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.

 

Pondering What Language God Speaks

Today was Spanish lesson day.  Our sweet and fun teacher, Miss M, comes to the house and works with the littles for a half an hour or so.  They are really enjoying their lessons, as she makes it fun to learn.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quickly they are picking it up.

Today we learned the names of colors.  Azul (blue) and rosa (pink) we knew from Dora the Explorer, thank you very much.  Today they learned amarillo. (Cooter said it sounded like armadillo, and then went off on a tangent about running over them. No! I’ve never ever.)  And blanca.  And rojo and verde.  And then came naranja.

Both Cooter and our Princess started off trying to pronounce it phonetically, using the English version of the sound the “j” makes.  I stepped in like I do *sigh*, “No y’all, in Spanish the ‘j’ makes the “huh” sound.”

Miss M reinforced that with them, and as Cooter practiced one more time, I turned to Princess and asked, “If the j makes an ‘h’ sound in Spanish, then how do you think “Jesus” is pronounced in Spanish?”

She sounded it out and eventually came up with the phonetic pronunciation of “Hay-soos.”  Very good.

Miss M explained that yes, in Spanish, that is how Jesus is pronounced, but in English it is Jesus.

Cooter looked up.

“Huh,” he said, staring at nothing.  I could see the wheels turning.  “I guess God speaks the same language we do then.”

Y’all.

Oh my.

Not wanting the Spanish lesson to be taken over with an obviously needed theology lesson for my seven-year old, I held off on saying too much just then.  But both Miss M and I laughed and shook our heads.

“The way some folks act and think, you would think so, wouldn’t you?”

I have a challenge on my hands, I’m afraid.  We’re all a bit egocentric at best, and Cooter is no exception.  But I want him to know that Jesus didn’t speak English, King James or otherwise, that God does not choose America’s side over another country, that Jesus most likely was not blue-eyed and fair-skinned, and that God and Jesus go way beyond nationalities and borders and languages.

It’s going to take a while, I’m afraid.  I know adults who don’t get it yet.

So we’ll add theology to our list of studies for now, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they can grasp just how much we can’t grasp about God.  And the world.  And still be okay with it.

As my Aunt says, I think we’re all going to be surprised.

Love to all.

 

Mac’s New Shoes and My Questions for God

My phone rang early this morning.  I had it set on vibrate but I could hear it echoing in the drawer I had left it charging in overnight.  I picked it up.  Mac.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  He usually comes to Daybreak around the time for Sister Circle on Tuesdays to visit and catch up and get (give) a hug and share a fist bump with Cooter.  But yesterday he wasn’t around.  I asked a few folks, and no one had seen him recently.  It was the last pretty day before some lousy weather so I was hoping he was just enjoying it and that everything was okay.  Then someone mentioned they’d heard he was in the hospital but they couldn’t remember…..was it two weeks ago?  Or two days?

It took me a moment to clear my throat and say Good Morning, I was so relieved.  He had been working on rain and cold-proofing his camp yesterday, as best as he could.  He apologized for missing seeing us.  He’d gotten so busy, and when he looked at his watch it was 4 p.m.–almost time for Daybreak to close up for the day.

I understood.  Time flies.  It happens to all of us.

He said he was going to hang around the shelter this morning and then walk several blocks over to eat lunch at the soup kitchen at a local church.  This is no small feat for him.  He struggles to walk even short distances most of the time, as his knees can give out on him.  Even sober, he looks wobbly when he walks.  As it was rainy and the roads were slick this morning, I asked if maybe there would be a shuttle to take everyone over.  He said no, they didn’t have such as that.  “I’ll walk.  I do it most days anyway,” he said.

Turns out he had been in the hospital.   On Sunday evening.  He was having seizures again.  That happens if he doesn’t take his medicine.  And without insurance and a regular doctor, he doesn’t have access to taking his medicine regularly.

When he started having the seizure one of his friends called 911.  An ambulance came and picked him up.  Instead of taking him to the downtown hospital or the one just a little ways up the road from where he stays, they took him all the way across town to the hospital on the north side of town.

“What?” I asked.  “That’s all the way over near Wesleyan.”  I cannot imagine what their reason was for that.  It can be a twenty minute drive on a good day.

