Laurie Coombs: So in the beginning of this whole thing I didn't know how to love my enemy. I mean those are such big, grand concepts and how do you do it practically? So I began to pray for him. And I - honestly, I began to pray good things for him even though it was completely counterintuitive to everything that I wanted or thought or felt.
John Fuller: That's Laurie Coombs. And today you're going to hear her powerful story on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, throughout the Bible we're commanded to forgive. And in Luke 6 - oh, it is such a difficult area of scripture - but Luke 6 says, "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you." Um, I gotta admit, this is perhaps the most convicting scripture for me personally and, I'm sure, for many of you listening. It's a hard area to live up to God's standard there. And I think the only way you can live up to it is being filled with the Holy Spirit. God's character has to be in you in order to achieve this kind of forgiveness.
Uh, today we're going to hear from an amazing person who has a fantastic forgiveness story. And I hope it will remind all of us that God can redeem situations that seem bleak, hopeless and maybe beyond His reach. But I'm gonna tell you: nothing is beyond the reach of God. And you can do it through Him and in Him. And here at Focus on the Family, we wanna see you thrive in your relationships with your spouse, with your children, with your extended family. That's one of our missions here. And we have so many resources to help you do that. Um, I hope you will lean on us in order to do better in your walk with Christ.
John: And along the way here in our conversation, there will be some pain points that perhaps you resonate with. We have counselors here on staff. And if you need to talk to somebody or you want to learn more about some of the resources we have, focusonthefamily.com/radio or our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And Laurie Coombs is the author of . And she and her husband Travis have three children, and they live in Reno, Nevada.
Jim: Laurie, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Laurie: Thank you for having me.
Jim: Take us back to your childhood. What was your family like and your relationship with your dad?
Laurie: Oh, my goodness. I had an incredible childhood. So I grew up in Carson City, Nevada. And, um - which is a small town, and especially when I was young. Um - and so - but you know we - we had so many adventures. Really, my dad was an extremely adventurous guy. He was shy. He was really shy but also very adventurous. He and my mom had an incredible marriage for many, many years. Um...
Jim: Did you go to church? Was Christ part of your family tradition?
Laurie: Somewhat. Somewhat. I mean, we - we - I grew up Catholic. And so we did actually go to church every Sunday that we were able to go to church, um, which was when we actually were not, um, off doing something, if you will, you know.
Jim: Yeah. A big family adventure or something like that.
Laurie: Sure. Sure. But...
Jim: But it was part of your life.
Laurie: It was part of...
Jim: Faith was an important part of your life.
Laurie: Yes. Yes. It was part of my life. But I do have to say now that looking in hindsight, all that we were doing was practicing religion. So there were times when we would pray, but it - it was these rote prayers. There was never that relationship with Christ.
Jim: Yeah. And I - I would just say too, Catholic, Protestant, all of us can fall prey to that, practicing religion rather than having a relationship with Christ.
Laurie: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jim: Let me ask you this. You referenced this idea that your family was warm and loving, especially when you were younger. What happened when you were a teenager that began to change?
Laurie: Well, you know, um, my dad kinda started going through, you know, that whole stereotypical midlife-crisis type of thing. And there was a point when I was about 14 - 13-, 14-years-old, and my grandpa died. So this was my dad's dad. And when that happened, my dad just started questioning what the meaning of life was and that type of stuff. So he just began really wrestling with some of those deeper things.
Jim: And you saw it even as a young girl. You saw your dad wrestle.
Laurie: You know, I - I did. I did. I absolutely saw this wrestling. But, um, you know, we all just kinda thought it was because his dad had passed and he was struggling with that grief.
Jim: And you're how old at this point, noticing this?
Laurie: Um, so 13, 14, 15, right around that time.
Jim: And then progressing through that story, your dad continued to spiral. It impacted your mom and dad's marriage, right?
Laurie: It did.
Jim: What happened with that?
