Forgive Yourself For Being Stupid

The Year I had to forgive myself for being stupid happened on Easter weekend.  Forgiving yourself may be the best thing you ever do.

My dad turned 79 this year. He gets around pretty good for a fellow his age. He likes to show off by dancing a little jig around the house to prove to us that he’s still got it. However, I can tell he has slowed down a bit. He tries to hide it, but sometimes I see him struggle to breathe. Every day he has on earth is a treasure to me and I want the rest of his days to be filled with pleasant times around his house and garden.

God used a painful Easter weekend to teach me a lesson about His grace. Johnny, my one-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, and I went to spend Good Friday night with Dad and his wife Anna. After feeding and tying Johnny to a tree on the side yard, Anna and I played a nip and tuck Scrabble game till late. Anna won as usual. On his way to bed, Dad noticed my tray filled with vowels and said, “You need to learn how to speak Hawaiian.” Unfortunately, words like Maui, Bikini and Oahu are the extent of my Hawaiian vocabulary. I lost big.

As usual, we rose early for a Saturday to the distinctive smells of coffee brewing and bacon frying in the skillet. Anna had prepared a great breakfast of bacon and eggs, homemade buttermilk biscuits with Muscadine jelly, thickening gravy, cantaloupe, orange juice, and hot coffee. “Dad has it made,” I thought, “but I am not sure he knows how much.” Dad blessed our bounty, and I dug in until I couldn’t eat another bite. “I would gain 100 pounds if I ate like this every day,” I thought.

The April day was beautiful, and the morning sun had taken the chill from the air. The blooms on the trees and flowers were emerging, and the new beginnings of spring energized us with talk of projects for the summer.

Dad and I walked out on the porch to meet the day and to check on Johnny. Instead of being his usual hyperactive barking, jumping, slobbering self, he lay still and quiet wound around a tree. Crouched and immobile, Johnny waited without additional struggle.  We walked closer to see the mess he had made. His steel cord leash was as tangled as a fishing line and tightly stretched between two trees. His tugging made his predicament worse, so I let him off the hook to untangle his leash.

Have you ever seen a young dog run after he has been tied for a while? Johnny took off as if shot from a gun. He ran so fast the grass seemed to roll up behind him. Then, all of a sudden, his rear end slid and fish tailed, and he raced back in our direction. Full speed and wide open, Johnny came straight at us. Amused at first, as he came closer I suddenly felt a tinge of danger because I realized Johnny could run full speed into Dad. At the last second he swerved to run between us and hit the cord stretched between the trees.

Dad was standing behind the cord, and it jerked to strike him across the shin. I looked up in time to see his grimace and knew he was in trouble. As we looked down, we could see the red stain growing on his pant leg.

A bit stunned by what had just happened, Dad and I walked to the porch to get a better look. (Before we pulled up his pant leg, I must remind you, the skin gets thinner as we get older, and Dad’s skin is especially thin due to allergy medications taken for thirty years.) Dad raised his pant leg. The cord had slashed into his leg to the shin bone and slid up the shin under the skin about four inches the same as you would fillet a fish. (This is killing me as I write about it.) Blood was pouring down his leg and soaking his socks. After a couple of glances, I couldn’t bear the sight. By this time Anna was on the scene, and she brought a calming influence to both of us.

Anna quickly gathered some antiseptic and gauze, and she bravely cleaned up the cut the best she could. Dad said, “My skin is too thin for stitches to hold. I don’t see any need to go to the hospital. We will doctor this ourselves.” My first thought was that he was probably right. I felt helpless. I could think of nothing to make the situation better. So, I paced around the house. The cut was more than I could bear to see.  I couldn’t believe this had happened.

Thoughts began to pain me. How could I not have seen it coming? How could I have been so stupid? He might lose his leg. What if an infection sets in? This could kill him at his age. His summer is ruined. I am going to kill that dog. Why didn’t I see it coming? How could I have been so stupid?

