Perched on a typical Tuscan hillside not far from Florence, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, Poggia Ubertini is a villa donated many moons ago as a Christian retreat center. On OM Italy's recommendation, we used their facilities for our Week 6 field trip to Florence. On the program: a week of teaching, creative assignments, cultural exploration in the birthplace of the Renaissance (we were not far from Da Vinci's birthplace), and a little break from the confinement of Forterocca and Bobbio.
Our week's theme was forgiveness; Bill Drake and I were tag-team-teaching, and would be sharing personal testimonies of forgiveness
issues in our lives. Making it real. At some point, Dorena slipped in,
and sat on the floor in the back.
As Bill began, sharing his very powerful testimony of forgiving his stepfather for abuse, we noticed her in the large auditorium. We were in a fairly remote location; people wouldn't just drop by. Nor would they enter another group's event. Who was she? By the end of Bill's story, she was weeping, and slipped out at the break.
When she returned, one of our staff approached her and discovered she was the wife of the caretaker (an American raised in Italy). Dorena herself was Rumania-born, but American; she understood completely our presentations. They let me know as I got up to speak. Dorena returned and took her spot on the floor.
I felt strongly that we needed to have some kind of response time--to give people a chance to deal with their own hearts. Making it real. I grabbed Bill's ear and he agreed. We decided to do so at the end of my testimony, rather than sending the students on the prayer exercise we had planned.
Break over. Game on. I began the power point to lay out a few principles of forgiveness, and then closed my laptop. Time to share how God had led me through a forgiveness journey that began with a car accident and ended 12 years later with healing from 'permanent' injuries sustained. The key was not meds, physical therapy, chiropractic, anointing with oil by church elders, or the many prayers for healing I received. The key that unlocked my healing came as I recognized I had some forgiveness issues to work through.
Tears were now flowing freely down Dorena's face. I invited Bill and Shannon (on our spiritual formation team) up to join me, and we invited students and everyone else to come forward for prayer to work through any forgiveness issues they were grappling with, or at least commit to beginning the process.
Awkward silence. Clock ticking. Crickets chirping...
One of our brave colleagues, a guest who had just arrived that week, rose and came forward. And Dorena made a beeline for me.
"I had a car accident too..." she began. In her own words, "When I got home from the car crash, my mother was so angry with me for having wrecked the car. My sister said to her, "How can you be mad? You could be planning a funeral right now!” And my mother blurted out, "Well it would have been better.' Those words were so much more painful than the physical pain I was going through."
Thankfully, Dorena was ready to forgive and prayed with us. Her tormented face relaxed into joy, and the tears flowing became tears of laughter. How simple to forgive, really, and yet...sometimes it takes a car accident to get it.
The rest of our time there, Dorena was a smiling, hospitable presence, who never failed to hug me when our paths crossed. She remained in awe at the change in herself, and I remain in awe at the astonishment of forgiveness.