Laurie: It did. So um, when I was 15, my parents did end up getting a divorce. They had been married for 23 years at that point - I think 23, 24 years. And, um, that was obviously shocking to every one of us. Um, and I was the youngest. I - or I am the youngest of, um, three children. And so my - my brother at that time was four years older, so that would have made him, I guess, 19. And my sister was 18 at that time.
Jim: What did it say to you that your mom and dad broke up and left each other?
Laurie: Well, honestly it rocked my world because this was not something that other people around me in my family, in my close circles were doing either. So it definitely rocked my world. Um, and you know, both of my parents kind of were in this period where they fell apart. So we had to grow up really fast.
Jim: You mention in your book that later then, when you were in college, that begin to heal, your relationship with your dad. Describe how that happened and the warmth of that, how it felt to reconnect with your dad, the fact that you felt his love again.
Laurie: Yes. Well, you know, I - I want to say, I never felt like he didn't love me. He still pursued me. And I kept pushing him away because, um, I - like I said, I was mad. But then we - as you said, we did, um - we did have such an incredible, um, ability to reconnect. And at a certain point, I was like, "Okay, you're - come on. You can come back in." You know, and I just kind of allowed him back into my life. Because there was a time when he would call, and I would just say, "No. I'm not talking to you." And - and there - and - and ultimately, there was a little bit of healing with that. And - and - and ultimately, by the time he passed away, um, we were very, very, very close once again.
Jim: Let's move into that part of the story now. So you're in college. Um, you and your dad are reconnected. Your mom - you're living with your mom, I'm assuming, up through high school, then on to...
Laurie: Through high school. Mhmm.
Jim: So in that context, your dad did remarry.
Laurie: Yes, he did.
Jim: And pick the story up there and take us through what happened and how his life was terminated.
Laurie: Sure. So - um, so my dad remarried, and then he divorced once again. And then he found himself just still in that spiral, as I talked about. Um, and really, we'll get into this a little bit later. But - but I - ultimately, God brought me to that same place, that same place of being in that spiral, in my dad's spiral. You know, God never intends for our - our - um, these difficulties that we face to just lead to our ultimate destruction. They're always intended to lead us to Himself. And ultimately, that is what happened with my dad. And later, we'll see that's what happened with me as well. But, um, my dad was in this spiral. And he, um, was pursuing relationships. And he just kind of felt - honestly, as an outsider, I saw that he was looking to relationships to fill him, so essentially be his God, if you will.
Jim: To - to fill that void...
Laurie: To fill that void.
Jim: ...That need to be needed, to be loved, et cetera. You had an amazing discussion with him before his murder.
Jim: What did that discussion sound like? Was it just the two of you talking?
Laurie: It was just the two of us. And we were out to dinner. And honestly, it just kind of shook me up because I didn't understand why he was saying it. And...
Jim: And it came out of nowhere.
Laurie: It came out of nowhere.
Jim: You had never had - and what was the discussion like?
Laurie: Yeah. And he said - he said, "Laurie, I - I want people to remember me for who I truly am. I don't want anybody turning me into something that I'm not." And we continued to talk about this. And he was just basically saying, "You know, there are good parts and bad parts to everyone. And when people die, people only - you know their loved ones only want to show the - the good parts of that person. But there are good and bad parts to everyone." And you know what's so incredible about that? As I was writing the book, I really felt like God had allowed my dad to speak those words to me over a decade before I needed them to give me the freedom to - to write honestly about his shortcomings and his incredible character as well.
Jim: And um, the point at which you had this dinner conversation about death and about remembering those that, uh, die, how long after that conversation?
Laurie: It was about a month.
Jim: Only a month.
Laurie: Yeah. Isn't that crazy?
Jim: So a month later, you and your girlfriend and I think a boyfriend were traveling...
Laurie: Yeah. Yeah, who's now my husband.
Jim: Yeah. And you were headed back from a trip somewhere. And what happened?
