Against the Odds

True stories of forgiveness and healing

Carmel Thomason

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This book contains some extraordinarily powerful and compelling stories from those who have faced huge challenges in their lives. They tell of how they have overcome them, and in reading them many will find hope and fresh resolve to face their own situations - or to understand a little more about the experience of others. I recommend it.
The Very Revd John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry

Content

Forgiveness is central to our faith because it is central to life. No relationship can survive without the ability to forgive, but sometimes we are hurt so deeply or so often that forgiveness appears impossible.

This collection of inspirational true stories demonstrate the healing power of forgiveness through ordinary people's experiences of war, crime, terrorism, betrayal, relationship breakdown and the uncertainty of life's path. Aimed at both individual reflection and group study, each story is followed by thoughts from a practitioner or church leader, which can be used to open a conversation about what you've just read, and questions to help you think about the wider issues raised.

Wherever you are in your life right now, this uplifting and practical book will encourage you to think about your own experience of forgiveness - how you might make this gift an everyday part of your life, let go of pain, restore relationships and live your life to the full.

Carmel Thomason introduces her new book of real-life stories:

There are few things of which we can be certain, but one thing is for sure - at many points in life we will forgive and be forgiven. On the flip side of that we will find many opportunities to find offence or to cause offence, to cause hurt and to be hurt, and sometimes the wounds will be so deep that they become a part of who we are.

Carrying around baggage like that is tiring, isn't it? We can speculate forever about why events happen or why some people do terrible things, but we rarely find the answers we seek. Wouldn't it be so much better if we could hand that heavy load over to God and feel free to enjoy our lives?

It's a challenge we all face to a greater or lesser extent, but one we often don't think about deeply until something major happens in our life. I was interested in why some people who have suffered terrible tragedy still see so much goodness in life, when so many of us who never experience such pain live in bitterness created by a reluctance or inability to let go of hurt.

The stories I've collected in my new book Against the Odds are true and demonstrate the healing power of forgiveness through ordinary people's experiences. Each story is followed by thoughts from a practitioner or church leader, which can be used to open a conversation about what you've just read, and questions to help you think about the wider issues raised as well as your own experience of forgiveness.

Writing the book certainly made me think about my own life and how many opportunities I have each day to forgive or not, to let go of pain or to let it weigh heavy in my heart. Do I need to focus on a throwaway remark from a stranger so that it spoils the rest of my day? Am I open to accept help even when it doesn't come from where I might expect it? Can I see the good in people, even that annoying woman in the office? Can I be more loving, grateful and less critical?

What I've learned is that life can be messy, but we are all given choices every day. Forgiveness is central to our faith because it is at the heart of all relationships. It is a commitment to love, and to live the best life we can now.

A brief summary of each story:

  1. A World War II British prisoner of war in the Far East at the age of just 20, Ray ended up as slave labour on the notorious Burma-Siam railway. Surviving the war, he was ordained in 1977 and, while he has never forgotten the suffering he and his comrades endured, he has found that the passing years have enabled him to forgive.
  2. Taken prisoner in Singapore as a 21-year-old in 1942, Bill lost both hands and sight when forced to clear an ammunitions dump. Returning home, he found his wife had left him, but he managed to rebuild his life, partly through discovering a talent for singing and marrying his singing teacher. A return trip to the Far East showed him how far he has managed to travel on the journey of forgiveness.
  3. When Joanne was raped by a man she knew, she felt for a time as if her life and her family's life had been destroyed. Through a restorative justice programme, she met her attacker again and, with the support of a mediator, was able to tell him not only that she forgave him but that she wanted him to forgive himself.
  4. Penny and Sue had spent years building up the business of St Denys Christian bookshop in central Manchester, only to have their work destroyed by the 1996 bombing. With a lot of determination, they not only refused to be defeated but were able to come to terms with what had happened and eventually see their shop re-established and flourishing in a new location.
  5. Brought down by ME and depression at 32, after years of high stress living culminating in divorce, Terry plucked up courage to return to the Christian faith he had left as a teenager. Discovering the contemplative tradition in Christianity (through a meeting with the Dalai Lama!), he has embarked on a journey into the unconditional love of God.
  6. Despite lots of prayer on a family pilgrimage to Walsingham, Gary's wife Zenka lost the baby she was carrying in the fourth month of her pregnancy. While they still struggle with the pain of that loss - a boy named David - Gary tells how he has learned much about relying on the love and mercy of God.
  7. Already troubled by insecurity in her marriage to Simon, Claire was devastated to discover he was addicted to online pornography. Although he eventually admitted he needed help, he continues to live with the reality of his addiction, ten years on. Meanwhile Claire continues to draw on the grace of God to give her the love and patience she needs to keep on forgiving and supporting her husband.
  8. A trivial argument led to brothers James and Tom's not speaking to each other for six years and nursing grievances from the past that should have been let go. Finally confronted by his niece (Tom's daughter) at a family funeral, James found he could make a move of forgiveness and, although they remain very different personalities, the brothers found they could rebuild a relationship.

