Chris Williams: Forgiveness and the Worth of a Soul
On Feb. 9, 2007, Chris Williams and his family were driving home from a night out together when their vehicle was struck by a 17-year-old drunk driver. That night, Chris lost his wife, Michelle, who was pregnant with their fifth child; his son Ben; and his daughter, Anna. Three days later, Chris Williams spoke publicly for the first time following the accident and extended unconditional forgiveness to that 17-year-old young man, a decision he has stood by for more than 12 years.
Yes, He was there to help me. Yes, He was there to make everything okay and to start to heal me. But the next invitation after I let it go was, would I help Him in bringing this young man home?
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Buy Chris Williams's book, Let It Go: A True Story of Tragedy and Forgiveness, here.
Quote: "This is what she would want to do," he said of forgiving the allegedly drunken teenage driver.
Quote: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Quote: “He should know it was merely the Savior working through me, I had merely put myself in a situation to be a vessel through which the Spirit, through which his example, through which his knowledge, his intelligence, his brilliance could shine. That’s really all I had to do was just not get in the way of that. I wanted him to understand that I really didn’t have much to do with any of the goodness that has come out of that.”
Video: "Forgiveness: My Burden Was Made Light"
Quote: President James E. Faust said: “Bishop Williams addressed this concept so well when he said, ‘Forgiveness is a source of power. But it does not relieve us of consequences.’ When tragedy strikes, we should not respond by seeking personal revenge but rather let justice take its course and then let go.”
Quote: “I look at what the Savior did for all of us in an eternal sense,” he added. “It’s taking an unjust situation that he experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, then producing so much good from that. In a lot of ways, that’s what we are here to experience and learn: how can we take the trials, tests and hardships that we are presented with and turn those into a foundation upon which we can build hope, love, redemption and forward progression. (The Atonement of Jesus Christ) covers every type of situation.”
Music Video: "Lauren Alaina - The Other Side"
Article: "Man exercises a year of forgiveness after drunk teen driver kills wife, two children"
2:29- Life Before the Accident
7:00- Life After the Accident
8:28- Blending Families
10:14- “What She Would Do”
13:46- Having Walked In Those Shoes
17:43- Lessons Learned on the Scene of the Accident
23:34- “I’m Sorry”
25:45- Conversations with God
30:46- Meeting Cameron
33:36- Forgiveness- A Source of Power
37:08- Invitation to Act
38:38- The Atonement Covers Every Type of Situation
42:02- On the Other Side
46:56- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones: On today's episode you will hear from Chris Williams, a devoted father who, in February 2007, lost half of his family when a drunk driver hit their vehicle. Chris's message of forgiveness spread in the days, weeks, and months following the accident, and in his book, "Let It Go," he tells the story of that forgiveness. His book is one of many you can access on Bookshelf PLUS+ and you can begin a free 30-day trial of Bookshelf PLUS+ by visiting deseretbook.com/allin.
Many of us are familiar with the story in Victor Hugo's timeless novel, Les Miserables, where John Valjean shows up to a bishop's house asking for a place to stay. Valjean steals silver from the bishop and then runs away in the night, but he is caught by police who return him to the bishop's home. In arguably one of the most powerful examples of forgiveness in literature, the bishop tells the police that he gave the silver to John Valjean as a gift. After the police left, the bishop says to Valjean, "Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man. John Valjean, my brother, you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you." In many ways, this is the same gift Chris Williams offered the 17-year-old drunk driver who hit his family, killing his pregnant wife and two of their children. In many ways, it was a soul that Chris Williams was buying.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, "what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so honored to have Chris Williams here with me today. Chris, welcome.
Chris Williams: Thank you so much for having me.
MJ: Well, I have admired you from afar for a very long time. I remember I read your book when it first came out and have always been so impressed by your story. And so I just appreciate your example and your willingness to be here and to share this this with us today.
CW: Thank you so much. It's just an honor to be here. It's an honor to just bear witness of Christ and that He's accessible to all.
MJ: You have always done a good job of that. So first of all, Chris, I wanted to kind of start with a little bit of a different question, and that is how would you describe your family before the accident?
CW: As I think about my family before the accident, I mean, certainly the word "typical" kind of comes into mind, but I don't know that that's exactly the case. I don't know that there is a typical family. And so words like "blessed" have really kind of more accurately described the family—I think every family is blessed if you look for those blessings. But since I've had the opportunity to kind of in hindsight, go back and look at my family before the crash, I see the finger of the Lord so evident. I think if anything, I realized that I wasn't aware of that finger of the Lord in my life so prominently. And perhaps that would be the temptation to think of our family as typical is, you know, if we compare ourselves to others, it's like, well, we're just like everyone else. But if you see the hand of the Lord in your life, and you realize it's not typical, it's extremely blessed and in very particular ways.
