The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

Amazing story

Shannon Ethridge: Completely Forgiven

By Kara Lavengood with Debbie White
The 700 Club It’s a familiar scene ... loved-ones reuniting at the airport. But Gary Jarster and Shannon Ethridge aren’t related at all. In fact, the strong bond they share was born from tragic circumstances.

It was August 1984. The day started out just like any other. Shannon grabbed her books and pom-poms and rushed out the door for school. But Shannon never made it to school that day.

“I drove about a mile-and-a-half down the road, and I remembered that I needed to put lipstick on. I adjusted my rear view mirror for a quick application, and my car just jolted suddenly, and I thought maybe I'd hit a farm animal out of its pasture,” she remembers.

“I stopped my car as fast as I could, and I ran back to see what I’d hit and was absolutely in shock to be standing over the body of a curly-headed woman lying face down in the grass with a mangled bicycle next to her.”

Shannon ran to a house in the distance to call 9-1-1, but it was too late. The woman she’d hit was dead. 

“I just kept thinking about the ripple effects that this accident would have in so many people’s lives. I was really thinking about how hard this would be for her family,” she says.

Later at home, the sinking realization of what she’d done set in. “I didn’t know that I could cry that many tears, and there didn’t seem to be any relief in sight.”

Shannon’s thoughts moved away from her own grief to thoughts of the victim’s family. 

She thought, “That was someone else’s mother, and how am I going to face her children? And that’s someone else’s wife, and how am I going to be able to face her husband?"

Those questions would be answered shortly. The woman Shannon had killed was Margorie Jarster. Her husband, Gary was away at work when he received word of her death.

"They told me that she’d been in an accident, and she was dead," recalls Gary. "The thoughts that were going through my mind were, 'What would Marjorie do if it was me, and what would be her response?' I knew that she was a very compassionate lady, so I knew that compassion had to be part of it, and how am i going to handle this?"

First, Gary decided on no lawsuits and no charges against the 16-year-old girl. Also, he wanted to meet her -- to extend forgiveness face-to-face.

"One of the things that the Lord was pressing on my mind when I was making that trip back, was that I have forgiven you much, how could you not forgive? That was my premise or the thing that was pushing me to meet with Shannon and forgive her, because I ’d been forgiven, so how could you not forgive?"

The night before Margorie’s funeral, Shannon went to meet Gary.

“I took one step inside the entry door, and I saw Gary down the hallway, and he came running toward me. Not with animosity in his eyes at all, but with his arms open,” says Shannon.

“I just went and put my arms around her and hugged and told her I forgave her,” says Gary.

Gary also shared about his wife’s relationship with the Lord.

He said, "I don’t want you to let this ruin your life." He told Shannon, "God wants to use you through this, as a matter of fact, I ’m passing Marjorie’s legacy of being a godly woman onto you. I want you to learn to love Jesus without limits, the way that Marjorie did.”

Shannon was raised in the church and baptized when she was 12-years-old, but up to this point she wasn’t really living a Christian lifestyle.

“At the time, I was a 16-year-old girl, sexually active with my boyfriend and rebelling against my parents. But I thought that I was a Christian because I went to church, and I was the president of my youth group, but i didn’t recognize that yes, Jesus was my Savior, but He wasn’t the Lord of my life.”

She realized the God Gary was telling her about was wonderful and so different from the God she thought she knew.

"I had seen a side of God through Gary Jarster that I had never recognized before. I had always saw God as this distant disciplinarian, ready to strike me down if I committed one sin too many. But because of Gary’s actions toward me, I now envisioned God as just this loving, unconditionally, merciful God who is ready to scoop me up in a warm embrace and let me cry on His shoulder if I need to and just to speak words of blessing over me," she says.

“It gave me hope, that perhaps if this family and Gary especially could forgive me, maybe God can forgive me too and maybe eventually I can forgive myself."

In the years since the accident, Shannon has made drastic changes in her life. As a wife and mother, a speaker and a writer, Shannon shares a passion that was born from the accident that took Marjorie’s life.

“That passion is intimacy with Christ, and I know that passion was born in my heart as a result of carrying Marjorie’s legacy,” she says.

Though she never met Marjorie Jarster, it was to her that Shannon dedicated her book, Completely His: Loving Jesus Without Limits.

“It was my way of expressing my thanks to her. That even though I can’t see her, I believe that in Heaven, I believe that she looks down on us, and I believe that she is pleased on how her husband handled this and how it’s impacted my life, and how I ’m trying to bring God glory through the experience,” says Shannon.

Shannon remains close to Gary, who has since remarried.

"We’ve welcomed her into the family just like she was a daughter," he says.

While Shannon wishes the Jarsters had come into her life under different circumstances, she realizes that God works for the good in all situations.

“I think the desire of my heart is for every believer to understand that there is nothing you have ever done bad enough to cause God to abandon you or to love you any less. And there is nothing you could ever do in the future that would cause God to love you any less. Oour God is unconditionally loving, merciful and compassionate."

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