Seventy Times Seven
No one should ever have to write this story, and I’m not really eager to tell it. You see, this is the story of how a friend we loved and trusted devastated our entire family. And it is also the story of how the Lord redeemed the situation in my life and taught me about the power of forgiveness.
When Carl (not his real name) first proposed a small business deal, we were quite cautious. This young man was quite likable. My husband, Hank, was excellent at business ventures, and Carl was also very savvy in his ability to see a deal and make it happen. Over many years and by taking due precautions, we enjoyed successful partnerships with him on various small business investments. We carefully employed common business sense and plenty of prayer before each investment, and every venture led us to build further trust in each other.
The financial trust we built was intensified by the emotional bonds that were being formed over many years of friendship between our families. We grew to really love this Jewish family. We worked on each other’s home projects; we traveled together with our daughters who were on the same gymnastic team, and our young sons happily played together in the woods, swimming and doing the things boys love to do. Together over countless dinners, we spent much time dreaming and laughing. For years we had been carefully planning a real estate deal that should have yielded us 2.7 million dollars plus $30,000 monthly income with annual increases.
We had learned to trust Carl like family. He knew our every move. And eventually, he used that knowledge for his own gain and our loss. The details of the fraud were so difficult to believe. Even today, I wonder if he had gotten involved in gambling. But somehow he contrived a fraudulent scheme to take advantage of us, and then he began to lie to us and about us to cover it up.
By this time, Carl had access to our financial profile including our savings, credit cards, retirement plan, checking accounts, investments, insurance policies and used that information for his own gain. Before we even had a suspicion of what he was doing, he destroyed our financial profile. He had also involved some banks in the fraud who assured us that they would pursue him legally. Our attorney gave us simple advice: “Let the banks pursue him. At this point, you just need to survive!” I thought our attorney was just being dramatic.
Maybe the Lord was allowing us to go through a test. I had no idea what kind of test, but I figured forgiveness was probably part of it. I had been making regular pilgrimages to Toronto and was aware of John Arnott’s teaching entitled, The Importance of Forgiveness, so I quickly forgave Carl for what he had done to me and encouraged my family to do the same.
BAD TURNS TO WORSE
Overnight there was no income. The business folded, but months went by before we realized the full scope of the devastation. The investment was a dead end, but I expected to at least walk away with what we started with. I trusted that the attorneys and bankers would straighten this out and that we would once again have access to our money.
We spent the first months in shock, but we were oblivious to what life was about to become.
We were living in a large home on five beautiful acres in prestigious Barrington Hills just outside of Chicago. At first, I found it a gratifying challenge to spread the meals out. I knew that whatever food was in the house was what we had to live on for a few weeks. Eventually Hank and I began to fast on water, and I had to ration the children’s food supply, which was especially difficult as they are athletes and hearty eaters. How painful it was to hear my children scolding each other, “Why did you eat all of that? We could have saved it for tomorrow!” I had to forgive Carl, again.
At Christmas, the kids brought home a letter from school asking for each family to donate food for the poor. They begged me to give the cans of pork and beans to the poor. I remember really struggling to give them away, although we had all grown to dislike them. I finally did put them in a bag and added packages of pasta and rice. Even though we were needy, I wanted to keep a giving spirit. That was when I really understood “give us this day our daily bread.” I knew that if He didn’t provide, we would not eat. We still laugh when we remember getting a phone call from the school asking us to pick up groceries that the school children had collected for a needy family. We were the needy family!
We got back everything we gave, plus so much more-even the pork and beans we hated! In addition, the teachers heard about our situation and presented 15 presents for each of us and grocery store gift certificates. A few weeks later, a group of Christians who did not know our situation, rang our bell and delivered 4 car loads of groceries. They then said, “We don’t know why God would want us to bring food to someone in Barrington, but here you are.”
Because the banks were aware that we had been victims, they graciously put our foreclosure papers at the bottom of the pile, month after month. And so we continued to live in this beautiful home that we could no longer afford. Eventually, I had to lay down my pride, and I went to the local churches in our area to ask for immediate help. This was very difficult and I had to forgive Carl, again. But the churches only helped people in their own congregations.
One day, after meeting a friend for lunch, she handed me a check for $400 and stated that she felt the Lord told her to give it to us. Only the Lord knew that we needed just that amount to keep the utilities going while we tried to sell the house. However, the time came when we could no longer pay our utility bills, and the electricity and heat were shut off that winter. I had to forgive Carl, again.
