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My daughter came to me in tears. Through sniffles and sobs, she mumbled something about her ex-boyfriend.
“What did he do to you?” I asked, assuming the little cretin had hurt her.
She sniffled some more. “He didn’t do anything. I did.”
Uh oh. “What did you do?”
“It doesn’t really matter,” she whispered. “The thing is, he won’t forgive me.”
Treasuring a rare moment of heart-to-heart with my teenaged daughter, I wasn’t about to push getting more information. So I simply said, “Did you ask him to forgive you?”
“Humbly?” I asked.
She nodded again, wiping away more tears. “The thing is, Mom, I can’t fix what I did. And it seems he wants me to. But I can’t. And he won’t forgive me.”
I did all I could do. I held her. I understood her pain. I knew what it felt like to need forgiveness but not to be able to fix what I’d broken. I knew those feelings of despair. All too well.
A few years ago after my divorce, after time had gone by and my children were older and “adjusted,” I was talking to my son. I knew he had some residual anger about the divorce, and I knew he blamed me as well as his dad. I was at fault for so many things. I had caused him pain. I confessed to him that I was wrong and that I wished I could make things better for him, but that I couldn’t.
He patiently listened to me. I cried. He didn’t. Finally, I held his hands and said, “I’m so sorry. Will you please forgive me?”
He thought for a moment. He didn’t seem angry or even bitter. He just chewed on his lip a little and looked down. “I can’t right now, Mom. Maybe one day.”
I’ll never forget those words. Pain gripped my chest as if an invisible hand had taken hold of my heart and squeezed it. I gasped for breath. I wanted to beg him, plead, even demand his forgiveness. But I knew he was only being honest. He wasn’t trying to hurt me. He just wasn’t ready. I had to accept that.
I hugged him. “I understand. Just let me know when that time comes.”
My son, now in college, and I were driving back home from a doctor’s appointment this week. It was a beautiful morning. We had the windows down. It was cool for a summer day, and the scent of gardenias filled the car. It had rained the night before and everything sparkled. The freshly mowed grass, the red brick of homes, the pavement as it wound through quiet subdivisions.
Just before we reached the entrance to our neighborhood, I saw a snapping turtle along the side of the road. Its soft yellow-brown markings stood out against the dark pavement, and its little head turned up, eyes fixed on the far side of the road. I wanted to stop and help it across, but I was already past it, and the turn to my neighborhood was just ahead.
I quickly pulled into our subdivision and did a U-turn. My son glanced at me. “What are you doing?”
I pointed at the road. “Did you see that turtle back there? We need to help it across. I don’t want it to get hit.”
My son, as much an animal lover as I am, agreed. (Saving slugs from his stepbrother who wielded salt like a weapon was a constant undertaking when he was little.)
I waited at the entrance for a car to pass before turning back, but just as I pulled out, I saw a truck coming in the other lane. We could see the turtle, still moving slowly across the road. It had made it to the middle of the lane, but it wasn’t going to make it to the other side, not unless the truck saw it and swerved to miss it.
“He’s not going to make it,” I said, gripping the steering wheel tightly.
Just then the truck barreled past, running over the turtle, crushing it into a pile of blood and broken pieces of shell.
We sat there, silent, staring at the turtle’s remains, and suddenly I lost it. “If only I’d stopped when I saw it,” I cried. “I could’ve saved it.”
I wept as I pulled the car around once again and headed home. The day wasn’t so beautiful anymore, the gardenias not so sweet, the grass not so shiny.
I know I was overreacting, probably having a hormonal moment, but it struck a chord in me, a convergence of helplessness, loss, and nostalgia. I remember so clearly my father when I was a child taking us on long trips to Florida, or out west to the Grand Canyon, or north to his childhood home on the Ohio River. Inevitably, we’d pass a turtle somewhere on our journeys, and my big, strong, tough Marine dad would stop the car, get out, and gently pick it up, carrying it safely to the other side.
Whatever the reason, be it nostalgia or feelings of loss, the turtle’s death affected me deeply.
My son reached over and put his arm around me. “It’s okay, Mom. It’s just a turtle.”
I pulled the car into the driveway and forced myself to stop crying. “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m being silly.”
My son smiled. “No you’re not. You’re being sensitive. You’re the only person I know who’d care that much about a turtle and really feel it. That’s why I love you so much.”
I started to cry again, but this time for a whole other reason. “By the way, Mom, you don’t have to say you’re sorry to me ever again. Not about anything.” He leaned in and looked me in the eyes. “I forgive you. Do you understand?”
I nodded. I understood. The peace that swept over me is indescribable. The joy. The delight. His words fell on me like that gentle rain from heaven Shakespeare so eloquently described of mercy.
My son got out of the car, and I sat there for a moment. The gardenias once again washed over me with their sweetness. I thought of the turtle. I wished I could have saved it. But, in a way, it saved me. Its death opened up an opportunity for my son to forgive me, to show me grace.
I pictured the turtle, the blood on the road, and it brought to mind another sacrifice. One made long ago, one whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. I wept some more, this time in gratefulness. For my son. For the turtle. For my Savior.