To love a murderer on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, & every day after

Working at the Denver Street School has ruined me for murderers: I’ve come to realize I love them and it regularly breaks my heart.

A few years back, my vice-principal and I started a running text chain. Some days it’s a mix of teaching memes and funny student quotes, but there are other days where we somberly exchange news articles with headlines written about our students.

This year alone we’ve exchanged two articles. The first explained that a prior student had been arrested for killing his three-month old daughter (accidentally or not, we’re still not sure). The second was a list of criminal charges a student from two years ago is facing. As I write this, he is awaiting arraignment for nine felony charges– including first-degree murder, first-, second-, and third-degree assault, and menacing with a deadly weapon, among others.

Fuller and my weird text chain began in 2014 with information regarding the murder of one of our then-current students. It was reinstated four months after Johnny’s death when we exchanged news articles about the arrest of another then-current student who had tried meth, then proceeded to attempt to kill a police officer while under the influence.

I’m far from a news junkie, but when I see my kiddos’ faces on news channels or in my Facebook feed, I can’t help but sit enveloped in the articles and subsequent comments from the public.

“Let him burn in hell.”

“Public execution. Maybe even firing squad.”

“A disgrace.”

“A waste of space.”

These are the words that strangers have said about my students, my babies.

And every. single. time. that I’ve gotten sucked into the wormhole of comments from the public, I’ve sat, shaking as I read them through tears.

In those moments, I know I’m crying for my students, for their victims, for each of the families and the various communities involved in the incident. I cry because I don’t understand how my students have come to make the choices they’ve made. And no matter how hard I try, I know I’ll never be able to reconcile the reality of the brokenness of this world in my heart.

But just as I’ve cried tears of sadness, I’ve also screamed in rage. In those moments I’m unbelievably angry at my students for what they’ve done, for who they’ve allowed themselves to become. As time progresses, that anger subsides though, often leaving my heart puzzled.

The days go on, but at least for a little while my students’ faces stay in my news feed attached to those horrid headlines; follow-up articles are published, and with them, more horrid comments from people whom I would argue need better hobbies.

As I scroll through the articles and read the death threats and aggressive comments about the students I love, every ounce of me wants to scream back,

“You don’t know them! You don’t see their struggles! You don’t know the abuse they’ve suffered at home, the pain they carry in their hearts, or the ways they have been set up to fail in this world since they were in their mother’s wombs!” 

Let me be clear.

I have no desire to make excuses for my students or their actions, but in those moments I feel trapped between a rock and a hard place– between the seemingly reasonable expectations of human decency and the calling to love and defend the students Jesus has placed in my care.

Thus, in those moments of blinding, complex sorrow and rage, I sit, confused. Feeling a little bit helpless. Saddened by the fact that the only thing I can do is pray and schedule a visit at the county jail to see the students I love.

Because that’s just it. I love my kids. I will love my kids no matter what they do, no matter who they become. And I wish I could convince the rest of the world to do so as well.

Maybe I’m blind or naive, but those students? The ones in Fuller and my text-chain, in your Facebook feed? They’re human. They’re kids I’ve played football with at lunch. I’ve read their stories in my English classes– stories where their “fictional characters” struggle to be men and women of character in gang and drug infested worlds, in “fictional settings” that are strikingly similar to those of their author’s.

I’ve taken these students on leadership retreats to the mountains. I’ve watched them build snowmen and sled and giggle like little kids. I’ve watched them cry out of frustration when they can’t figure out their math homework and literally run screaming down the halls with excitement when they pass a test.

These young people who have made horrid choices– either one incidentally or as a string of other poor choices– these people who have taken another’s life?

They’re young men and women I honestly trust with mine.

They’re sweet and goofy; they’re so much smarter than the choices they’ve made or the stigmas the world placed on them before (or after) they ended up in the orange jumpsuits they now wear.

It’s because of this that I’ve spent several of my planning periods this year tracking some of my favorite former students through the Colorado judicial system. Last week as I waited for the Denver county inmate search website to load, a meme popped up in that text chain, and I couldn’t help but laugh at just how weird this job of mine is.

As I stared at the slowly loading page, the comments from old news articles flashed through my mind, as did this old snapchat– a picture of the student I was trying to locate–

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In that moment, I glanced around my empty classroom, then down at the Bible on my desk and I was reminded that loving murderers probably isn’t a common aspect of most people’s jobs; in fact, outside of DSS, it’s probably rather rare. And outside of the relationships with Jesus that our school is built upon, I doubt that it’s possible.

But isn’t that just it?

Jesus had a heart for murderers. That’s what Easter is about.

The fact that King of the Universe came down to save His people from themselves and the sin that entangles them even though we couldn’t deserve it less.

Our perfect, benevolent Jesus came to rescue His people in love and restore them to relationship with the Father, even though they shouted, “Let Him be crucified!”, “I do not know Him!”, and “Do not release Him, the innocent, but Barabbas, the robber!” just days earlier.

Jesus came to save us even though we shout those words at Him and at each other with our lips, actions, and inactions every day.

We are murderers.

Each and every one of us.

And if we refuse to acknowledge that truth in our pride or arrogance, our own virtue or religiousity, then I firmly believe that we’ll miss out on the heart of Jesus.

If we can’t look at our sin, our own capability and guilt of murder against our King– and those created in His image– then we are in danger of missing so much of the beauty of Jesus and what He has done for us, even though we are so undeserving.