We made a game out of getting firewood from the woods, and we used this wood to keep warm and for light in the evenings as we all slept around the large fireplace. We also lost our electric well and septic. We even learned how to let buckets and buckets of snow melt to flush our toilets, but eventually, we lost the house. I had to forgive Carl, again.
GOD’S GRACIOUS PROVISION
One spring weekend, Jeremy Sinnott was in Chicago speaking at a HUB meeting. I had told the Lord earlier that day, “Even the birds have somewhere to put their babies, but where will I put my children when we lose this house?” That night, Jeremy announced our desperate situation at the meeting.
By Monday, strangers from all over the country had sent us checks or loans to help us get back on our feet.
One woman sent a check with a note stating she had sold her car and would take the train for her transportation. Another elderly retired couple cashed in their life insurance policy to give us a loan. A young couple, who were saving for their own home, loaned us their savings. Another couple gave us money out of their retirement fund. Many checks came in with notes of prayer and encouragement. Three different properties were offered to us as gifts, and two families offered to let us live with them!
Our girls love gymnastics and each has won many state championships. But their training was beyond anything we could now afford. Their dreams and ours were over it seemed. I had to forgive Carl, again. Soon after, Leonard Isaacs, one of America’s most accomplished coaches, stepped in and said he would coach them free of charge. We were living a life of extremes. What Carl did should have devastated us, but through it we began to see God’s intervention of blessing. It was as if He was intent on us learning that He is our provider for everything. But he also wanted us to learn to keep the flow of blessing moving by being careful to forgive Carl.
THE REVELATION OF HIS FORGIVENESS
Then I was diagnosed with cancer. I had gone to Toronto hoping the Lord would heal me, but it didn’t happen. Surgery left my face scarred and quite disfigured with a purplish wormlike scar from the corner of my left eye to my cheekbone and about one-fifth of my left nostril gone.
While on the floor at TACF not long after the surgery, the Lord asked me to forgive Carl. I was quite surprised because I knew I had frequently forgiven Carl. I said, “Lord, you know I have forgiven him.” The Lord answered, “Yes, you have forgiven him for what he has done to you, but now I want you to forgive him for what he has done to your husband and your kids.”
Much to my surprise, I answered emphatically, “Forgiving Carl for what he did to me is one thing, but forgiving him for what he did to my family. NEVER!” I had no idea that was even in my heart or that I was harboring resentment toward Carl for the hurt he had caused my family. But the Lord knows the secrets of our hearts, even the ones we’ve hidden from ourselves.
The Lord continued, “Why are you so angry at him? What did Carl do that was so bad?” One by one, I angrily began to list Carl’s sins.
“That jerk cheated us! He lied to us! He deceived us! We are paying the consequences, and he doesn’t even care! He hurt the ones I love! He stole from us!” When I finally finished enumerating the long list, there was silence from the Lord. I felt somewhat vindicated and satisfied.
And suddenly, quite softly and quietly the Lord spoke to me. “Nancy, I just want you to know that for every time you’ve cheated someone, I forgave you. And every time you told a lie, I forgave you. And every time you deceived someone, I forgave you. And even though I paid the consequences for your sins, and you didn’t even care, I forgave you. And every time you hurt the ones I love, I forgave you. And every time you stole, I forgave you.”
For each sin that I held against Carl, I realized that I was just as guilty of the same sins, and that the Lord had forgiven me. Who was I that I would hold Carl’s sins against him when I had been so freely forgiven? Long before I even wanted forgiveness, Jesus had taken my punishment, and the thought of it overwhelmed me as I lay on the floor weeping in appreciation of such amazing love.
Forgiving Carl seemed like nothing compared to what I have been forgiven.
I got up from the floor knowing that the Lord had visited me with grace to forgive Carl, to really forgive him, the way I had been forgiven: completely and fully. I also got up from the floor with another bonus. When I looked in the mirror, I saw that the Lord had healed the physical scars from the surgery, and my nose had been completely restored. Sometimes I still find myself needing to continue to forgive Carl. He seemed to escape this fiasco with a slap on the hands, and now lives in a mansion on a lake while we still struggle financially. Our credit rating is still in shambles.
I’ve learned that for some things especially the deepest hurts, we need to stay current in our forgiveness, even today, still forgiving over and over and over. I’ve also learned to trust the Lord to let me know when there is hidden unforgiveness. If we ask Him to keep us pure before Him, God graciously lets us know when it is time to do business. When I think of the glory of God’s provision that we have known, when I remember how I have been forgiven, then forgiving Carl comes just a little bit easier.