Quotes on Restoration

Restoration to fellowship is the fallen Christian’s immediate need . . . The whole purpose of restoration is to get the person back to where s/he was . . . Eventually a fallen Christian who clearly repents (placed under a loving, spiritual mentor for accountability and growth) and reforms should be restored completely . . .

From the sermon: Restoring Fallen Christians and the Ministry of Reconciliation, by Jim Miller on August 20, 2002.

Quotes on Restoration

Image result for galatians 6:1“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also.”

Galatians 6:1 Amplified Bible

Quotes on Restoration

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“God is able to fix that which is broken so that what stands repaired is immeasurably greater than that which stood before it needed repair. Therefore, the most staggering brokenness conceivable is in reality the greatest opportunity imaginable.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Quotes on Restoration

Image result for restore the fallen“You demonstrate biblical love when you take steps to restore a fellow-believer overtaken in sin. This not only encourages a fallen believer to return to his first love of Jesus Christ, but it also gives others involved in the restoration process on-going opportunities to examine the depth of their love to the Lord.”

– John C. Broger

 

Letters from Jail: #1

The following is excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I edited and arranged the material for readability.

Began on 05/18/2013

Image result for letters from jailIt is my first opportunity to write; I had no paper until now. It is in pencil because that is all we’re allowed – they are those little golf pencils that are too small for big hands.

My first few days have been uneventful. The dorm holds ten men and has one restroom and one shower. I can change my clothes and bed sheets once a week. With that, I’m not sure what the point of a shower is, but I guess some semblance of civilization must prevail.

There are eight other guys in here. One is a reader, cites and writes poetry, and appears very intelligent. Another controls the T.V. remote, changing the channels frequently. The rest sleep much of the day. If I could record the variety of snores coming from this room of men, perhaps I could produce one of those Jingle Bells recordings – you know, like the dogs barking. I can’t lay in the bunk all day, reading and writing have become my refuge.

The tedium is suffocating – three meals, morning and evening medication calls, and a midnight walk down the hall to get my blood pressure checked. The only break in the monotony of the day is when the guards come through the dorm on their hourly bed check. I hope to get involved in work, church, and/or Bible study.

After midnight blood pressure check, the dorm comes to life with activity. Showers, T.V., visiting with each other, card games, and reading. This goes on until 1:30 or 2:00 AM or until the guard in central control turns off the T.V.

One of the men gave me a Bible until the chaplain sent me one I could have for myself. It’s an NIV (New International Version), which was what I was reading at home. Reading is tough amidst the constant noise of the T.V.  Prayer is even tougher. Sometimes God seems close, but most of the time He feels far away. I’m trying to read a Psalm and a chapter from Proverbs each day. I’m also reading from Mark.

I’ve been writing a list of events and happenings over the past 35 years for which to repent of, ask forgiveness for, and to forgive others for. The act of writing them all down gives me an opportunity to pray about each one and to release any anger that I may have about them. I need forgiveness, a sense of release from my guilt, and peace in my heart, mind, and soul. Pray with me that “no root of bitterness” will spring up in me. I don’t want to hate or despise anyone.

My mood yesterday was depressed. It seems I overcome one battle of forgiveness only to face another. Two more things came up in court. I didn’t contest either one, although I thought parts of the first were unfair; and all I can say about the second is, “Good luck!” (More was disclosed here than I feel free to share for the sake of others.) You see my struggle to forgive when hurt keeps coming, but forgive I must. Yesterday morning I felt free, today I am attempting to break free of these chains.

Why can’t it be easier, but then again, if forgiveness was easy God would not have required the blood of Jesus. Battle must be part of the victory. In battle you discover both your weaknesses and strengths. What can I say? I must march forward. I dare not go back or stay stagnate. I’m reminded of what Jesus told Peter, 70 times seven. Seventy times seven, Jay.

I don’t know how I got here. I was too weak, too emotionally drained, too mentally spent, too sick to walk away. I broke one of my fundamental principles – don’t fight over material things. Too tightly did I hang onto the loaves and fishes and missed the message of Jesus as He passed by. It begs the question; do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? Help me pray.