Laurie: Right. Right. It was actually, um, one of my cousins and myself and, um, my boyfriend at the time, who's now my husband. Um, we were down at a family wedding down in San Diego. And about halfway - you know, we just decided to drive in the middle of the night. There was something in me, and I don't even know what it was. And in the middle of the night, we received a call from my aunt. And my aunt, in that call, um, she said to come over. So we went over to her house. And we just knew that something was wrong. You know? We just knew. So we pulled up and I could just tell. I mean, she looked past her son, who was with me, my cousin, and she looked directly into my eyes. And I just knew. And I shook my head, and I said, "No, no, no." And - and she ended up telling me that, you know, my dad had been murdered.
Jim: I mean, again, that moment, that desperation. Kind of, you know - totally unexpected, obviously. This isn't something that the family would ever know is being planned or anything like that. What was that emotion? I mean did you fall down on the porch there and just sob? Or what?
Laurie: Well, I wanted to run away. You know? You know, like...
Jim: Was it - was it the why? Why? What happened?
Laurie: Well, I - I just wanted to run away. You know, just - you just want to escape and just pretend. You know, like, if you could just get away from this, maybe this is all just a bad dream. And you don't want to deal with this. Um, but she - she asked me to come inside. And I was very reluctant. I just - I just had this sense of fleeing. You know, and...
Laurie: So - yeah. Yeah. And so uh, we walked into the house. She sat me down on the chair that she had, just an armchair. And she proceeded to tell me what had happened. And...
Jim: Yeah. You're listening to Focus on the Family. Our guest today is Laurie Coombs. She's written a powerful book called . And, uh, boy, this is a story of forgiveness. And I hope you're hearing the setup here and what God is about to do in Laurie's life. And if you need help, call us at Focus on the Family. We have counselors that can help you think through, uh, what God would want from you if you have held resentment and bitterness in your heart toward another person. You can get hold of us at 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And ask for help. That is why we're here at Focus on the Family, to provide that kind of perspective.
And also, uh, for a gift of any amount, we'll send you a copy of Laurie Coombs' book, .
Laurie, let's continue that story. Um, what happened in the days and the weeks after learning of your dad's death?
Laurie: Um, it was all just such a blur. You know, when you're experiencing that type of grief, it - everything is just - your brain kinda goes into this foggy place, and - and things are not entirely clear. But it was tough, I mean, really, really, really tough. And grief just does crazy things to the mind...
Jim: It does.
Laurie: ...Absolutely crazy things. I would - we'd be driving, you know, somewhere in Carson City, and I would see a truck, and - and I would think oh, that looked like my dad. And for a brief moment I would think maybe he's not dead. And then you're like no, that's not the truth - that is not the truth. He actually - he's no longer here. Or I'd, you know, just - something would happen, and I'd want to call my dad. And I think "Oh, I have to call Dad." And I couldn't, you know, I wasn't able to make that phone call, but his phone number was still there, but...
Jim: All those thoughts. And I know...
Laurie: Yes, yes.
Jim: I mean, when people lose loved ones, that's what to your process - your thought process...
Jim: ...They're no longer attainable. They're not reachable.
Laurie: Yes, yes.
Jim: People are wondering - they're saying, "Jim, ask Laurie what happened. Why did her dad get murdered? What went down?" Fill in that blank for us.
Laurie: Right. So my dad was involved in a relationship that was clearly not of God. However, God actually used that - that very relationship to bring him to a place of faith. So my dad did ultimately give his life to Christ, literally months before he died. But this was the same relationship that ultimately led to his demise. And...
Jim: And because?
Laurie: ...This woman that he wanted to date, who was in the process of getting a divorce, the man that she was previously married to decided that he wanted to kill my dad.
Jim: And did.
Laurie: And did.
Jim: And how did the Lord lay on your heart this idea that you need to reach out to him? I mean, everybody's going, "What?!" Describe that process.
