I typically don’t watch the news. But every once in a while, headlines that come to me over the Internet prompt a digging in. I almost always regret it.
That’s what happened yesterday and again this morning over the same two leading stories. In these two cases, my horror and sadness is as much for the “perpetrators” and their families as it is directed toward their victims.
Both stories came out of western Wisconsin. The first is of a 21 year old guy high on meth who slammed into a group of Girl Scouts doing clean-up along a rural road. Three 4th-graders–nine and ten year olds–and one mom. Dead. Just like that. In an instant. The rest of the troop and their chaperones will never forget. Nor will the families of those who died.
But it’s the stupid kid who killed them who is on my heart right now. He’d been “huffing” as he and a buddy drove around in a pick-up, and sped off after he’d run into the girls. How can it be?! Unfortunately, I get it. And that’s where my heart breaks.
The first thing I thought of was his parents—people who surely love him and did their best to raise him well, who must be remembering right now the sweet little boy he used to be and perhaps still is…people who are dying inside with guilt over where they went wrong.
Of course, it’s my own son’s face I see in the mug shot of Colten Treu. Once upon a time, it could so easily have been him…us. And so I grieve for Colten’s family, and for the 21 year old boy whose life is over and whose remaining time on this earth will be filled with such horrific guilt. Why, Lord?
The second story is just as awful, and also involves a 10-year old girl. But this one is the perpetrator. And it’s my own 10-year old granddaughter’s face I see on top of this kiddo who entered court in shackles yesterday, the girl who panicked and killed the six month old baby she was supposed to be caring for. It’s horrible, I know. But I see how it could happen. And it breaks my heart. For the baby’s family, of course, but even more for that little girl and her parents. In an instant, life is over for all of them. Why?!
Tomorrow is the funeral of my deceased best friend’s son, Jeff, whom I’ve known for nearly 40 years. Maybe that’s why these news stories of people I don’t even know have hit me so hard. Losing a kid…how can parents bear it?
My heart is breaking for Jeff’s dad. What were their last words to one another? I pray they were words of love, but I’m guessing not: That just wasn’t their way. And so I pray that all of those who loved Jeff will feel the comfort of God holding them close, just as I pray that Jeff is now in the arms of the mom he loved so much and lost 15 years ago.
And maybe that’s where all of this grief I’m holding on to began—with my own guilt over not having stepped up to the role of “second mom” for Jeff. So many times over the years I’d see the yearning in his eyes, and would almost but not quite reach out to him in love. Instead, I’d make a joke, or jab him about one thing or another…anything to distract rather than to address the losses and the loneliness in his life. Because that might lead into the risky business of talking to him about God.
In retrospect, it would have been so easy. I could have used the excuse of the prime rib dinner he owed me over a lost bet, and we could have talked from the heart. About my story and his; about Who pulled me up and out of the muck I’d fallen into. About my changed life, so different from the one I led throughout most of the years he knew me. And then I would have been without regret right now, knowing that Jeff knew the Lord.
I don’t have the assurance because I didn’t speak up. Dear God, I hope someone else did. As I hope someone else does for my son. Because life ends in a instant, with no second chances beyond the grave.
Ephesians 2:8-10: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
It would have been that easy. All I had to do was speak up.
Dear God, I don’t even have words this morning. But I pray for all those parents who are mourning right now for their beloved children. Please comfort them even as You lead them to You through their sorrow.
And dear Lord, please give me the right words, timing and boldness to speak to hurting people about Your saving grace before it’s too late. We’re on this earth for only a breath, and then it’s eternity in just one of two places. Use me to help people accept Your free gift of salvation. Soften hearts and fill up empty lives with Your love.
Thank You for raining mercy upon that 10 year old girl and 21 year old guy in Wisconsin, and for wrapping Your loving arms around their families, giving them faith and strength to use all of their pain for good. Amen.