Calming the Storm
By Janet Perez Eckles
"The jury reached the verdict," the bailiff said as he swung open the large courtroom doors. There was an instant hush in the crowd in the hallway. The jury spent three hours to make their decision—three hours that, to me, seemed like days. I gripped my husband's hand as we shuffled into the courtroom ahead of our two sons and the rest of our family and friends. Sitting stiffly on the hard benches, no one spoke.
"Rise," the bailiff said with authority in his voice. The final moment had arrived. I held my breath. My heart beat with force. We were about to hear the final verdict. "Finally we'll see justice be done!" I thought.
"The phone rang early on September 7, 2002, around 2:30 am. In moments, our middle son Jeff raced into our bedroom shouting "Joe's been hurt!" We frantically pulled on the clothes from the day before and rushed out the front door. We arrived at the hospital minutes after the ambulance, but we received only one small piece of information. "They're working on him."
“This isn’t happening to us!” I thought with anguish. Once in the emergency room, we received the heart-wrenching news. Joe had not survived the multiple stab wounds inflicted on his body. "I crumpled under the weight of Joe's death. “These things don't happen to good boys!” I wanted to shout. The light of my life had been snuffed out. Like a little boat in a violent storm, I was helplessly buffeted by winds of unbearable pain. God’s Word became my anchor. "…be still and know that I am God…" Echoed my heart over and over again. His Word sounded loud and clear: "My grace is sufficient" (2 Corinthians 12:9)
It was precisely God’s grace which sustained me during the excruciating pain of losing Joe. A year crawled by slowly. My heart reviewed the seasons of his memories. The Spring of Joe’s vibrant personality, the Summer of his warm hugs and "I love you Mom," the Fall of the different changes from a small boy to a teenager. And finally the Winter bringing with it the cruel and bitter coldness of his death.
"I got a call from the prosecuting attorney." My husband announced with a somber tone. "The trial to prosecute the man who killed Joe will begin next month. The day scheduled for it to begin was Oct. 27; ironically, it was my 51st birthday. It was exactly one year and two months after Joe’s death. “I’m not sure if I’m ready.” I confessed to my husband. “I don’t know myself, but we need to see justice served.” He replied with a sigh of pain.
The trial began. Each witness was called to relate his/her side of the story. “Help me God!” my heart cried out. “I don’t know if I can bear one more detail of that dreadful night!” But the torture continued. The medical examiner's report of each of Joe's 23 stab wounds reached my heart with the same force they entered Joe's body. All testimonies were heard. The judge read the instructions. "Jury, did you reach a verdict." He asked. "We have." Answered the president of the jury.
I held my breath. He read the three counts. I can’t recall the details. The only words my mind retained were, "Innocent of all counts." A gasp of horror burst from our side of the courtroom. Sobbing and cries from the other side. They were relieved at his acquittal, we were horrified the injustice. He pled self-defense and was found innocent of all counts.
The process of picking up the pieces began all over again. The lash of injustice compounded the agony of losing Joe. Once again, the rough waters of anguish brutally tossed my world. It left me helpless. “This is impossible for me. Be my rock and my refuge!” I pleaded with God. When I looked for His Word, He was faithful. He provided the answer; “with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)
Weeks went by. Night after night, my husband took my hand and held me close. “Let’s pray.” "You know," my husband said with a soft and calm tone, "We don’t know if some day this man and our Joe would be in heaven together…holding hands worshiping our Lord."
"I agree." I responded without hesitation. Though I readily agreed, the action to follow wouldn’t be easy. But as Christian’s we vowed to love our neighbor…we had. But we extended love because they deserved it. It wasn’t logic, fear or nobility that prompted us to reach this decision. It was simply a need to see beyond our circumstances and obey Jesus’ commanded forgive one another. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32).
Once we chose to forgive the man who took Joe’s life, our world changed. The darkness of our pain was dispelled like the morning sun erasing the dark shadows as it ushers in the brightness of dawn. We felt the warmth of freedom. Our forgiveness removed the cold bars of resentment, bitterness and anger. Forgiveness cleared the way for me to focus on Jesus. His sustaining power gave me a refreshing view of my world. Until I see Joe again, I’ll hold his memories like treasures wrapped in strings of love, tucked safely in my heart. I can focus on these memories because Jesus took me out of that storm. It no longer threatens my world. His example of forgiveness pointed the way to the calm sea of peace, serenity and renewed hope.
Janet Perez Eckles is an international speaker, writer, author and Sunday school teacher. Her new book titled, Trials of Today, Treasures for Tomorrow: Overcoming Adversities in life offers practical steps to triumph in the midst of crisis. www.janetperezeckles.com