Read about what motivates Carmel as a writer

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Endorsements

This book contains some extraordinarily powerful and compelling stories from those who have faced huge challenges in their lives. They tell of how they have overcome them, and in reading them many will find hope and fresh resolve to face their own situations - or to understand a little more about the experience of others. I recommend it.
The Very Revd John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry

Author info

Carmel Thomason is a journalist and writer based in Manchester. She is the author of Every Moment Counts: A Life of Mary Butterwick, which was listed in the top ten Christian books in the Church Times and WHSmith, and has collaborated with the Archbishop of York, writing the stories for John Sentamu's Faith Stories, both published by DLT. Carmel has also contributed to the The Way, The Truth and The Life series published by the Teachers' Enterprise in Religious Education.

Reviews

From New Directions Magazine August 2014

It was a delightful surprise to find that I knew a number of contributors to this book. They include Bishop Peter Forster who wrote me a beautiful letter when my appointment as Dean of Wakefield was announced. The 'Penny' in the chapter entitled 'Twenty Minutes: Penny's Story' sat with me for the Diocese of Wakefield on General Synod many years ago.

Thaddeus Birchard and I crossed paths when we were both involved in the Pastoral Care and Counselling scene in London.

This book is a collection of eight stories of individuals who have had to face tremendous challenges in their lives and who have had to overcome them and on the way work out what forgiveness means for them. In short each contributor has found that without forgiveness, there is no healing. That is not to say that they have found it easy, rather it has been a struggle with 'the dark night of the soul' for each of them.

Each story is followed by a reflection by a separate person from the writer. The reflection helps the reader to see what has been happening to the storyteller and draws out some spiritual and ethical questions for our consideration. This is followed by some very helpful questions to be considered either by individual readers or by groups. These questions help the reader make the experience of the storyteller their own by asking, 'What do you think?'

The first two stories, by Ray and Bill, centre round their experiences of being prisoners of the Japanese during the Second World War. Each in their own way endured terrible suffering and cruelty. Both describe how they dealt with their lives both as prisoners and in the after war years.

Joanne tells of how she endured rape and her long fight to have a face to face meeting with her rapist set up so that she could get him to understand and accept responsibility for the way his actions had ruined her and other peoples' lives. She movingly recounts how she came to tell him that she forgave him.

In 'Twenty Minutes: Penny's Story', Penny recounts her experience of not only nearly being killed by the IRA bomb in Manchester, but the way in which she had to rebuild her business when her bookshop was totally wrecked in the blast. She had to work through not only her anger against the IRA, but her fury that the authorities had not told her to vacate the building!

Terry tells of his single minded search for material success. His failed marriage and personal breakdown bring this false idol crashing down. A caring and listening priest makes him revise his picture of a God whose love has to be earned. Then we hear how his experience of the unconditional love from a rescue dog he takes in makes the whole concept of the Prodigal Son real to him. Finally he understands that new beginnings come from learning to 'blossom where you are planted'.

