Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Donald Eubank
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii
From Sept. 16 through October, Jewish people around the world will be observing the holiest days of their faith: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur means “day of atonement” or “day to forgive” and refers to the belief that through personal repentance, God covers and forgives the sins of his people.
This season of the Jewish year is an important reminder for each of us about the importance of forgiveness in our lives, including reconciliation with God and one another.
Matthew West’s song “Forgiveness” has become one of the top hits for 2012. West wrote the song after receiving a letter written by Renee Napier.
Napier’s daughter Meagan and Meagan’s best friend, Lisa Jo Dickson, were killed by Eric Smallridge, a drunken driver, in a car accident.
Smallridge, who was 24 years old at the time, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two 11-year consecutive terms (22 years) in prison.
After Meagan and Lisa’s death, Napier made it her life’s mission to prevent more unnecessary deaths, like Meagan’s, by founding the Meagan Napier Foundation for driving under the influence awareness. Since 2002, Napier has organized events, speaking about the dangers of driving under the influence moving thousands of people with her story.
But, as Napier told songwriter Matthew West, she kept feeling like something was missing from her presentations.
“I knew from the beginning that, if I could have Eric with me in my campaign to stop drunk drivers, it would be very powerful,” Napier said.
She lobbied the court to have Smallridge join her in her presentations. Since 2010, the two have formed the unlikeliest of partnerships as they rally around a common cause, with Eric Smallridge escorted by a prison guard and speaking in his prison jumpsuit and shackles.
Over the months, compassion and forgiveness have filled her heart, as Renee Napier has listened to Eric Smallridge repeatedly tell his story — genuinely sorrowful and pleading youths to “not make the mistake I made.”
Last year the Napier and Dickson families appealed the court to reduce Smallridge’s sentence by allowing the two 11-year terms to be simultaneous, instead of consecutive.
The court agreed. Eric Smallridge will be released in November 2012, 11 years after his conviction.
The Napier and Dickson families found that the final step in healing their hearts from the loss of their daughters was linked to their forgiveness of Eric Smallridge, the man responsible for their deaths.
We could say that what Eric Smallridge did was “unforgivable.” Truly, it was.
It is only by God’s grace that we can do the impossible: forgive those who have so deeply wounded us.
by Matthew West
“It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve.
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word
It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta’ right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free:’
It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what its power can do.
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you.