked and the son concluded with, "Ronnie, I forgive you."
Bishop Bradshaw shared with us how Ronnie wept and wept recounting that conversation. How important it was to him that he knew he was forgiven and knew there was always a chance for forgiveness.
Then Bishop asked us to look around the room and think about what we were holding onto in our own lives for which we needed to issue forgiveness. If this man who grew up without a father, whose dad was stolen from him, can forgive the man who took him, then cannot we too forgive those around us for the petty grievances we are holding onto?
What a powerful experience. How magnificent sitting in that chapel listening to this man speak with such a lighthearted and sincere love for a man he fully knew deserved to die. I have definitely re-thought a few "I forgive you's" I've been holding onto, and have definitely re-thought how I will change this in my life from here forward.