(Originally posted August 2013)
Last week, a date we’ve been waiting for since April came to pass–the date for the sentencing trial for the man who hit us last April (see this)
This was the date we’d have the opportunity to speak to the court, to give a voice to the victims in the accident, and, we hoped, to give voice to the gospel of grace. We knew we needed to be present, to meet this man in a time of sobriety, to help this man see the faces of those his choices impacted, to help this man hear the message of forgiveness and the opportunity to have a second chance, to choose life and to find purpose and meaning from this. We knew we needed to reiterate the words the Holy Spirit had given us even in that moment in April, when we were, by the grace of God, able to feel compassion and love for this man, to see his weakness and regret and feel empathy and great love and hope for his possible future. We knew we needed to point to the love and grace of our Savior, to make the most of EVERY opportunity.
As it turned out, due to school starting, extra burdened work commitments, etc, only myself and our youngest daughter were able to attend the trial. We prayed about what we would say, what we felt the Lord wanted us to share–we prayed for a message balanced with grace and truth (afterall, we definitely wanted to be sure to remind, with truth, that lives were impacted by one person’s choice), we prayed for our words to bring glory and honor to the Lord, and for our words to point to the life and love of our Savior, and the opportunity for repentance and change. We had been praying about this opportunity since May, when we had learned more about this opportunity for us to have a voice. We had friends praying for this day since we had learned about it.
I wasn’t sure just WHAT I would say, but I had a general “gist” I felt was Spirit-led.
Then, about two hours before the trial, I learned from the victim’s advocate that our platform had certain boundaries we needed to adhere to. One of those boundaries was that we could not address the defendant directly, using the “you” pronoun, but would instead need to address the judge/the court in speaking “about him,” using the third person pronouns and labels “him” and “the defendant.” I was told I could choose to look at the defendant as I spoke “about him” but that I would need to refrain from using the personal “you” in my speech. This was going to be an adjustment, as much of what we had prepared to say was, most definitely, personalizing everything with the “you.” We sought to speak TO him, to share what God had laid on our hearts FOR him, to speak as Christ’s ambassadors.
Another piece of her direction advised that we were not able to speak directly about the case and the set of circumstances from our accident in addressing the court. We could speak only in generalities about how our lives had been impacted, and what we hoped for the court to consider in sentencing, but we were not to bring up specific pieces of evidence or details about the accident itself. This was tricky as we already knew we sought to speak about some of what the Lord had done in some specifics because of that date, and it seemed that was not going to be amenable to the court protocol.
Oh, how I prayed even more fervently for the Lord to guide my thoughts, my words, and my lips—that He would serve as the holy editor of ALL I would share on behalf of our family that date. I had been praying that earlier, but it’s amazing how much fire and passion are stirred in your prayers when you are up against a quick deadline and you’ve had such an abrupt change to all that you have prepared.
Quickly in that prayer time, I was reminded of a passage that has become one of my frequent prayer passages when facing a situation like this—I’ve prayed it when facing difficult and confrontational situations, I’ve prayed it for friends facing hearings and court trials of their own, I’ve prayed it in all sorts of interview processes…and I had, indeed, been praying it many times for this particular case, though in the moment of unsettling that occurred in considering the newly discovered guidelines, my anxious heart seemed to forget this truth for a moment or two. I’m so glad the Lord quickly reminded me of these words Christ spoke to His disciples:
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Luke 12:11-12
I KNEW I needed to rest in this. I KNEW I needed to turn all of my anxiety and fear over to the Lord. I KNEW I needed to TRUST that He would give me the words I should say, at that time. The Lord had already prepared the way.
Oh, how I kept claiming that passage—-as we went through the metal detectors to head to the courtroom, as we filed beside the line of defendants waiting their turn for processing with the court, as we approached courtroom B, and our eyes met with the man who we were there to speak with. He was was seated on the bench just outside the courtroom doors, seated next to an older woman (I considered the woman must be his attorney, as I had learned from the victim’s advocate that his attorney was a female, but I quickly learned that this was the man’s mother). My heart raced inside my chest, my pulse was beating in my throat, and I quickly diverted my eyes and lunged at the courtroom doors, to enter that room and find a seat to breathe.
As we quickly entered the courtroom and ducked into the bench of the last row, the bailiff asked our names and what we were there for. We identified ourselves and our nature of business, and tried to catch our breath and thoughts.
There were other defendants and their lawyers in this room, going over the potential pleas and consequences associated with each. We heard them planning their course for the best possible covering of their circumstances. We heard the pleas of one of the fathers whose son was being sentenced to at least a few days in jail, as he begged for them to arrange his jail time over the weekend(s), so his son may not have to miss classes at school. We heard considerations of making the jail time as convenient as possible to the perpetrators. And, as my mind was speaking to the Lord about all of these things to which I had been blissfully naive before, the defendant in our case entered the courtroom with his attorney and his mother. The attorney led them to the row of seats directly in front of my daughter and me, and they all sat together, literally inches from us.