It is the Lord’s Day and I just got back from church. There is no singing, but one man gave a really good testimony. I’m not sure where the chaplain got his training, but he leaves a lot to be desired. Today, he had The Lord’s Prayer at the end of Matthew and Pentecost on Thursday. I feel sorry for the men in here if that’s all the spiritual instruction they get. Whatever his faults, though, he appears to have a good rapport with them.

My brother came to see me today. If we’d had a gavel it could have been a real business meeting. There are so many things to do. So many decisions to make.

Goodbye for now. Pray for hearts to be softened towards me and that I would forgive and be forgiven.

Sincerely,

Jay

The Price of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Image result for reconciliation“My dad was an angry and volatile man,” the young man exploded the information across my desk. “You never knew whether he’d respond to news with anger, resolve, defeat, or acceptance. If I did something wrong or didn’t do what he asked, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get yelled at or gently counseled. My godly mother took the brunt of much of his anger. It appeared she could do nothing right for him. After she told him to leave, she disclosed to me that she feared for her life.” He paused, appearing to be searching for clues to a mystery, and then continued. “He professed to be a Christian man and he was a minister. You couldn’t help but admire his intellect and his preaching and teaching abilities. In public he was a composed, unflappable man. You could tell that, although quiet and reserved, he was clearly in charge. Few things rattled him. When everyone else was in a panic, he remained calm. But, at home he was an unpredictable, angry beast.” He bowed his head and quietly said, “I know he struggled with mental illness. Maybe that explains it. He asked me to forgive him and reconcile with him. I don’t know what to do,” his voice trailed off in resignation.

Many of us can identify with this man’s dilemma, actually, two dilemmas – forgiveness AND reconciliation. I must admit, within the past few days the distinction between the two has become much clearer. Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate issues. You can give forgiveness without reconciliation. In fact, it is sometimes necessary and preferred. However, in some cases forgiveness also requires reconciliation.

In Christian teaching, God both forgives and reconciles us to Himself at the same time when we seek Him. But, with we mortal and finite humans this is sometimes a two step process.

Forgiveness always comes first and is required. Biblically, we are to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed and we are to extend forgiveness to those who ask it of us. I will forgive because it is the right thing to do. Peter learned in Matthew 18 that forgiveness for others comes as a result of our gratefulness to God for forgiving us. Not only is it a mandate from God – it is also good for our emotional well-being. Mental health literature is replete with the benefits of forgiving. It releases the searing pain that torments our memories. It rids us of the burdensome obligation to seek personal revenge. And, the festering anger that threatens to destroy our relationships can be discharged. I have found that forgiving frees me and gives me peace.

Not forgiving is often a survival mechanism from being betrayed, wronged, injured, or humiliated. We know that among the risks of not forgiving are eternal victimization, continual emotional upheaval, smug self-righteousness, and the inevitable loss of compassion for others.

It is only human for us to build defenses against hurt and pain, both physically and emotionally. That is why we seek shelter during a storm and lock our doors at night. It is why we fortify and guard our hearts and minds against hurtful people and unhealthy situations. We are particular about who we let in to our inner sanctums. To use a home analogy, some people get no nearer than the sidewalk or street, others are allowed into the yard, a few are invited onto the porch, a smaller number are allowed inside to the formal living room, but those who are invited into the kitchen with refrigerator privileges are numbered often on a single hand.

Reconciliation is another step. Sometimes it is not possible or ill advised. We cannot reconcile with those who are deceased, beyond our reach, or rebuff our efforts. We do not and should not expect people who have been physically or sexually assaulted or some other violence perpetrated upon their person to reconcile, especially if the offender is a stranger. However, there are times when we need to reconcile.

I know of a couple of neighbors in a small southern Indiana town who hated each other. Both of them had planted “keep out” signs on their property line. And, the two signs faced each other. Clearly, there was not only some forgiveness that needed to go on, but also some reconciliation. If not for their own sake, at least for neighborhood peace and an end to the negative example being portrayed in front of their young children.