MJ: Yeah. In what ways, in retrospect, can you see that?
CW: So one of the things that I did—and I don't even know why I did this—is I took a tremendous amount of video. Which was irritating to my wife, she didn't want to be on camera, it was kind of irritating to the kids because I always had—and it wasn't like the smaller videos that we have now—
MJ: Like the big bulky camcorder.
CW: Yeah! And I had the fanny pack. And it's yeah, so quite embarrassing for myself. But for whatever reason, I just found myself taking videos. And I don't know that I even consciously said, "I need to record all of this." But I took a tremendous amount of video and that now has been just a cherished, you know, something that our family cherishes, that we have a recording not only of the family but of particular moments. So I would sit and record a family home evening which was super irritating to everybody. To just sit on the couch and you know, certainly participate, but to capture kind of like a family home evening with you know, the good stuff that's going on, as well as some of the not so good stuff that was going on. But I've got this as a record now of our family having these experiences. The second thing we did is for whatever reason, we decided instead of taking the trips, you know, the normal trips to the beach or you know, a resort or something like that, we did a lot of church history stuff. So for two years, we went back to Nauvoo, that was one trip. We went through all the, you know, central United States. So all the church sites of Adam Ondi Ahman etc. as a family and had some wonderful spiritual experiences there. And then another summer, we went back to Palmyra, New York, to upstate New York, and a lot of the church sites that are on that, with a trip to New York as well. And what's amazing about that is looking at the journal entries I wrote in and, of course, all the camera work that we did, as well as how important the plan of salvation was for us. That, you know, we could talk about and testify about where it was restored, going back to the, to the sacred grove where it all began. And then going forward to Missouri and the importance of the concept of Zion and the gathering and everything else. All of those wonderful concepts that we have in our faith, just having an opportunity to share the reality of those as a family. And of course, at the time, we had no idea that half of our family was going to be suddenly on the other side of the veil. But now in retrospect, looking back, it was a tender mercy, I believe of the Lord's, to just prepare us for that very difficult, but in a sense, amazing blessing that there is a plan. And that we'll all be back together once again.
MJ: I love that Chris and it made me think of two things. One, my grandpa was very much that same way. My dad always jokes that when he was little, his dad would come in, and he would have so much camera equipment with him at like a little league basketball game, that they would be like, "Oh, is the TV crew here?" Like, "The TV channel has come to cover our basketball game." And my dad's like, "Oh, no, that's just my dad." But because of that, we have a ton of videos that we've always appreciated. It also reminded me when you said the thing about family home evening, I have—my aunt, she has a brother who passed away in a car accident. And they have this video, a family home evening, and she's shown it to me before because it's actually really hilarious, it's just like madness chaos. But because of that, they have that video of her brother. And I just think it's so important to capture those moments and those memories and, like you said, you don't know what's going to happen. But if you do it, then you won't regret it. Chris, how would you describe your family now?
CW: Oh, a work in process. Well, it's a work that has progressed tremendously in the last 12 years. But it's been interesting, just the remarriage has been an interesting experience.
CW: With the blending of families, as well as just the healing. And so, you know, trying to rebuild a life, trying to start, you know, into a new relationship with, in my particular instance, marrying a woman that had two children with a previous husband who passed away just prior to the crashed with bone cancer. But to get, you know, her two children, my surviving boys, and then we've had two together, just to make all of that kind of work has been an interesting challenge.
CW: Which I guess I assumed, initially, that it would be easier. But looking back, I think it was a challenge for a reason. In that, you know, typically you value what you have to work for. And I find myself now just absolutely valuing what we have, what a tremendous blessing it is to have this family that is so wonderful, and that we have worked hard to make work.
MJ: Yeah. I'm curious before we dig in, kind of to this past experience that's led up to now, what are some of the biggest lessons that you've learned from that process of blending two families?
CW: That it's easier with the Savior. And certainly engaging and evolving Him and your life makes it easier from the perspective of you know, having, you can see that there's going to be an endpoint, a light at the end of the tunnel and a reason for that. Just an example there is that when I was dating my current wife, and I was meeting her in-laws for the very first time, so her husband's parents, I realized that we made the connection actually that her father-in-law is my third cousin.
MJ: Oh, wow.
