How do you learn to forgive your brother’s murderer?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 9, 2008

Annette Stanwick is the author of “Forgiveness: the Mystery and Miracle,” in which she discusses a journey that started with the murder of her brother. Photo by Warren Harbeck

Forgiveness has consistently been one of the most popular topics addressed in this column. Especially when wrongdoing has involved the death of loved ones, how is it possible for those left behind to forgive the killer? How do they deal with their pain, anger, bitterness and a desire for revenge? The 2006 example of a Pennsylvania Amish community’s forgiving response to the murder of five of their school-age girls stunned many (see my columns of Oct. 11, 18, 25, and Nov. 1, 2006).

All this came back to me the other day at Cochrane’s Java Jamboree as I listened to one of our newest coffee companions recount the story of how she learned to forgive the murderers of her brother.

Annette Stanwick, a prominent Calgary eye clinic executive and pastor’s wife, and more recently an award-winning author and motivation speaker urging audiences to discover the freedom of forgiveness, was crushed nine years ago at the news that her brother, Soren, a long-haul truck driver, was assaulted and murdered while on the job far from home. A robbery gone terribly downhill.

“I thought my heart would stop,” she said.

At the sentencing of Travis Friend, the first to be held accountable for the murder, she gave a victim impact statement that shocked everyone in the courtroom. After speaking of the enormous hole the murderer had left in her brother’s family and of how she herself struggled with the “unfathomable . . . notion that the ultimate atrocity of taking his life could be necessary for a few measly possessions,” she looked intently into the murderer’s eyes and proceeded:

“Travis, I want you to know that the most important impact of this whole experience for me is that God has given me a new understanding of love and forgiveness.

“Travis, God has impressed me that: He doesn’t love what you did, but he loves you in spite of what you have done. He loves you with a love that will never end and he longs to show you that love. He loves you just as much as he loves me and just as much as he loves my brother Soren. There is nothing so deep, so dark and so horrible, that he cannot and will not forgive. And he longs to forgive you for what you have done, Travis.

“Here in the quietness of this moment I am offering God’s love and forgiveness to you, Travis,” she said, and then added, “and I am also offering you my love and forgiveness.”

It was not some whim or outburst of sentimentality that brought her to this moment, Annette told me. No, it was the conclusion to a long journey of prayerful introspection, scripture study, wise words from friends, and her experience of the love and forgiveness of God in her own life.

Last year she published a book about the details of that journey, Forgiveness: the Mystery and Miracle. In it she writes about her courtroom words of forgiveness:

“I learned an important lesson that day. If I had refused to forgive Travis, I would have continued being a victim. I would have been shackled in chains just like Travis, only my chains would have been around my heart and my spirit. I too would have been in prison – the prison of fear, anger and unforgiveness.”

For his crime the judge sentenced the murderer to life in prison without chance for parole. As for Annette, “I left the courthouse a changed woman,” she said. “I was free.”

For the whole story of what brought this grieving sister to her moment of forgiveness, I urge you to pick up a copy of Forgiveness: the Mystery and Miracle, available in Cochrane at Bentleys Books, or on line at

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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