Anthony Thompson and Mary DeMuth tell their devastating stories that require heroic--ongoing--forgiveness.
About the Guest
- FamilyLife articles on forgiveness: https://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/marriage/staying-married/forgiveness/
- Listen to the entire episode with Anthony Thompson on Unfavorable Odds™ with Kim Anthony. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/unfavorable-odds/9-called-to-forgive/
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Anthony Thompson and Mary DeMuth tell their devastating stories that require heroic–ongoing–forgiveness.
Michelle: When Reverend Anthony Thompson’s wife, Myra, was killed by white supremacist, Dylann Roof, he was forced to make a choice that every Christian needs to face—to forgive or not to forgive. Here’s Reverend Thompson.
Anthony: When we forgive, you’re allowing God to be the judge/not yourself. Only God can judge somebody’s heart. This is why you have to look at that person—well, first of all, you look at yourself—you look at yourself and who you are in the eyes of the Lord. In the eyes of God, we are what?—all sinners. You know, we may have committed different sins, but we’re all sinners.
That’s what I looked at when I saw Dylann. You know, I saw him as a sinner in God’s eyes, and I saw myself as a sinner in God’s eyes. If God forgave me, why can’t I forgive Dylann?
Michelle: Today, we’re going to talk about forgiveness—not just every day sort of garden-variety forgiveness—but forgiveness in those hard places/really hard places on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, I’ve been contemplating forgiveness lately. There’s someone in my life who has been, well, rubbing me the wrong way; and there’s been a lot of hurt.
Keith [sound engineer]: I’m sorry, Michelle.
Michelle: Thanks, Keith. Yes, I didn’t want to share; but it was you. There’s been a lot—you know it’s not him; right?—there’s been a lot of hurt, and that hurt can fester. Interestingly enough, while I’ve been walking this season, I’ve been also reading through the Old Testament. I’ve been watching God forgive the Israelites over, and over, and over, and over. Do you get the idea?—it’s over and over and over—like continually/like all the time. Boy, were they some ungrateful people and forgetful people; they kept forgetting God! Yet He continued to forgive them.
You know, for God, forgiveness is just who He is!—it’s part of His character. But to human beings, like you and me, forgiveness is a process. At times, it’s a chore; but it’s always freeing. I want to explore this forgiveness today, mostly because I need some encouragement; and I thought, “Well, maybe you do too.”
You know, as I said a second ago, forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t always seem like it’s the natural thing to do, but it is something that God commands us to do. When God says, “Forgive,” well, we need to forgive. That seems so easy; right?
Well, for Pastor Anthony Thompson, he was faced with forgiveness during the most pivotal time of his life. Pastor Thompson talked with Kim Anthony on her podcast, Unfavorable Odds, that’s on the FamilyLife® Podcast Network. Pastor Thompson shared about a day that changed his life—a day that was marked by incredible loss. Here’s Kim’s conversation with Pastor Anthony Thompson.
[Previous Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: I want to start with the events of June 17, 2015. Your wife, Myra, was excited about some things that were going on in her life.
Anthony: Yes; well, we were having a good day. She was very excited; she had this great big smile—I mean, just blooming with joy. Normally, we would walk each other to the door: say goodbye, give a kiss, and “Love you.”
That particular day, for some reason, I couldn’t get to the door. She told me to meet her outside at the car; because the rule is: “You don’t leave the house until we say goodbye, hug, kiss,”—the whole nine yards; but it never happened that day. That evening, when I came home, I received a phone call from Emanuel Church, saying that there was some shooting going on around the church.
I dropped the phone, and I just got in my car. I got to Emanuel in about five minutes, because we live in the downtown area. However, one of the police officers explained to me that they took everybody out of the church and took them to the hotel, which was adjacent to the church. I ran to the hotel, trying to find her. When I got there, I saw Sister Polly Sheppard; she was one of the survivors. I saw Felicia Sanders, another survivor, and her grandchild, another survivor. Felicia just looked at me and she said, “Anthony, Myra’s gone.”
Of course, I didn’t accept it right away. I ran toward the church. I got to the gate, and I was about/maybe five feet away from the door, where the police officers were back and forth/back and forth. Somebody snatched me. It took five people to hold me down, because I was determined to get in that church. I just kept explaining to them that my wife was in there, and I needed to get in there.
I asked a lot of questions. Nobody was able to give me any answers. I was an agent for 27 years. I already knew, not getting any answers, that she was dead. I just fell down on the ground; I just started crying. You know, I just wallowed; I just lost control. “Oh, boy,”—I just kept saying—“I don’t know what to do.”
