My name is Patty Bonack. I live in Sugar Camp, Wisconsin, which is between Rhinelander and Eagle River. I have four children and several grandchildren. Angie lives in Minnesota. Becky lives in Madison. Chris, lives in Conover and my youngest, Jenny, lives in heaven.
Jenny was living in Madison before she moved to heaven. On March 8, 2009, a drunk driver hit her car and killed her instantly. The Lord escorted her to be with Him at that very instant. When she left work that night, no one knew she would be taken from us. She was 21.
I found out about her death a few hours later. As the pain ripped through my body and my heart broke, I also felt peace. I knew I’d never see my little girl again on this earth but I also knew I’d be reunited with her in heaven.
As I dealt with this loss, I found myself at a crossroad. How would I deal with Jesse, the man who killed her? I really had only two choices -- be angry, resentful and unforgiving or reflect God’s love for me and extend the same forgiveness to Jesse.
By the grace of God and Him alone, I was able to forgive Jesse, instantly. Yes, instantly. As my husband told me the news and I sank into a chair sobbing, the Lord was already at work healing my heart. I’m not saying there wasn’t any pain. That news cut deep into my heart and soul but with the Holy Spirit’s help, that pain didn’t morph into anger, resentment, bitterness or unforgiveness.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, I found myself in the midst of something very unexpected. The Lord had plans I never dreamed I’d be a part of. The forgiveness He placed inside me took on a life of its own. In the midst of my pain and tears, compassion emerged. Before I knew it my comfort zone had grown and I contacted Jesse as well as his mother and girlfriend. I had no idea what God’s plan was with this connection but I knew the outcome could only be good.
As I connected with Jesse and his family, I experienced resistance from my friends and family. They just couldn’t imagine why I would want to get to know “them,” but the pull I felt in the direction to connect was too strong to ignore. I was already blessed with being able to forgive and God wanted me to take it further.
What most people don’t understand is that forgiving means freedom. Forgiveness doesn’t take away the pain of losing a loved one. That pain never leaves. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean I love my daughter any less. On the contrary, it means I am free to get on with my life and honor God despite my pain and loss. When we don’t forgive those who hurt or offend us, we are wrapped in chains that hold us back from what God wants for us.
As a child, I learned what the Bible says about forgiveness -- ‘forgive others as you have been forgiven’ (Matt 6:14 & 15; Col. 3:13, etc.) but that wasn’t the main reason I forgave. I really didn’t think about it. Forgiveness was just in my heart even as the sting of the news penetrated it. There is no way I could have done that on my own. The Spirit put it there and was working in me that morning in several different ways.
The connection I have with Jesse and his family is amazing. Jesse is serving his prison sentence but we connect at least twice a month through letters. I visit him as often as I can. His mom and I formed a bond that cannot be broken. I would not want to be in her shoes and she wouldn’t want to be in mine. Through all of this, Jesse has come to know the Lord!
God works miracles every day and I have been privileged to experience numerous miracles since the accident. Romans 8:28 is alive and well in this story. The love, mercy and grace of God are also obviously present.
In the summer of 2013 I was led to write a book about Jenny, the accident, forgiveness and the real time evidence that God does work all things together for good. That book was published not too long ago. Its purpose is to touch people’s hearts to heal, help and maybe even convict some.
It’s called “The Man Who Killed My Daughter” and is available on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook or my website, www.pattybonack.com/. I invite all of you to get a copy and see other examples of how amazing God is and the benefits of extending forgiveness.