Feature

Released from Revenge

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More than three years ago, my friendship with a beautician named Alejandra led me to start a reflection group/Bible study in my home. As I deliberated how to lead one in Spanish for an audience of “seekers,” I was drawn to the stories from God’s Word in their simplicity and depth. Each week we would read and discuss a new chapter or portion of the story. No topic was off-limits—because the biblical narratives include adultery, murder, intrigue, grief, betrayal, and other tough issues. Myriam attended our group from the beginning. This is her story.

“I have a premonition.”

Myriam was struck by her mother’s words during their phone conversation one night. “I don’t know why, but I think something bad is going to happen.”

Myriam hung up with a troubled heart. Many of her mother’s premonitions had come true. But who would harm her kindhearted mother? Lida was beloved, a modern-day Dorcas—always sewing, crafting, and cooking for people. She had no enemies. In fact, Lida had generously opened her home to a young pregnant woman, Camila*.

Myriam was not happy about her mother’s new roommate. Recently, during Lida’s 73rd birthday tea, she had confided that she was uneasy about the arrangement. It wasn’t going well, and she wondered if there was a way out. There were no easy answers; Myriam and her sister did not live nearby, and Camila had nowhere else to go.

Myriam is in the yellow dress on the far right; her mother, Lida, is on the far left in the floral print. Photo courtesy of Teri Newburn

The morning after Lida and Myriam’s phone call, Fernando*, the father of Camila’s unborn child, jumped the fence and banged furiously on Lida’s door. He was seething with rage. Oblivious, Camila opened it and stepped outside. She found Fernando on the porch clutching a duffel bag. At the sight of his pale face, she hurried inside to get him a glass of water.

When she returned, he snapped. The glass tumbled from her hand as Fernando lunged for her throat. Camila screamed, and Lida ran to help her. “Call . . . the . . . police,” Camila stammered as Fernando strangled her.

Fernando was startled when he saw Lida standing there—he had thought Camila was alone. As Lida ran for the phone, he forced his way inside, leaving Camila on the ground. Camila, gasping for breath, stumbled to a neighbor’s home to hide.

When police arrived, they found Fernando in the living room, bleeding from several self-inflicted knife wounds. The duffel bag contained evidence of a premeditated attack, including a change of clothes, gloves, and a knife, along with the receipt for the purchase of the items. Camila told the officers she had threatened to tell Fernando’s wife about their affair if he didn’t agree to provide for her and the baby—and he did not intend to give her the chance. Then they found Lida. She was lying still, with 12 stab wounds in her chest.

Upon hearing of the attack, Myriam rushed to the hospital, only to find that Lida had died of her injuries. Myriam felt numb. Their conversation the night before was the last time she would ever hear her mother’s voice—the birthday tea, the last time she would see her alive. Her generous, gentle mother . . . taken. Myriam’s shock soon turned to anger. Why would a good God allow her mother to be brutally killed?

A Different Kind of Prison

Myriam knew her mother would have gladly given her life to save another—and would have told her daughter that everything happens for a purpose. But Myriam couldn’t accept that. She raged at God for taking a good woman who didn’t deserve to die. Chains of anger and bitterness imprisoned her soul. She wanted Fernando to die; he deserved to.

Fernando survived his injuries. He was convicted of Lida’s murder and sentenced to 28 years in jail without Myriam ever having seen his face. Several years later, she was cooking at home when she happened to glance up at her TV. A local news report featured a new, low-security prison to rehabilitate prisoners. The screen flashed to footage of a prisoner identified as Fernando Sanchez. Myriam knew that name well. For the first time she was seeing the face of her mother’s killer, who had been selected for rehabilitation.

After serving just seven years, the man who had murdered her mother was released. Fernando was free, but Myriam was imprisoned by her thoughts of revenge, unable to escape her unquenchable desire for justice.

Around that time, Myriam’s beautician, Alejandra, invited her to the Bible study in my home. Until then, Myriam’s only experience with God’s Word had been in catechism as a young girl. Because of Alejandra’s persistence, she felt compelled to attend the reflection group. From the first week, she was captivated by the simple way we approached the Scriptures and how we openly accepted her as someone loved by God.

During the next two years, Myriam joined us in discovering stories from His Word. We were encouraged when God forgave the adulterous assassin King David. We triumphed with Esther at Haman’s defeat. We identified with Jesus’ parables. We wept with Joseph as he forgave his brothers.

One day Myriam said offhandedly, “You know, my coworkers will want to know what happened to Joseph tomorrow.” I asked her what she meant. “Well,” she said, “the day after reflection group, I tell them all about the latest chapter in the story.” Her face lit up. “They always ask me as soon as we sit down for lunch, ‘Tell us! What happened next?’ Then I tell them everything we talked about.”

God’s Word Takes Root

I was thrilled to see the truths of Scripture flooding Myriam’s heart and spilling out to those around her. Over time, as God filled her soul with His love, Myriam began to understand that His forgiveness was for her. For years she had struggled with guilt over a youthful mistake, certain that God would never forgive her. But King David’s sin was much worse . . . and the Lord had forgiven him. She now knew He would forgive her too.

Myriam (left) and Lida—one of the pictures taken of her before Lida was murdered. Photo courtesy of Teri Newburn

With a newfound hope and peace, Myriam felt close to God for the first time in her life. His grace was transforming her soul. Yet a part of her remained trapped with Lida in the house where she was murdered. Driven by her thirst for justice, Myriam held tightly to her hatred of Fernando.

One week at reflection group, the topic of forgiveness came up. “I can accept that God forgave me,” Myriam said. “And I can forgive a lot of people—but I will not forgive the man who killed my mother. I cannot.”

Someone in the group chimed in. “Myriam, justice is not our responsibility. One day, God will carry out perfect justice. He is just.” The words seared Myriam’s heart. For years, she had repeated the mantra, “He has to pay. He has to pay for what he did.” But in that moment, she fully accepted the truth—justice is God’s job! She knew she was powerless to bring true justice to Fernando, because perfect justice is God’s responsibility. That day, He broke the chains that had strangled Myriam’s soul for so long. She could now rest completely in His love. She could finally forgive—she is finally free.

Today, Myriam continues to attend reflection group and grow closer to God. She listens to an audio Bible on her commute to work each day and has made it all the way to the Psalms. In reflection group we are studying an overview of the books and content of the Bible. I’m inspired by Myriam’s dedication to the course and her faith in God.

*Names changed

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