I nearly wept when I read Gary's story. He shares with us the awful experience he and wife have of finding that their unborn son is dead in the womb. To make it worse this happens at Walsingham in the middle of a pilgrimage with 3,000 people praying for them. 'Why doesn't God answer prayer?' is the big question at the heart of this story. I won't say any more here, because you really do have to read this story yourself to understand the complexity of what Gary and his family go through.

Claire, in her story, recounts how she discovers that her husband is addicted to online pornography. The sheer honesty of her account of her feelings of revulsion and her struggle to get him to admit he has a serious addiction problem are one of the bravest things I have read in a long time.

Finally, James' story of his quarrel and years long falling out with his brother makes the reader look at just what is 'the price of being right'? (or rather thinking that you are right!). It is not until he realized how the whole of the rest of his family, not just he and his brother, are being destroyed by his refusal to seek out reconciliation that he makes that crucial 'first move'. In the end he has to ask himself, 'What is it costing YOU to be right?'

The book ends with a short chapter which challenges the reader to look at how he or she deals with forgiving others, or indeed themselves, as well as how they receive forgiveness.

If we are to take the forgiving business seriously, we need to 'write our own story'. Again to help do that the reader is not only given some questions to look at alone or in a group, but also some resources by way of groups and organizations that are there to support.

I read this book at one go, so absorbing did I find it. I strongly recommend it, for either individual reflection or use in a group.

George Nairn-Briggs


We have all had occasions in life when we have felt hurt - physically, mentally, or emotionally - by the actions of others or by events beyond our control.

In Against the Odds, Carmel Thomason has compiled stories of diverse situations where individuals have resisted the temptation to let their hurts fester into negativity, simmering anger and retaliation. Whether 'religious' people or not they have followed the exhortation of Jesus to forgive 70 times 7, and in so doing have been able to move forward in their lives with enabling freedom.

The stories are compelling reading and surprisingly far - ranging, with stories from prisoners of war, victims of rape, and those who suffered the trauma of the Manchester bombing.

The victims are all inspirational in the sense that, through forgiveness, they have breathed hope into their lives, rather than letting themselves wallow in the dark clutches of the evil they have experienced.

This book will almost certainly help the reader to put into perspective some of the petty grievances and hurts to which they are clinging, and help them in the difficult task of forgiving.

Margaret Walker from The Good Book Stall


The IRA bomb of 1996 was a dark moment in the history of Manchester. it was remarkable that no - one was killed, but many people, whose faces never hit the news, found their lives changed. Penny Glover, owner of St Denys' theological bookshop on Cateaton Street, was one of them. at the time, Penny and her business partner, Sue Usher, had a bookshop on the second floor of the Corn Exchange, just metres from the blast on Corporation Street. it was only by chance they discovered the area had been evacuated just 20 minutes before the explosion destroyed all the work they had built up over 14 years. "The memory of the bomb has never left me," says Penny, "but I have learned to live with it without being ruled by fear. Looking back, aside from all the pain, I see the capacity of the human spirit to make good, however dark a situation may appear. "after 30 years we are more or less back to where it all began. I'm reminded of how much things have changed, and how much we have changed. I'm aware how life can take a different turn in a matter of minutes, but I'm also more grateful and I have faith that things will work out, even if I can't see how." Penny's inspirational story has been told in a new book by city author, Carmel Thomason, part of a collection which demonstrate the healing power of forgiveness through ordinary people's tragic experiences. "Whenever we see forgiveness in action it always inspires," says Carmel, whose previous work includes a collaboration with the archbishop John Sentamu's Faith Stories. "Writing the book certainly made me think about my own life and how many opportunities I have each day to forgive. I've learned that life can be messy, but in choosing to forgive we are choosing to love, and live the best life we can."

Crux. Diocese of Manchester. April 2014

Book details

  • ISBN: 9781841017396
  • Published: 21 February 2014
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 192
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