It was July 26, 1987, when I received a phone call while sitting in a restaurant some 400 miles from home. “Scott was murdered last night,” said my 20-year-old son, Wayne. Scott was 24, the oldest of my three children.
I immediately flew home to plan with my family a funeral service that nobody should have to plan. No one expects to bury a son or daughter.
Over the next few months my anger intensified, and began eating away at my emotional health. As I met others who carried the same kind of anger 15 to 20 years after the deaths of their loved ones, I began to realize that I could not go on like this for the rest of my life. So I prayed to God to ask for release from the anger.
I didn’t get an immediate answer. In fact, my anger only grew when the state’s attorney informed me that a plea bargain had been struck with Mike (the person who had killed Scott). I was infuriated over what I regarded as too light a sentence.
I subsequently found out that the plea bargain was a gift. At Mike’s sentencing he stood in the courtroom and said, “I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett. I wish I could undo it, but obviously I can’t. These probably sound like empty words, but I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.”
Mike could not have said that under a standard adversarial system. But because of the plea bargain, he was free to say, “I’m sorry,” and that’s what I needed to hear.
Three-and-a-half weeks later, on the anniversary of Scott’s death, I wrote to Mike and told him of the anger, grief, and devastation I had gone through during the previous year. I then wrote, “Having said all that, I want to thank you for what you said in court, and, as hard as these words are to write, I forgive you.”
Mike wrote back and that started an exchange that led to my visiting him on a regular basis, and eventually, to my speaking on his behalf before the Parole Board.
Mike was released early, and a few years later, I had the privilege, as a clergyman, of officiating at his wedding. Today Mike is a contributing member of society, helping to keep others from going down the wrong path.
Mike has been given new life by God. But just as important, I too have been given new life by God. Without God’s grace, we often allow ourselves to be destroyed, but with God’s grace, we find that life is new and enriching every day.