Photo: Michael Reed/WATE
Like many across the country who’ve vacationed there, I watched the progress of the devastating wildfires in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee two weeks ago in horror. The usually bustling tourist area in the Smoky Mountains has been terribly devastated by the fires, which authorities have determined were intentionally set.
There was one Gatlinburg tragedy I followed it closely, hoping and praying it would have a happy ending. It is the tragedy of the Reed family: mom Constance and daughters Chloe and Lily were driven from their house by the fires while husband Michael and their teenage son were stuck in traffic trying to get back to them. The three were missing for days and the family prayed they would be found alive, before their bodies were found a few days later, making them three of the 14 deaths caused by the fires.
Though obviously greatly grieved by the tragedy, Michael Reed has relied on his faith to get him and his son through this tragic time. Over the weekend, he published an open letter to the two teens accused of the arson, and it is beyond moving, and in many ways, truly unbelievable. With grace and courage that could only come from God, Reed offered the people responsible for the deaths of his family the gift of forgiveness. His full letter is below, as reported by WATE.
To the 2 teenagers who started the wildfires…
People stop me on the streets every day 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
I don’t know about you, but Reed’s letter blew me away. He’s only had a couple of weeks to deal with this devastating loss, but through his faith in God, he’s able to offer the ultimate gift to the two who have caused him the worst hurt imaginable. I pray that his message of forgiveness will be spread far and wide, and that God will receive the glory that has come from even this terrible of tragedies.