What Medical Bills and a Broken Radio Taught Me About Forgiveness

A couple weeks before Christmas, my husband was hanging lights on our house when the ladder collapsed, taking him with it. He suffered a nasty gash on the back of his ankle, which—to make a very, very long story very, very short—got infected, went septic, and landed him in the hospital for nine days. 

As you can imagine, nine days in the hospital and all the associated doctor visits, surgery, and medications did not come cheap. To make matters worse, the insurance claim was denied. That meant that the entire $129,000 plus it cost to treat him would fall on us.

Most people don’t have a spare hundred and twenty-nine grand lying around, and we are no exception. This was a debt there was no way we could pay, and the idea of being under it was staggering. Obviously, the hospital would take this into account and give us something of a discount, but even so, we were looking at a debt of many, many thousands of dollars, with years of monthly payments, payments we would struggle to afford.

However, this past Monday, I received a notice in the mail from the hospital. They appealed our claim, and the insurance company decided to pay it.

In full.

Patient responsibility $0.00.

Just like that, our debt was erased. Canceled.

Let me tell you, that felt pretty awesome.

To make another long story extremely short, two weeks ago, my two boys disabled the radio in our car. Disabled as in “when turned on, it played no music, but instead emitted foul-smelling smoke.” To be fair, I expected my offspring to damage our car at some point, but I did not expect that point to be now, when they are eight and six.

The radio, unfortunately, could not be resurrected, and we had to buy a new one, to the tune about $129. This has irritated me to no end, as I don’t like spending money when stuff breaks on its own. When it is actively destroyed by one more more Wenlets, that goes beyond “dislike.”

Last night, I was haranguing the boys AGAIN about the radio, and my oldest (Yakko, for purposes of this blog; you’re welcome, Animaniacs fans) said, “Mom? Could you please not bring up the radio so often?”

It was at that point that God pricked my heart with a reminder: the parable of the wicked servant. Y’know, the guy who was forgiven a huge debt, one of millions and millions of dollars, one he had no hope of ever being able to repay? The guy who immediately ran into someone who owed him a few bucks and choked him, demanding to be repaid then and there?

That was me. I had just been forgiven a $129,000 debt, and I was angry about a $129 radio.

I had become the wicked servant.

It was not a good look for me.

In the parable of the wicked servant, the servant is brought back before the king and held accountable for how he treated the man who owed him money. The angry king rescinded the offer of forgiveness and ordered the man thrown into prison until his debts were paid. Jesus’ sobering warning is this: God will treat us this way if we do not forgive those who have wronged us.

Does this mean that those of us who are saved can lose our salvation if we—even unknowingly—hold a grudge against another person?

I don’t think so. Remember, salvation and cleansing from sin are free gifts. Jesus said, on the cross, "It is finished." He died once and for all. We forgive not to earn forgiveness, but as a demonstration that we understand how much God has forgiven us. 

John Piper puts it this way: "If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone, we are not a good tree. We are not saved. We don’t cherish this forgiveness. We don’t trust in this forgiveness. We don’t embrace and treasure this forgiveness. We are hypocrites. We are just mouthing. We haven’t ever felt the piercing, joyful wonder that God paid the life of his Son." (http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/if-i-fail-to-forgive-others-will-god-not-forgive-me)

Piper goes on in the same interview to reassure those of us who struggle with the issue of forgiveness. "Struggling to forgive is not what destroys us. As long as we are in the flesh, we will do our good deeds imperfectly, including forgiving and loving others. Jesus died to cover those imperfections. What destroys us is the settled position that we are not going to forgive and we have no intention to forgive....If we think we can be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and not make war on that attitude, we are deluded." 

I realize that a hospital bill is not a perfect analogy. Our insurance company didn’t pay our bill out of the goodness of their hearts; they paid it because we have a contract with them and are faithful to pay our monthly premium. But cancellation of a debt is cancellation of a debt, and a lesson from God is a lesson from God.  If I’d been forgiven over a hundred grand, couldn’t I find it in my heart to not hold a hundred bucks over my sons’ heads?

I’m grateful for Yakko’s honesty with me, and the way God used him to gently remind me. So I told Yakko and his brother, Wakko, that yes, they were right, I had held a grudge against them, and they were officially forgiven for breaking the radio.

Will they be allowed to play in my car anytime soon? Not likely. 

Will they still suffer some consequences for the destruction of property in an effort to teach them to respect things that belong to someone else? Absolutely.

But will I hold that hundred-dollar radio over their heads anymore? Will I bring it up every time they displease me?

No. I won't.

I have been forgiven much more.