My heart began to beat even louder in my chest. My mouth went dry. Completely dry. My tongue got thick. My pulse was pounding in my ears. Here was the man who changed our lives in April. Here was the man to whom I had come to speak, and at this point he was seemingly unaware of who we were, and our connection to him. We heard his mother talking casually with him about what time “the game” started that night, and if he wanted her to get pizza. We heard him asking his attorney about the steps to apply for a restricted driver’s license and to retrieve his car from the police impound lot. We heard his attorney explaining more of the probation process. We heard all of this, and we sat, nervously awaiting our time to speak.
The prosecutor came and told us that we were the second case on the docket, that there would be one case just prior to ours, so I had a little bit of time to collect my thoughts. I breathed a sigh of relief, and thanked the Lord for this gift of time.
And, then it happened. The judge changed the order of the dockets, due to the first defendant’s need for a translator for his trial. Suddenly, they were calling forward our defendant, and the prosecutor was looking for the victim to come and speak. That meant me.
At this point, the defendant and his attorney were standing at the front of the courtroom, just before the judge, and I was invited to stand between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, literally inches from the defendant, half facing him and half facing the judge. My heart raced. My mouth went dry. My throat was full of lumps. My mind was this odd place of racing thought processes and yet this resolve to get through this.
I honestly do not remember all that I said. I know that I spoke about the fact that just as vehicles impacted and jarred, lives were impacted and jarred by that one choice to drink and drive. I know that I spoke about the fact that we can each fool ourselves that our choices only affect or harm ourselves, but that this particular incident had served as a reminder that that is not true at all—that there is always potential for our choices to ripple out and affect others, for good or bad.
I know that I spoke to the court, but looked directly at the defendant, about our wish to remind the defendant of the words we had spoken to him at the accident scene…that we love Jesus, and the fact that we love Jesus means that we love this man, even though we didn’t know him before that day, and that we forgive him. I told the court that our family wished for this man to know that not a single day has gone by since April that we haven’t prayed for this man—he has been prayed for every.single.day. I told the court that we hoped that he would take this opportunity at a second chance that has been given him—that he would recognize the many ways this could have been, and should have been, SO much worse than it was—that there has been an opportunity for grace in this, and for good to come of this, if he will allow this to help him turn from those choices in the future. (please know, I know that my words were not as eloquent as these…not saying these are eloquent, but these are far more eloquent than my fumbling nervous lips chained together that day…I’m giving you the gist of my rambling that day)
I told him that there had been good things that had come from this seemingly bad thing (though, as my daughter pointed out later, and I quickly realized upon taking my seat again, I didn’t expound on WHAT those good things were, aside from the reminder that our actions affect everyone and that life can change in a moment..I believe my fear that I would overstep the details of the case took over in this area).
As I sat down, I was shaking, I was quickly realizing the things I “intended to say,” mentally going over the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s”…wishing I could take to my feet and add to what I had said. But I remained in my seat, and tried to rest in the fact the Lord had covered this all.
I squirmed as I realized I had spoken grace to this man far more than I had intended—I had not spoken as much of the consequences of his decision upon our family. I feared I spoke in an unbalanced manner. I feared I erred in too much grace.
The judge went through the man’s sentencing…which is steep. This man’s one choice is reaping much consequence, heartache, and need for rebuilding in his life. This man’s life is forever going to be impacted by his decision that afternoon in April. The judge issued the consequence and spoke truth about the severity of this man’s decision.
“I feared I erred in too much grace.” As we left the courtroom, and I fought the overanalyzing nature of my mind, the second-guessing of myself, the shaking of my head in disbelief that I “completely left that piece out,” I came at those thoughts with the truth of the Lord’s words above—KNOWING we had been praying for SO long, KNOWING that MANY OTHERS had been praying for SO long, and KNOWING that I was NOT ALONE in that courtroom, that the Holy Spirit was right there with me, teaching me what to say AT THAT TIME—and I came to realize, I would MUCH rather err in issuing too much grace than in issuing too much condemnation. I would MUCH rather err in showing this man LOVE, GRACE, and MERCY. I would MUCH rather remind him that he is not alone in his battle against sin and temptation. I would MUCH rather point to the forgiveness and new life that is available in Jesus.
Yes, I may not have said what I THOUGHT I was going to stay, but I am going to try to trust that the Lord placed me there to be His ambassador to this man and to others in the courtroom. I am going to trust that He gave our family a platform for His grace.
(and, as an aside: I made the mistake of asking my middle school daughter if I made any sense up there, or if I sounded crazy, to which she responded, “You sounded like a crazy lady.” That was encouraging. 🙂 Learn from my mistake–if you find yourself in a similar situation, just don’t even ask your children how you sounded. They will be brutally honest, and you will KNOW that you were crazy.) 🙂