Laurie: Yes, yes. Well, it took quite a while. It took quite a while. So before I say that, I was actually a nonbeliever at the time of the murder. And I was a nonbeliever for nine years. And in that time, I got married, had a couple children, and life really started to seem sweet once again. But then, after I had my second daughter, I started just feeling all these physical symptoms. And I didn't know what they were. And I thought maybe I was pregnant. But I actually wasn't. And ultimately, you know it was one symptom after another that just started showing up. And after visiting doctor after doctor after doctor, ultimately, what I started seeing, what the doctors were telling me, was that what I was experiencing was physical symptoms of anxiety.
Laurie: And - and I didn't know how to handle this. I didn't know how to...
Jim: You'd never had it before.
Laurie: No, no.
Jim: It just came on.
Laurie: Absolutely. And that led to depression. I started having panic attacks. And I had no idea what this was. And I was always a really social person - um, very outgoing. And...
Jim: I can see. You're very upbeat.
Laurie: ...Yeah, yeah. And all of a sudden, I was in this place where I didn't want to get out of bed. I didn't know what this was. And it was the first time that God had presented me with something that I couldn't do on my own and I couldn't fix it. So I tried everything that the world tells you to do. I tried eating better, exercising more. I tried yoga, you know? I tried meditation - all of these relaxation techniques. Nothing worked, obviously. And as a last resort, I ended up at church. And that's when I was saved. So God finally brought me to my knees. So this was about nine years after. Yeah.
Jim: And that's where God got a hold of your heart.
Laurie: Absolutely, absolutely.
Jim: So then move forward in the story. So you're now a baby in Christ...
Jim: ...And you're hearing what from God in relationship to your father's murder?
Laurie: Yes. Well, I had been just completely transformed by the Gospel. It was just absolutely amazing. And God was healing me of the anxiety and the depression, which was just fabulous. So I could see what my God could do, right? And I was on fire for the Lord. But I was still broken. I still was in this place of brokenness. And my brokenness was really manifesting itself through irritability. And I was irritable pretty much all of the time. Um, I'd snap at my children, snap at my husband, which was terrible.
And I would then - there was all this self-condemnation. And I was thinking, "What is wrong with me? Why can't I just be nice, you know?" And I just wanted to be kind. And I was looking at Scripture and my attitude was not lining up with Scripture. So I cried out to the Lord and I said, "What is this? What is this? I don't understand. And can you please take this away? Can you heal me?" And God was showing me that this irritability was basically anger that had turned into this deep root of bitterness. So with that, I once again was crying out to him. And I'm like, "Okay, but take it. What am I supposed to do?" And he said "Laurie, like I said, it's time to forgive." But then he upped the ante. I was actually really - reading a Billy Graham book called , - super thankful for Billy Graham's ministry - but I was reading this book, and in it, he was talking about loving your enemy. And I knew exactly what the Holy Spirit was telling me to do.
Jim: And that was, of course, to forgive your father's killer.
Laurie: Yes. Absolutely.
Jim: There is so much in what you've said.
Laurie: Yes, I know.
Jim: I mean, I'm thinking of the person - or many people - who have harbored unforgiveness, who can't - they just struggle, they're hearing what you're saying, and maybe you've caught their attention and they're back at that point where they're thinking, "Maybe I haven't forgiven truly either." Help me get a handle. Talk me out of my unforgiveness. What can I do to really know I've forgiven?
Laurie: Well, I think a big key to know whether or not you've forgiven is: can you think about that person and want good for them? And can you think about that person - when you think about that person, what emotions come up? If they're all of these negative emotions, then there's likely some more work to do.
Jim: I really want to pull this together as we're coming in for the end of the program the connection with the murderer. His name?
Laurie: Yes. His name is Anthony.
Jim: You decided to write him a letter. Describe all of that as we wrap this up because there's so much power in this letter exchange that you had with him. You never met him personally.
Jim: But how many letters did you exchange with him?
Laurie: Oh, I can't even count.
Jim: Beyond 40 in the book.
Laurie: Oh, yeah. There - I have a binder that's uh, you know, like a 2-inch binder that's full. It's kind of popping open.
Jim: Full of letters.