Then I heard a voice say, “Get up!”—I thought maybe one of the first responders. I heard it a second time, so I looked around—still didn’t see anybody. Third time, I knew who it was; it was God. He was telling me, “Get up!” I got up, and He’s telling me to remember the sermons I used to have in my congregation about when you lose a loved one—your wife, or your husband, or your child—and you love them more than you love God, then what are you going to do?
Anthony: I’m like, “Not tonight.” I really didn’t want to hear anything He had to say, but He just kept coming at me. He gave me a Scripture: Saint Luke, the 17th chapter. The Scripture said that things will happen in life/people will do things in life to cause you to stumble. Woe to the one who causes you to stumble. He would rather have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the sea than to bother one of God’s people.
I’m trying to figure out what that’s about. Then, in the next verse, it says, “Forgive.” No matter how many times somebody does something to you, you forgive them. I was still trying to figure out, “What does that have to do with me?”; because at that time, I had no idea who the killer was; I didn’t know his name.
Anthony: I didn’t even care about who it was, because all my thoughts were about Myra.
Kim: Right; you are telling me—I want to make sure I understand this correctly—you’re telling me that you’re outside of the church when God is speaking to you about forgiving, and you don’t even know the full picture.
Kim: You don’t have the full picture; but yet, God, in His love for you, reaches down and prepares you for what you are about to find out; and He tells you to forgive?
Anthony: Yes; “Forgive”; and I’m trying to figure out, “Why? Who do I have to forgive?” You know, I really didn’t want to hear what He had to say that night; but I took the Scripture, and I read it, and I examined it. I preached it that Sunday, you know?
Before I preached that sermon on Sunday, 48 hours after the tragedy, we had to go to a bond hearing. Of course, I was not going. My daughter and son came to me and said, “Father, they’re having a bond hearing, and you’re not so sure.” They said, “Well, we’re getting ready to go.” I said, “Good, because I’m not going.”
Anthony: My daughter came to me and said, “Well, Father, if you don’t go, I may have to go without you.” I’m like, “Oh, boy.” You know, she’s my baby girl; I wanted to be there for them. I knew—so I got up, and I went. I told them—on the way to the bond hearing—I was very adamant about them keeping their mouths closed. I said, “I don’t want you to say anything. We’re not going to be there very long. We’re going to be there for a short time.”
We went; sat down. I was looking at my watch, because I was ready to go! First person to speak was Nadine, whose mother was one of the victims, Ethel Lance. She told Dylann, “I forgive you. The Lord have mercy on your soul.” I was like, “You know, that’s enough.” I looked at my kids and said, “Let’s go.”
Again, the Lord said, “Get up; I have something to say.” I got up; and on my way to the podium, I’m talking to Him, saying, “Well, You better tell me what You have to say, because I don’t have anything to say.” All I can remember is saying, “Son, I forgive you. My family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Confess and repent. Give your life to the One it means the most to, Christ. He can change your life; He can change your attitude; He can change your ways. You are in a lot of trouble right now; but if you do that, everything else will be okay.”
As soon as I said that—I mean, immediately—I mean, my body was trembling. It was just like only Dylann and I were in the room; nobody else was there. All I can remember is hate and anger—everything that I was feeling, you know, because I was a little upset—I had this peace. I mean, I was so peaceful; He just took it all away—
Kim: —in that moment?
Anthony: —in that moment! That peace that passes all understanding in Christ Jesus—
Anthony: —is real!
Kim: It’s real.
Anthony: I mean, it’s real. I preached that sermon—I don’t know how many times—I preached about forgiveness I don’t know how many times. I thought we had it, but we didn’t have it. But I had it that day; I know what it feels like. I mean, I felt it; and I still have it today; I still feel it today.
That peace enables me to move forward in my life; it enables my children to move forward. It enabled the Charleston community to move forward. You know, just the act of forgiveness—it brought our city together.
Michelle: Can you imagine that anguish for Pastor Anthony Thompson? You know, he was married to Myra, had children with her; it was this typical family. There was love, and joy, and happiness. Of course, there were some struggles; there were spites—you know, there always is—but in the blink of an eye, it all changed. Pastor Thompson had to make a choice to forgive or not to forgive.
You know, we need to take a break; but when we come back, we’re going to hear someone else’s story of forgiveness. Then we’re going to hear more from Pastor Thompson on how to forgive/what that looks like. I’ll be back in two minutes with more on forgiveness.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Anthony: I mean, we all have done things wrong. Even with my wife—I’m not angry with him; you know? I thank God we have a God, because she’s okay. She’s not with me; oh, yes; I’ll miss her! But I would never want her to come back here; you know? I’ll just wait until my turn comes.
