What Forgiveness Looks Like

Author:  Rachelle Rieke
I have been working on a pretty big project recently to share my story, and on the heels of Easter, I would like to share this chapter of it with you.


What Forgiveness Looks Like

  Flash.   A streaking blur of red to my right and that dirt road looming, consuming my vision as I glanced up, like the maw of an ominous beast coming to swallow me up. It wasn’t there and then it was. It didn’t make sense. Where did that dirt road come from?   Impact.   Confusion. For the barest fraction of a second: did I run over something and blow a tire?   Oh. Oh, my God.   Life can change literally in the blink of an eye. Black to white, up to down, in to out, forward to backward. We can’t even keep up, and yet still it happens. No rewind to this tape. No turning back. Darn it, time.

I was 18 when that moment came where I would have given anything to rewind the tape. It was shortly after spring break during the last semester before I graduated high school. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I walked out of Quiznos in my hometown of Windsor, CO with a stomach full of peppercorn Caesar salad and boy troubles on my mind. In pure dramatic, high school-girl fashion (though I would never have admitted that then), I decided to go for a little drive on some of the backroads around town blaring some sappy music to pet my emotions before I went home.
I climbed into my mom’s blue Chevy Tracker and was met head-on with a wave of fragrance rolling over me. My mom, brilliant, liked to keep a candle in the cup-holder of the center console; the hot summer days would melt it and release its pleasing aroma. I think this candle was warm vanilla sugar. Sugar with a hint of peppermint. Mom always had peppermint gum. Some people associate their mom with freshly baked cookies or even breads, but for me, smelling peppermint gum, warm vanilla sugar, and her Ralph Lauren perfume, Romance, is like being hugged.
Colorado is generous with her beautiful spring days and this was one of those, so I rolled the windows down and let my hair fly. (I’m a window girl. Windows down over AC anytime, hair be damned). With John Mayer serenading me, I turned west on Main Street heading out of town toward the mountains and then turned onto County Line Road with the intent of just making a big loop on the outskirts of town. Taking the long way home. Longer than I bargained for.

Distracted by my tumult of thoughts, loud music, and the beep of an incoming text message, I glanced down for a moment, and when I looked back up, I was being swallowed by that dirt road – the other side of an intersection I should have stopped and turned left at. Impact.   The stop sign flashed by – no stopping on my part – and I collided with a man on his motorcycle. He flipped over the hood of the Tracker, and like a ragdoll thrown carelessly across a room, landed in the road, battered, broken.

Shock and initial confusion enveloped me, followed by the helpless feeling that the scrupulous control I thought I had over my life had just been rudely ripped away, and I was wildly hurtling in a direction I didn’t want to go. I opened the door and got out, took in the smashed side of Mom’s car, and falteringly made my way over to see about this man who had just entered my life in a cosmic collision of… something. Fate? Destiny? Did I even believe in stuff like that? All I knew was there was a man lying in the road, perhaps dying (I didn’t know at that moment), and it was all because of me. My carelessness. My negligence. And on top of it all, I didn’t even have a scratch or a bruise to show for it. He took the full impact of my mistake.
I hesitantly approached the man. Pain etched his face. A limb was oriented in an impossible direction. One look, and I just started to weep. What have I done? What do I do? Guilt. Fear. Fear for the man and fear of punishment… Shame.

The rest of the day was honestly a complete blur to me. Cars pulled off on the side of the road – witnesses to recount the horror and tragedy of what had just happened. Someone called 911. I went back to the car to get my jacket to pillow the man’s head. I vaguely remember calling my mom, Mom… I just got in an accident

At some point the police arrived, then the paramedics, then my mom. Questions. A check-up. Yes my body is physically fine, and it shouldn’t be. That should’ve been me instead of him! Confusion. So much confusion. Sobbing. Sobbing in Mom’s arms, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. No rewind – except for the tape in my mind replaying over and over and over.

  The rest of the day was colored by shock and disbelief. I stayed the night at my grandparent’s house, and the next morning they drove me to school despite the fact that my world had been turned upside down, inside out, and didn’t seem to make as much sense anymore. I made a go at having a normal day, but I just felt numb and had a magnified awareness of mortality like stepping out of the colorful picture of my life and walking into a grayscale story.

