DORI: It was the call no mother ever wants to receive. I had just left a business luncheon and was sitting in a Starbucks drive-thru. My mind was on my son, Robby, and I asked God to bless him and let him know that He was there for him. My phone rang; Robby’s number showed up.
“Hi, Robby!” I said. Silence met me. Then Robby’s friend, Kate, began to speak.
“Oh! Hi, Kate,” I responded. “How are you?” More silence. “Kate, are you okay? Is Robby okay?”
“No,” she replied. “Robby… Robby’s dead.”
It’s hard to put into words the depth of my pain in that moment. All I could do was scream out, “No! Robby! No! Please, come back! Oh God, help me!” I got out of the drive-thru and headed back to the office. It’s the only place I could think of to go.
Alone in my office, I screamed and wailed; I pounded my feet on the floor and my fists on the desk. My office neighbor ran in, thinking I was being attacked. I told her what had happened, and she held my hand and sat with me while we waited for my husband, Gene, to arrive.
GENE: When I got there, Dori was shaking violently. We held each other tightly and sobbed. Together, we cried out to God, begging Him for answers. We asked for strength and for Him to help our other son, Ben.
We found solace in the truth that Robby was safe and whole in God’s presence. Robby had indicated numerous times over the years that he believed in Jesus Christ and had trusted in Him for eternal salvation. Robby had learned at an early age that Jesus had died on the cross to pay for his sins, was buried, and rose again to prove that His payment was a satisfactory one. Robby had accepted God’s free gift of salvation, and according to the Bible, that meant he was now in heaven. His struggle with pain and depression was behind him.
We also found solace in the truth that God cares for us. No matter how painful this situation was, Dori and I knew God was with us and was hearing our cries for help.
DORI: While Gene and I were still at the office, Kate called again. She said Robby had been murdered and that we could go online and read about it. The article I found only added to my pain. It left me with so many questions. Why would anyone kill Robby? And who?
We learned that Robby had died by strangulation two days earlier. To think that he had been dead for two days was incredible! The article reported that a woman named Lindsay was involved, and that she had a 14-year-old child.
Gene and I were surprised to feel concern for this woman— our son’s murderer. We found ourselves praying for her, her son, and her mother. Only God could have placed this compassion in our hearts for her.
I was numb and had no idea what to do. I didn’t know what I wanted, much less what I needed. Dear friends surrounded us. We were so grateful for their prayers and support. The pain in my heart, the longing for my son—it was all more than I could have borne on my own.
Three days later, Gene and I held a private ceremony for Robby. We listed the names of everyone we could think of that we might need to forgive regarding Robby’s death. The list included those we believed were partly responsible for his path of destruction. Our own names were on this list, as we were blaming ourselves and asking what we could have done differently. And Lindsay’s name was there too.
I forgave Lindsay and others, but my pain remained. My sadness ran so deep; I cried for months. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever be okay again, but then I’d remember that with God’s help, I had overcome every trial I had faced so far. That gave me hope that, while I wasn’t okay right now, one day I would be.
Months later, I shared with my church family the depth of my sadness and asked for prayer. As our pastor prayed, my friends surrounded me with their loving arms. A few days later, I realized my daily crying had stopped. My sadness had lifted, and I felt lighter. I praised God for answered prayer and thanked Him for the love and care of my family in Christ.
I tried many times to write Lindsay a letter, but the words wouldn’t come. Gene, however, had found the strength to write to her. He mailed his letter 10 months after Robby’s death.
GENE: I had forgiven Lindsay, but it wasn’t until her case was complete and she had settled into a more permanent place in prison that I felt I should write to her. She had accepted a plea bargain and agreed to a 60-year sentence. She would be eligible to appear before a parole board after serving 25 percent (15 years) of her sentence.
Until my letter, we were not sure if she knew we existed. Dori and I had had no contact with her; we had not wished to influence her sentencing either way.
In my letter, I told Lindsay that Dori and I had forgiven her. As believers in Jesus Christ, we knew we were supposed to forgive anyone who has hurt us. Ephesians 4:32 (NIV) says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Furthermore, we’d been forgiven by our Savior countless times for countless sins. How could we not forgive her? So many people want to celebrate God’s forgiveness, yet refuse to forgive others. We didn’t want to be so selfish.
It wasn’t easy, but it was the best decision we could have made. Harboring unforgiveness would have been like pouring our enemy a cup of poison and drinking it ourselves. Forgiving Lindsay would free us to live again. In my letter, I also shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with her. The only way Lindsay’s life could be transformed would be through the love and power of God.
Interestingly, Dori and I had been involved with prison ministry for years. Seems God had already been preparing our hearts to love Lindsay by allowing us a perspective of prison most people never see. Lindsay responded to my letter with great remorse and humble gratefulness. Her letter touched Dori and me as only God could cause.
DORI: After I read Lindsay’s response to Gene’s letter, I decided it was time I wrote to her, too. Here is part of what I said:
I have wanted to write you for a while, but I just haven’t known what to say. I’ve wanted to ask you all kinds of questions, starting with, “Why would you kill my son?”
After reading your statement in Gene’s letter that you loved Robby, I wanted to yell, “If you loved him, why did you kill him?!” But I knew there are no good answers that would satisfy me. I am glad you are now getting the help you need.
When I learned you were being sentenced to 60 years in prison, my heart sank for you, your son, and your mom. While I have the feelings I stated above, I do not wish for you to live in prison the rest of your life. I do not wish for you to be locked away and removed from society. I care about you, Lindsay, and I ask God to bless you and help you to know Him and have a relationship with Him. I pray you will grow to be a light on the prison compound that will lead others to the Lord.
