Saying “Yes” to Forgiveness

The power of saying "Yes!" to forgiveness.

Gentle Reader: I confess that this took longer than five minutes to write.  I ask your indulgence and challenge you to think about how you have ever had the opportunity to say “Yes!” to forgiveness.  It’s not an easy yes.  Especially when you come from a heritage of abuse and cultural denigration. 

I have a photo from our camping trip that looks like a group of young people hugging slender tree trunks. But if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s actually two groups of strangers embracing each other in a beautiful “Yes!”

It all started when six crazy teachers hatched an idea to bring two schools together for a week of outdoor education. In Rocky Mountain National Park. Camping. With no showers. For a week. The larger group of students came from reservations in Arizona and New Mexico and attend the school where I teach—Holbrook Indian School. The smaller group of students came from the city—Tulsa, Oklahoma, to be exact.

Only God could orchestrate something beautiful out of the melting pot of hidden pain, prejudice, assumptions and insecurity represented by the 82 strangers from the two different schools.

Only God could orchestrate a beautiful symphony of forgiveness out of a melting pot of pain. Click To Tweet

One by one the Holbrook kids learned the songs and hand motions to the theme song—a song about friendship and the brotherhood of believers. They groaned a little each time the song leaders asked them to sing it—they probably felt as awkward as they looked as they stumbled through the lyrics and the motions.

For the first three days, things seemed to go fine. The students intermingled a little as they tried to overcome their shyness. They enjoyed their classes and the worship services. The Tulsa crowd provided music for the morning and evening worship services, and they brought a vibrant pastor along with them who joined in the hikes and spent time getting to know kids from both schools.

On the morning of the fourth day, some of the Holbrook students reported that some of the boys wanted to invade the Tulsa camp and start a fight (because it’s 82 strangers from two different cultures—what were we thinking?!).

Some of the Tulsa kids had made insensitive comments in the hearing of the Holbrook kids. Things like, “We’d better be careful, or they’ll come over and scalp us.” About as sensitive as a Neo-Nazi walking into a synagogue and shouting “Hiel Hitler!”

The leadership of the Tulsa school called the students back for a heart-to-heart talk about racial sensitivity and how they, as Christians, should be speaking and acting in love—especially since most of the Holbrook kids don’t come from Christian homes.

Meanwhile, the pastor held an extra long morning worship service. When he ended, we called our kids together and explained that we hadn’t started classes yet because the Tulsa leadership was so upset about the racial comments that they were keeping their kids in camp until the ones who had made the comments were ready to confess and ask forgiveness.

I looked around the group of students and said, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever poked fun of someone from another tribe or said anything bad about someone from another tribe.” Sheepish grins broke out and almost every student raised his or her hand.

“You have two choices,” I said. “We can hang around here waiting for them to confess, or we can realize that we’ve all been guilty of slinging unkind words around and we can go over to their camp and surround them with our love and forgiveness.”

Murmurs of assent rose from most of the students. One young man blurted, “I ain’t gonna forgive anyone who doesn’t ask for it. They deserve to get in trouble.”

I shot prayers heavenward. The situation had the potential to turn ugly. “The problem with grudges,” I explained, “is that the only person they hurt is the one who holds them.” I paused to pray again. “So, what do you want to do?”

“Forgive them!” a student shouted. Others chimed in with their ‘Yes’ and ‘Let’s do it!”

The principal quieted the group and turned to the Student Association president, “If you guys want to do this,” he said, “the student leaders need to lead the way.” With beautiful resolve the student leaders started walking towards the Tulsa camp. When they arrived, they stood at a respectful distance and waited quietly.

After a brief conference with a Tulsa teacher, we discovered that five or six students had confessed and were praying with the principal and pastor as they gathered their courage to ask forgiveness of the Holbrook students.

Amidst murmured prayers and sniffles and tears, the incredibly brave students from Tulsa asked forgiveness for their unkind words. With each confession the Holbrook students called out, “It’s ok!” and “We forgive you!” By the time the last student had spoken, almost everyone in the crowd had joined in the sniffles and the tears.

Our beautiful students had taken the first step of forgiveness and now they moved to surround the Tulsa students with hugs and high-fives. So while the photo looks like a group of tree-huggers gathered in the woods to save something—the story goes so much deeper.

The “Yes!” of the students from both schools opened the door for the Holy Spirit to begin an even more beautiful work. But that’s a story for another day.

What about you?  Have you ever said “Yes!” to forgiveness?  What happened as a result?


Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • What a beautiful story of forgiveness. It’s so true that when we hold a grudge we are the ones really hurting! Thanks for this great challenge and good word! Been missing this place so it’s good to be your neighbor tonight! 🙂
    Rachel Quigley recently posted…Saying ‘Yes’ Even When It’s DifficultMy Profile

    • The part that had me in tears is that I don’t think that anyone has ever asked for forgiveness from my students–and they’ve suffered so much. I’m glad that they’re starting to learn the lesson that forgiveness heals. It’s good to see you back!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Saying “Yes” to ForgivenessMy Profile

  • Anita, just about every time I read one of your posts, I have a big lump in my throat. I loved reading how God worked in the hearts of your students. How you and the other teachers shared truth in a way they could analyze and embrace. He’s working mightily through you, friend.

    Offering forgiveness before it’s asked for is humbling. That’s a lesson I still need to learn sometimes. That there’s beauty in being the first one to move toward reconciliation.

