Forgive yourself

Have you ever felt like you failed? A failure so big it left you feeling like the popular meme: “You had ONE job…”

Danny and Anne
The late Danny Lotz and Anne Graham Lotz who were married for 49 years. Photo: billygraham.org

Except this wasn't funny. This was no meme; this was a long, dark tunnel filled with self-loathing and depression. Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the world's most influential preacher Billy Graham, was stuck in the tunnel for years before she finally saw daylight again.

It began on Tuesday, August 17, 2015, a warm and pleasant morning in the city of Raleigh in North Carolina. With the thermometer hitting 31 degrees Celsius, Anne's husband Danny decided to relax by the pool and play with the dog. He went outside. Inside the house, Anne got busy with the housework.

Nobody knows what happened that day. But when Anne went out to check on him later, she found her husband face down in the pool unresponsive. He was rushed to the hospital and two days later, the man they called 'God's Gladiator' died.

Danny had been ill for years, leading Anne to give up her career as an eminent international speaker to care for him full-time, and she felt responsible for his wellbeing.

He had severe Type 1 diabetes, was blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. He had heart disease, which required five stents and renal failure that needed three days of dialysis each week, five hours a day.

Several years ago, she wrote in her blog: "For three years I was my husband's full-time caregiver. I loved the role. But on August 17th, 2015 I found him unresponsive in our pool. Three days later, my beloved husband of 49 years, Danny, went to Heaven. On my watch.

"And thus began a difficult journey of forgiveness," Anne acknowledges. "I could actually feel the downward pull into that black hole from the moment I found Danny. If I kept blaming myself and wallowing in guilt, I knew I would spiral down into bitterness and self-hatred."

As she had done her whole life, Anne turned to God. Being the daughter of a world famous evangelist didn't automatically make her a Christian - she had decided for herself to commit her life to Jesus Christ when she was eight years old, after watching the Cecil B. DeMille film The King of Kings.

Born and raised in a home where Jesus Christ was worshipped, she had always depended on her faith to see her through tough times.

In the 1990s, a hurricane devastated her property, her husband's dental office burned to the ground, their son was diagnosed with cancer and went through major surgery and radiation, all three of her children got married within an eight-month period, and her mother's health was failing, requiring multiple hospitalizations. During that period she had to learn to trust God's goodness.

But when Danny died, she had to go deeper than ever before into her well of spirituality and said her journey to forgive herself finally began with one simple prayer: "God, I am so sorry. Danny's death is my fault. I have failed to obey Your calling to care for him. I'm so sorry."

One day, Anne said she felt God whisper to "my broken, grief-stricken, guilt-ridden heart."

Anne in hospital
Still smiling despite fighting cancer, Anne with her daughter (right) and daughter-in-law. In a photo from her Instagram account.

"Anne, I forgive you," He seemed to say. "The blood of Jesus is sufficient for the forgiveness of any and all sins, including your temporary neglect of Danny and his subsequent death.

"You have said you were sorry. You have asked Me to forgive you. And I have. Now accept My forgiveness and My timing. I called him home when his life was complete. I had numbered his days. Trust Me. And forgive yourself."

It wasn't until Anne was able to understand and accept God's forgiveness that she was able to forgive herself and experience true peace.

"Once we tell God we are sorry for our sin and failures and accept His forgiveness, then forgiving others - including ourselves - is an act of worship," she says. "How can you...or I...accept God's forgiveness, then turn around and withhold our forgiveness from someone else?"

Anne encourages others who may be struggling, to ask God for forgiveness - and then forgive themselves. "Why? For the simple reason that God has forgiven you. And living in His forgiveness is where peace is found."

Anne was dealt another blow in 2018 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years to the day of the anniversary of her husband's death and six months after the funeral of her famous father.

Again, the 71-year-old refused to give up hope and turned, as always, to her faith in God. This time, she immersed herself in the Gospel of John and from that study came her book Just Give Me Jesus. Centuries-old wisdom for 21st century struggles.

"The Christian life is so much more than just being saved from hell and is so much more than just going to heaven," she said. "It's a relationship that's vibrant and alive and it's sufficient to carry you through the hardest things."

And after all that Anne has been through, she should know.

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