A Gatlinburg man who lost his wife and two daughters in the East Tennessee wildfire penned an open letter to the teenagers responsible for starting it. In an amazing show of compassion, he forgave the accused.
Michael Reed posted the letter to his Facebook page after he learned his wife Constance and daughters Lily and Chloe perished. Reed told Knoxville News Sentinel that he shared the letter to get the emotions off his chest.
In the letter, Reed shares how people stop him and his young son in the street. They ask how they can help in their time of tragedy. He tells them all the same thing. “Love those closest to you a little stronger,” Reed wrote. “Hold them a little tighter. Don’t take a single moment for granted.”
Of course, he wants to hold a grudge. He knows how he could hold onto anger. But he chooses not to. Speaking directly to the teens accused of starting the fire, Reed shows tremendous compassion and love. “I forgive you,” Reed says. “My son forgives you. My wife and beautiful girls forgive you.”
Reed looks to his faith as a beacon in such a terrible time. Put simply, Reed forgives the accused because “That’s what Jesus would do.” And ultimately, the forgiveness is for him and his son. Not for the teenagers who carelessly started those deadly fires.
“If you live your whole life holding a grudge against everybody who has ever hurt you, then you will be lonely the rest of your life,” Reed says.
So many in Tennessee and beyond stepped up to raise money and supplies for the victims. But all the money and supplies in the world won’t replace the lives lost in the completely avoidable wildfires.
Seeing such heartbreaking forgiveness from a man who lost almost everything is inspiring.
Michael Reed’s letter:
To the 2 teenagers who started the wildfires…
People stop me on the streets everyday and ask me the same question:
“What can we do for you?”
My answer has been the same every time:
“Love those closest to you a little stronger. Hold them a little tighter. Don’t take a single moment for granted.”
As I learned of your arrests last week I sat in silence for a very long time. You may be too young to understand this, but even through this tragedy I can feel God with me and my son. I have felt my wife and daughters touch me from Heaven. I have seen them give me signs that they are looking down on us. They are happy. They are at peace. They are together.
As humans, it is sometimes hard to show grace. We hold grudges. We stay angry. We point the finger and feel we have to lay the blame somewhere. It’s human nature and completely understandable. But I did not raise my children to live with hate. I did not teach my girls or my son to point the finger at others. John 8:7 says “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.”
Forgiveness isn’t for you. It is for me. It is for my son. It is for Constance, Chloe, and Lily. It is for this community who all lost so much in this tragedy.
I, as well as countless others, have been changed forever because of your actions. It is up to you to seek God’s forgiveness. I hope someday you can seek it and be at peace.
I forgive you. My son forgives you. My wife and beautiful girls forgive you. We know you didn’t mean for this to happen. We know you would take it all back if you could.
We will pray for you. Every day. We will pray for your parents and your family members. Every day. We will pray for your peace. We will show you grace. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do.
The greatest of these is Love.
Reed also posted this YouTube video to celebrate his family.