On April 18, 1997, I got the call that nobody ever wants to receive. My sister-in-law called to let me know that she killed my brother. I remember writing in my journal that it was a sunny, 67-degree day. It was a perfect day—until that phone call.
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I lived 135 miles away from my hometown. I asked her not to tell anyone in my family. The news was sudden, and back then this kind of thing was slower to get out than today’s technology. I told Lucia; we packed the car and headed north. We arrived three hours later at my brother’s home.
You may read more of the backstory here – When Christianity Disappoints You: the Death of My Brother
He was shot the night before. He and his wife had been on a date in a neighboring town. They came home, and for some inexplicable reason, they got into an argument. It escalated, and she went into the bedroom to get their gun. He was at the other end of their home when she started shooting. She shared these things with me shortly after arriving.
She hit him at least once from about 40 feet away. He crawled out into the garage, between their two cars. She went into the garage where he was lying on the floor. She told me that she held the gun about five feet above him and shot him, unloading the chamber. She put five slugs in him, and he died within minutes.
I’m not sure why she didn’t run outside to get away from him if she was genuinely scared. She said she was afraid, but she walked past the front door, entered the garage, walked to the other side of the car and unloaded the pistol.
On January 20, 1957, they were born in the same town, in the same hospital, only hours apart. They knew each other nearly all of their lives. They went to school together, hung together and eventually got married 30 years after they left that hospital in 1957.
A few months before she killed him, she took out an insurance policy on him. The judge charged her with murder but gave her the least possible conviction, which was involuntary manslaughter. At the trial, she had virtually every friend she knew plus all their friends show up in the courtroom for support and to testify that she was a good person.
On my brother’s side was my grandmother, my mother, Lucia and me: it was approximately 200 to 4. The judge gave her 300 hours of community service.
Because of the conviction, she could not get the life insurance money, but her daughter from a previous marriage did collect it. Her daughter was in her teens.
The Good News
We all experience bad news. Nobody receives a pass in this matter. The issue is never about whether evil will come knocking on your door, but how are you going to live for God’s fame, your good, and the benefit of others when the dark days come and stay over your heart and home. This process from despair to hope is not an easy one.
After a perilous journey through this “unique valley of the shadow of death,” the Lord turned my heart to pray for my former sister-in-law. I hope that if she is not a Christian, that the Lord would regenerate her. It would bring me no greater pleasure than to see her standing in heaven, beside the person she murdered, forever worshipping the Savior. How glorious would that be?
The great Apostle Paul has been doing similarly for a long time now. He is rejoicing with his friends that he consented to put to death (Acts 22:20). The cross of Christ and the gospel that flows from that “cross and tomb” resolve all our problems, no matter what they are. What could be better than this good news that we know and experience because of God’s favor upon us?
It is the gospel that makes all things right, and I do thank God that although my soul was heavy because of the “wages of sin,” I know that I am no different than my sister-in-law. Oh yes, I realize she murdered someone. She told me so, and the judge agreed. But so did I. My sin put my Savior on Adam’s tree, but the Lord forgave me of this higher crime.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” – Matthew 18:32-33
My prayer is that I never get over the fact that my murder charge received the forgiveness of Christ. May we all find forgiveness for our “murder” of the Son of God, and from that place of humility, we rest in God’s judgments on all things that are still waiting on reconciliation and restoration. We can live today in the future grace that is certain to come.