“Yeah, that’s where it is.  They discharged me at 7 p.m. Sunday evening, but since it was already dark and I didn’t have anyway to get back to my camp, they let me stay in the lobby.  I left about 7 Monday morning and started walking back.”

“You walked all the way across town back to downtown?” I was blown away.

“Yeah.  It took me near about all day, but I did it.”

Y’all.  I can’t even.

We talked about some resources that could be available to help him get his medicine prescription regularly, so I hope that will get better for him, and that he will be stay on the medicine, warding off future seizures.

Then he changed gears.

“Hey, I know God is good and everything, right?”

After everything he’d just told me and he was still singing praises?  Okay, I had to hear this.

“Yeah?”

“Well I was at the terminal the other day, right, and I walked by a trashcan and in it was a brand new pair of shoes.  In the box.  Can you believe that?  In a trash can?”

Wait, what?

“Wow, Mac, that’s amazing.  Were they your size?”  Here’s where I am, I’m expecting that they pinch his toes slightly or they flap around a little but they’ll be fine.

“Yep, my size exactly.  Fit perfectly.  And it was a good thing, because them other ones were starting to fall off my feet.”

Oh, ye of little faith sister.

My friend was thrilled with his shoes and he trusts that God meant for him to have them, to find them there in that trashcan.  After we hung up with his promise to meet me next week, my mind’s eye kept playing back to a moment yesterday.  I was driving across the Spring Street bridge before Sister Circle, and I saw Mac’s best friend, JJ.  He was walking along the edge of the bridge, carrying a bag from McDonald’s.  When I told Mac I’d seen him, he laughed and said he hadn’t seen JJ in a while, and that the bag was probably empty.  I asked why and he just laughed it off.  I guess that’s a story for another day.

As I saw JJ in my memory, my heart asked my head a question I still can’t answer.

Why would God give Mac new shoes and leave JJ out hustling for food over near the bridge? 

I don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure I’d like any that anyone offered me.  My heart says it’s not so sure that those shoes were from God.  I have something that I have said a lot lately, it seems.  Pardon my grammar, but here it is:

Sometimes it just be’s that way.

Sometimes someone who needs something happens upon something they need.  Sometimes they meet someone willing to help.  And sometimes, more times than I care to think about, they don’t.  They wind up eating out of the Pizza Hut dumpster out back–“folks throw away a lot of good food, you know”–or they beg for money so they can buy a burger.  Or a beer.  The burger fills the void in the stomach.  The beer makes you forget that void and all of the others.  For a while anyway.

The thing is that I am glad that Mac thanks God for those shoes.  I would not take that away from him for anything in this world.  I just don’t know that I can bear to believe that kind of theology in my own life.

Very recently there was an accident.  Two vehicles. One person was killed.  The other one was in critical condition and just recently was discharged to continue healing at home.  In a conversation about how awful the whole thing was and how prayers are needed and how wonderful it is that this person who could very well have been killed is home now, someone said, “Oh Someone had His hand on him.”

Oh my.

I wanted to cry.  And cry out.  Where was that Hand for the person who was killed?  Why put a Protective Hand on one and not on the other?  God, what is all that about?

And again, the only way I can find my way out of that heart-wrenching question and answer and guessing game, is to say, “Sometimes it just be’s that way.”  I’m sorry, I just can’t believe that God chose one over the other.

Anymore than I can believe that God chooses for one child to be born healthy and another to be born with a life-threatening disease.  Or that God chose to take my Daddy, whose healing was prayed for by so many loving friends and strangers, “because He needed him more than I did” and left other people here to live.  Or that one dedicated, faithful student could be in a hospital bed fighting for her life but God “protected” the other student who chose partying over studying.

I just can’t wrap my brain around theology like that.

“Sometimes it just be’s that way” is a lot easier to accept.

But then again, I think my Aunt is probably right on target when she tells me with regards to all of these mysteries, “I think we are all going to be surprised.”

And for a cold, wet, and rainy Wednesday, that will have to do.

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Related Post:

“Why I Am Not Blessed”  https://imightneedanap.com/2013/05/17/why-i-am-not-blessed/