My husband, who doesn’t share much in the way of his feelings, occasionally musters the sentence, “I still struggle sometimes with you doing the Victorious Living thing.” I’m the graphic designer for this magazine, a position that takes a lot of time and effort when we’re putting an issue together. At times, my husband, with good reason, has a hard time understanding my passion for ministering to people who have hurt others.
I must confess—most of the time, I blow off his objections. I silently judge him, thinking, “He just doesn’t get it. After all, I’m called to this. Who am I to question the path God has directed for me? And who is he to question my following it?”
I’ll be honest—our marriage hasn’t been exactly perfect. We’ve had some great times, of course. But like every marriage, we’ve had our share of difficult days, too.
And that was before the murders.
Rushed as usual, I was revving the engine of the car while I waited on him to finish feeding our horses so we could leave for church. When I looked up, I saw him on the phone and could tell by his face something was wrong. He wouldn’t normally have answered a call in the middle of the morning rush, but he’d recognized the number as his dad’s.
My husband’s relationship with his father had been strained for a long time. Years of prescription pill abuse had left his dad aloof, at best. No birthday calls or holiday wishes; months routinely passed without his returning our calls. Repeated no-shows hurt my husband deeply. His dad’s actions had hardened my heart. I could never understand why my husband continued to try to maintain that relationship. Nevertheless, if his dad called, he jumped at the chance to talk to him.
But this time it wasn’t his father’s voice on the line. A frantic stranger—a man my husband had met only once—was on the other end of the phone, screaming something about a murder. The caller had not heard from my father-in-law for a few days and had stopped by his house to check on him. There he’d discovered the bodies of my husband’s father and stepmother in their home.
It turns out my in-laws were robbed by someone they knew and then shot, skillfully and precisely, in the back of the head. The man who shot them continued on to hunt down and repeat the robbing and execution of another friend a day later. He was eventually captured a state away and confessed to the crimes.
The days between that call and his capture are a blur. Such chaos and insanity…there are no words to describe arriving on the scene of your in-laws’ murder to find strangers looting their home. Yet we felt peace. We were so covered by the prayers of our church family that we were supernaturally able to sail through the days that followed, seemingly unscathed.
It’s been two years since the murders. Pleas have been changed, and the justice system has dragged on for what seems like eternity. Instead of healing, time has revealed—and our brains have allowed—memories we suppressed from that experience to surface. Reality has hit. And though he never shows it outwardly, my husband mourns.
So he struggles with my role in an organization that ministers to people who have stolen other people’s parents.
Under that hard, cowboy shell, my husband is the kindest, most loving man you will ever meet. But he would love to get even. And I have to admit, though we both know vengeance is not ours, I would love to get even on his behalf.
During the design process of Issue 1 2016 of Victorious Living, the Lord convicted my heart about this desire while reading Rick Renner’s article, “Resisting the Urge to Get Even.” In light of our tragedy, Rick’s words were a hard pill to swallow.
As the graphic designer, I tried to make Rick’s article attractive so that it would grab the attention of our readers and minister to their hearts. (Possibly even the heart of the man who killed my husband’s family, I thought.) But all the while, I struggled. Even though I knew Rick’s message was right on target and I believed it with all my heart, I still wrestled with laying my hurt aside.
Looking for help, I searched the scriptures. There I found yet another pill to swallow, one even bigger than the last. Second Corinthians 2:7–11 tells me that, not only am I to resist the urge to get even, I am commanded to forgive and to bring comfort. This is what the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write:
Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. …When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
That’s easy to say…hard to do.
I’m angry. I have no problem confessing that truth. We often find ourselves these days arguing or in some other stressful situation that jacks up our lives—and too many times, the anxiety behind the conflict can be traced back to that call on July 20.
Life was already hard, but now I am supposed to forgive this? Yes.
I’m to comfort those who’ve caused this pain? Yes.
And I’m supposed to show grace to my husband while he struggles with me doing a job that I love? Yes.
I read it; I know. But I’m human, and as much as I desire to do the right thing, my flesh fails me. Every time. It fails to forgive wrongdoings; it fails to show grace. To be honest, there are times I can barely forgive people for speaking a few hurtful words to me. Yet I judge others for not forgiving great wrongs?
Could it be that the man who took the lives of our family members was unable to forgive and resist his own urge to get even? It’s the same urge I struggle to resist toward him.
But how do I resist the anger and frustration that try to overtake me? How do I keep from wanting to get even? And how dare I judge my husband? How dare I show anything but grace to him who understandably struggles to forgive the one who fired two bullets? Yet still, I dare.
Again, I have to look to Paul’s example. Paul was a cowboy of sorts. He was hard and rough, and faced trial after trial. And yet, through the Holy Spirit, he was able to resist the urge to get even. He learned the power behind confessing sin and admitting that he struggled with emotions like anger and hate (Acts 3:19–20). And he shows me that I am not alone in my struggles (1 Corinthians 10:13). Through the act of confessing and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul was able to forgive and be used mightily.
So I have something to aim for. We all do.
I do have joy. And I have forgiven, but I would be lying if I said I have forgotten. Honestly, sometimes…somehow…the thought of extending grace to a remote, unknown prisoner feels easier than the thought of extending that same grace to someone I love. Yet I know I can’t afford to look at you or my husband or the man who murdered my family members with any degree of self-righteousness. Outside of Christ, I have no righteousness to claim. I must show grace to my husband just as I must show it to the prisoner.
The offense isn’t important. Murder, abuse, lying, stealing, unforgiveness, self-righteousness, gossip, covetousness, idol worship, hurtful words—they’re really all the same. I am no better than you. You are no better than me. We can’t hand out grace judgmentally. Grace has no sliding scale. It’s either there or it isn’t.
Dealing with all this and acknowledging my failure toward my husband has made me realize that, as Christians, we do this all the time. We judge each other and don’t realize it. We offer grace to sinners…and judgment to those we deem otherwise righteous. Choosing grace over revenge isn’t easy. It’s a difficult, daily choice, and sometimes I don’t make it like I should. But God does. Every time.
How thankful I am for a God who is full of mercy and grace—a God who loves me even when I come to Him honestly confessing that sometimes it is hard to show that mercy and grace to others.
Written by Amy Zackowski
Photo by Olivia Snow