I have come to the conclusion that a greater price is paid by both the seeker and giver for reconciliation than that of forgiveness. It requires trust and vulnerability. Once trust has been broken it necessitates a heroic effort to reclaim. Trust has faith. Trust believes. Trust has confidence. Can I trust that his remorse is genuine? Can I trust that she has made genuine changes and is fortifying her gains and continues to grow? Am I able to see him for what he is now and not for what he was?

Trust extends toward another while vulnerability is about me. The less we trust the more fences we build for protection; the more we trust the fewer fences we have and the more vulnerable we become. If we do not trust we insulate ourselves. Now, insulation has a two-fold purpose – it keeps the cold in and the heat out in summer and it keeps the heat in and the cold out in winter. When we make ourselves vulnerable we remove the insulation and expose ourselves to the elements. To be vulnerable means we risk getting burned by the searing heat of anger and resentment. To be vulnerable means we risk exposure to the bitter and frosty bite of indifference. Relationships require an element of vulnerability, without it we have no relationships.

The young man in my office could readily forgive his father, but he was not yet ready to reconcile with him. He did not trust his father in spite of evidence he had changed. Nor would he allow himself to be vulnerable enough to take the risk. That is where the situation remains as of this writing.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not for the weak. Only those with strength coupled with empathy and love can make this journey.

THE IRREDEEMABLE

Image result for closed door unwelcomeSeveral years ago I heard a man tell his story about leaving the ministry. He said his decision was made one night while he was the on-call chaplain at his local hospital. A man came through the ER carrying an unconscious, bloodied toddler. Doctors and nurses rushed the child to a room working furiously trying to save his life. The chaplain sat with the man as he held his head in his hands and cried, “O God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to do it.” From time to time the chaplain checked on the condition of the boy and would return to his father with any news of progress. Again the man would repeat, “O God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to do it.” This scenario repeated itself three or four times until the father was informed his son did not survive. That night the clergyman quit the ministry and turned his back on God saying, I knew God would forgive that wicked man and I did not want to serve a God who would forgive a man such as this.

The minister had it right in one aspect: God forgives. This is abundantly clear in both the Old Testament and New Testament. God forgave some people who committed some hideous sins. Consider King David who used his authority to seduce and impregnate another man’s wife. Then he arranged for her husband to be killed so he could marry her. When confronted with his evil conniving, he repented (Psalm 51) and was known by all as “a man after God’s own heart.” (I Samuel 13:14) And then there was King Manasseh who closed the Temple, dismissed the priests, set up idols on the high places for Judah to worship and to sacrifice, and surrendered his son to the fires of Molech, an Amorite god.  After being taken captive to Babylon, he repented of his sins and God restored him to his throne in Judah. (II Kings 21:1-18 & II Chronicles 33:1-9)

In the New Testament, Jesus chooses Matthew – a tax collector for the hated Roman occupiers who determined his own salary by collecting more money than what was owed – as one of the twelve Apostles. (Matthew 10:2-3) Likewise, there was Simon the Zealot, numbered with the Twelve, who was likely an assassin. (Luke 6:15) The Zealots were a group of Judean patriots who killed any Jew that collaborated with the Roman government. One of their preferred methods was to kneel beside a collaborator during a festival or feast and drive a dagger deep into his back. Finally, there was Paul – a blasphemer, persecutor of Christians, and an insolent man – who called himself the chief of sinners. (I Timothy 1:13-15) By the grace of God he was transformed to be an Apostle and the writer of 13 of the 27 books that comprise the New Testament.