Your turn: What debts, financial or otherwise, have been canceled for you recently? What debts have you canceled—or need to cancel—for others?

Wisdom From My Dad

One of God’s greatest blessings to me was to give me a wise, intelligent, hilarious man of integrity as my dad.  So, in honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell you a bit about him.

My dad is one of the smartest people I know, though, due to boredom, his grades in school did not reflect this. He filled the time with pranks and mischief, which he (sort of) outgrew thanks to the influence of my wonderful mother. After a stint in the US Air Force and a long career in the aviation industry, he is now enjoying retirement. Fortunately for all of us, they only live a few minutes away, so he is able to be an integral part of the Wenlets’ everyday lives as well.

My dad is a lover of books and music, a decided introvert, and the DIY champion of the known universe. He loves anything mechanical, a good NASCAR race, goosebery pie, and a strong cup of coffee. There is nothing he doesn’t want to learn, especially about nature or history, and there is very little he can’t fix.

My dad is the one who introduced me to Dave Barry. The one who took off work to be at every school event he possibly could, because he wanted us to know that we were his priority. The one who modeled for me what I should look for in a husband and father for my kids.

Through the years, he’s impressed several things upon me. Here are three of them, and how I’ve applied them to my writing.

1. "You can learn from good examples and bad examples."

We’re often told to analyze our favorite books. Why do we love them so much? What specific thing does the author do to reach through the page and grab our hearts? How can we do this in our own work?

But I’ve found that the opposite is also true. When I find a book with which I have trouble connecting, I analyze that, too. What specific characteristics about the book don’t work for me? Is it something to do with craft? With characterization? With pacing? Analyzing what doesn’t work about a book can often be just as instructive as analyzing what does work.

2.  "There are only two good places to be stationed: where you’ve been, and where you’re going."

This is a variation of the old “grass is always greener” adage. The past becomes rosy with nostalgia, and the future gleams golden with possibility, but typically where you are always seems gray and drab. I’ve found this to be true on my writing journey. I can look back fondly on the past, when I was just discovering writing, when I did it completely for fun without the pressures of a platform, of trying for publication. When I was totally ignorant of what POV and WIP stood for, when I didn’t know what a literary agent even was or that they needed to be queried. When ‘show, don’t tell’ and ‘passive voice’ were completely meaningless concepts.

Similarly, the future seems bright. Sometimes I allow myself to daydream about what my life might look like if I were a multi-published, best-selling, award-winning, spiritually impactful author. Of course, even if that actually happens (a rather large ‘if,’), there’s no way my life will look like the rosy picture my imagination paints. The future will have flaws, I just have no way of knowing what they are yet.

But here in the present,  I can see clearly all the warts and bumps in the road. The disappointments, the rejections, the daily frustration of never having enough time to do all the writing, reading, and studying I want to do. If only I could go back! If only I could move forward! This is the trap all of us fall into if we’re not careful. Instead, I pray to be content where I am, to learn the lessons God has for me, and to see His hand at work even when circumstances are frustrating.

3. "We can do that!"

My mother has been tracing our family history for about forty years now. (Some of that family history has woven its way into my WIP, in fact!) Back in the days before everything was online, the only way to conduct research was to go to the places where one’s ancestors had lived. So while everyone else in my class growing up would vacation somewhere cool like Hawaii or New York City, my vacation destinations were places like Bean Blossom, Indiana. (Yes, that is a real place. Ask me how I know!). Many of my childhood vacation memories consist of my brother and me camped out in some dusty, un-air conditioned library in Podunkville, USA, with a pile of Calvin and Hobbes books, trying to quiet the growls of our neglected stomachs, because sometimes, in her frenzy, my mother would completely forget about the Need for Lunch.

It was on these vacations that my father’s optimism would surface. My mother would hatch some crazy plan, usually involving a library, a courthouse, and/or cemetery near the aforementioned Podunkville, with a quick jaunt over to Nowhere County because her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother’s first cousin twice removed is buried there, and besides, it’s only this far on the map.

My dad would look at her, smile, and say, “We can do that.”

And we always could.

This spirit of optimism has stayed with me through the years, and especially as I’ve launched into this whole writing thing. It’s caused me to remember that, rather than focus on the odds, I need to keep my eyes on the One who makes all things possible. The one who gives us the strength to do anything and everything He has called us to do. Since I believe God has called me and gifted me as a writer, I know that whatever He has for me, I will be able to do it. Not in my strength, but in His.

I love you, Dad! Thanks for all you have taught me in the past, and for all you continue to teach me in the present. I am beyond grateful to be your daughter.