Jim: Describe the flavor of that and the turning point even in the letters. And what was that relationship like? And where is it today?
Laurie: Yes. So the letters essentially began because I - I really felt that the Lord was telling me to visit this man, to visit Anthony. But I was obviously wrong with that. God was essentially kind of leading me into this in one way, thinking it was going to go one direction, and he ended up having something for me that was far greater than anything I could have ever imagined. And that was the letters. So the letters passed back-and-forth. And actually, I still have correspondence with Anthony still today. But the letters passed back-and-forth. And within those first few months, it was tough, I mean, really, really tough. A lot of wrestling...
Jim: What would you say? I mean, what could you say? Did the why question come up early from you?
Laurie: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: Why did you do it? Why did you kill my dad?
Laurie: I had a lot of questions. I had so many questions. And I really questioned, "Okay Lord, should I ask these questions in a letter or should I wait for this visit?" And I ended up asking the questions. And Anthony, um, you know, he kind of sat on those questions for quite some time. These were questions like, what were the last moments of my dad's life really like, you know? Anthony was the last one to see him. He was the one to literally see my dad take his last breath. And what was that like? What was the tone of the room?
Jim: That's a courageous question.
Laurie: You know, just all of that, I wanted to know, you know?
Jim: Yeah. But this is courageous to ask that. Eventually, he answered it?
Laurie: He did eventually answer these questions. Yes. But it took some time. And honestly, I think that God wanted us to get to this point where he could trust me enough with the answers.
Jim: Spiritually speaking, what has that element been like between you and Anthony? Where is he as a human being? He's in for two life sentences, if I understand correctly. So he's not getting out. And how has he responded to you...
Laurie: He's not, unless there's a miracle.
Jim: How has he responded to you? And what's he like?
Laurie: Right. So in the beginning of this whole thing, I didn't know how to love my enemy. I mean, those are such big, grand concepts. And how do you do it practically? And so I began to ask God, "What do I do?" And as I was looking through Scripture, the first thing that I saw was to pray for my enemy. So I began to pray for him. And I - honestly, I began to pray good things for him, even though it was completely counterintuitive to everything that I wanted or thought or felt. And actually, it kind of felt wrong to pray these good things for him because you know, it almost felt like I was betraying my dad, praying good for the man who...
Jim: Sure. I can understand that.
Laurie: It was terrible. But I knew that God's ways are always better than anything that - that we can think of, you know. And so - so I began to pray good things. And what I prayed - and this is crazy - this was a pipe dream prayer, one of those things where you know, you know, God's big, he can do all things. And he can answer this prayer. But this is a crazy prayer. And I began to pray. And I said "Lord, just transform Anthony so much so that he begins to live to the glory of you in prison and he can transform the lives of other inmates as well, that he could not only come to you himself, but bring others along with him and have them be transformed into your likeness as well." And God has literally answered every single bit of that prayer. It was about a month where I just took some time of praying. I took a day of fasting. And I went up to Lake Tahoe - I was freezing. I was like, all bundled up. But I was just out there.
And I was like, "Lord, you've got to tell me. You have got to tell me what your response is because you know my response." My response would have been this, you know, this rebuke, essentially. And - and then God told me. He said, "Laurie, now's the time to forgive. I want you to extend the very things that I have given you, the love, the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness." And - and what's so crazy is that in that moment, he enabled it. So this was not of me. We cannot heal ourselves. We cannot forgive in and of ourselves. God has to do it in us and through us. And what's amazing is that that forgiveness began that moment, and it's been there ever since.
Jim: Yeah. Um Laurie, Romans 8:28, you're living it. That's the Scripture that says all things work for good to those who love the Lord and are called by his name.
Laurie: Yes. Yes.
Jim: Sometimes I've said that to people and they've been very offended toward me because I've said that, because they can't see that that's a true statement. I'm telling you, as an orphaned kid, I believe it. But you have to be willing to see God's hand work in your life in that way. This is the power of your testimony, Romans 8:28.
