Episode 164 – The Miracle of Change, Forgiveness, and Love

Today’s subject for this show is the miracle of change, forgiveness, and love. It is really inspired by an experience Steve and his wife had about seven months ago in the country of Rwanda in East Africa. In April of nineteen ninety-four almost twenty-five years ago they suffered a terrible national tragedy as one of the political parties or tribes plotted and set a plan to exterminate another tribe a very large population in their country who saw things differently. Today, many years later it’s now the second-fastest growing economy in all of Africa. It’s the fifth safest country in all of the world. You can go anywhere 24/7 and not worry about your safety. It’s an extraordinary place. They still certainly have a long ways to go. But my goodness, they made enormous progress.


Steve: Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast wherever you might be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger your host and we are so grateful for your feedback, comments, and suggestions regarding the show. It’s been amazing. You are an extraordinary group and we are grateful for the privilege to be counted among you. Now today’s subject for this show is the miracle of change, forgiveness, and love. And it’s really inspired by an experience that my wife Roxanne and I had about seven months ago in the country of Rwanda in East Africa. In April of 1994 almost twenty five years ago they suffered a terrible national tragedy as one of the political parties or tribes plotted and set a plan to exterminate another tribe a very large population in their country who saw things differently. They amassed secretly over a hundred thousand machetes and then in April of 1994 the slaughter commenced. It was terrible. In 100 days one point one million of their fellow countrymen were killed. This is by neighbors and fellow workers. It was terrible. A army outside of the country was raised by a fellow by the name of Paul Kagame. It was called the Patriotic Front and they came in and stopped this terrible slaughter. And by the time that it was done he really thought he eventually became the president, how can I ever get this country back on track. He set a bold vision. It was called Vision 2020 where they would have a strong safe country an educated middle class. It was a strong middle class and it would be a progressive country where there was hope. He said we can’t do it as Hutus or Tutsis. He said we’re going to do it as Rwandans together. This inspired vision really helped change a country. Today, many years later it’s now the second fastest growing economy in all of Africa. It’s the fifth safest country in all of the world. You can go anywhere 24/7 and not worry about your safety it’s an extraordinary place. I mean it’s upbeat and it’s positive and indeed the middle class will have doubled their income. They still certainly have a long ways to go. But my goodness have they made enormous progress. Part of this ability to get this country back on track was a program called reconciliation and I’ll talk about reconciliation in just a moment. When we were there seven months ago it was a part of a group from the Young President’s Organization. There were about 70 of us a wonderful group and we visited the Genocide Memorial. Now I’ve had the opportunity to be there before. It’s about a half an acre of land give or take some. But on that land there are two hundred and fifty thousand victims from the genocide buried there. It is a memorial as you go inside there’s pictures of the babies and the young kids and the mothers and their older people it cut across all swaths that were murdered. It’s a sobering experience. Across the way from the genocide memorial is a pavilion. It’s about 300 feet away and it’s called Reconciliation Village. We had the opportunity to visit there and on this particular day it had been arranged for the members, 35 members, of a village to come in and share their experience of what had happened during that time. In front of us stood a lovely lady. Her name was Maria. She is tall and slender and talked about her family. She had nine children and then she related that when this genocide began, perpetrators the ones who committed these terrible crimes came into her village as she was escaping six of her children were killed right then. Three of her children together with her were able to escape in the forest. But she had suffered the terrible loss of most of her family. Oh my goodness we were speechless and she sat down and then the fellow next to her stood up. His name was Patrick. Patrick then said I am the one that killed her children. We tried to take this in and then he related his part of the story that he was 18 years old part of the Hutu tribe just doing what they told him to do. He indicated they taught him and so many others of his age that the Tutsis were a threat to their future that they were subhuman and that they didn’t deserve to live and they put everybody at risk. They also mentioned that they’re like snakes and how can you tell a snake where you can look into the eyes of a snake and the best way to kill a snake is to cut its head off. So they dehumanized them. It was a terrible plan. And then he said when Paul Kagame, the General came into town with the Patriotic Front, he said we were put in prison. There, I stayed in prison and soon became aware of the horrible atrocities, of how wrong it was what I had done. He said I just didn’t understand it before. And Paul Kagame, together with the other leaders who had come in introduced this policy of reconciliation and the policy of reconciliation is the perpetrator would go to the victim the living victim and say I killed your family members and here’s where they’re buried. And it was the responsibility then of the victim to forgive them. And so he said after five years I was totally repentant and I was let out of prison to go back to this village and to find the people whose families I had killed and apologize. He said I went up to Maria and I said I’m the one that killed your six children and I am so so sorry. Maria looked back and said I forgive you. Well this was a very somber time. We all tried to take this in and what it meant and then we realized the enormous power of repentance, of change, of the hope that that could give someone, but also the enormous power of forgiveness and that it took great love and compassion to be able to do this. Now today Patrick is a friend with Maria. He actually goes by and does service at her home. He lives in that village and he helps many, many people. And so they moved on. They have a hope for life. I had a, the next day, driver’s name was John Paul. We are going up to the north in the country. John was about 34 years old and I asked John I said so how are you affected by the genocide did that impact you at all. He related that one day during this time in 1994 about in April he said the perpetrators came into their village and they ushered 4000 people from their community into a large Catholic Church. They bolted the door shut and then they started throwing in grenades. John Paul related that that day there were only eleven survivors all of the rest were killed including his parents and three brothers and sisters. I asked him I said how in the world have you been able to move forward. How have you been able to adapt and he said because I was able to forgive them. And so this is a tremendous force that frees people up that it just gives them a perspective of life. John Paul said listen I’m making the most of my life. He said I live it vicariously for my family because I’m here, because I can. This is the liberation that comes, the hope of the future that comes from being able to change the repentance to make things right to forgive, and this comes through the power of love. So as I went forward and thought about this if these people can do this over such grave crimes certainly we can all do it over setbacks and injustices that take place in our lives, misunderstandings. We can be bigger than that situation. I’d like to just share two other true stories that illustrate this miracle of change, forgiveness, and love. One comes from a talk by Thomas Monson the former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints and whom I had was fortunate to have as one of my mentors. He’s been so influential in my life. He’s now passed on. But what a legacy he left behind. Among the talks that he gave he entitled it Hidden Wedges from which he shared the story from Samuel T Whitman. Whitman who related the following.