Recalling these men of old demonstrates how far the grace of God extends into sin riddled lives to save and redeem them. But, that was a long time ago and their gross offenses do not affect us. What about today? Do you believe the notorious serial killer, Jeffery Dahmer, who killed at least 17 men and boys and cannibalized some of them, could be redeemed? According to the prison chaplain’s office and several other clergy who visited him, he was a new man in Christ before he was killed in a prison bathroom. I have witnessed individual Christians and churches rejoice over the conversion of people like Dahmer. However, he did not kill one of their relatives. The former minister in my opening paragraph had an irredeemable list. I fear when someone touches our lives, our community, and our church we, too, have a more narrow definition of the redeemable than what God has.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the world was confronted with a little known and feared epidemic, AIDS. In one of my seminary classes we had quite a lively discussion about people so afflicted and whether they could attend church or not. There were those, fearing the possible transmission of this disease, advocating for a ban on church attendance. Apparently, many churches had adopted this position as policy. Others in the class campaigned for ministry and inclusion. This era was not a particularly bright spot in church history as many churches chose to say that the AIDS patient was redeemable, but just not at my church.

I am acquainted with a man who was released from prison after serving a 40 year sentence for murder. His first Sunday home he went to the church where his parents attended when they were alive. The congregation knew him well. Still, he received a fairly cool response. The next Sunday he went to another church where he was known. That church was downright hostile, telling him he was not welcome to attend their church. For his third try, he chose another church where he knew several members. They welcomed and embraced him and chose to treat him as redeemable. The first two churches said in essence, “We do not want murderers attending our church.” For them, this man, whom some had known since his childhood, was irredeemable.

What of the child abuser or molester, the woman abuser or rapist, the severely alcoholic or addicted, the adulterous spouse or the compulsive gambler? It appears it is harder to believe that a person is redeemable the closer they are to you and the more harm they have inflicted upon you.

A few weeks back I wrote this line: “Perhaps they fail to see me as redeemable, and therefore are blind to the redemptive work that continues to make me a better man.” Although I understand and own the pain I have caused, it is difficult for me to accept the view of me that some in my family still harbor. It is hard for me to acknowledge that I am numbered with the irredeemable in their eyes. It hurts.

O God, forgive us when we harbor an irredeemable list in our hearts. Help us view humanity as You do. May we embrace the truth that the greater the sin the greater is Your grace and that no one is irredeemable in Your eyes.

An Open Letter to a Former Friend

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An Open Letter to a Former Friend

Dear Former Friend,

 

 

My thoughts of you and our former acquaintance cause a smile to flash across my face as I recall happier times. When I came into an institution and culture that was foreign to me you were the first to give me a hand in navigating my new surroundings. You and your lovely wife were the first among our colleagues to invite my family and me into your home. We laughed as your daughter kissed my son, and when you corrected her she said, “But Daddy, you told me to love everybody.” It is a cherished memory.

On the nights you cut hair we engaged in ever deeper and open forms of communication and our friendship became more than professional. Our hearts were one as we sought to serve God fully and to seek His will for our lives and careers. We were one in the desire to guide our students to excellence in Christ, character, and academics. As more responsibility came our way we sought with unity to lead the institution we loved and served from the office(s) we held. During a difficult change in administrations, together we stayed by the stuff, supported the new administration, and protected our students from the struggle that threatened to divide as the incoming president sought to chart a different course for an institution mired in the traditions of the past. I saw the hurt in your eyes as some lashed out against your father, of which he was undeserving. You poured out your heart to God and I tried to be a compassionate listener with an understanding heart. We made it through and the beloved institution was and is better for it. I continue to be proud of the contribution I make to that great place through the work of my son.

Remember going out before dawn and climbing the mountain behind our homes to settle into a good stand for deer hunting? Although I had hunted since a youth, it was your first time. You were in much better shape than me, but you waited patiently as this flatlander breathlessly toiled his way to the top. When you downed your first deer, oh the joy and celebration that encompassed our campus community. And I cannot help but remind you of the first time you shot your new rifle and the patch you wore beneath your eye for all to see you made a mistake.

You loved the basketball team from your alma mater and enjoyed your nearly annual brag as your team defeated mine in their yearly rivalry. You took great pleasure in inviting me over to watch the game and rub my nose in our defeats. One night, however, my team schooled yours and went on to victory. It was an upset and you told me you would not have invited me over if you had foreseen this as a possible outcome. I called you on the night your team lost in a controversial last second play that ended their drive to another NCAA championship. You cried.

