Ten years has passed since attending a family picnic as guests of a couple we often visited when up north at our cabin. I’m not sure why that event kept rerunning in my mind yesterday, but maybe it’s because of the Memorial Day ceremony. Attending any social engagement with Tim is like being at a party on a blind date with someone who knows everyone and you know exactly zero! He is off like a lightning bolt meeting new people whom he will still remember 30 years later. Not me. I never learned the art of working a crowd and am content to quietly observe. That day was no different.
Scouting out an observation deck, I found a picnic table with an older gentleman that appeared to be about the age my father would have been at that time. He was quietly sitting and I was all primed for quietly observing … why not go sit over there? We fell into casual conversation and I learned he was the age of my dad and had been in World War 2, as had my father; but his experiences were 180 degrees different. I also found out that he had grown up in close proximity to where my parents grew up. But all those similarities, while they connected us in some tenuous way, what captured my attention were his hands. One thing I love talking about careers people have chosen and their lifetime adventures along the way. I remember this gentleman worked at Lobdell’s the same factory where my maternal grandmother managed the lunchroom. But what I remember most was all the while he talked I noticed black marks on his knuckles. Then I realized they were tattoos – letters tattooed onto his knuckles.
I wanted him to rest his hands on the table so I could see if the letters spelled something. Remember, if there are words, I read them. If you’re wearing a printed t-shirt, I’m going to read you. When he finally relaxed his hands on the table I could make out the letters O-R-G-I-V and my curiosity blurted out “Do those letters on your knuckles stand for something?” He then laid his hands out so I could read the full text branded on fingers. F-O-R-E-G-I-V-E-N “Forgiven?” I had to ask, and he had to tell me his story. He had been in World War 2, went in as a kid with no burdens, and came back a man encumbered with vivid memories and a bitter heart. He said he fell into alcoholism and a series of damaging choices. He blamed everyone for his condition and treated all his loved ones like they were his personal hell. At his lowest point he realized this wasn’t the way he was going to live out the remainder of his existence and he started searching for the solution for his torn soul. He stumbled into a church one night and met his savior, Jesus Christ, and came to understand the true meaning of forgiveness.
He told me his bitter spirit of unforgiveness was killing him from the inside out. He knew that when he came to Christ, he was a new man and that God had totally forgiven his sin and he had to forgive the atrocities he had witnessed as a result of being in war. He wanted a visual reminder of where he had been and that he would from then on need to put on a spirit of forgiveness every day to guard his heart and mind from invasion by past experiences.
His story reminded me of Joseph in the Old Testament. His own brothers hated him so much they sold him to slave traders. And Joseph forgave them. Genesis 50:15-17 “After burying his father, Joseph went back to Egypt. His brothers sent Joseph a message, “Before his death, your father gave this command: Tell Joseph, ‘Forgive your brothers’ sin—all that wrongdoing. They did treat you very badly.’ Will you do it? Will you forgive the sins of the servants of your father’s God?” When Joseph received their message, he wept and we all know that he forgave them – even though they had hated him so much that they betrayed Joseph and sold him as a slave. “
How many times in life has someone done something to hurt you? We all have painful memories of situations that have festered and contaminated our spirits. It’s for these times that God implores us to forgive. We don’t need tattoos on our knuckles to be reminded to have a forgiving spirit. Let me leave you with one last passage from the Message translation Galatians 6:1-3” Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”