My life has been a journey full of twists & turns, highs & lows. Honestly, I'm not sure I could really define where I'm headed. But one thing I'm learning, the journey isn't all about the final destination but more about how we travel. And fulfillment is found in all that we learn & experience as we journey, not just getting to the end of it. I can't even imagine making mine without Christ before me, behind me, and beside me...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

He Stood Alone...

I actually wrote this Friday, December 11 but I'm just now posting it. This was the day after William Gagnon's verdict was handed down for his murder of Albert Cadena. The impact of the trial and all that happened didn't hit me until I left the courtroom after he received a life sentence. Then I was overwhelmed...

“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.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let It Begin With Me....

    And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
    And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us."
    And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
                                             --Luke 2:11-16
Tonight I heard four gunshots in rapid succession near my home. My first reaction was to wonder if anyone was hurt or killed and then to listen for squealing tires. Why? Because my first thought is that it was another driveby shooting. Strange enough, my first impulse was NOT to “act” on it—to do the only thing I could do to help. Chad asked me later if I called the police. In truth, I hesitated. Instead of calling 911 instinctively, I contemplated whether to call the police at all because I didn’t know if it was necessary—a sign that gunshots and violence have become the “norm” rather than the unthinkable. When the sound of violence should cause our hearts to skip a beat, we sometimes remain strangely calm simply because those sounds have become commonplace. We wonder about it and then return to our own routines. We aren’t “alarmed” anymore.
    A few days ago while getting a soda and waiting in line at a local convenience store, the clerks were openly and none too quietly having a conversation with each other about family members and friends who were involved in recent violent altercations and gang activity. They were sharing details and even names that one can almost bet hadn’t been shared with police without fear or concern that anyone else in the store were hearing all of it—in a sense that it almost seemed they were unwisely boasting of their closeness with violent people. The conversation was disturbing though because they were talking about shootings and stabbings and death threats as if it were everyday routine. One of them even laughed because the cops hadn’t figured it out because the witnessing neighbors were threatened if they “narked.” The “cops” were the enemy not the criminals. So victims were left to deal with their tragedy while the attackers got away scot free. And in some twisted sense, these clerks seemed to think that was justice because, in their minds, the victims “deserved it” for whatever reason.
     How did we get here? How did society get to the point that abuse, driveby shootings, murder, and knife assaults have become so commonplace and familiar that we aren’t shocked or appalled anymore? It’s almost as if we accept that violence has a rightful place in society…that revenge is justified for whatever reason and we, as citizens, don’t have a responsibility to speak up. Whether it be fear or lack of concern, we stay silent even when we’ve witnessed or have knowledge of crimes.
     Over time, we have grown numb to the sights and sounds and stories—not just because we hear so much in the news about violence in larger cities and far-off places but because even right here at home, murder, revenge, and abuse has become all too familiar.
     As citizens, we “say” something needs to be done and we lay all the responsibility on the police department and the legal system and then complain when it doesn’t work as it should. As Christians, we pray about it asking God to intervene…to bring about justice…We pray for victims and we even pray that criminals will be brought to justice and we leave it all in His hands to work miracles. We forget that sometimes answers to prayer require action and obedience on our part. The shepherds didn't just think about what the angels said. Little did they even know what lay ahead for this child 33 years hence. They acted on the angel's proclamation and took part in the unfolding story. Yet when tragic stories unfold today, more often than not, we don’t actively take a stand, we don’t use our voice as witnesses or victim advocates. Too often, we don’t even get alarmed or get outraged when it happens in our neighborhoods. We don’t WANT to get involved if it doesn’t directly involve us. We tolerate crime and in our complacency—in our silence--we fail to defend victims. Instead, we defend violence.
     Oh, we look for places to lay the blame for the rising crime rate. We blame the legal system, poverty, bad upbringing…We sometimes even blame the victims or justify violence against them somehow. Yet we never look inward at ourselves. It’s disturbing that I hesitated even a second whether I should call 911 when I hear not just one questionable gunshot, but FOUR very distinct and unmistakable gunshots. And I am not alone. Each one of us is to blame every time we remain silent. Every time we look the other way, every time we fail to call police or report what we may know, every time we are not appalled or offended that victims are maliciously and vengefully harmed or killed, we become part of the problem.
      Honestly, I don’t know if anyone was harmed tonight. I know that I was not the only one who heard the shots…There were several citizens who didn’t hesitate as long as I did to report them. I do know that police patrolled the neighborhood in search of the source. I haven't lain awake tonight in fear of those gunshots but rather in deep disappointment at the realization that too often in the past, I have been a part of the problem because of my silence... Times when I am certain that others were harmed as a consequence simply because I didn’t have the courage to speak up even when violence directly touched my life. How often I have grieved their harm even more than my own—if only... Do I know for certain, the violence would have stopped? That my testimony would have made a difference? No, but because I did nothing, there wasn’t even a chance to stop one person from hurting again. It would be more comforting if I was the only one who had to live with my choice but sadly, at least one other very young victim (most assuredly more) has to live with the consequences of my silence for the rest of her life too--victim at the same hand. Peace was stolen from both of us.
     In this season, we often sing songs of “peace and good will toward men.” Do we mean it? Are we willing to be a part of the solution to violence rather than part of the problem? God has called us to genuinely love one another…to bear one another’s burdens and heartaches. If I truly love others, wouldn't I do everything within my power to keep them from harm, to comfort, to bring healing, to bring justice where needed? We should take the words of one Christmas carol to heart and put that truth to work in our lives. I can’t stop all of violence but I can do my part. "Let there be peace on earth AND at home and Lord, please let it begin with me…."

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth--the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment with peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”