CW: So, which being in Utah and, you know, everyone's kind of related, it seems like if you've been here long enough with pioneer stock. But what that meant to me, though, is that her children now are my children, are part of my bigger family. And so one of the things that I've realized is I've kind of had that perspective enlarged, is just how interconnected we all are and how important it is for us to love one another, and to serve one another because we are family. And so with this blending of families, I mean, that certainly made it important for it to work. Because it's not like we could say, "Oh, this isn't working. We're just going to go our different ways and do something else." It's like, "No, we're all going to end up as a family eventually on the other side of the veil, so let's get right now. Let's work on this now and make sure that it all works so that when we are together in that enlarged family group, that we love one another, and that we've, you know, put in the effort and the energy to show that to each other."
MJ: Yeah. Chris, following the accident that your family experienced, you were kind of in the spotlight because of the forgiveness that you extended toward Cameron, the driver of the other vehicle. You were mentioned in general conference, which is pretty cool. But you said immediately following the accident when you spoke to the media, extending that forgiveness, that it was your wife's example that influenced your decision to forgive and you said, "This is what she would do." And then the newspaper said after 18 and a half years of marriage, Williams called the accident and his reaction to it an exam from his wife to "make sure I was listening." How did your wife exemplify forgiveness, Chris?
CW: First, there was non-judgmental. Before we were dating, I knew her in high school, and she just exhibited such an acceptance of others, such a willingness to, in a sense, admit that everyone is my superior and I can learn something from everyone, which is a kind of— it's a twist on a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, but it's a wonderful and beautiful way to live. I think Moroni put it best in chapter seven of the Book of Mormon, he explained the followers of Christ as being "peaceable followers of Christ." And he judged that by their "peaceable walk among the children of men." And that was the first thing I noticed with Michelle, is that throughout her life, she had a peaceable walk. If there was an offense that came, she always assumed that it wasn't intentional, that there was something behind it. If somebody said a mean word or somebody did a mean act, she didn't assume and take the offense that, you know, they were striking out because they're just mean people. She would try and dig further in and find out what's behind that, what is it in their life that's driving them to act that way. Which I found just absolutely remarkable as a trait to emulate and something I absolutely learned from. And the other thing that I found so amazing about her is the way she dealt with our children. Whenever the children would act up, she didn't lash back out or vent her frustrations back on them, you know that their actions were a reflection on her. She was an educator by training and so when the kids would act up, she would just basically say, "That's not appropriate. And when you want to act appropriately, then we can continue the conversation," or continue whatever they need, you know, that attention that they need. And so she was very quick to kind of set that limit. And forgiveness, for me, it's helped me to understand that in a way, forgiveness is about setting a limit. It's about setting what's appropriate and what's not appropriate. In other words, what I'm going to respond to as an individual, and what's my appropriate way to respond to offenses or trials or the actions of others that come into my life, and what's not appropriate. And so for me that the forgiveness, I knew when it happened, based on my experiences with my first wife that what would not be appropriate would be to lash back out. I needed to exhibit the same kind of control she did with our children and say, "Okay, I'm not going to get angry, I'm not going to get upset. I'm not going to say something that I regret. I'm going to stop and I'm going to, you know, master myself and my thoughts and my actions, my words, and then when I'm ready, I'll go back out and when it's appropriate, you know, say whatever I need to say."
MJ: Amazing. I love that so much. Another thing, Chris, that stood out to me as I read your book, and as I prepped for this podcast, is that you had another experience prior to this accident, that kind of set the tone for the way that you responded. You were not impaired driving but you hit a little boy, is that right?
CW: Correct. Yeah, when I was 16.
MJ: Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
CW: Sure. I was working at the LDS Hospital as a hospital orderly in surgery, which was a pretty responsible position for a 16-year-old, but I kind of looked older than I guess I actually was and got the job. But I was six months into that job when I was slowing down to find a place to park right by the hospital. And two little boys were chasing each other through the front yard and went in between two parked cars right in the path of my car. So I didn't see the four-year-old boy emerge from between the two cars, I only heard the impact. But it was severe enough that the boy succumbed to the injuries he had sustained a couple of days after the crash. And so as a 16-year-old that, you know, was devastating. But while I sat in a police car, to this day, I don't know who It was but it was an angel in my eyes because she knocked on the door and asked if I would like my name put on the temple prayer role. And so one of the initial impacts of that, based on that invitation was—and the in the spirit that I felt afterward, the peace that accompanied that invitation afterward—was that there is a bigger picture of life. And that there is a savior and that I have a savior, and that there is a plan and that we have temples and that families can be together. And I didn't, as a 16-year-old even understand what the temple prayer role was, but just the word "temple," just to know that there is a life after this one—you know some of the basic concepts that we believe and adhere to—that provided such a relief, such a amount of peace for me in my life and helped me just to move forward from something that could have just kind of stopped my progression and growth. The other thing it did for me is it helped me to understand that the burden I carried—even though I wasn't impaired, I didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong and was never charged for that, and the family that was impacted offered up their forgiveness and their love towards me—I still carried the burden that a choice I had made that day, it led to a situation where a young four-year-old boy lost his life. And the impact that it had on that family, just carrying that burden through my life was significant. And it helped me to come to Christ and to plead with him for an answer, which I didn't get actually. I didn't get a lot of answers or a lot of reasons why just that I could make it through and that I could have the peace from that. In fact, it wasn't until right after the crash in 2007 that I got some peace and some answers, being able to connect with the father of that four-year-old boy after so many many years. But to do so in a like circumstance, where I had just lost, you know, a son and a daughter and a newborn baby and then to be able to kind of relate to him as Father that had lost his son so many years ago.
