In the early morning of June 28, 1996, a drunk driver traveling on a remote section of Interstate 80 in Ogallala, Nebraska, forever changed the lives of Bill and Cindy Griffiths of Long Island, New York.
Cindy Griffiths’ father, Joe Nicolich was driving with his wife, Janice, and granddaughter Robyn Griffiths, to a family wedding in Salt Lake City, Utah. Around 7:30 that morning, Nicolich noticed a stranded car on the side of the road. Seeing that, in the car, were a woman and several children, he started merging across traffic lanes towards the shoulder of the road to offer help.
Verna Harrison hit Nicolich’s car driving at 85 miles an hour. Janice Nicolich and her granddaughter Robyn were killed instantly. Joe Nicolich had numerous injuries and several broken bones.
Unlike what would be expected of the Griffiths, they did not respond with fury or disgust towards the drunk driver, but with forgiveness. Even in the rawness, and the deep sadness of her loss, Cindy Griffiths knew that the lives of her daughter and mother had been connected to this reckless stranger for some deeper purpose. She felt God’s unbelievable calling to reach out to this woman who had taken so much from her.
Bill and Cindy Griffiths detailed their amazing story of forgiveness in their book, The Road to Forgiveness. They have been featured on the Oprah Show’s “Favorite Guests” episode. Following is an excerpt of The Road to Forgiveness that really touched Dr. Robert Schuller when he read the book.
Saturday morning I awoke early, unrested and heavy with grief. I dragged my sleep-deprived body into our walk-in closet and sat down on its two steps, a usual custom for me in the early morning. I opened my Bible to Psalm 57, which is a prayer of deliverance. When the psalmist first gave voice to these words, he had an enemy army pressing in upon him. I could relate to his plea for help. I could also relate to his confidence in God for the deliverance that was yet to come. But I still felt like a prisoner weighed down by the enemy’s chains. My mind was the prison and my grief the shackles. My breathing was shallow and labored, as though I needed more oxygen, more space.
As the sun was coming up, I went outside and pulled a few weeds from the flowerbeds in the backyard. It was a beautiful morning. The air was still and clear, with none of the nasty humidity so typical of Long Island summers. Sunlight dappled the ground, filtered through the huge oak tree in the adjacent yard. The purple clematis climbed the front of my little garden shed, creating a wonderful contrasting backdrop for the orange-and-salmon Tropicana roses. The scent of roses filled the corner of the yard. I smelled them. I touched them. Yet I could not enjoy them. Then I looked at the two-by-eight-foot flowerbed that was Robyn’s, and the tears flowed.
Just three weeks before, we had planted the garden together. Near winter’s end we had begun studying my gardening catalogs, planning and scheming about how we would lay out the garden. I remembered teaching her the meaning of the word perennial the day we planted. And I remembered how she was especially looking forward to seeing blooms on the lavender Angel Face climbing rosebush she had planted in her garden.
I have always encouraged the children to grow something in our vegetable patch. Actually I required it. It became a seasonal home-school project. Now that Robyn was eleven, she was developing her own appreciation for nature’s bounty and wanted a piece of earth to call her own, not just a row in the small family vegetable garden. I enjoyed sharing this program with her – and the fact that something that blessed my heart became her enjoyment as well. I loved sharing things with Robyn. I loved giving to Robyn. I loved watching her become. I loved being Robyn’s mom. I didn’t want to stop being her mom.
All these thoughts pierced my heart like a hot knife. My time to give to her had come to an abrupt end. No longer would we be able to get excited over a newly blossomed bud. No longer would we talk of flowers together. No longer would we play on the trampoline with each other. No longer would we sing our favorite songs, dance in the kitchen, bake or sew, read or laugh or argue, or do anything together.
I wouldn’t get to watch her practice ballet and see how graceful she was becoming. I wouldn’t see her snuggling with her three-year-old sister on the couch. I’d never see her riding her bike again, blowing out her birthday candles, or sitting at the table doing her schoolwork. I wouldn’t hear her clown around with her brothers or make my piano sing. I wouldn’t see her reach her sweet sixteen, graduate, get married, or hold her own baby. She was gone. My daughter was gone. She’d never be back. She’d never walk this earth again. I didn’t want to stop being her mom.
Then I heard the voice of God within me, reminding me of the word I had taught Robyn just a short time ago. Perennial. Only this time I did not think of it as defining the life of a plant; it defined the life of a young girl. Robyn’s life was like a perennial flower. A flower that blooms for a season – a short season compared to other blooms – and then appears to die. Indeed, part of it does die. The part we see. Yet the part that we cannot see, the part that is hidden – the root – remains alive, only to cause the plant to grow again and bloom another time.
Robyn, too, had bloomed here on earth for a season, for a short time. Then the part that we saw died. But the part of her that made her who she is – her spirit – still lived, and she would bloom again at another time and in another place. Heaven. My daughter – God’s perennial flower. The thought of her alive and well with Him stilled some of the tempest within me. God was alive. He had conquered death. And because He lived, I would live with Robyn and my mom again.
“O Lord,” I whispered, “I don’t want to think anymore. It hurts too much...I am here, Lord...I still walk in this place...You let me continue to be here, but how can I go on with all of this raging in my mind? I can’t...I don’t know how to think anymore...Show me how to think...Where do I go from here? ‘You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you,’” I quoted from Isaiah 26:3 (NIV). “How can I be steadfast in You when I can’t see You through all of the thick, dark clouds? Direct my thoughts because I just don’t know how to think anymore.”
All at once, in my imagination, I saw myself working the soil on a farm. My hands were on a plow, and I was walking forward, pushing and guiding the plow, which was fastened to an animal. The plowing was hard work. But I needed to keep moving forward if good things were to come – the harvest. There were many good things yet to happen in my life too. I needed to press forward, to lean into the work, hard though it was. Yes, there was still a plan for me. God was still going to cause new things to grow in my life for Him, I wanted to continue to follow Him until He called me home.
The picture of the plow set my mind on what is yet to be. I realized that if I spent all of my energy looking back at what I could not have, I would be missing out on the present and the future.Excerpted by permission of CROSSINGS Book Club, 2001 William G. Griffiths and Cynthia Ann Griffiths
Source: Crystal Cathedral Ministries