The Sanctity of Life and the Miracle of Grace

In September 2011 I heard a name I’d not heard before.  I heard it on the radio, saw it on Facebook.

Troy Davis.

This young man only three weeks older than I am was convicted for the August 19, 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, a police officer in Savannah, Georgia.  His execution was scheduled for September 21.  That day my heart was very heavy.  He had been denied clemency, but his execution did not happen at 7 p.m. as scheduled.  The Supreme Court was reviewing his case.

I sat on the edge of the bed in my dimly lit room.  My children were all asleep, the youngest piled in next to me.  The Fella was out of town for work and had been for quite some time.  I was alone, fervently praying for someone to save this man’s life, all the while fearing the worst.

In that moment, I realized that I did not, if I ever had before, have the stomach for capital punishment.

See, life and how very precious it is had just been impressed upon me greater than ever before.

My Daddy, my very much-loved Daddy, had just been admitted to Hospice only a few days earlier.

Life was precious.  And dwindling.

And in the quiet of the night, I begged God to step in, for someone to save a life that did not have to be ended.  Not like my Daddy’s.  His body had already given him a death sentence and clemency had been denied.

But for Troy Davis?  It could have been very different.

Only it was not to be.

The Supreme Court came back and denied a stay of execution.  And at 10:53 p.m. on September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was given a lethal injection.  Fifteen minutes later he was pronounced dead.

I can hardly type it without feeling sick.

I don’t want to argue the validity of capital punishment.  I don’t want to argue guilt or innocence.  I won’t even argue that if the function of prisons is to rehabilitate and change lives, why aren’t we rewarding those who do work towards that goal?

I am here to simply say, all lives matter.

If one says he or she is pro-life, doesn’t that mean pro-all life?

Earlier this past week, my sister-in-love shared the story of Kelly Gissendaner, who was scheduled to be executed on this past Wednesday night at 7 p.m. here in Georgia.  Kelly was convicted of plotting the murder of her husband.  The man who actually killed him is serving 25 years and will be up for parole in a few years.  I felt sick when I read the story my SIL shared for two reasons–the fact that I live here and this was the first I had heard of the story, and the fact that it was, once again, the willing ending of a life that didn’t have to be.

All that day my heart was heavy.  When the word came that the execution had been rescheduled for Monday, March 2, at 7 p.m. because of the inclement weather, I gave thanks.  I’ve never been so happy about snow in my life.

I’ve been piecing together Kelly’s story.  It is a heartbreaking and inspiring one, one of second chances and redemption.

I’m not going to talk about the certificate she earned while incarcerated.  You can read about that here.

I’m not going to talk about the women whose lives she touched and changed because of who she has become.  Her sisterfriends (and they call themselves that–oh my heart) do that so beautifully here.

I’m not going to share her words with you right now.  I hope you’ll watch this video and hear them for yourselves.

I’m not even going to talk about how unfair I think it is that the man who actually murdered Kelly’s husband, Doug, will be out of prison in 8 years because he took the plea deal first and testified against Kelly.  You can read about that here and find a link to copies of her request for clemency.

What I am going to say is that life is precious.  I know this.  For. A. Fact.  Like so many of us, I’ve had the lives of those I love taken away by disease and I. Am. Still. Heartbroken.   Because of that, I cannot be okay with inviting death in and ending a life like this.

I just can’t.

I was conversing with my wise writer friend, Lisa at My So Called Glamorous Life, about Kelly. Lisa lives out of state, and she shared this with me today:

“I had not heard of this case before I heard a radio dj mocking the prisoner because of her last meal order. I think that’s indicative of how people dismiss the value of a life.”

So tonight, as I stay up very late to finish this because time is of the essence, I’m not asking for anyone to do anything except–

PLEASE DO NOT DISMISS THE VALUE OF A LIFE.

All lives.  Yours.  Mine.  Kelly’s.  Everyone’s.

If you read her case, and think she deserves to die, then okay.  If you can be okay with it, then I have to respect that.  I hope you can respect that I cannot.

But if you read her case, and your heart cries out for things to be different, here are a couple of places you can go.  There is a Facebook page I just found that has a list of suggestions for helping here.  If you are a member of the clergy or know someone who is, you can sign this petition here.  (Out of state clergy are also encouraged to sign.)  At this point, it is my understanding that Governor Deal is the one who can step in and stop the execution.  I have emailed him twice, only to get no response, and I tried calling the number listed “in case of time sensitive matters,” and not only did I not get an answer but there also was no option to leave a message.  Simply no answer at all.  Here is the place to send him messages or call.  The video above also gives more contact information and ways to tag the Governor and the Parole Board if you are active on Social Media.

Thank you for reading this.  I am ashamed I was hesitant to write this at first.  I respect folks’ rights to their own opinions.  I don’t like to get into political rants, which is why I haven’t taken this to Facebook.  But my heart has been heavy about this–this is about life, the life of a woman who is my age.  Whose childhood and past led her to make some really bad choices and do some really, really bad things.  This evening I saw this on Love Wins Ministries‘ Facebook page, and I knew I had to write this.  Now.