MJ: Yeah. What was that conversation like?
CW: So there was that authenticity there just being able to speak with him as one now understanding a little bit better, not exactly or not perfectly, but just a little bit better what it would have been like for him to go through that experience where his four-year-old boy passed away after that accident. So that was interesting.
CW: And I think also, it was healing for me, just to know that he is doing well and that their family moved forward from that as well. And, you know, with the gospel intact. And that was healing to know that things didn't turn out poorly for them.
MJ: Right. Chris, both your wife's example and that experience, I feel like it's interesting to see how they kind of lead up to the accident that your family experienced. Many people listening have probably heard your story or seen the Mormon Message. I guess that those probably have a name change now, huh? But they've probably watched that video, but for those who have not, now 12 years later looking back, what are kind of the biggest things that stand out to you from that night?
CW: So the first thing that stands out is how quick the Savior was to succor me as one of His believers. And to "succor" means to run to with assistance or aid. And so that was amazing that in the middle of that grief, that immediate grief that came, just knowing that my wife and the baby that she was carrying and that two of my three children had passed away. In that instance, to have the Savior come to me and in three words, which were presented to my mind, I think, "let it go." In that moment to ask me, through those three words, if I was going to have faith in Him to be healed. So He was there on the scene, the first responder ready to go ready to heal, but before he could do anything, he had to do it just as He healed anciently, which was to see if there was faith and see if there was going to be a belief. So I was asked, I believe, through those three words, if I was going to let it go and have faith to be healed in Christ's way, or if I was going to try and heal myself in some other way. And so when I committed then in there in the car to do exactly that, to let it go, have faith in Christ to be healed in his way, the peace came immediately. So that was one of the first things that just absolutely, in looking back in retrospect, is so amazing, is how his power for sure, and His grace, His enabling power, but also His mercy. How quick He is to bless us when we're ready and when we desperately need those blessings.
CW: The second thing I learned which was kind of a surprise learning, actually, was the worth of a soul. Because in that moment, as soon as I let it go, as soon as I felt the peace towards my wife and my children and that everything was going to be okay—and I heard my son Sam cry out and I knew he was injured and I didn't even know where my oldest boy was—found my mind not even thinking about that. So here I am getting put onto a backboard, I'm getting put down, I'm getting emergency response. I've got severe pain in my body and get my mind is focused increasingly on the one individual that night that's really in danger. The one individual that the Savior is worried about and that's the young man that was driving the other car. And I just think it's interesting in looking back how I felt the Savior's love towards that individual, that young man. And yes, He was there to help me. Yes, He was there to make everything okay and to start to heal me. But the next invitation after I let it go was, would I help Him in bringing this young man home? I guess at the very least He didn't want me to oppose that or fight it, which is part of that forgiveness that everyone extolled so much. But really, I think the miracle that night is the mercy and love that He has for the one. And it was my blessing, my privilege, my honor to feel and have a witness of that mercy towards the worth of the soul that He has towards the one. If there's one witness, one testimony, one concrete thing I can say I absolutely believe and know to be true, and if I could only have one in this life, I just feel so happy and blessed that that's my witness: is that Christ loves the one. And that the worth of that soul for Him is just more than I can describe in words and more than I can even comprehend. It was overpowering and overwhelming just to feel how much He wanted that young man to come back. And so that's really what this last 12 years for me have been about and doing these podcasts and anything else I can do is just to witness to the world that Christ paid the price for the one. For you, for me, for everyone. And in a way that you know, I can't explain and I can't really comprehend. But somehow, He just knew each and every one of us so individually, so perfectly, that when he went into the garden and prayed, He did it for us, for you, for everyone. Not just for a big old group, but He knew everyone individually. And for me to feel that love that He had just for that one individual, it changed everything. It changed my perspective and it's changed my life.