When I began to descend into the darkness that has become my life for the past seventeen years, you were there. Before I was to pull the trigger on my pistol to kill myself, I called you. You came and talked the gun out of my hand. (Years later I found out the firing pen on that gun was broken. God is good.) That marked the day I emerged from my darkness. It lasted around three years.  After sinking into a second depressive episode, you supported me. On the night I thought I was having a stroke, which turned out to be a panic attack, you stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. When my son ran to you in a panic when he thought I was going to hurt someone, you came to settle me down.

We shared some great times, some sad times, and some difficult times, but for the past eight years we have not shared anything. The last time I reached out to you for help you did not come. It was a day in May in the Spring of 2008 and my wife had told me to leave. It was only a few days past my second hospitalization for my third severe depressive episode. My heart and my head have searched for a reason for our breach ever since.

Perhaps you no longer knew or liked the man I had become. I did not like him either. That man was angry and desperate. Angry because of all he had lost and desperate to hold on to what he had left of himself and his world. On that day he saw it all slipping away and was powerless to stop it. He was broken and alone. The year I spent in jail was God’s way of stopping me from further personal destruction. That angry and desperate man died in jail and a new man in Christ Jesus emerged. It is hard for others who know me now to imagine me as that old man and I pray by God’s grace they never meet him.

Maybe you had reached the end of your personal resources and no longer knew how to help a person with severe depression. That happened to me. While pastoring my last full time charge I was ill-equipped to help a young man of the congregation experiencing depression. I did not recognize it and did not know how to relate to or minister to him. In two short years I became like that young man. My ministry now is to reach out to other depressed people with hope and attempt to educate people in ministry about mental illness.

Possibly you felt compelled to take sides when my wife and I separated. That can be a very awkward position to be in. How can a person be loyal to one without being disloyal to the other? Is it even possible to be loyal to both? As I friend people on Facebook who knew both my ex-wife and me, I ask myself, “Was this person a friend to our family because of my ex-wife or because of me?” It is a dance I do not enjoy, but find necessary. It was on that premise I sent you a friend request. I am truly sorry for putting you in a position to choose between us. Some who I considered her friends have friended me, for which I am truly grateful.

I have considered the chance that I have offended you or your family personally. Honestly, I can think of nothing, but I welcome your input.

In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift,” (Matthew 5:23-24 NKJV) I am seeking a bridge over the chasm between us. Our friendship will never be as it was before, but can we choose to end our indifference toward one another, shake hands, and embrace in Christian harmony? I pray we can.

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

PS

I was sorry to hear about the sudden death of your college classmate and friend, and the crisis of purpose it caused for you. However, I am pleased that it led your very competent and gifted hands to the position you now hold in a place I dearly love. May you achieve success in your mission for God.

Forgiving . . . Again

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Ten years ago this month a man walked into an Amish school in Pennsylvania and shot eight little girls, killing five of them. What happened next caused a nation to stand in awe of the families of the murdered and wounded girls. They forgave. Many of the families visited the man’s widow, parents, and parents-in-law to comfort them. It is reported that the father of one of the victims held the father of the perpetrator for nearly an hour as he sobbed. They attended the funeral of the man to support his wife and children and even set up a trust fund for their care. I watched in amazement at the behavior of the Amish community and wondered if I would have the grace to do the same.

Although my pain is nothing like that of those families, I still have hurts that need forgiving.  As I write this, I find myself in a struggle to forgive. I have been planning this blog for several months, but only four weeks ago did I come face to face with my own festering grudges. I was talking to my counselor during our regular session when I heard myself speak about my frequent nightmares and how they relate to my past experiences. Bitterness was coming out of my mouth. Was that me? A man who believes in the fundamental importance of forgiveness within his Christian faith and for his physical, emotional, and mental well-being speaking with rancor? “I sound bitter, don’t I?” I whispered. She said yes and then proceeded to tell me that I was “stuck.” “Oh, God help me!” I cried. My unforgiving spirit had halted my march toward wholeness. It loomed as a catastrophic avalanche, consisting of a multitude of real and perceived hurts inflicted upon me by others, cutting off my path to peace.