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, it’s not every day that your lifelong partner is killed, and you are faced with the future of extreme loss. Sometimes that loss isn’t as monumental as Pastor Anthony Thompson’s loss, but maybe you’re dealing with pain and loss that seems just as consuming. Maybe it’s pain from childhood—pain from parents who didn’t parent/pain because they didn’t protect you from the outside world.
That’s the story from Mary DeMuth. Mary is an author, speaker, podcaster, and artist; but before she was all of that, she was a little girl/a little girl carrying a big burden. Here’s Mary DeMuth, talking with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine. By the way, what Mary has to say is disturbing. For some of you, it might trigger some memories; it might trigger some hurt and pain, so please make sure to listen with extreme discernment.
[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]
Mary: I grew up in a home that was very unsafe. There was a lot of substance abuse going on at that time. I just never felt protected. I was an only child, so I felt incredibly lonely. I think, maybe, if I'd had some siblings, things would have been a little bit different.
When I was five, things got really bad. I had been removed from the home for a while, and then I went back into the home; and it was just a chaotic environment. And during that year, I would go to a babysitter's house. During that time, the babysitter would allow these certain boys to come over and play; and they molested me for a year.
It took me a really long time to be able to tell the babysitter that these things were happening to me. It took everything within me; because God, even at that point, had seared this white-hot conscience into my heart. I knew that the word that they were using to describe what they were doing was a swear word. I was so afraid of saying that swear word, so it took me a while to share with the babysitter what was going on.
When I finally whispered the swear word in her ear, she said, "I will tell your mother"; and then it continued; she [babysitter] allowed it to continue. Later, of course, I found out, obviously to the credit of my mother, that the babysitter never told my mom that those things were going on. But even in that time, I was acting out—and I was having all those symptoms of a child, who was being sexually abused—but because things were so chaotic in my home, nobody knew.
And then, when I was ten years old, my father died; and my mom had been divorced twice by then. He was my real father, and I would see him on weekends once in a while; but there is something about—and I think other listeners, who have had parents die when they're young—there's something about having your dad die when you are ten years old, that just makes you always think you are always going to die. I just grew up with this feeling of—I didn't really know about Jesus; I didn't know about heaven; I didn't know about hell—but I was petrified of dying.
That was kind of a controlling metaphor of my life for all that period of time, just this little girl, who was afraid, lonely, and shaking. Sometimes, I would cry at night about my father dying; and my mom, who was having her own struggles at the time, would just say, "Don't cry anymore; you should be over it.” It was just a really lonely upbringing.
After I became a Christian, I just thought—first of all, I'm freaked out and scared—“I just don't want to do this; I'm afraid!” But the biggest fear was, “Will I duplicate this? Will I end up being what my parents were?—that my broken parents were?”
Dennis: One of the things you have to do is heal your heart; and that, for you, was the beginning step. You had to go forgive your parents.
Dennis: How in the world did that happen?—I mean, I'm just thinking back to all that had happened—that was a big step for you; wasn't it?’
Mary: It was a huge step, and it was work that I had started right after I became a Christian. I had a good youth pastor, who said—first of all—he said, “You’re under your mother’s authority, and you need to ask her where she wants you to go to college.” That was very difficult for me, because I just wanted to go to Bible college. I didn’t want to go to a secular university at all.
I chose to obey the youth pastor, in a sense—and I think, also, the Lord—because the Lord really worked through that situation. I just said, “Mom, where do you want me to go to college?” My mom told me; and she gave me two choices, and I went there. Right after that was when I started to communicate with her that I forgave her. I did it in several different ways—verbally and through writing—but there was never really a response to that. I still haven’t really received a response to that, but it doesn’t matter; because Jesus wanted me to do it, so I just did it.
Bob: I want you to explain what forgiveness looks and feels like in this situation; because I'm thinking there are folks, who are saying, "Okay, I've tried to express forgiveness,"—but they're still in an estranged relationship, and they're going—"Is this forgiveness? Have I done it?" You know what I mean?
Mary: I really know what you mean, because I struggled with that. In my mind, for a long period of time, I thought, "Why aren't we reconciled?" I equated reconciliation with forgiveness. Scripture says, "So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men," in Romans.
Mary: I finally got to that point, where I realized, “I can forgive, but that does not mean that we're going to be in relationship with each other.” That is a two-way street. I can walk 100 miles this way toward my parents; but if they never take a step toward me, that is not an indication of whether or not I've forgiven them.
Bob: If your mom called you today and said—"Mary, why don't you come spend a couple of days here?" or "I'd love to come to France and spend a week with your family,"—does forgiveness mean you say, “Okay”?—or does it mean you keep some boundaries there? What do you do?
