Summer is over. School has started again. And I want to end my travelogue where I began—in Hawaii, with a forgiveness story.
I started our journey together with my recollection of meeting Pearl Harbor survivor Richard Fiske. He helped create a fellowship of forgiveness between Pearl Harbor survivors and the surviving Japanese pilots who had attacked them.
On that same vacation, my family headed next to Volcanoes National Park on the “big island.” Our youngest was seeking to earn his Junior Ranger badge. Upon entering the gift shop, he made a beeline for a park ranger in full uniform.
“Dad,” he shouted as he rushed back to me. “I have to interview a ranger, so I went to that one. She said she couldn’t do it right now, but if we come back at noon, she’ll take me to see the original earthquake detector.” It was only ten minutes, so we waited.
We gathered with two other families and headed to the basement, where we were shown a large, rusty nail hanging from the ceiling. It extended partway into a rusty can. “The original seismograph! If the nail hits the edges of the can, you know it’s a big earthquake!” We all laughed.
But while sharing, Park Ranger Joni Mae Makuakane-Jarrell mentioned she had just recently returned to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, after serving for a few years at one of the island’s other parks. “What brought you back?” I asked.
She described how leading tours to the lava flows had created lung problems, so she and her park ranger husband had been relocated to the other side of the island. One day, he was called to the park beach with reports of vicious dogs. When he got there, the dogs’ owner sicced the dogs on him. While the dogs had him down, the dog’s owner shot Joni Mae’s husband to death.
“I just needed to be back with those who were my real family—the other rangers here, and my mom and dad.”
“How in the world have you managed?”
“You know, there’s an organization for the spouses of law enforcement officers who have been killed on duty. They descended on me and kept me going for two years. And then, when I felt strong enough, I started helping other officers’ widows, and that has helped me even more. I don’t know what to call it.”
“I’d call it ‘ministry.’”
She grabbed my arm. “Are you a Christian? Oh, good. I have to be careful about what I say to the public.”
It was then I noticed the other families were sneaking away. But the story wasn’t close to being over.
“I needed more help, though, and I got it through Christian counseling. I had to look at how the trial delays, the news, and the memories were destroying me. One day, I realized the man who killed my husband controlled my life. So, a few weeks ago, I stood before my church. They were destroyed, too. They hated him for me. We were all stuck. We couldn’t move on. We couldn’t get rid of the hate and anger. But with the power of Christ in me, I spoke to my church and said, ‘With the help of the Lord, I have forgiven the man who killed my husband. And I want to ask you to forgive him, too.’”
Too big to forgive? Not for Joni Mae, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
I function in a world where I’ve seen professing Christians at their worst. They’ve been mad about the color of the new church carpet, or that more contemporary choruses were sung than hymns, or how the pastor was treated in a forced resignation. More recently, I’ve seen church members end relationships because someone in their church asked that COVID protocols be practiced, or someone supported addressing racism, or the pastor preached against White Christian Nationalism.
It’s so hard to forgive when we are still in the midst of fighting, isn’t it? But I can’t help thinking, all these things pale in comparison to someone murdering your spouse!
Joni Mae helped me learn something. Without forgiveness, the murderer controlled her body, mind, and soul. It had become a god.
No wonder Jesus said:
But if you do not forgive others their sins,
Your Father will not forgive your sins.
Because the Lord has forgiven me so much, I too should forgive those who have done me wrong—big or little. Because there’s nothing too big to forgive.