How Forgiveness Changes Lives
| by Carol Best firstname.lastname@example.org
Accidents change lives forever—sometimes for the better. Read how grace and forgiveness brought healing to two families.
Two years ago, Kevin Garber (’89), director of alumni relations, was driving home from work at MNU late one summer night, when to his left he saw a bright flash of light and then blackness. Becoming aware of his surroundings again, he realized he was upside down in his SUV, hanging by his seatbelt. Not sure what had happened or where he was, he reached down to release the seatbelt, falling hard on his neck. Eventually crawling from the vehicle, he collapsed in the dark. Later as emergency responders tended to him, he would realize he was lying in a ditch and he gathered from the conversation around him that another driver had broadsided his vehicle.
“People were telling me not to move,” Kevin says. “I was stunned, deep in a ditch and all I could feel was pain. The paramedics were talking about the guy who hit me, but I never saw him.”
Kevin sustained serious injuries to his neck and back. His T-12 vertebrae was broken. Luckily, he was not paralyzed. He had to spend 8 weeks of the summer in a hot, uncomfortable back brace. But he was grateful that his injuries were not worse.
Why Did It Happen?
During his recovery, he began to wonder about the person who hit him. Curious about what happened, he did some research. It turns out the ‘guy who hit him’ was a 23-year-old K-State grad from rural Kansas. He was an athlete and, in Kevin’s words, “pretty much a regular guy.”
Through the legal system, Kevin learned that the young man had been taken to jail after the accident and had been driving under the influence. It was his first offense. Kevin decided to go to some of the court hearings, to learn more about the man.
“I didn’t feel angry or vindictive,” Kevin says. “I wanted to know his story and how he ended up in the predicament which caused the accident in the first place.”
The Legal System
Though in legal terms Kevin was the victim and the man who hit him was the perpetrator, Kevin didn’t feel that way. He was asked to write a victim impact statement for the prosecutor to present at the man’s sentencing. While Kevin pondered what he would write, he kept thinking this one thing.
“Our paths crossed that night, literally and figuratively and there had to be a reason,” Kevin says. “For me, it had to be a positive one.”
So, in his letter, Kevin told the prosecutor that he didn’t want this accident to ruin the young man’s life. He wanted the experience to somehow affect the man in a positive way. He asked that the sentence include community service. And surprisingly, Kevin said he wanted to complete some of the community service with the man, whose name he learned, was Jordan. It was very emotional in the courtroom as Kevin read his statement.
“I looked at him directly and told him I wasn’t angry,” Kevin explained. “I said wanted to take him to lunch and have us tell our stories. And that one day, when Jordan is older and a dad and I am older and a grandpa, I want us to tell our kids this story of forgiveness, not hate.”
Thanks to Kevin’s involvement, Jordan’s felony sentence included just one week in jail, one year of probation and 100 hours of community service, among other provisions.
Second Chances Do Happen
In the year since then, Jordan and Kevin have not only gotten to know each other, but their families have met and a friendship has been forged.
“Jordan is no longer just ‘the guy who hit me,’” Kevin says. “Now he’s my friend, Jordan.”
As it turns out, the night of their accident, Jordan had taken prescription opioids that he had begun abusing due to a shoulder injury that wasn’t healing.
“I hit rock bottom that night in jail,” Jordan says. “I realized I was self-medicating. That was the last time I took any drugs.”
While he characterizes the time since the accident as “super tough,” he also knows his situation could have been much worse.
“I was prepared to spend a lot of time in jail,” Jordan says. “Then I met Kevin and he changed my life. I’m a much better person than I used to be. I try to be more like Kevin now, slow to anger. I never met anyone like that before. It still amazes me.”
Kevin says he’s a different person now too.
“Being in a near-death experience, I realized God’s not done with me and I look at life differently,” he says. “We are just two guys with a story, going through life together. I hope we continue this friendship.”
Recently Kevin shared his story in a Chapel gathering at MNU. After telling what happened to him, Kevin introduced Jordan to the crowd of students and they erupted in applause. Not only was the story compelling, but both Jordan and Kevin had important takeaways for the students.
“I never used to believe that everything happens for a reason,” Jordan told the students. “But now I do. I’m just glad I met Kevin. I was self-medicating and that was wrong. My advice is, ‘think about your actions.’ I have a whole different mindset now.”
Kevin adds that we all have a unique story and how we respond can make a lifetime difference.
“Whatever life brings you, find someone to build a relationship with and share Christ with them,” he advised.