MJ: Chris, I love something that you said following the accident and I want to focus on this idea of forgiveness, just because I think it's so beautiful. But you said, referring to Cameron, "He should know it was merely the Savior working through me. I had put myself in a situation to be a vessel through which the Spirit, through which His example, through which His knowledge, His intelligence, His brilliance could shine. That's really all I had to do was just not get in the way of that. I wanted him to understand that I really didn't have much to do with any of the goodness that has come out of that." And I think that's what you just reiterated, is that this was not about you. It was about the Savior working through you to forgive this young man. You first saw Cameron following the accident at a hearing that was to determine whether or not he was going to be tried in juvenile court, or in a regular adult court. What do you remember about when your eyes met Cameron's?
CW: So when our eyes met, he immediately started mouthing the words "I'm sorry" to me. And of course I didn't hear that because we were separated, but I knew exactly what he was saying. And I think, more importantly, I knew that he was sincere. And I also knew that the forgiveness and mercy weren't contingent on him being sorry in that moment. So prior to that hearing, you know, I had a wonderful experience just once again, with this with the Spirit in being taught about this mercy and love that Heavenly Father has for the one and the Savior has for the one, is that he also has patience. Divine, wonderful, glorious patience. And that I knew that if Cameron, in that moment, wasn't ready to really feel remorse or to desire to change his behavior or to do anything like that, like even express sorrow, you know, an apology, that eternally, it would all work out. There would be a time, in other words, where he would feel that. And so I think that was a wonderful preparatory experience just to know that the Savior has the patience for us. And I say that because there's a lot of people that when they forgive, they want to see that they want to see kind of the—and they don't get it oftentimes. They get people that aren't willing to change, that just dig their heels in and they continue to offend or continue to do things that aren't right. But our forgiveness doesn't have to be contingent upon that whatsoever. It was a blessing that Cameron did that in that situation and that he was starting to kind of move forward and wanted to move forward. Because I think that opened us up then to have further conversations and to, you know, to invite him to let it go and t move forward in his life as well. And to see that blessing of the worth of the soul and the progress that he could have on this side of the veil.
MJ: Yeah. So nearly two years passed, I think before you actually sat down with Cameron and had a conversation which, in the video it kind of makes it seem like it happened a little bit quicker than that. But in that time, you mention in the video that you had a lot of conversations with our Heavenly Father. And I love in the video how you say that Heavenly Father just listened first. And I just wondered what were some of those conversations with the Lord like, and what were some of the things that you were learning? You mentioned patience. I think that's definitely one of them. But is there anything else that stands out in your mind that the Lord taught you in that interim period?
CW: Well, about the listening part is, as a very imperfect human, as an imperfect Christian, I certainly had my bouts with anger, with frustration, with whether this was fair or not. I mean, I think there were times I felt like I was the two-year-old just ready to throw a tantrum. And also the "why" questions. I mean, there's just a lot that naturally comes, you know, the emotions the chemicals, hormones, you name it, it's all just completely, you know, there and can be so very powerful and, and debilitating at times. And so that was where I went when I needed peace, when I needed help, when I needed guidance when I needed, you know, just help getting that one additional step today forward, I would go to Heavenly Father. And it's true, it wasn't like He tried to solve my problems immediately. Or it wasn't like He was there to just, you know, remind me what I should be doing or to chastise me. He was there as a father, to listen and to provide love and counsel when I was ready to receive it. But if I wasn't in that position, He was ready to just listen and to be there and just know that he had authenticity. He knew exactly what I was feeling, so I could have trust in that and that He was going to make it all right one day. And that, until that day, I could rely that there was a gift of patience that I could receive if I kept you know addressing my thoughts and faith and my prayers to Him.
MJ: Yeah. How has that experience, and having had that forming that kind of relationship with God, how has that changed the way that you parent your children?
CW: So it has changed it immensely because I found that from a "patience" perspective, I'm certainly much more patient with them. And I find myself when I want to correct, I find myself just stopping for a minute and asking, "Do I really want to say that? Do I really want to go in and ground or do this or that? Is there a better way to teach a spiritual lesson here than just going in and addressing the behavior?" And so that has definitely changed my perspective on parenting. So I'm much more introspective about me, about what is it that I need to change? Is it really all about me changing my kids or are there things in that I'm doing that would help them out? And so I think that's one thing, it's just turning a lot more inward versus just, you know, that it's all their fault and I just gotta run in and tell them to do this or that or stop this or that.