    It sounds like it was a breath-taking week for you all!
    Jeanne Takenaka recently posted…Yes: When God AsksMy Profile

    • It was an incredible week and I feel like I’ve been blessed immeasurably by saying “Yes!” to the notion of having two schools meet up for outdoor school (I’m one of the crazy six 😉 ).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Saying “Yes” to ForgivenessMy Profile

  • Tara

    Wow!! So beautiful!! This is exactly what the power of forgiveness looks like. I’m in the 15 slot this week.

  • A moving story, so needed in our time.

    On forgiveness, may I tell a story?

    In 1940, a British pilot, Geoffrey Page, was shot down into the Channel, and very badly burned. He became one of the Guinea Pigs of the famed surgeon Archibald MacIndoe, and after 24 operations was able to return to the fight.

    Page was a bitter man; he was scarred for life, and the pain of burn surgery is beyond belief. So he made a vow – he would kill one German for every operation he had to endure.

    And so he did, until, flying low over German-occupied France, he saw a soldier on a motorcycle. He curved in for the attack; and in the last second, justas Page pressed the gun button on the control grip, the soldier turned his head.

    Page related in his memoirs that the very human gesture, the last one the German made in this life, shook him to the core. He realized that he had met his worst enemy – and saw that foe every day in the mirror.

    Forgiveness, like charity, can only begin at home.
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Your Dying Spouse 52 – I Want to Live {FMF}My Profile

  • hi anita:) love this story. i’m sure the act of moving toward the students before their confession was helpful for your students even tho’ by the time they arrived, the students were ready to confess. cool how GOD arranges things that way isn’t it?

    i’m missing you on tuesdays but am in the middle of a 6 week writing series that i’m part of that is taking a lot of my writing time. (2 days a week) it isn’t conducive to sharing on tuesdays. i have 3 more weeks to go. i hope to be back soon:) one of these days i’ll be back to normal…until my 31 day series in october that is:)
    martha brady recently posted…IS YES ALWAYS THE BEST ANSWER?My Profile

  • What a sweet story of forgiveness, Anita! God is working in your for these dear souls! I’m so glad He forgives us and I’m so glad for your ministry there. Tweeted!
    Ruthie Gray recently posted…How God’s “yes” overshadows His “no”My Profile

  • What a beautiful story, Anita. (You’re a great story-teller.) Well worth taking more than 5 minutes to write! This makes some of the things I have to forgive pale in comparison.
    Betsy de Cruz recently posted…When You Want to Say Yes, but It’s HardMy Profile

  • WOW Anita! Talk about being BRAVE! Brave is taking a bunch of young men into the woods for a week that have nothing in common and living to tell about it.:) What a wonderful testimony you give today. Beautiful!
    Christy recently posted…A Giveaway; Because 12 Years Ago I Said Yes!My Profile

  • Yep, sometimes 300 seconds just doesn’t cut it when the heart is overflowing with words that must be said, Anita! And only by His grace can we walk on that forgiveness path. Only with His help can we free ourselves up from the prison we build around ourselves by refusing to go in that direction.

    But oh, what a difficult journey it can sometimes be …
    Linda Stoll recently posted…September is the New JanuaryMy Profile

    • Amen to always needing his grace to walk in forgiveness. I’m praying that the lesson their feet took them on will reverberate throughout their lives–they have so much to forgive in order to live free in Jesus.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Inspire Me Monday CrossroadsMy Profile

  • What a beautiful story. You guys took something that could have led to disaster and taught everyone so much. Thanks for sharing.
    Amanda recently posted…Dear Second BabyMy Profile

  • What a beautiful story…and what an amazing way to change the lives of these kids. Not just for a moment, but into the future as well. Because they’ll remember those moments when crucial decisions were made.
    Jen Daugherty recently posted…Staying is the New Going {and an Announcement}My Profile

  • This is so gorgeous. Incredible. Those kids will NEVER forget that moment. I pray that the steps they took toward each other will propel them down the road of reconciliation. Of seeing each other as people with so much in common. How good and wonderful it is when God draws people together!
    Marie recently posted…Five Minute Friday: YesMy Profile

    • Amen! Only God could orchestrate the circumstances–I’m just so glad that all the people that he needed were willing to show up and play their part!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Inspire Me Monday CrossroadsMy Profile

  • Oh Anita, this is so moving and convicting. God is using you and Pedro in a mighty way.
    Susan Shipe recently posted…five minute friday: yes!My Profile

  • That is a beautiful story; I’m sure one neither group of students will ever forget.
    Jenny recently posted…The Littlest Way: Kitchen Sink MissionariesMy Profile

  • Forgiveness is the hardest “yes.”
    Glad you took the extra time to write this!
    Michele Morin recently posted…J.I. Packer: Strategies for LivingMy Profile

  • See, this is good stuff! The kind of stuff you wish you didn’t ever have to face, but nonetheless, crazy…scary…real… good… stuff. I admire the bravery (and wisdom) you showed there/here.
    Tondra Denise recently posted…A Living “Yes” in a “No” WorldMy Profile

  • What a beautiful story, Anita. And a beautiful yes! As I sit with the tears streaming down my face, I’m ever more convinced that saying yes to forgiveness opens the door to healing. Thanks for sharing this story, friend.
    Holly Barrett recently posted…ConvincedMy Profile

    • Amen! The healing journey has begun. It won’t be easy, but the road barriers have been broken. Have you ever read “The Hidden Half of the Gospel”? I’m halfway through it and it’s life-changing.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Inspire Me Monday CrossroadsMy Profile

  • I’ll remember this day forever–and I know so many of our students will, too. They had a post-trip essay exam to write, and many–if not all–of them wrote about forgiveness and how it impacted their lives. An unforgettable moment of an unforgettable, amazing trip. God was among us!
    Laura recently posted…Five Tips On Getting Things DoneMy Profile

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