God-sized Forgiveness – The Story of Ozzie
By Shane Pruitt & Ozzie Marie Watters
Being in ministry, I get the opportunity to meet great people on a regular basis. But, every once in a while, I meet someone that will completely catch me by surprise with their extraordinary story of what God is doing in their life. Insert Ozzie Marie Watters into that group; her story surpasses them all.
After finishing a student camp sermon that included points on things like the need for forgiveness, letting go of bitterness, and how Jesus is better than holding on to grudges, I remember many students responded to the message during the time of worship. It was during this time of response that a pint-sized-teenage girl approached me with one of her youth leaders by her side. Through tears she told me that she has been holding on to extreme bitterness and an unforgiving attitude towards another person. In my ignorance, I thought to myself, “She is sixteen years old, so this is probably over some boy or something even more trivial than that.” Oh, how ignorant I truly was!
Ozzie, with tears welling up in her eyes, opened her mouth and began to share her story:
“October 6, 2012 was the worst day of my life. It started out great, probably one of the best mornings I had ever had. I woke up and made myself a delicious and very cliché breakfast of eggs, toast, and chocolate milk; the breakfast of champions for a 15-year-old girl. I helped my mom pick out her outfit for the day: an orange shirt, blue jeans, boots, and a pair of gold earrings that I still wear to this day.
We got in the car and began our way down the three-mile county road. Half a mile down, my mom and I are laughing a bellyaching laugh, the kind that makes you love life a little bit more. One mile down, we round the corner and see smoke. Nothing out of the ordinary considering burning trash and brush is a very common practice where I come from. However, when we get closer, I realize the smoke is not from trash or brush, but from a house. By the time my brain can register its surroundings, it’s too late. I hear a noise that I am all too familiar with: a 12 gauge shotgun.
One, two, three. Glass is everywhere now and I have sunk down into my seat, covering my head. My window has been shot out and I am showered in tiny bits of glass. All I can hear are my own deafening screams. Two more shots are fired. We aren’t on the road anymore. The car isn’t moving anymore. Mom, you’re not breathing anymore. The world around me slows almost to a stop as I see that crimson liquid flowing too fast to stop. I scream for you, but there is no answer. You’re gone and I know I’m next.
I jump out of the car through my shattered window trying to gather my thoughts, but that’s all soon interrupted by another ear splitting bang. I drop to the ground figuring if I stay low, whoever is doing this will have a diminished chance of hitting something important. My senses are heightened as my body is being pumped full of adrenaline. Cedar, smoke, pine needles, blood; these smells envelope me. One, two – I feel a sting. Three, four – there is another. Five, six – my knee turns crimson. I stop screaming, and the shooting stops. Now, is the time for me to act, or it will be too late.
I army crawl through the brush and make my way to the road, as I turn back to see smoke billowing from the house. Running to the closest house, which is roughly 500 yards away, I realize I have only one shoe on, so I kick it off and continue running. Stumbling on to the porch of the house, I find that the house is locked. I immediately grab a rock and break a window, and climb through searching the house for a phone. There wasn’t one. I stood on the front porch and assessed my wounds. Thankful to have a brother who loves television shows about the military, I knew that to stop the bleeding I’d need to tie a tourniquet directly above the wound. So I took off my over shirt and tied it as tight as I could about mid-thigh. After noticing a trail in the woods, I decide to take that route in case the crazed gunman decides to come after me. Running barefoot through the woods for roughly half a mile only took me back to the main road, so I begin running close to the edge of the road to be able to easily hide in the woods if he should see me. After another mile of running down the road, I finally get to the next house. My knee has begun to throb unbearably. Now, I’m praying and pleading with God that someone will be home. I tell Him that He has gotten me this far, that I know He can save me. But, I also tell Him that if it’s my time to die, that He would take me now, and have my mom waiting for me at the gates. I end the prayer by asking Him to let my brother and other family members know that no matter what happens, it’s going to be okay because You are still good and in control!
At the house, I find help and am able to dial 911. I tell the operator that I need an ambulance – a man has killed my mom, I’ve been shot, and that there is a fire. After a short time, sirens ring in the air, and for the first time that day. . .I cried. I cried tears of joy for being alive, and tears of sorrow because my mom wasn’t. The police officer that arrived first opened his car door and ran to me. I told the officer that I didn’t know where the shooter was, or if they had followed me. Moments later, I hear the sound of more sirens and I’m surrounded by more emergency personnel. They cut off my tourniquet, and put me on a gurney. While I’m in the ambulance I hear the paramedic calling in a helicopter for me to be airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio. While we are waiting for the helicopter to arrive I hear them call on the radio, “There’s a woman here, she’s not breathing, and she appears to have a gunshot wound to the back of the head. She’s dead.” This was the first time that I heard someone else confirm that my mother was really dead. Before I had just assumed, but now it was final. She was gone, and I wept. Later, I would learn that the gunman had already killed another man and his dog that same day.
