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Pastor forgives attacker, and finds new way to live

Note: This op-ed has been updated to reflect Mitch Albom as the correct author. The piece was mistakenly credited to Leonard Pitts Jr. previously. The Sun regrets the error.

Thirty-seven stabs. Thirty-seven cuts by a knife. Twice to his throat. Six times to his spine. Seven times to his shoulder. A slice to his abdomen that ripped him open like a fish.

Kevin Ramsby lay on the floor of his Highland Park, Mich., home, bleeding out, waiting to die. It was 3 a.m., no one else was home, he'd been awakened by the sound of an intruder and had stumbled downstairs, his bulky frame protected only by a tennis racket he had grabbed.

The intruder had a knife.

Thirty-seven stabs.

"I was praying my last prayers for my wife, for my daughter. I was praying that my son wouldn't be angry at God for allowing this to happen to me."

Mr. Ramsby was no stranger to prayer. A pastor who came from Rockford, Ill., to work with troubled youth in Detroit, he lived in the community where he preached.

Now he was about to die in it.

But in one of those things that seem inexplicable except perhaps at this time of year, Mr. Ramsby says he heard a voice whisper to him. The voice said, "They still need you."

It stirred him enough to rise from the floor "holding my insides on the outside" and drag his dying body to his neighbor's porch.

When police arrived they could not at first tell whether the victim was male or female. That's how covered in blood Ramsby was.

"That voice lifted you up?" he is asked now.

"It did," he says, smiling.

Mr. Ramsby, 41, spent five months in the hospital and rehab. His attacker, a Detroit man named Wesley McLemore, pleaded guilty to attempted murder charges and sentenced to 18 to 40 years in prison last year.

But at the end of the trial, Mr. Ramsby refused to give a victim's statement. Instead, he gave a "life" statement, in which he forgave Mr. McLemore and offered to help him in any way -- now or in the future.

"I forgave him when he said he was innocent," Mr. Ramsay says. "When he confessed, I forgave him again."

Mr. Ramsay did it because, he says, he has been forgiven for things in life. He feels compelled to pay it forward.

"Working in the community, I have seen so many people who are angry, bitter, living in the past," he says, "I knew for me it was the key to moving forward."

To this day, Mr. Ramsby writes Mr. McLemore in prison. He continues to encourage him.

"He writes me back that everyone in his life has left him," Mr. Ramsay says, "and that I am the only one in contact with him today."

Thirty-seven stabs. One left a noticeable scar on Mr. Ramsay's cheek. "It's a scar, not a wound," he points out. "A scar means that the wound is healing."

We talk a lot about this being "the giving season." But in many ways, the kindest offering might be what you give up. Letting go of anger, resentment, grudges or bitterness is a gift too big to fit inside a box, too vast to wrap in ribbon.

By letting go of any hate or fear, Mr. Ramsby has been able to resume his pastoring duties at Revival Tabernacle Church on Woodward. Rather than shy away from the community, he has increased his presence in it. He now oversees Hope Village and the Store House, a mile from the church, both of which serve the community through food banks, resources, social and educational programs, and endless encouragement.

Sunday, after church service, Mr. Ramsby's congregation was to give away 150 Christmas boxes to children, filled with assorted toys and candy. His own kids were to take part -- the same ones who prayed for their father to make it through a bloody night four years ago.

"To be honest, not one of our friends said you should go back," Mr. Ramsby admits. "But this is our community. We love it."

The house in which the attack took place now houses four young men whom Mr. Ramsby has helped move in there, young men who need a bit of direction, young men who, if steered the right way, can avoid the despair and poverty that may have led his attacker to their encounter.

Good can come from bad. Mr. Ramsby is living proof. The voice said "they still need you." And that was reason enough to go on.

"I am by far a better husband, a better father, a better friend and a better pastor because of what happened to me. ... When I forgave my attacker, I knew that God wanted me to do something out of this."

Thirty-seven stabs. The man who had to hold his insides from the outside clearly has a heart too big for the average chest. And what he has surrendered may be one of the greatest gifts you'll hear about this holiday season.

Mitch Albom is a nationally syndicated columnist and best selling author. 

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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