The late poet, Maya Angelou, wrote that forgiveness is “one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.”  According to an article written by the staff of the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness can give one “healthier relationships, greater spiritual and psychological well-being, less anxiety, stress, and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, (a) stronger immune system, improved heart health, and higher self-esteem.” That is quite a round of benefits. Tyler Perry affirmed, “It’s not an easy journey to get to a place where you forgive people. But, it is a powerful place, because it frees you.”

There are two passages from Matthew where Jesus taught on forgiveness that has always challenged me. The first is a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgive like God? Willingly? Unconditionally? Without justice? The second is Jesus’ discussion with Peter about how often we should forgive in a day and the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus said our forgiveness was to be limitless because, how can I, with an unpayable debt to God, experience His forgiveness and then be so ungrateful as to refuse forgiveness to s/he who, comparatively speaking, owes me so little? How can I reach this standard?

(The following outline is loosely based on one given by Stuart Rothberg, but the comments are mine.)

  • Name your pain.

Betrayal. Physical, sexual, and/or mental abuse. Bullied. Disrespected. Unfaithful. Forsaken. Forgotten. Abandoned. Character assassinated. Patronized. Demoted or fired. Little or no confidence shown in you. Crime against my person, loved one, or property. . . .

Forgiveness begins with recording your story about the person or thing that hurt you and its consequences. Who was involved? What happened? When and where did it happen? How did it and does it make you feel? Write an honest and comprehensive story.

  • Be a survivor.

The person or thing that causes you to feel like a victim will always control you until you take charge of your feelings, emotions, and thoughts. Stop defining your life by your pain. Give up expecting something from someone that they are unwilling or unable to give. Determine to be an over-comer.

You may never meet the person who hurt you again. S/he may not even remember you or think about what s/he has done to you. Waiting for an apology or an explanation keeps you trapped. Take back the keys of your heart and mind and release yourself from the jail of the victimized.

  • Release the grudge.

“Justice” is an abstract idea that may never happen and may never satisfy you if it does. Revenge may taste sweet, but it sours the stomach. As a boy I waited the whole week of junior camp to take revenge on a boy who hit me. All week I befriended him. We went everywhere together. The time came and I reared back and hit him with all I had. He looked at me with a look of betrayal and crumbled into tears. I did not feel anything like I thought I would. I felt awful and our friendship did not last.

Let the legal system or God be the avengers. Release the right to personal revenge. Forgive the debt owed to you by your offender.

  • Let go of bitterness and anger.

What prompted my own crisis of forgiveness was a phone call. Several months before I sent a letter of apology to an individual taking responsibility for my role in the decay of our relationship. I think I had expected a reciprocating letter taking responsibility for their role, but no. What I got was a justification for their actions and no acknowledgement of wrongdoing. All the hurt came back like a flash flood. I thought I had forgiven, and perhaps I did, but the conversation brought back all the old feelings and I indulged in the bitterness and anger. I allowed a root of bitterness to be planted, nursed, and grow all over again. Now here I am repeating the process that I thought was finished.

The peculiar thing about forgiveness is that it has to be repeated, often for the same offense, the same offender, and throughout the same day.

  • Give up the right to tell your story.

My pastor preached on forgiveness a couple of weeks ago. He did not need to get my attention because I knew God had my number. The sermon was going along fine until he said the true test of forgiveness is when you, “Give up the right to tell others (your story).” He went on to say that on those occasions when you do tell your story, “It does not sound like it happened just yesterday.” Ouch! I am not there, yet.

  • Realize that forgiveness is both an event and a process.

The act of forgiveness is an event that can be dated and timed, but getting relief from the pain is a process. It is a daily journey and we may have to repeat one or more of the above steps as we go along. Give yourself time to get there.

Forgiveness does not condone the wrong. It may not even require reconciliation. In some cases reconciliation is impossible or inappropriate. Forgiveness is more about you, your peace, your well-being, than it is the offender. “Forgiveness,” someone said, “is a choice for the brave and the courageous.” Well, I must be off to forgive again . . . and again . . . and again . . .