“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” – Hebrews 4:15-16
Yesterday a young man was found guilty and sentenced to life for a heinous murder. As I left the courtroom yesterday, all the emotions of the last few days really fell heavy on my shoulders. I've watched, not just this week but over the last year and a half, as Albert Cadena's family has struggled with the grief and anguish of their loss. As all the details of the murder were shown and expressed in court, their hurt and anger were so raw and exposed. The verdict was only a small sense of justice for the loss of their husband, father, son, brother, cousin, & friend. William Gagnon's verdict & punishment was just. He deserves to sit in a prison cell for the rest of his life. I give him no pity or sorrow for his pending years of imprisonment even at such a young age. He made a willful and cruel choice that paved the way for this consequence. Not once has he told the truth about that fateful day or exhibited an ounce of true remorse for the life that was taken.
I am continually amazed and so truly blessed by the Cadena family—by their strength, by their unbreakable bond, and by their limitless love for Albert and for each other. They truly stand together—an unstoppable and unwavering force. No matter what, they support each other, and love each other and stand for each other. They call each other into accountability and lift each other up thru their struggles, their mistakes, their grief, and their moments on “the mountain of God.” Throughout the last year, their hope in an eternal God has grown and their faith has impacted the lives of many….including mine.
I have been blessed as I have watched Chad deal with the loss of a true friend—not just a church member. His grief, his brokenness and his sorrow has been deep and very real. And I have seen God take all of his pain and turn it into a greater movement that will impact eternity—Stop the Violence, Stop the Love. He knew the very truth of Albert’s life—his past, his struggles before his death, and absolutely no doubt, Chad knows Albert’s eternity. And not once has his love for his friend and this family wavered. Not once has he stumbled or failed in his conviction to carry Albert’s legacy of grace so that his story will impact generations to come. I have seen Chad “stand in the gap” for so many others like Albert—continually striving for and praying for their salvation and grace in their need for a Savior. And even in deep distress and grief over the loss of a dear friend, I’ve seen him rejoice in the knowledge that Albert now sits at the feet of Jesus—no longer in pain, no longer in shame or regret of his past, no longer in struggle but at peace…everlasting peace in the presence of his Savior and God. I have absolutely no doubt that Chad will ensure that Albert’s legacy lives on.
Yesterday, as I witnessed William Gagnon’s guilty verdict pronounce in the courtroom and we all awaited the moment that his future was sealed with his sentence, I was profoundly impacted by his "aloneness." Not one family member was in the courtroom all week long on behalf of this young man or in support of him. Not one single witness stood up for his “character”—assuming there was any to stand up for. Don’t mistake my thoughts for compassion or pity—he gave no compassion for Albert or his family so he gets none. But I was impacted by the reality of it. To think that not one of his loved ones was there to stand in the gap for him at any point. I don’t know the reasons or the details except that Gagnon didn’t want anyone to speak on the stand in his behalf during the punishment phase. I asked one of the reporters if any one of his friends or family have stood up for him since Gagnon was arrested and could think of no one throughout the last year and a half. Not one person.
I just know that, as a mother, if that were my son, no matter how great his crime—and God forbid, realizing that my child could actually commit such a heinous and horrible act, my love for him would still draw me to be in that courtroom no matter what. Absolutely nothing—not even my son’s request—would keep me from loving my son and grieving his choices. I would be there, period. Now again, don’t mistake my heart for pity—I don’t pity this man or his consequences. He made an irreversible choice and he deserves his consequences. And we don’t know his relationship with his family—their testimonies may have been more damaging if he treated them with such disregard. I can’t judge their decision to stay away—I just know what I would do. My own kids know that I would never justify their wrong choices—that I would not take away the consequences of their actions, good or bad. Though I would grieve and though I would be totally heartbroken, I would love them through it simply because they are my son or daughter—my love for them is unconditional. In such a case, I would not be able to “defend” them but I would stand behind them in the courtroom and love them.
Yet Gagnon stood utterly alone before that judge as he heard his fate. Oh, his attorneys were there—they did their job as best they could. Unfortunately, there was not much they could defend. Even so, they were not there in LOVE for him. Even as the sentence was pronounced, I could not tell that the reality of the crime he committed or tragic loss of the life he has taken has yet to fall on his shoulders. His countenance remained unchanging and unremorseful—his only tears shed were in regret that (in his own words) he’s “going up for a long time.” And for whatever reason, not one family member—not a mother or father, brother or sister, cousin or friend stood in that courtroom in support of him, committing to walk with him of sorts without taking his punishment—to be there for him and to love him thru his life sentence…Not even to pray for him—to pray that he would finally realize the truth of all that he has done and grieve his own actions in repentance. He still has that opportunity—to repent. His earthly fate has been sealed yet his eternal fate has yet to be pronounced. In all that I witnessed yesterday and as I watched him, he stood so alone and I wonder if he understood the magnitude of it. Without remorse or repentance, Gagnon didn’t even have Christ by his side in that courtroom wearing the mantel of grace.
It made me wonder about the day each one of us stands before the greatest Judge—the one that will determine our eternal destiny—to pronounce freedom in heaven or eternal confinement in hell. And I have to wonder if at that moment, we will be so completely and utterly alone—no one able to stand in our behalf or to plead our cause. Our actions and our choices on earth—the “facts and evidence of our case” will determine our fate….a fate that on Judgment Day has already been sealed by our choices…except for grace. I have to wonder in consideration of all those who have loved me and impacted my life—that if all the worst of my life and choices were exposed and revealed for all to see, would any one of them—if given the opportunity—stand up for me no matter what. Would they stand in the gap and love me no matter what? Would they say, “Give her mercy, Lord.”
And at this moment, I am so humbly blessed that even now, I can reach for and accept grace—the grace that only Christ can give. Because of grace, I don’t have to stand alone now and that because of grace, He now speaks for me. He has already stood in the gap for me…on the Cross of Calvary. Because of grace, those sins I still grieve and regret have already been removed from me the moment I ask Him—as far as the east is from the west. Forgiven, forgotten and no longer on the court docket because the debt has already been paid at the cross. We may stand alone before the Judge but Christ has gone before us. Those who have received Him and accepted His grace will be able to stand without fear. He will be in the “courtroom” standing behind in love for us. He has already spoken on our behalf. Because of Him—because of His grace—we will be pronounced: “NOT guilty,” a verdict we do NOT deserve.
“And I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me. And oh, how He loves us so, oh how He loves us…”
(song sung by David Crowder, written by John Mark MacMillan)
Lord, though I don’t understand why You would give Your life for mine and though so often I fail to walk in Your grace, I am so eternally grateful that You love me enough to pay my highest debt even before I committed any sin. Your love is so wide and so deep, I can’t even fathom the greatness of it.”