Anna bravely finished wrapping the gash, and Dad tried to make me feel better. He said, “It is not hurting too bad.” I was thinking that I would have passed out by now. I prayed he wouldn’t pass out. He stood up and gingerly danced a little jig for me. I tried to act calm, but I couldn’t sit still. The thoughts were stabbing me. We went for a drive in the country. We made small talk about who lives where and the way houses and roads once looked when Dad and Anna were kids. I sensed that Dad and Anna were more anxious than they were letting on. I was dying on the inside.

When we got home, I attempted to get my mind off the accident. I watched TV. It couldn’t divert my attention. I paced some more. I prayed silent prayers. And I tried to read. Nothing helped my state of mind. I was tormented. Finally, I announced that I was going home (about an hour’s drive away).

“OK, son,” Dad said. “Check on me from time to time.”

“Don’t worry, I will,” I said as I headed for home.

On the way home I re-lived the accident over and over. Each time I broke out in angry bursts.

“I can’t believe I let this happen,” I shouted at myself.

My resentment grew toward Johnny, the dumb, crazy, hyper dog. When I arrived home, I lay on the couch all afternoon and evening watching movies. My mind was relieved for short periods of time. I tried to call a few local friends to unload my burden, but they were all away celebrating the Easter weekend with their families. Finally, I reached Mark Bates in Memphis, and he offered his friendship by promising his prayers.

The night was a struggle, but finally I got to sleep. The next morning guilt and fear woke me early. I called Angela Posey, a close friend who is a nurse. She made some suggestions on what I could do for Dad, and I decided the best course of action was to take him to a wound care center on Monday. This plan helped to relieve my mind, because at least now I was doing something to help.

I continued to re-live the accident, but each time the outcome was the same. Each time I exploded in anger by hitting something. Each time I growled out loud, “I can’t believe I let this happen.”

It was Easter morning, and I decided not to go church but instead depart to Dad and Anna’s house. I was going to explain my plan and see to it that it got carried out. Along the way I continued to endure the voices in my head reminding me of my guilt. Then at once, a different wave of powerful thoughts came over me. I began to hear thoughts that I now believe were from God himself. It was as if God said,

“This accident has happened, and I want you to believe it has happened. Yes, you could have prevented it by realizing that big dogs can be dangerous, especially around older people. This accident has happened, and I want you to accept it.”

Immediately, a well of emotion flooded over me, and I began to weep as I drifted down the long stretch of country road. Eventually, I realized I was not weeping for my dad or about this accident, but was instead weeping for myself and my own inadequacies. I wept about my condition as a man. And because I am weak, mortal, short-sighted, foolish, and sinful. I wept for my unintentional and intentional sins that have hurt me and hurt others. Weeping because I want to be one kind of man but discover that I am another kind.

Again I heard thoughts coming from the same source:

“I want you to forgive yourself. These things you have discovered about yourself are true. Accept them. Then forgive yourself. This is My message to you and all of mankind through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Trust Me. When you find yourself in the middle of messes you have made, accept them and trust Me to work through them, and I will use your mess to bless you in the end. This is My Grace. I do my best work when you call on Me in your times of trouble.”

This experience on the road to Dad and Anna’s, now several years past, helped me to trust in God’s grace for the accident. Dad’s recovery was slow and painful. There were many trips to the Helen Keller wound care center.

Most of the summer that year, Dad spent lying around with his leg elevated. We talked on the phone almost every day for two months as I received progress reports on the wound and we chatted about one thing or another.

Almost weekly, I made the drive for an overnight stay. Dad, Anna, and I watched TV together, read to each other, and discussed ways of solving the country’s problems. Mostly, without saying a word, we said that we loved each other very much. I realized this is how God can work all things together for our good. The healing process began for me when I humbled myself to the fact that I make mistakes. The work of God’s grace took over from there.

To read more stories like these check out my book entitled “The Power of Humility, The Secret to Being Happy.”

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