Jim: And did that letter from Anthony arrive when he said to you, "I've accepted Christ," did something like that - was it that obvious? What happened?
Laurie: You know - you know what's interesting is the - I revised that letter. So I sent - the letter that I sat down to write...
Jim: The hard-hitting, judgmental letter.
John: The right letter.
Laurie: ...Yeah, yeah. So I revised that letter. And at the end of it, I said, "You know, we may never see eye to eye, but I do want you to know that I forgive you." And I sent that off. Now, the trajectory of our correspondence was going in such a way that he fully expected that rebuke. So instead, when he received the love and the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness, that's what changed him.
Jim: That was the moment.
Laurie: He's said later - yeah - he said later that when he received that, that it showed him what a true relationship with Christ looked like, what that actually looked like. And he wanted it. So he began to be transformed. And it was just amazing. And in the process, you know, all of that irritability was gone, you know? All of sudden, one day, I'm doing laundry. And I'm like, "Hey, I'm happy, you know? I'm not irritable all the time." And you know, I think God was just healing me little by little by little. And all of a sudden, one day, it was gone.
Jim: Laurie, there's a big smile on your face. And your story ends happily. I mean, this is a powerful story. And the right outcomes have occurred. But speak to the person where this has all been too difficult. Maybe whatever their unforgiveness is, they're still stuck there. And they don't have the happy ending yet. What advice do you have for them? What do they do next to get out of the rut of unforgiveness?
Laurie: Right. Well, first of all, I would just like to say that God is a redeemer. So I believe with my whole heart that what He has done in my life that it's his desire to do that in every one of our lives, that he truly does want to take our pain and use it for incredible good. That he's a healer. He wants to heal our past. He wants to heal whatever we're going through even right now in the present. So with that, I would just encourage you to continue to press on, to press in to Jesus, to seek him with literally everything that you have. He says that if you seek Him, He will be found. He also says that if you draw near to him, He will draw near to you.
So oftentimes, I think that people want these audible things from God. And sometimes He can do that. He can definitely speak to us audibly. But sometimes, it's in the pressing in to Jesus and just the prayer and inviting him into the journey that he shows us one step at a time. He did not show me the entire road at the beginning of this. I knew who my God was. And I knew where he was leading me. I knew that he was leading me to a place of healing and forgiveness. Apart from that, I didn't know what these steps would look like. So literally, it was - He showed the light on my next step and then my next step and then my next step. We don't get to see the big picture. We get to see our next step.
Jim: Laurie, your book, , what an incredible journey of forgiveness. It's one of the most astounding stories I've ever heard. And whatever you are dealing with listening to this program, I think Laurie has something to teach us all, even though she's a young lady.
But you have done it. And I want to say thank you. Thanks for living a Christ-filled life, a spirit-filled life in such a beautiful way.
Laurie: Thank you. I've - I've just said yes.
Jim: Yeah, but you've done it.
John: And we hope that the conversation today with Laurie has encouraged you and maybe prompted you to consider what God might be asking you to do. As Jim has said, our number here - if you'd like to talk to somebody, we'd love to help - 800, the letter A and the word family. 800-232-6459. Or stop by our website, and you'll find Laurie's book , a CD or download of our conversation and other helps. We'll have some special things there about forgiveness - focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And when you make a donation today to the work here, we'll send a copy of Laurie's book as our way of saying thank you for your partnership in this worldwide outreach and for joining us in this family ministry.
In addition to that, your gift will be doubled right now thanks to a generous summer match that's currently going on. We have some generous friends that will match your gift dollar-for-dollar. And you can donate online or over the phone. Again our number: 800-A-FAMILY.
Well, we hope you have a great weekend and that you'll make plans to join us again here on Monday when we'll hear a powerful message from Lisa Harper about what we can learn about suffering from Job.
Closing Voice Track:
Lisa Harper: So before his whole life is redeemed and restored at the end of his story, Job says, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes see you, and that's enough."
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