I forgive you, Lindsay. I forgive you! And Jesus will forgive you, too. He loves you and paid for your sin of murdering Robby. He has paid for all of your sins, just as He has paid for all of mine. I need Jesus just as badly as you do. I would be lost without Him. But since my trust is in Him and Him only, I am forever saved and free.
I wanted Lindsay to know that she could be forever saved and free too.
Lindsay quickly responded to my letter, expressing sorrow over taking Robby’s life. Nothing she said, of course, would bring Robby back or satisfy my longing for him. That has only lessened because I know he is with Jesus. I have faith that I will see Robby again. Because of Jesus, my son is okay, and I am grateful for that.
LINDSAY: When I received that first letter from Gene, I had no idea who he was. But as I began to read, I quickly realized it was from Robby’s stepfather. I didn’t know what to expect! The guilt that had been my constant companion since that fateful day welled up again in my soul. I kept reading, however, and came across the most incredible words I’ve ever read. Gene said, “I want you to know that I have forgiven you.”
This was almost too good to be true. The letter even said that Robby’s mom, Dori, wanted to write me! I wanted to believe it, but I was afraid to. How could it be true after what I’d done to this family?
I wrote back and sincerely offered my apology and gratitude, hoping that the forgiveness being offered was real. Gene had also included some gospel tracts in the envelope, telling me about Jesus. I read them but was not ready to receive them as truth at the time.
In September 2016, I received my first letter from Dori. It blew me away. I couldn’t mistake the ache of this mother’s loss and the question of why, but above all, I heard the wonderful faith and hope she had that she would see her son again in heaven. She knew this because Robby had told her that his faith was in Jesus Christ alone to be his Savior. Dori also expressed forgiveness toward me and told me about the forgiveness Jesus offers me.
I didn’t deserve this. Even now, I find myself speechless. I had hurt this woman so deeply, yet she cared enough to share eternal life with me and to close her letter with the words, “God bless you.” She helped me see and experience God’s unconditional love. It caused me to realize the realness of God. There was no way human beings could forgive such a great offense in their own strength. It had to be from God.
Their gift of love and forgiveness came at the lowest point of my life. I was lost and alone, filled with regret and hopelessness. I was 32, facing a 60-year prison sentence. The guilt of my actions, the harsh realities of prison life, and the consequences of my choices were all around me. I was a murderer— nothing could justify what I had done. It didn’t matter that Robby and I had been on the same road of destruction or that alcohol had clouded both our minds. There was no one to blame but myself.
I couldn’t imagine anything but hopelessness as my destiny. But then God reached down from heaven and, through the love of the Greesons, revealed hope for my dead-end life. Jesus Christ had redeemed my mistakes through the shedding of His blood. And through Jesus’s blood, God was offering me forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7). I received God’s gift of forgiveness for myself, and in Jesus I found hope.
Jesus said, “whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life, and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV). My acceptance of Jesus’s love and sacrifice caused me to pass from death into life. I have hope for my eternal future—and for my life, even now, while behind bars.
DORI: For four years now, God has been working out for good the horribly wrong and tragic murder of my son, just as He promised in Romans 8:28. As Psalm 34:18 says, “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” and He has been here for us.
It’s hard for some to comprehend our forgiving Lindsay. What they don’t realize is that doing so set Gene and me free from despair and enabled us to be healed. Forgiving Lindsay was a gift for us too. It allowed us to experience God’s great joy and peace, and the good things He has in store for us.
When Gene and I reached out to Lindsay, we didn’t know how God would work in our lives. How could we have imagined that she’d become like a daughter to us or that we’d travel 2,300 miles to visit her in prison? And how could we have imagined that God would use her to bring so many other people into His kingdom?
We would’ve missed out on so much, had we held onto our hurt. Not only that, my own life would have been destroyed. Without forgiveness, I would be bitter, angry, and resentful, living in constant pain and emotional turmoil. And that ugliness in me would have overtaken and destroyed everyone around me (Hebrews 12:15). God’s gift of forgiveness has freed us all to live fruitful, joy-filled lives, even in this most difficult season.
GENE: It’s amazing to see how God has transformed our lives. For example, Lindsay, who, at the time she killed Robby, would’ve claimed to be an atheist, has been transformed into a most dedicated Christian. She’s becoming a giant in the faith. We are proud to know her and are grateful for the privilege of being part of her faith journey. God surely answered Dori’s prayer for Lindsay’s life!
LINDSAY: When I think back on life prior to receiving that first letter from Gene, I’m blown away by how my outlook, my plans, my hopes, and even my memories have changed; all for the better. I have a real purpose in life now, to share my story—our story—so that the good news of God’s forgiveness in Christ can reach as many people as possible. So they, too, can be free.
Being forgiven doesn’t make what I did acceptable, nor does it take away the pain I caused, but it does allow God to use me for His great purpose. In His grace, I am now leading those around me to Jesus. He’s using the evil I’ve done for His good. Robby’s life lives on, all for God’s glory. I’m so thankful for the grace of God and for the Greesons’ love.
DORI: Gene, Lindsay, and I want everyone who reads our story to experience God’s gift of forgiveness. We all need it, because we’ve all sinned; we all fall short of God’s perfect standard (Romans 3:23). Some sin is obvious to the world, like Lindsay’s. Other sins are often overlooked—like pride, greed, envy, unbelief, and yes, even not forgiving someone.
The good news is that God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal salvation is available to everyone, no matter what we’ve done (John 3:16). And it’s free. There’s nothing any of us can do to deserve it (Ephesians 2:8–9). Jesus lived a perfect life and then died a horrible death to provide forgiveness to us. And all we have to do to receive that forgiveness is believe.
Once we receive God’s gift of forgiveness, we can extend it to others, even those who have deeply hurt us. And that, my friend, is the greatest gift we can give, both to ourselves and to those around us.
God’s grace and forgiveness enable us to move forward, no matter what. †