Grace: The Most Precious Gift I Gave and Received this Christmas

iStock_000022043493XSmallDavid and I attended an afternoon gathering at our church a few Sundays ago, a few weeks before Christmas.

After a couple of songs, the host pastor urged us to greet our neighbors.  We turned to a couple sitting a few rows behind us. “I’m Junko,” I said, as I extended my hand to shake the man’s.

“Junko! I’m ‘Corey’,” he said, in a hey-I-know-you sort of a way, and I took a second look at his vaguely familiar, smiling face.  Hmmm…who was he again? His wife was explaining to David that they were just visiting that day from Los Angeles.

After everyone took their seats and the place quieted down, the senior pastor came out and began speaking.  My mind, however, was flipping through my mental Rolodex.  Then I got it.

Oooooh, THAT Corey!

This guy still owes me money from 1994!  If you add interest, we’re talking about over a thousand dollars.  At that time, he was promoting a Christian music festival with some “Christians” he had met in prison while serving time for a white collar crime (that should have been my first red flag), and they signed me up as one of the acts.  I was just releasing my debut album, still naive and trusting of everyone. They promised me a generous appearance fee and I, in turn, hired a band.

The day of the festival arrived, and it turned out to be a complete mess.  It was the hottest, ugliest day in LA that year, and attendance was low.  None of the amenities that they had promised — food, ATM machines, green room — came to be, and the people were upset.  Some of the biggest acts in Christian music in the 90′s backed out at the last minute when they sensed that they would be stiffed.  I dutifully performed, even though I had gotten rear-ended on the freeway on my way there.  Then I discovered that my CD’s were stolen right off of my merch table!  It was a horrible day.

Corey and his friends promised to pay me, but I never heard from them again.

I had long ago erased this unpleasant experience from my mind, but it’s amazing how powerfully memories can come back.  As our pastor spoke, I was trying to keep anger from welling back up and kept searching for the quickest exit.

As soon as the meeting ended, Corey and his wife came dashing over to us.  They must have been doing some strategizing during the sermon.

“Hey, we know a bunch of things happened about 20 years ago, but we just want you to know that we are so, so sorry for what we did to you,” they said to me.  “We were foolish and dumb, and what we did was not fair to you.  Please forgive us.”

I was floored!  They’re trying to make amends!

I was then reminded of the conversation I had just had that morning at church with Howard, an 80-something widower.  He was telling me about the full life he’s lived, even as his hand shook with tremors.  “I have some friends who are now alone and bitter.  I don’t want to be bitter!  I want to keep enjoying life, so I’m not looking back,” he declared with a smile as his coffee dribbled out of the cup in his trembling hand.

“Of course I forgive you,” I exclaimed, as I hugged Corey and his wife.  They looked relieved, as if I had been that last person to cross off the list from their 12-step program.  They thanked me for my graciousness and wished us a Merry Christmas.

* * * *

As they left, I thought of the many foolish things I’ve done over the years and the people I have wronged and hurt.  The couple had more courage than I to make amends.  I should be the one thanking them for this chance meeting, for it was a huge lesson in grace.  Not the grace I extended to them but the grace given to me by God…in spite of myself.

Thank you, Corey, and thank you, Howard, for this most interesting and important gift I received for Christmas this year.

Murder, Manhunt, and Manifesto

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(KABC photo)

My hometown of Irvine has been all over the news today due to a rare murder and the manhunt for the suspect, Christopher Dorner.  Irvine is consistently rated one of the safest cities in the nation, which makes this crime so alarming.  But what is most alarming of all is that this man, a fired ex-LAPD police officer, wrote a vitriolic manifesto describing his rage and what he planned to do about it.

He is angry that he has been wronged, and he is out for revenge.  He is out to kill.

We don’t know the full story, so I can’t be the judge here.  I’ve read reports that he was depressed.  Maybe by serving in the military, he suffers from PTSD.  Maybe he has a history of mental illness.  Nevertheless, from all the reports I’ve heard on the news so far, there is no doubt that he is very, very angry.  Angry enough to murder a young engaged couple in Irvine and a police officer…so far.

Coincidentally (or not), we were studying anger in our Bible study just yesterday.  This comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5;21-22).  Our study leader pointed out that in almost all cases of murder, anger is at the root of it.

I was also reminded of the verse in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger, do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  Well, I’m pretty certain that Chris Dorner let many, many suns go down on his anger while simmering and raging about the wrongs he suffered, perhaps over decades.  I wouldn’t doubt it if he was rightfully angry about some of these things.  But instead of letting go, he let them fester and fester until…

Although I have not experienced the level of anger Mr. Dorner was evidently harboring, I am convicted today about my own issues with holding onto anger.  There were work-related conflicts that happened over 10 years ago that I’m still smarting over.  I can think of friends who betrayed me when I was in high school.  How I need to let go of them!  I know exactly what the Scriptures is talking about when it says, “do not give the devil a foothold.”  Anger can open the heart to much ugliness.

Sometimes, all attempts to work something out between me and the other party fails.  Then, it’s up to me to forgive, let go, and move on.  Although it’s not easy, it helps to keep in mind a couple of things:

1.  People are people, and they are imperfect.

Give them grace when they slip up and transgress against us, because someday we will be transgressing against them, too.  Maybe we should all lower our expectations on our boss, friend, spouse, parent, etc., because they are just as fallen and deprived as we are.  One time, I was sharing about something hurtful which someone I (used to) respect said to me.  Then someone casually said, “Maybe he didn’t really mean to hurt you.”  Most of the time, I would have dismissed her comment as platitude, but somehow it dawned on me that day that my friend, thoughtless as he might have been, wasn’t out to purposely hurt my feelings.  How liberating it was to realize that and how much easier it was to then forgive!

2.  The easiest way to let go of our past anger is to stop thinking about it.

The brain has a wonderful way of disconnecting the synapses when you stop making that connection.  I’ve actually completely forgotten about things I stopped remembering.  Praise God that we have this wonderful ability!  Sometimes, this ability pops up at the most inopportune moments, but let’s use it to our advantage!

I don’t know how this manhunt for Chris Dorner is going to end.  But for now, I’m going to do my part to try to make my world a better place.  And you?