Mary: That is a great question. I keep boundaries; because I have—there was a period of time in my 20s, where I thought that to love my mom and for her to come to Jesus, I had to be ultimately vulnerable before her, and share every pain and every hurt.
Dennis: Yes, yes.
Mary: And I threw my heart out there; I did not guard my heart at all. I thought, "To be this Jesus-follower, and to have my mom come to Christ, I've just got to be open/honest"; and it did not work. I have learned, and matured, and gotten wiser in my older years. I have put some boundaries around my heart, so I'm very limited in the contact I have with her.
That road of forgiveness that we walk on is a long road. I am still peeling away the layers of the onion of my childhood. Every time I peel another layer away, I weep; and then I have to forgive afresh. It was a difficult journey, and I'm still on it today.
Michelle: That’s Mary DeMuth, sharing her story of forgiveness with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine from several years ago.
You know, today, we’ve heard two really moving stories and two very different stories. Anthony and Mary both had to walk through the deep waters of forgiveness. Maybe you’re walking through those deep waters right now. You’re on a journey; that journey is painful, and you don’t want to forgive! Maybe there’s a part of you knowing you have to;because after all, that’s what God commands. But how do you even start that process? Many times, I ask that same question.
Here’s Kim Anthony and Pastor Anthony Thompson, talking once again on forgiveness.
[Previous Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: I did not grow up learning about forgiveness; it was always payback. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ that I learned about biblical forgiveness.
Kim: Will you explain what biblical forgiveness is? What do you say to that person, who wants to forgive, but they’re having a really hard time doing so? How do they go about forgiving?
Anthony: Okay; when we forgive, it means you’re allowing God to be the judge, not yourself; because only God can judge somebody’s heart. This is why you have to look at that person—well, first of all, you look at yourself—you look at yourself and who you are in the eyes of the Lord. In the eyes of God, we’re what?—all sinners. We may have committed different sins, but we’re all sinners.
That’s what I looked at when I saw Dylann. You know, I saw him as a sinner in God’s eyes, and I saw myself as a sinner in God’s eyes. If God forgave me, why can’t I forgive Dylann? That’s biblical forgiveness.
You know, 1 John says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But He also says if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, then He can’t forgive you yours—so there it is. I tell people, who can’t forgive—you know, just like you were at that point; and I was at that point, years ago, myself/many years ago—first of all, you’ve got to give your life to Christ. He’s the One who died on the cross to save you from your sins.
That’s another thing a lot of people don’t want to do. Some people don’t believe in God; but you have to believe in Him to get this forgiveness, because you can’t forgive yourself. Christ died on the cross; He saved you from your sins, so you’ve got to go to Him. You’ve got to go to Him, ask Him to forgive you. Then you have to ask Him to help you to forgive the person you can’t forgive, because you’re not going to be able to do it on your own.
Anthony: I didn’t do it on my own; He intervened. I had no power! He set me up, so to speak.
Kim: When we choose not to forgive the people who have offended us, we think that we’re harming them in some way—we’re getting the payback—but the truth is we are allowing them to control us from afar.
Anthony: Yes, yes.
Kim: And as you said, so many people are stuck in that place of unforgiveness.
Anthony: They are. They are, and that’s one thing they don’t realize. I’m glad that God freed me; because I did not want Dylann to have control of my life, nor my children’s life, nor this community. You reap what you sow—the Bible says that—you cannot overcome evil with evil. It says you have to overcome evil with good; because whatever you do, you’re going to get it back. And you’re going to be stuck; you’re going to be stuck in misery until you do it [forgive].
Michelle: That is Pastor Anthony Thompson, having a conversation on forgiveness with Kim Anthony, from her podcast, Unfavorable Odds, which is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network. You know, that entire story—Anthony’s story—there are many twists and turns; it was a difficult journey for him. I just encourage you to go listen to that entire interview with Kim Anthony. Go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that’s FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Hey, I want to leave you with this verse—it’s from Isaiah 61—and I’m going to take this from the King James Version: “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness”—or in other versions, it’s “oaks of righteousness”—“the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
“Beauty from ashes”; you know, if you’re walking through something heavy right now, cry out to God. Plead with Him to give you “beauty for ashes,” and relieve your heavy spirit and turn it into praise. After all, it was God who sent His Son; that’s the ultimate act of forgiveness that happened on the cross for you and for me. Christ set us free—free from our sins and free to forgive others for their sins that affect us. We have more information and resources on forgiveness at our website; go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Hey, next week, we’re going to hear from Christian music recording artist, Ginny Owens. She’s going to share about what life was like for her parents, raising a blind and fearless daughter. And we’re going to hear from a few other parents of special needs children as they share the joys and also the challenges. I hope you can join us for that.
Thanks for listening. I want to thank the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
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