The ice storm that winter wasn’t generally destructive true a few wires came down and there was a sudden jump in accidents along the highway and normally the big walnut tree could easily have borne the weight that formed on its spreading limbs. It was the iron wedge in its heart that caused the damage. Now the story of the iron wedge began years ago when the white haired farmer who now inhabited the property on which it stood was a lad on his father’s homestead and the sawmill had then only recently been moved from the valley and the settlers were finding tools and odd pieces of equipment scattered about. On this day, it was a fallers wedge wide flat and heavy. A foot or longer and splayed from mighty pounding, which the lad had found. It was in the south pasture. A faller wedge used to help fell tree is inserted in a cut made by a saw and then struck with a sledge hammer to widen the cut. And because he is already late for dinner the lad laid the wedge between the limbs of the young walnut tree that his father had planted near the front gate and he would take the wedge to the shed right after dinner or sometime when he was going that way. He truly meant to, but he never did. The wedge was there between the limbs a little tight when he attained his manhood. It was there now firmly gripped when he married and took over his father’s farm. It was half grown over on the day the threshing crew ate dinner under the tree grown in and healed over, the wedge was still in the tree. The winter that day when the ice storm came and in the chill silence of that wintry night one of the three main limbs split away from the trunk and crashed to the ground. This was so unbalanced that the remainder of the top that it too split apart and went down and when the storm was over not a twig of the once proud tree remained. Early the next morning the farmer went out to mourn his loss and then his eyes caught sight of something in the splintered ruin. “It was the wedge”, he muttered reproachfully, “the wedge I found in the south pasture.” A glance told them why the tree had fallen, growing edge up in the trunk, the wedge had prevented the limb fibers from knitting together as they should. Now there are hidden wedges in the lives of many whom we know. Yes perhaps even in our own families. And it is helpful to be aware that this wedge can be a terrible threat to our happiness. And we have to actively remove these wedges. Now there is another story in conjunction with my experience in Rwanda and the reminder to not let hidden wedges get embedded in our lives these emotional traps if you will and which clearly can cause ill health and unhappiness. Here is the second story that was shared by Boyd K. Packer an amazing educator and church leader. He shared this story that one of his inspired mentors named John shared with him. John grew up in a little community with a desire to make something of himself and he struggled to get an education. He married his sweetheart and presently everything was just right. He was well employed with a bright future. They were deeply in love and she was expecting their first child. The night the baby was to be born there were complications and the only doctor was somewhere in the countryside tending to the sick. And after many hours of labor the condition of the mother to be became desperate. And finally the doctor was located and in the emergency acted quickly and soon had things in order. The baby was born and the crisis it appeared was over. Some days later the young mother died from the very infection that the doctor had been treating at another home that night. John’s world was shattered. Everything was not right now, everything was all wrong. He had lost his wife. He had no way to tend both the baby and his work. And as the weeks wore on his grief festered. “That doctor should not be allowed to practice”, he would say. “He brought that infection to my wife. If he had been careful she would be alive today.” He thought really of little else. And in his bitterness he became threatening. One night a knock came at his door. A little girl said simply daddy wants you to come over. He wants to talk to you. Would you mind coming over. Daddy was John’s spiritual and congregational leader. A grieving heartbroken young man went to see his spiritual leader and this shepherd had been watching his flocks and had something to say to John. The counsel from this wise servant was simply “John, leave it alone. Nothing you do about it will bring her back. Anything you do will make it worse. John, leave it alone.” My friend told me then that this had been his trial. His Gethsemane if you will. How could he leave it alone? Right was right and a terrible wrong had been committed and somebody must pay for it. It was a clear case, but he struggled in agony to get hold of himself. And finally he determined that whatever else the issues were he should be obedient and obedience is a powerful spiritual medicine. And it comes close to being a cure all. When we do the right things. He determined to follow the counsel of that wise spiritual leader. He would leave it alone. And then he told Boyd Packer “I was an old man before I understood. It was not until I was an old man that I could finally see a poor country doctor, overworked, underpaid, run ragged from patient the patient with little medicine, no hospital, few instruments struggling to save lives and succeeding for the most part. He had come in a moment of crisis when