Forgiveness is the only option
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Before the dust settled from the wreck that took the lives of his pregnant wife and two of his children Feb. 9, Chris Williams knew that the first thing he had to do was forgive the driver who had crashed his vehicle into the Williams family's sedan.
"As a disciple of Christ, I had no other choice," said the bishop of the Crystal Heights Ward, Salt Lake Highland Stake.
Bishop Williams spoke with the Church News on Feb. 13 at Primary Children's Medical Center where Sam, his 6-year-old son, was hospitalized for injuries sustained in the accident. Bishop Williams, who suffered a broken rib, said that he had been reading the scriptures shortly before the accident and was impressed by the Savior's statement, "Of you it is required to forgive all men."
Bishop Williams said, "As I understand that statement, it is not an option whether or not I forgive somebody. It is a commandment."
He said that in the moments after the accident, he looked around inside the car and realized that his wife, Michelle, and two of their children, Ben, 11, and Anna, 9, had died in the crash. (Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17.)
He said he remembered the sealing ordinances of the temple. "I wanted to make sure that I would live in such a way that I'll have the right to be with my family for eternity," he said. "The last thing that I wanted to do in that moment when I realized that my wife and children had passed was to break a commandment. Really, as a disciple of Christ, I had no other choice but to forgive."
At the moment he decided to unconditionally forgive the driver of the other vehicle, Bishop Williams said, he heard Sam calling out to him from the back seat. Until that instant, he had not known whether Sam had survived.
As he was being treated at a hospital emergency room, Bishop Williams asked someone to have placed on the temple prayer roll the name of the other driver, a 17-year-old young man. His reason for doing so was powerful.
When Bishop Williams was 16, he was driving to work at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City when two young boys, brothers, ran from between parked cars and were struck by the vehicle he was driving. One of the boys died.
Bishop Williams said that he remembers sitting in the back of a police car, being 16 years old, "all alone, waiting, terrified, not knowing what had happened, being in a state of absolute shock, grief, pain and hurting, with nobody around, nobody to support me."
"Some lady came up, tapped on the window, opened the car door and said, 'Would you like us to put your name on the temple prayer roll?' Being 16, I knew what baptism for the dead was, but I didn't know what the temple roll really was. But when she mentioned the word 'temple' I felt peace fill that car. I said, 'Please, yes.' It brought such a peace and a calm to me; it has stayed with me throughout my life."
That was the reason, he said, that he quickly requested for the driver's name to be placed on the prayer roll. "My heart went out to whoever was driving that car not knowing the circumstances, not really caring about the circumstances, just knowing that this was going to affect that individual. I was just very concerned and wanted to return such a beautiful favor to somebody else that had been offered to me."
Bishop Williams expressed hope that members everywhere will pray for the young man who was driving the car that hit his family's vehicle. Police suspect the teenager was driving under the influence of alcohol.
On Feb. 11, Bishop Williams and his 14-year-old son, Michael (who was not with the family at the time of the accident), went to their ward's sacrament meeting. A special day of fasting and testimonies had been scheduled, but Bishop Williams had not planned to attend. He and Michael had stayed overnight at the hospital to be with Sam. Bishop Williams planned to attend the hospital's LDS branch sacrament meeting, which would allow Michael, who had been unable to rest since the accident, to sleep longer.
When Michael woke up, Bishop Williams asked if he would like to go to sacrament meeting. "Yeah," Michael replied. "I'd love to go hear some of the testimonies."
"What hit me by that comment was he was referring to our ward, not this branch here at the hospital, which meets at 10:30 a.m. Our sacrament meeting starts at 9 a.m. It was 8:55."
They went home and quickly changed clothes. The meeting was nearly half over when they arrived. Bishop Williams stood in the chapel's doorway, trying to figure out how to enter without causing much distraction. For a moment, he lost track of Michael. "I looked into the back of the congregation. There was this row of 14-year-old teachers, wearing white shirts, and he was right in the middle. He had such support and love that was exhibited to him right then. That's when it hit me that this was where he needed to be."
Stake President James Wood motioned for Bishop Williams to take his usual seat on the stand. "Immediately, when I did, the second inspiration that I received was that's where I should have been. I felt my wife there, I felt my two children who had passed away were there. It was just as if we were there, all of us as a family. It was a great strength, less than 48 hours after the accident, to feel of the love and prayers of the congregation, the visitors who had come, and also my sweet wife and my two children. And to know that Michael was in a place where he was getting this wonderful support."
Testimonies were about the Savior and the Atonement. "The Spirit was so strong. I took the opportunity to address the congregation and talked about the strength of the gospel."
He spoke about forgiveness, a principle he could teach through personal experience.
To his ward members and during the news interview he bore powerful testimony of the Atonement. He said that he wants to be among the friends who will visit the young man "for however long it takes" for him to recover from his role in the tragedy.
"My wife and my two children are taken care of," he said. "They're in a place of rest, a place of peace Paradise, as it's been named. The true tragedy of this event, the eternal tragedy, would be if this young man chose not to partake of the Atonement, and if we lost that soul. It's one thing to lose a life, but in the resurrection and eternal families, that can be healed through the love of our Savior. This can be an experience of growth, an experience where one day we're very grateful that we were able to pass through it. But if we were to lose that soul, for me, personally, heaven just wouldn't be heaven. I don't know if I could feel celestial joy knowing that there was a soul lost because of this accident."
Bishop Williams acknowledged that he and his family had been "handed a bitter cup." However, he said, a counselor in his stake presidency had explained that not even the Savior drank all of His bitter cup at once.
"He said that in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Savior drank of it a little, and then He went back to His disciples, to His friends, for a little bit of support, and then He went in and drank some more. He had an angel come and strengthen Him and support Him, and He drank a little more. He went back to His disciples, and was able to have a little bit of a respite. Then He started to drink the remainder on the cross, until it was all gone, until it was finished. I think it's like our lives; we're not asked to drink more than we're able to all at once."
He said that with love and support the cup will not always remain full, that one day it will be empty. "The gospel," he said, "gives us such strength to draw on the Lord and to allow Him to put His arm around us and help us to drink."
He added that he hopes he will be able to say, "I did that which was my duty to do. I endured that which was put into my cup, that I drank all that I was asked to drink."
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