As I was sitting in wind ensemble, clinging to the reassuring familiarity of the keys of my saxophone under my fingertips, my school counselor and my grandparents came to pull me out of class. As we stood in the empty hallway outside of the band room, they informed me that the man I hit had died in the hospital.

  What?   As if the burden of grief, uncertainty, and turmoil had physical weight, my back hit the brick wall behind me and I slid down onto the cold tile floor beneath me, curled into a fetal position, crying. Confused. Broken. Can I wake up now?

My grandparents took me home. My mom was there (or on her way – I can hardly remember) and one of my best friends, Orrin. I do remember us all standing around the kitchen island crying and grieving together. Despite the gravity of the circumstance, I was blessed to experience what it’s like to have people not just walk with me through the trial, but to bear up under it and carry it with me. I don’t think much was said in those moments. There was some worry about what was going to happen to me, but in my mind I deserved and was willing to accept whatever consequence I faced. How can you possibly repay for a life?

  Another day passed, and a miracle happened. We found out that there had been a mistake, and that Mark (we knew his name by this time), was in critical condition but still very much alive in the hospital. A family friend had read about an accident that had similar circumstances and had been in the same area as mine, and the victim of that accident had died. Thinking this was my accident, we were misinformed. I’m not exactly sure how that even happens, but man was it a relief to know I actually hadn’t killed a person. For whatever reason, those couple of days are so hazy to me. I really remember almost nothing about that entire day I went thinking I had killed someone. I think that’s a gift.

A few weeks later, I received another gift. My step-mom, Carrie, had reached out to Mark’s wife to let them know that we were praying for him and their family. Mark responded to the email, and through his response to my step-mom, he reached out to me and offered the most precious gift. He offered me forgiveness:

  April 24, 2009 Hi Carrie. Thank you so much for emailing me and for your prayers as well as your bible study group prayers. Let me just say that your prayers are being heard and answered. Physically I’m healing much faster than all the doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists have ever imagined. I have had virtually no to little pain for all the injuries I’ve incurred. I’m allowed to take 12 pain meds a day and I’m down to taking two a day. I may not even need those two. I’m testing those waters now. I believe being pain free is literally a gift from God. Emotionally and spiritually I’m even doing better. I have cried with great joyfulness, thankfulness, and deep gratitude that God has given me a second physical life! I get to love God, love my wife, and my 4.5 year old boy – again. That is why I’m so excited to let Rachelle know she is forgiven and loved by me but most of all, by God. I didn’t know Rachelle’s name until a couple days ago but she has been on my heart for the past week or so. I am SO thankful she wasn’t hurt. I could have been a semi-truck. I remember her crying out as she sat by me in the road and asking what she should do. I felt her pain. I know she was feeling tremendous anguish and guilt. I just want her to be completely released of that guilt and any anguish she may still be dealing with. I want her to know that I hold NO resentment in my heart whatsoever towards her but only love. In fact, I feel grateful for her because of the cleansing God has done in my own heart through all of this which is FAR more important to me than what physically has happened to me and I love her for that. The last thing I want Rachelle to carry with her is any guilt over this accident for the rest of her life. I don’t want the enemy to use this in ANY way. Let God get the glory and let love and forgiveness abound. Thank you for reaching out. Sincerely and with God’s abounding love, Mark

I fell apart when I read Mark’s words. Though I didn’t fully realize it yet at that time, I had just had an encounter with the love of God. A powerful one. By his unreserved forgiveness, Mark showed me Jesus. Clear and unadulterated Jesus. The world cries for revenge and restitution, but that is completely contrary to what God teaches. In a small way, the accident is in itself a picture of Jesus going to the cross. Mark suffered greatly for my mistakes, but he freely offered love and forgiveness to me with no strings attached.

  Did you know that you are forgiven? Whatever it is. You are forgiven. Forgiven and loved. Deeply. You can’t do anything to earn it or be good enough or cleaned up enough for it, it just is. Receiving it transforms you.

A deposit of grace was planted deep within my heart through that experience. I was shown what forgiveness looks like.