two lives hung in the balance and had acted without delay. I was an old man”, he repeated, “before I finally understood. I would have ruined my life he said. And the lives of others. Many times he had given thanks for the wise counsel of this spiritual leader who had said simply, “John leave it alone”. I reflect on my experience in Rwanda. They removed the hidden wedges that would most certainly have destroyed the future of this country and maintain the inspiring perspective of leaving it alone and finding a way to move forward with love and kindness and consideration for others. This is the power of change, of forgiveness, and this love that we’re talking about that makes it possible. Just a side note I was just thinking about this the other day there’s things that we can do to really get feedback, to understand how we can do better. This takes humility. It takes a desire to want to improve. This is the spirit of becoming your best. So one of the resources that is a great resource in becoming aware of how we can change is something that we call, it’s a simple tool, a single sheet of paper with three words on it continue, start, and stop and then you can give that piece of paper to a spouse, a friend, your team even a whole company and we can just invite others to fill it out, to- what are the things that I should continue doing that work well? What should I start doing that I’m not doing today that would improve things, and what should I stop doing that doesn’t work? And so whether it’s us as a leader in a company giving it out or an organization or to our own loved ones it allows us and others to exchange the feedback process and then we can implement that for improvement. This is at the very heart of change, of forgiveness and it’s found in a bigger perspective. Well now this is the sheet that you can put together yourself or if you would like to simply write to us at we’d be happy to send you a printed copy of this continue, start, stop form for your use. Certainly it’s free of charge there’s no obligation, that’s Now I would like to share the impact of this in my life. I can think of many instances but I’m going to share one that happened not so long ago. My wife is a very special lady. She’s lived a brilliant life. Unfortunately five years ago she was diagnosed with early onset dementia due to Alzheimer’s and in the last 18 months last 12 months really this disease has taken a terrible toll. The cognitive ability has significantly reduced and I had an experience with her about 18 months ago and we were working on cleaning one of the rooms in our home and I asked if she could do something and she wasn’t able to do it. She went in and sat on the bed in tears and she pleaded and said to me I’m trying as hard as I can. Oh man. Without realizing it I just guess I wasn’t being as patient as I could have been. I held her and apologized with a greater determination to never let that happen again. And I believe I’ve done reasonably well but we’ll continue to work on it for as long as we have the privilege to be together. And fortunately despite her condition she is sweet and happy. I just happen to believe that it is these elements of change, repentance, forgiveness, and that may be forgiving ourselves and the love that allows it all to happen. So as I look forward with her I don’t “ask why me?”. I ask, “how can we make this a great day? How can we live life to its fullest?” And I count my blessings that she’s been such a huge part of my life and our lives. She is a light. Today, we conclude this podcast with an amazing musical number. It was written and produced by a talented friend of mine by the name of Michael McClain. Michael is such a talented artist. I heard it some years ago it’s entitled Let It Go. It so much fits very much with what we’ve talked about today and I will include the lyrics in the written portion the transcript of this podcast. So let me just play it now for you and I hope that you can hear it okay.


As you are determined to let things go, to remove the hidden wedges, replacing strife, and misunderstandings, and setbacks with a Becoming Your Best type change for good, forgiveness and love. May you find peace, happiness, health, and prosperity. This is what is really at the heart of being a highly successful leader. Because of the decisions and the choices we make, we change the outcomes. We can make a difference. This is Steve Shallenberger your host with Becoming Your Best, wishing you a great day.

Michael McLean – Let It Go

I can still recall
The hour my father told me it was time
To let it go

Though its mended wing
Had made it sing
He said the bird I cared for was not really mine
So let it go

“Letting go,” he said, “seems to break your heart
Though it will heal it feels slow to start.”
And though the pain burned within me so
He held me tight
So I could let it go

Years have passed since then
And so has he but still I hear his words
Let it go

There’s so much of life that can’t be lived
If you’re holding on to hate and anger deep inside
Let it go

Letting go
It opens up the heart
There is a new day that’s hungry to start

Well you can’t change
What has hurt you so
But you will heal if you’ll just let it go

All that’s wrong in your life
Let it go
All that is worth saving
Is love

Love will hold you tight
Love lifts the burden
And love shines the light

Only love
Nourishes our soul
If it’s not love
Simply let it go

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