(To read an online news article detailing the horrific event – CLICK HERE)
The helicopter arrived and I am about to be loaded into it when I feel arms wrap around me and hear a familiar voice telling me “I love you baby girl, I’m going to go get your brother and we’ll be with you soon.” It was my dad. He later told me that he saw my blonde hair on that gurney, knew it was me, and that he wasn’t letting me get away without talking to me first. The helicopter took off and I am on my way to San Antonio. They give me an IV and inject me with some pain medication. After arriving at the hospital, I’m immediately surrounded by what seems like hundreds of hospital workers. They take me to a room to get an MRI and I’m told that my aunt is already waiting for me when I’m finished.
After the MRI, the doctor tells me what’s about to happen: they have to flush the wounds. They stick a syringe full of saline into each hole from the bullets (I was shot three times and the bullets went all the way through, so there were six holes) and wash out the wounds. They do this twice to each wound. I am finally assigned a room and have around ten to twelve people in there with me when I receive a text message from my brother. It was as if the room went black and it was just me sitting there by myself reading the text message over and over again. The gunman who had done all this evil. . .had committed suicide. I was never going to get the opportunity to let this man know that he did not kill me, or break me. The following day I was walking on my own without the help of anyone or anything. I was released from the hospital not long after that, but I couldn’t bear the thought of going to my house without my mother in it, so we stayed elsewhere.
The months that followed were fine. I mean, yes I was sad, but I had such a great support system of family and friends around me 24/7. However, when that support group faded away, I became extremely depressed. I felt myself fading and wasn’t thinking straight; I wanted to drop out of school and run away; worst of all I began blaming God for everything that had happened. I told myself that if He truly loved me, He wouldn’t have let this happen to me and my family. My hatred for the man who did this had turned towards God, and honestly I was beginning to have thoughts of suicide. I was a complete wreck and ready to give up until, I went to a weekend student retreat with my youth group at Alto Frio Camp in Leakey, TX. The speaker was Shane Pruitt and he was speaking to us about our forgiveness from the Lord, our call to forgive others, and the need to let go of bitterness. I knew that I needed to forgive the man who had gunned down my mom, and who had shot me trying to kill me as well. Holding a grudge against him was only harming me. I talked to Shane for a while after the worship service, and that night it felt like a load of bricks had been lifted off of my chest. Jesus had forgiven me of my sins that had nailed Him to the cross, and because of that, I knew I could finally and truly forgive the man who murdered my mom. I no longer had to carry around the burden of bitterness, because I left that weight at the foot of the cross that very night.
Going through this horrifying event has molded me into the person I am today. I do, however, suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This means that I get flashbacks of what happened that day at random times, certain smells will cause flashbacks, random gunshots, fireworks and other unexpected noises will frighten me, and sometimes even hearing sirens will make my heart race. Obviously, I would have planned things differently, but the Lord has used this to teach me so much about valuing every single breath, forgiveness, courage, and how to never take anything in my life for granted. Because of Jesus, I am stronger than I ever thought possible and my relationship with Him is stronger than ever. Lately, I’ve even been given opportunities to share my story by speaking to others. I get to speak about how the Lord has used this in my life to teach me so much about forgiveness – His forgiveness towards me and my forgiveness towards others, even the man who murdered my mom. It’s hard for the world to understand, but I feel so blessed to have the life that I have today. October 6, 2012 was by far the worst day of my life. But, it most certainly will not be the day that breaks me, or causes me to lose my faith. It was just an extremely difficult day in the joy-filled journey that God has prepared for me.”
I, Shane, after hearing this story stood in front of this teenage girl with my mouth gaping open. Incredible! Naturally, people don’t like to, and frankly, don’t want to forgive. We want to hold on to the bitterness, because we think, “If I forgive them, then I’m condoning their actions. I’m saying what they did is ‘OK’.” But, that is not true at all; God is the judge and He will judge appropriately. Bitterness, lack of forgiveness, and grudges will often harm the one holding on to them the most. However, forgiveness says, “You can’t destroy me, end me, or hinder me any longer because my God heals. He is better than bitterness.” It also shows the world that we truly understand how much God has forgiven us.
Plus, let’s be honest. Most of our unforgivenss and bitterness is caused by some really silly and trivial situations. However, there are stories like Ozzie’s, stories that involve true victims. In these kinds of stories, forgiveness can only come from God, because it takes a God-sized forgiveness. And, it’s in stories like this that we can see ourselves and our own situation more clearly. If Ozzie can forgive a man who murdered her mother, can’t I forgive the transgressors in my own life?
“Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:13b).”
A related Article by the same author is 7 Myths About Forgiveness