CW: And the second thing is faith that everything's going to work out. So without going into too much detail, but you know, it's been a difficult 12 years with my kids and—with my boys especially—their healing process forward. They weren't in the car, they didn't have the "let it go" experience. They haven't had a lot of the spiritual experiences and preparation that I had had. So they've gone through some significant challenges. And there have been times when I've wondered, am I going to lose them? What do I need to do here? And there's been this peaceful assurance that in the eternal perspective, things work out. And that even though I may not see it today, and even though it may not seem like things are headed in that direction where they'll work out—they may be going the opposite direction—to be still and know that heavenly Father is God and that He is their father as well. So that's the second thing, is not only that that perspective and patience, but to know that I'm not in this alone. I've got a Heavenly Father, the Savior is their father because they've been baptized and they've accepted the gospel. They've got grandfather's they have, you know, a host of other men that surround them as fathers and other women as mothers. And so they're not going far without somebody noticing and, through the Spirit, enticing them and inviting them to come back and softening their hearts and do that. Which, it was wonderful because it all worked out. They served missions and, you know, the things that I would have hoped for them. It's a wonderful thing.
MJ: Thank you so much for sharing that. Chris, when you finally did end up having a conversation with Cameron, he talks about how you walked in the room with a smile on your face. And I think that is almost like symbolic because obviously, if you're able to do that, there's a lot of preparation that went into that moment where you were able to walk into that room, smiling. What did you do to prepare for that conversation?
CW: That specific day I had, in the parking lot before I went in, I just prayed that whatever I said wouldn't detract from his healing process. So I went in with a mindset that I wanted to be on the Lord's errand. That if I did say something, or if I talked about anything, if I shared anything, that it would be what the Savior would want me to share. I think the second thing was just, back to that worth of the soul. I mean, that was such a transformative experience for me in the car and then, of course, having a year or two to think about that and to ponder about it, and it changed my perspective on my brother. And that's how I see him. And so going in, it wasn't going in to see the person that had done this to my family, it was going in to see a brother that I loved and I wanted to love and I wanted to get to know better and I wanted to help. And just knowing that I had the Savior there with me at my back and you know, going in kind of empowered with His grace, His enabling power, I couldn't help but to not feel happy.
MJ: What do you remember about that conversation? Or do you remember any key moments in that?
CW: So a lot about it, actually. So we started out because it was he and I and a therapist that they were working with Cameron on, you know, some empathetic things about learning about my family and learning about the effects of his choices and how it affected my family. And so they went through some prepared questions and kind of dialogue about that. But it wasn't until the therapist said, "Is there anything else you want to ask Mr. Williams?" That's when things really opened up because that's when he just asked, "After everything I had done or that he had done to my family, how can I forgive him?" I think that's when I realized that he really wanted to know what is it that I'm tapping into to give me that smile on the face, the peace that he wanted? And then that's what I wanted to make sure he understood that it was all about the Savior, it wasn't me at all. And that I'm nothing special, frankly, and that, you know, if there's any kind of success or power or you know, grace or forgiveness or anything else that I was exhibiting, it was all coming through the Savior.
MJ: So powerful and so beautiful. Chris, another thing that I loved, President James E. Faust said in his conference talk when he referred to you he said, "Bishop Williams addressed this concept so well," referring to forgiveness, "when he said 'forgiveness is a source of power, but it does not relieve us of consequences. When tragedy strikes, we should not respond by seeking personal revenge, but rather let justice take its course and then let go.'" And I think that's what your story exhibits in such a powerful way. I think that's why people have been drawn to it for 12 years now, is that it just demonstrates that while we may be experiencing difficult things, and you've touched on those things—that your family has gone through a lot in the last 12 years—but that you also were able to let justice take its course and let it go. I'm curious, Chris, how you have seen that forgiveness is a source of power,
CW: Forgiveness, as a source of power, it's empowering to me, or to anyone I think that that forgives because I'm the beneficiary of the forgiveness. And what it allows me to do is to regain the focus, regain my sense of control, regain my sense of direction. Just like my wife would say, what's appropriate and what's not appropriate allows me to kind of define "this is what's appropriate in my life. This is how I'm going to react to the circumstances or situation." In fact, I've often said that the forgiveness I offered was probably one of the most selfish things I've ever done in my life because I was the one-hundred percent recipient of all of the goodness and blessings of my personal forgiveness. I know that others have been impacted by it positively, but I also realized that impacting, that their experience, it's them being blessed in their own lives when they decide to let it go as well and do it. But when I chose to let it go, I got all of that goodness and blessing and perspective and focus and everything else. It all came into me in my life. And so that has been incredibly impactful and powerful for me to realize that there's a lot of things that I don't have to worry about. And so one of those was whether he was tried as an adult or a juvenile, or whether he was sent to the prison or to the detention facility. I mean, suddenly all of those burdens, which I could have wanted to take upon myself, right? And say, "Oh, no, we can't forgive him or let it go until he pays this or that." You see that play out in the courts. And when people can't let it go, they just carry these unnecessary burdens on their backs of justice or demands for justice, or recompense or anything else. And for me, it was so freeing just to say, "That's all off my back. I am only going to worry about the things that I can control and everything else, it's gone." And so it was a wonderful opportunity to just reset my agenda. And I found that in my life, that with that forgiveness, the blessing of that, it continues. I mean, it's the way I approached my work, it's the way I approach my family now. I know there are some things I can control and I work on those things, and the things I can't control, even with the behavior of others or the way they respond or talk or act, I can't control that. But I can always look inward and say, "What is it I can do to change myself to better improve or impact the situation?" So it was very freeing for me.