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Because if I believe in redemption and grace, I have to believe in it for everyone.  And that’s why I’m writing tonight.  Because I do believe in grace.  And love.  And the sanctity of life.  Oh bless it, I know how precious it is.  That is why my thoughts and heavy heart have led me to write what I have the past two nights.

And I decided that I could not go to bed Monday night, whether the execution happens or not, if I didn’t speak up and ask for help.  Help in sending out the message that dismissing the value of a life, any life, is NOT OKAY.

Kelly Gissendaner after finishing her Theology degree through courses offered at the prison

Kelly Gissendaner in 2011 after graduating from the Theology program offered at the prison

May we all find ourselves filled with the peace that Kelly has found, and may a miracle come and give this story of redemption what it really deserves–grace.

Love to all.

 

&

Dear Mr. Webster,

Your word arrived here safely yesterday.  She was a little rumpled after her long trip, but she is doing well nonetheless.  She has actually been lovely…..amenable–

quite frankly we love her.

Already she is changing things around here.  She bustles around in her long skirt that hangs just so; she is straightening up, seeing to it that all are getting along.

That they are with.

She is bringing things, people together in such a way that has never been seen around here before.

Have I mentioned we love her?

Bread.  Jam.

Tea.  Coffee.

Macaroni.  Cheese.

Sweet.  Salty.

This.  That.

All these things that just sat, on their own, not interacting or doing much of anything, are now up, wandering about, mixing, mingling–making the world a much better place with their interactions.

All because of her.

Thank you for sending her to us.

She came just in time.

Because, you see, just as those things were sitting on the shelf, all to themselves–not being with, we have begun to do that ourselves.  Sitting with those who are alike, where there is no need for sharing or caring or what not–because we are, well, just alike.

But now that she is here, she is challenging us to join together–what a scary, challenging, beautiful word–together.

She wants to put together–

him.

Her.

Short.

Tall.

Redheads.

Brunettes.

Believers.

Doubters.

Business people.

Farmers.

Dancers.

Scientists.

Wealthy.

Indigent.

She knows–she understands–that she cannot stand alone, she must coexist with another.  With more than one actually.  She wants to show us that being together is the best way for each one of us to shine.  She wants to take all those adjectives, then put them together.  Just by taking the hand of each one–then standing between them.

Joining them.

Together.

If we are not careful, her spirit might just catch on–one day we might just find her joining the two who said they’d never stand together.

Me.

And.

You.

Bless her.  She’s got a long way to go, but one day, maybe, just maybe, she might succeed in helping us all take the hand of the one standing close by, and then caring and sharing and helping each other.

Thank you for sending her.

Just in time.

With gratitude for And,

me

 

 

Love to all.  

 

 

the candles

the candles are there,

much fewer now that she’s older,

waiting to be blown out

and for wishes to be made

 

the one who stands there,

bowed over them,

preparing to exhale

has done this many, many years

 

once upon a time the cakes were made

by the hands that first held her and fed her

and loved her

by the hands she held and begged for

Someone to heal, this body, the one who

gave her life

 

in recent years, as her folks fought giants

like cancer and exhaustion and other nameless warriors,

she made her own cakes

 

“I’m so sorry,” the Mama would whisper

“Don’t be. It doesn’t matter,” she’d say

and that is what she told herself the year

she sat on the swing, alone, waiting

watching the clock tick until she saw 2:14

her birthday, birth time

and she pushed the swing with her feet

not able to see her Daddy, the one

in there fighting and not wanting her to

see the battle or catch a glimpse

of the one who was winning

 

and then, just two weeks later, won

 

as the candles were blown out over the years, the wishes

changed

from pretty colors and fluffy, cuddly animals

and cassette tapes and friendship and

true love

to breath prayers for wisdom, guidance,

and then

healing

until the year with the swing, she bowed over the cake

she’d made for herself

and pretended to make a wish

for the littles’ sakes…..

they got so excited no matter

whose birthday it was

 

but there were no wishes left

she knew that

 

and then the day came that she realized

the candles and cake and wishes and dreams

and presents

are not the heart

of the day

and that wishes lost

do not mean hope is gone

 

 

as she leaned over the confection that had sat until done

in her own oven just hours before

she inhaled

and she knew–

shared laughter over a meal,

time being spent in labors of love,

a cup of coffee offered and delivered,

hands creating while sharing stories,

caring words from folks she loved,

all of that and so much more

 

that is what makes the moments in a day, a life

special

worth remembering

held close to one’s heart

and over the years, she realized,

the wishes had turned into a word,

a word she now exhaled quietly,

as the littles leaned in to watch intently and

assist in the extinguishing of the light,

the word the one who once baked the cakes

lived by and taught her

 

the light inside only shines brighter in the darkness

when one carries

eucharisteo

in her heart

 

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