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Joe and Heidi have been missionaries in Asia for years, and have done premarital counseling and Christian marriage building as part of their ministry. One day Wendy, their daughter who planned to marry Tim on June 14th, called to tell them she was pregnant and to ask their forgiveness. Here are the letters they wrote to Wendy and Tim.

Dear Tim and Wendy,

Several hours have past, and I have been thinking about your call and all that this means. I hope that you will permit me to tell you my thoughts, and I hope that you will respond humbly. I know you are sorry, and I have said that I forgive you both. I think you also understand that it takes a some time for the emotions to catch up with appropriate sentences spoken when one is caught off guard.

I have spent a couple of days feeling very angry, hurt and cheated. I have wept tears of grief, shame, frustration and pain. I have felt like every breath was an effort, and that I would never smile again. I have thought about ways to make you suffer and hurt and pay for the ways you are hurting me. Satan loves this and brings to mind other times and ways you have hurt me and caused me grief.

I have been thinking about all I have to forgive you for, and it has been a struggle. Forgiveness is not just words exchanged. Forgiveness has to go to the depths of our pain and anger and hurt in order for it to be real and truly healing. Forgiveness has to give up to God all plans and thoughts of revenge and pay-back. To give them up to God, I have to face them and acknowledge that these desires are wrong and sinful, however sweet they taste right now. My natural self does not want to forgive you at all; it wants to punish you instead. Just like your natural self doesn’t want to defer gratification until after the wedding by being obedient and exercising self-control. God commands me to forgive from the heart, and He has promised to give me the power to do this if I will respond to His grace and be obedient. Forgiving you is something I must do with my will, contrary to my feelings. If I don’t forgive you I am refusing to submit to God’s commands and His grace and I will lose my intimacy with Him as well as His hand of blessing in my life. Of course, not forgiving would also affect my relationship with you, but if I follow my natural instincts, that wouldn’t matter, would it? So my motivation to forgive has to come from my desire to be obedient to my Lord. And my obedience to Him has to cost me in terms of surrendering my natural desires and inclinations, and just bearing all the pain you have caused me. This is really hard. What if, because it is hard, I give in to my natural desires like you did, and hate you and never speak to you again? What would it cost me? What would it cost you, and others? Words are cheap. I want you to know what you are asking for when you say, “Mom, will you forgive me?”

Here is what I have to forgive you for:
1. For rejecting, as though worthless, all that I have taught you about moral purity.
2. For betraying our trust. (Wendy said that the same standards would hold during engagement. Tim said you weren’t going to kiss anymore. We believed you. You lied.)
3. For making my other children hurt and feel guilty because they didn’t notice the signs, didn’t say anything, feeling like they should have known. They will all feel responsible in some way for your sin, and will feel they have let us down even though you are fully responsible for your own sin and have no one to blame but yourselves.
4. For making my sisters (and probably my mother) resent me for not being there, and leaving them with feelings of guilt for the above reasons, especially Aunt Jessie.
5. For causing my parents the kind of pain that I would never have caused them myself.
6. For making it hard for my father to be as proud of his family as he loves to be.
7. For making my mother cry with grief and sorrow and shame, which I know she will do when she hears.
8. For hurting your younger brothers who will feel very angry, hurt, disappointed and ashamed when they hear.
9. For making it that much easier for others, including your younger siblings and cousins, to sin in the same way. After all, it isn’t as though this isn’t something that happens in this family.
10. For making me look and feel like a failure as a mother.
11. For bringing shame to the family. (People will think, “Yes, they’re a pretty good family, but they’ve had a couple of pregnant brides. I guess you never know by looking. Maybe it’s because their parents weren’t around.”)
12. For hurting and despising my husband, both in times past, and now again. (this one is especially hard for me)
13. For making your white wedding gown, which I bought in good faith, a travesty.
14. For bringing a grey cloud over my parents 50th wedding anniversary celebration. I don’t look forward to it anymore.
15. For bringing a grey cloud over our return to the States. I dread seeing my sisters. I feel ashamed to see my parents.
16. For making it hard, at this point, to be excited about this child. Every child should be anticipated and welcomed with unclouded joy, and while it isn’t in any way this child’s fault, there is a cloud, and you have created it. I trust the cloud will pass once you guys make things right.
17. For making it hard for my grandchildren to resist sin, especially your own children. “Well, Mom, you and Dad did it, and you were Christians.”

These things are hard to face and to forgive. I have been in tears while typing this list. A lot of these are ways your sin has affected me and my life, but I think you should know this. It should cause you grief, but I need to forgive you whether it does or not. I am a sinner fully deserving of death, banishment and eternal punishment. And while God in His holy justice is within His rights to give me all I have coming, He took the punishment I deserve upon Himself and forgave me completely. In spite of my sins against Him, and the fact that I often despise Him, He wants fellowship with me, and wants to bless me. This kind of love and forgiveness is hard to fathom, and I am humbly grateful for it.

Then He says, “Forgive others just like I have forgiven you.”

So, Tim and Wendy, I forgive you. I want fellowship with you and I want to bless you. I am willing to accept and suffer the pain and shame which your sin has caused me, and I choose, again, to love you. Please read through the list above out loud saying “I forgive you” before every sentence, knowing that this is my voice saying this to you. May the Lord break you and heal you, and give you peace, as only He can give.

Love always,

Dear Tim and Wendy,

I have some time to write to you before we go out of town for a couple days to take Sarah and Peter to the airport. We were having a day of prayer and fasting (about a serious security problem in Iligan) when you called and I think that helped me to pray about your situation better. I hope to call you on the phone soon, but I’ll start writing now anyway.