MJ: That's incredible. I loved one thing that you did immediately following the accident. When you spoke to the media, you invited people to conduct their own act of kindness or forgiveness, and you asked them to send them to your son's. I wondered if there were any stories that stood out as you received these from people and how they impacted the lives of others.
CW: So we've received thousands and thousands of stories over the last 12 years. But immediately after that, there were hundreds and hundreds of cards that we received. And some were just acts of kindness that they wanted to do inspired by that. But there were a few notes that were just so incredibly touching, of people sharing experiences of sadness and grief, and offense and things that had gone on and families. And that using this as an example, they had decided to finally let it go. It was just overwhelming for me to realize that the Savior was using this as an experience to just touch so many lives in such a wonderful way to encourage people to do the same, to let it go and move forward.
MJ: Yeah. We are planning to release this episode right before Thanksgiving. And I was thinking it would be really cool to challenge people to do the same thing. Hopefully, a lot of people listen to this as well and if we can just keep that going, I think that would be pretty powerful.
Chris, one last thing that I love that you said was you said, "I look at what the Savior did for all of us in an eternal sense. It's taking an unjust situation that He experienced in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross," which certainly what you experienced could be perceived as unjust, unfair. And then you said, "and then producing so much good from that. In a lot of ways, that's what we are here to experience and learn: How can we take the trials, tests, and hardships that we are presented with, and turn those into a foundation upon which we can build hope, love, redemption and forward progression? The Atonement of Jesus Christ covers every type of situation." How have you seen that in the last 12 years?
CW: Well, personally, it's many, many experiences with that. But I think more powerfully, just those letters. I mean, I continue to receive experiences that people share, where they just absolutely lay it on the altar and just with faith, look to Christ for peace and for hope and His saving grace. And to see their witness, how it came, has just been unbelievable. Just one example of that is I received an email several months ago of a woman that had found out her husband was unfaithful to her, that he had been for many years. And she immediately thought when she felt that pain and that hurt of our experience, and the thought that came to her was, "If that man can forgive that young man for killing his wife and his children, I can find a way to let this go and, with the Savior, heal from it." And so it was almost like an in-the-car experience for her that I had had, you know, but she wasn't a car. But wherever she was, I mean, she just made this determination, "I'm going to let it go and I'm going to trust in Christ to move this forward and heal my family." And she wrote how, after making that, she experienced the same peace and the same confidence, that same enabling power of grace in her life that allowed her to go through, you know, that terrible trial of getting this out with her husband and working through the counseling. But at the end of the note, she talked about how it saved her family. It saved from marriage and her family with children that, you know she has and how it made her stronger, and it made her marriage stronger. And then looking back, she now sees just that, that it was unjust, she didn't do anything wrong. She bore what she felt was the brunt of a very difficult challenge that has been put on her back, but with the Savior's help and being yoked to him, she was able to come through it stronger and better and wiser and more empowered to meet Him with her husband and with all of their children as a united, eternal family. I think with greater appreciation for that bond of marriage, her husband and with the children as well, then she would have been had nothing happened. And that may sound very odd to say, but I think that just reflects on the fact that the Savior can make ourselves that which we couldn't do on our own. And he can make things of our experiences that we couldn't do if we just try and heal and move forward on our own.
