For years Travis Widner was the pit bull of hs skinhead group, a man whose reputation for violence and willingness to administer it preceded him. Then he met his future wife Julie at Nordicfest 2006, a heavy metal concert for white supremacists. Soon they both realized the lifestyle wasn’t what they wanted and decided to leave the movement together. Travis became a dad to her four children before adding another son with Julie. His focus on life had changed.
The problem was that Travis’ inward change didn’t mirror his outer one, literally, due to the numerous facial tattoos showing his former allegiance to being a skinhead. Now wanting to provide for his family, employers weren’t exactly lining up for his resume. The symbols of pride became something he hated. “I was totally prepared to douse my face in acid,” he said.
A painful series of 25 operations would eventually be needed to uncover the numerous tatoos on his face and hands. His entire face felt like the worst sunburn he’d ever had and his hands came to resemble blistered boxing gloves. The doctor performing the operations decided early on that Widner would need to be put under general anesthetic to due to the amount of pain he was in. To see Widner’s transformation, go to this gallery at CBS News or a Google Image search.
Eventually, though, it happened. The hours of a laser slowly eating away at the ink just under his skin’s surface, the waiting on blisters to subside, the stares of people who first saw him as a monster instead of someone trying to change his path – it all came to an end.
The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. One of the best, if not the best, stories regarding dealing with a violent past comes from Paul. Making his name as an incredibly talented and zealous defender of the Law, he saw Jesus and the early church as a vermin that had to be crushed. Then, came a meeting on a road to the city of Damascus.
Everything changed, but not immediately. Church leaders remembered Paul and were (justifiably) suspicious of his intentions. You know how you’ve said you won’t do something unless you hear from God Himself on the matter? That’s what it took for one of the apostles to actually go meet Paul, and even then Ananias gave the Almighty a “You sure”? Paul and his reputation, even after Ananias’ blessing, would precede him as the disciples still wouldn’t meet with him until Barnabas stood up for Paul’s genuine converstion.
There’s a cost to recognizing our need for the gospel, and not just when we first pray to acknowledge Christ as savior. After that step we have to work toward forgiving ourselves, slowly understanding for just how big God’s grace is. It’s one of those things we’d like to be good at immediately. As things go though, we become better at forgviing by, well, forgiving.