I’ve been thinking about your plan to talk to other family members and how I could advise you on this. It is important and needs to be done. I think the deciding issue when you do this is whether you truly do have deeply repentant spirits. To be honest, I didn’t talk to you long enough to know how you really see the situation, but in my response to you I was assuming a broken and repentant attitude. I wouldn’t want your asking forgiveness to fall short and not accomplish the healing that is needed in your lives and that will be needed in the family, so I’ve been praying about what I could tell you.

One thing I would want to say is that sin is a personal issue, with God as well as with people. God’s word to David after he sinned was this…

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be our wife.’”

Twice God used the word ‘despised.’ He said David despised His word and that David despised God himself. To despise means to set little value or worth on something. God said David ‘despised him’ by sinning with Bathsheba. We don’t know what David thought when he heard this, but we could imagine him saying, “What do you mean, I despised you? I didn’t despise you. I wasn’t even thinking of you. I was just hot after this woman when scared to death that everyone was going to find out. You weren’t even in the picture.”

And God would have said, “The Creator of the universe, the designer of marriage, the fountain of life, the one who holds you in being, the one who took you from tending sheep and made you king—that One, I the Lord, was not even in the picture! That’s right, David. That’s exactly what I mean. You despised me.”

All sin is a despising of God, a failure to value and love God and the joy of his fellowship more than the fleeting pleasures of sin. When you chose to have sex before marriage, you despised the Lord and his word. But you also despised me, your dad, who has tenderly loved you your whole life, your mother and her love and teaching, all the rest of your family and their love and respect for you, the wedding of which you’ve dreamed and its symbolism, and your long anticipated joy and ours in everything that was to take place that day.

I know… you weren’t thinking of these things then. But you should have been. And perhaps you did think of them sometimes, when God convicted you and prompted you to repent, but you despised these precious things, resisted his grace and made your choice. One more thing you despised was each other… You each despised the other’s good name, clear conscience and a future without regret. You didn’t love each other enough, enough to turn away from doing something the other would have to pay for dearly.

I know I’m being hard on you, but everything I’m saying is true and I want the dreadful reality of it to sink deep into your heart. More than once I’ve woken up with a sense of relief, as from a bad dream, but then I remember that you really did call and tell me those things and there is nothing either of us can do to change it or make it go away.

Brokenness over sin, true heart repentance is a grace, a precious gift of God. It is not always given, even when sought with tears. (Heb 12:16-17) Without it, there is no genuine intimacy with the Lord, just a self-deceived heart comforted by the words and trappings of spirituality. Mom and I are earnestly praying that God will leave nothing unbroken in either of your hearts over this, no possibility of speaking to those affected by it without the deepest sorrow and humility, no pride that would keep you from answering any questions asked or receiving any reproof offered. Up to this point, I don’t believe you have any idea how we feel about this, but after reading this letter, with God’s help, I hope you will start to understand. Please don’t assume that you know even now, but instead ask God to continue to show you.

There is something Mom suggested and we talked about before I called you on the phone. We’d like you to think about it and pray. We’re not sure we would even be for it, so please don’t think that the things I wrote above are in any way leading into this or indicating how we think you should respond to the idea.

You could change the June 14th date to a reception instead of a wedding and go ahead and get married just as soon as you can arrange it. You could wear your wedding dress, have Elaine and Simon there as maid of honor and best man, and John’s dad could perform the ceremony and have you exchange vows in front of family and your best friends. A very big negative, of course, is that we would not be there and that might be enough to make it out of the question. But there are some advantages to you which you should consider…

1. You would get to live together honestly as man and wife almost two months sooner. (When Mom talked to you on the phone, you indicated you were going to ‘really try’ to live celibate, but it sounded like it would be hard and there would be possibility of failing. When I talked to you this morning, however, you were certain you could and would do it, which does make a difference.)
2. Assuming a reception could be held at less expense than a wedding, there could be some money left which could help you with medical and other expenses.
3. At the family camp-out in June, you would be able to be there as a married couple, instead of pregnant and unmarried, which might be more comfortable all the way around. Your names were already going on the T-shirt as ‘Wendy and Tim Schor’ of course.
4. Making this change and demonstrating a willingness to give up something which had been important to you could be helpful (if your reasons for doing it are pure and right), as you ask forgiveness from family members. If you honestly are considering it, you could ask what they would think of the idea when you talk to them, which would be good in itself, even if in the end you didn’t wind up doing it.

There are some pitfalls to this and some negatives. First, you should not give up your fancy wedding as an act of penance. God wants a broken and contrite spirit, not a concession or sacrifice. Second, you should not do it if in any way you would feel cheated or that anyone else was taking it from you. Satan could seize on that seed and raise a harvest of bitterness (probably toward us) over the years. You would need to be very careful you were doing it only of your own free choice and for your own good reasons. Third, you should have remorse about your actions (though God can and will give beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning), but you should not make this choice if you are likely to feel remorse over it now or any time in the future.

There is a negative for me in this, but I would be willing to do it if it is best for you. I’ve always wanted to have you on my arm in your wedding dress and give you away, and I would still want it, even if it were just going through the motions, though I can’t believe you and I would feel that is all we were doing, even in this situation. So if you should decide to get married early, I hope with all my heart you can do it knowing we understand each other, and that I would ever surely be there at your arm if I could.

Love always,

p.s. Joe and Heidi came home for the wedding so Joe could give Wendy away as she wished. Even though going there for six days, four weeks before their actual departure was difficult and exhausting, it was worth it.

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