MJ: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. As we've talked, Chris, I can't help but think how proud your family, both here and on the other side, has to be of you and this example of forgiveness. Chris, there's a country song—I'm a country music fan. There's a country song right now by Lauren Elena and it's called "The Other Side." And in it, her grandfather—I think it's her grandfather, maybe her grandmother—is passing away. And they say to her, "Go write a story you can't wait to tell me on the other side." And I think that that's so beautiful, the thought that we will be reunited with the people that we love, and that we're going to want to have something to tell them about what we've done with the time that we have here. And certainly, your reunion with your family, I personally would love to witness it, I'm sure it'll be beautiful. But what do you look forward to about that moment, that reunion?
CW: I think that the thing I look forward to most is just, you know, certainly my wife will be there, and my children will be there. And I've looked forward to meeting them again and seeing them again so very often. But I think, almost more importantly, will be the extended family. And I say that because in the last 12 years, as I've thought about my wife and my children on the other side of the veil, as I've thought about eventually seeing them, if there's one thought that's come back to me in my mind it's that I need to get busy. And it's kind of an interesting thought to have. Here, I'm in my mind trying to have this little moment with my family, my wife, thinking about them, remembering, and yet what comes back to me is I need to get busy. And then the spirit that accompanies that thought helps me to understand that I need to get busy in the temple. I need to get busy finding those names of those individuals that they, on the other side of the veil, are going to find, they're going to teach, going to call home, that haven't had a chance to come home yet, that haven't had a chance to be baptized or to receive the blessings that we receive in the temple. And what comes to me through the Spirit is I need to not spend so much time, you know, reflecting on my wife and kids as I do searching out the people's names of those individuals that I believe I'll be led to, that they're out there finding on the other side of the veil so that I can find them, take them to the temple and get those blessings prepared for them. So that when we all are back together again, there will be no empty seats at the table. All those great great grandmother's and fathers and other people that are just a name on a temple card right now, I'll get a chance to meet them. And I'll get a chance to embrace them and I'll get a chance to hear them tell me and my family and others that participate in this work, "Thank you. Thank you. I can't tell you how much that meant to me on the other side of the veil when you went and did the baptism for the dead or when you did the sealing in the temple for me and my husband, or when you did the endowment session," or the whatever it is that we do in the temples. I think that will just be the highlight of an eternal existence is just to hear all of those "thank you's" of my family on the other side of the veil that were waiting for me, on this side to go and do something for them, to help them out. And I think that's where my wife and that reunion with my kids will be so very powerful because they'll then they get to show me all the stuff that they were doing on that side of the veil as well. So I want to make sure I have something to show up with. I want to make sure that I'm busy and doing that work so that I don't just show up empty-handed.
MJ: Absolutely. Somebody asked me the other day, they said, "As a young single adult, why do you love the temple?" And I think it's interesting, the temple became so much more meaningful to me when I started taking family names to the temple. It's like a total game changer and I think two hands. One, my grandmother had passed away and I felt like it was a way of gathering friends for her. Like, "We got to get as many people in there as possible!" And then on the other hand, for me, it was like, "Okay, I need all the help that I can get, because I spend a lot of time by myself. And if I can have as many angels as possible with me, the more the better." And that has made it—I have honestly felt empowered by that, by knowing how many people are on the other side pulling for me, looking out for me, and I think they're, like you said, how much more beautiful is that reunion going to be when we have so many people that we've come to love and have come to love us. Thank you for sharing that. My last question for you, Chris, and thank you so much for your example. My last question is what does it mean to you, personally, to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
CW: In one respect, it means everything. In almost in every respect, it means everything to be all in. In other words, I'm not trying to straddle two worlds. Or I'm not trying to hold back, because there's a temptation to do that. There's a temptation to give almost everything to the Lord and then keep a little bit to myself. And to me, to be all in means that I could have the expectation of all the blessings, of all the joy, all the happiness, and all the protection because I don't know what tomorrow or even this afternoon will bring, right? And having experienced what I've experienced, you know, our family was doing great and all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, my wife and two of my children are gone. So to be all in means protection, it means safety, it means that I can have full confidence that everything is going to work out, that everything will be okay as long as I don't let go, as long as I don't give up on that. As long as I don't try and straddle two, you know, half in, half out. I choose to be fully committed and all in and I know that everything is going to work out.
MJ: Thank you so much. Chris, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much.
CW: Thank you so much for having me.
MJ: We are so grateful to Chris Williams for being with us on today's episode. You can find Chris's book, Let It Go in Desert Book stores and on Bookshelf PLUS+. As always, thank you for listening, and a big thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix At Six Studios for his help in making us sound good. It's been a delight being with you and we'll be with you again next week.