May we become a people who look upon the crucifix with a more full understanding of our sin, so that we might relish in the goodness and love of the truth that followed three days later– the words that continue to shake me to my core this morning: “He is not here; Christ has risen, just as He said He would.” (Matthew 28:6)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:6-8)

 

Wake up call

Easter Sunrise“Babe, wake up. Look at the sunrise! Come on, Kace… Wake up!”

For a year, I woke up to these words at least once a week. My ex-boyfriend, who I endured the slight misadventure of sharing an apartment with, was a morning person… and well, I am not.

Every Saturday morning he would beg me to wake up and watch the sunrise with him. Me, being the extreme romantic that I am, would roll over, smash my pillow over my head, and tell him to shut up and go back to sleep.

When we split a few years back, nothing really changed in regards to my non-morning-person-ness. Don’t get me wrong, I think morning people are wonderful, but try as I might, I just have never had that streak within me. If my job allowed it, I would sleep in until 9 am every morning and stay awake until 3 am every night.

That being said, this time last year when my friends and I had the bright idea to wake up and have our own little sunrise Easter worship service at Lookout Mountain, I was a little bit less than excited. I knew that it would be an amazing morning adventure, but I wasn’t incredibly jazzed about the idea of waking up at 5 am.

The night before Easter, I set five alarms on my phone out of fear that my anti-morning brain would over sleep. As I fell asleep I remember laying in bed dreading my early morning wake up call and thinking about all of the times I told Mr. Wrong to leave me be or let me sleep.

Just four hours after falling asleep, I sat straight up in my bed in my dark apartment– an hour before my alarm. Instead of my usual slightly grumpy / pre-coffee morning attitude, I was stoked for the day and wasn’t able to fall back asleep.

I hopped out of bed, turned off my alarm, took a shower, made coffee, and got dressed. (And not just in sweats– I’m talking “did my hair, put on a nice sundress, and managed to get some makeup on” kind of dressed.) I walked the dog and if I remember correctly I even had some quiet time with God that morning… All things that I hardcore struggle to do before 9 am, even on my most alert mornings.

Around 5:30, I hopped in my car and headed off to my friends’ house to load up and head to the mountains.

Wide eyed and bushy tailed we arrived at Lookout Mountain that morning just in time to watch the sun start to peek out from behind the Earth. That morning, with five of my closest friends, I sat on the mountain side and worshiped my King to the harmony of an acoustic guitar and a harmonica.

In that moment, everything was beautiful.

I didn’t mind that it wasn’t even 6 am yet, that it was still relatively dark, or kind of chilly.

In fact, as I sat there and watched the sun crest over my city, I felt God whisper in the depths of my soul. I woke you up to watch this sunrise with Me. You are my beloved and I am redeeming you.

And that He did, and continues to do so every single day.

A year later, sunrises still aren’t my favorite times of the day, but they no longer bring up the bitterness of a time of personal brokenness for me.

After all, isn’t that part of the beauty of Easter? Our Father sent His Son to reconcile our relationships with Him and His Spirit to dwell within us and begin to heal the wounds in the depths of our souls.

He is a wonderful Father and Lover, a beautiful Redeemer. He is my King and today we celebrate His risen Son.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on Earth.”

(Ephesians 1:7-10)

Practically Peter

Easter Lillies

Easter is easily one of my favorite holidays and seasons. I mean, it’s full of cute baby farm animals, bacon’s red-headed step-child (ham), and flowers. Those things alone would make the heart of this sunflower rancher’s daughter burst with girlie joy, even if those were the only wonderful parts of this season… But they’re not.

This season is centered around God and his beautiful recreation of the world: the way that His redemptive power was personified through the death and resurrection of His Son, the unimaginable love that He showed for His people through Christ’s sacrifice, even the way that he continues to use imperfect people to build up a church to serve a Holy King. It all just makes my heart burst with joy!

As I sat and reflected on John 18 this week after Gospel Community, John’s account of Peter’s denial of Jesus in verses 15-27 struck something within me.

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.”

Just hours earlier, Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the night was up. And what do ya know; Jesus’ prophecy came true.

Weird, right? It’s like Jesus knew Peter’s deceitful heart ahead of time and still loved Him despite it.

After re-reading John 18, I feel like I can relate to Peter the most out of all of the apostles.

Peter was a go-getter. An absolute hot mess of a go-getter.

I mean, if we look back in the first few verses of chapter 18 of John, Peter cuts off one of the ears of a guard who has come to arrest Jesus. He was well intentioned, but he got a little too excited in trying to defend Jesus and cut off the dude’s ear. (Oops.)

And then there was that time at the Last Supper when Peter told Jesus, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Matthew 26:33) Peter was absolutely in love with Jesus. He openly stated that He was willing to go anywhere, even to his death for his King.

Then this whole denying Jesus three times thing happens hours later and I’m left scratching my head thinking, Where the heck did the ever-devoted Peter go? How could he just abandon Jesus like that?

Aaaaaand then I remember who I am.

I am a woman who seeks after God in her own spastic, go-getter fashion. I love Him more than I love everything else in the world combined and I know that I would go to my death for my King.

And yet I am still an anxious, control-freak who tries to play it cool, yet always ends up cutting off someone’s ear (okay, it’s usually my own ear) in a moment of indiscretion.

I have a big mouth and if it’s not closely monitored, my God-given wit can be sharp and biting.

I am a passionate person and when I don’t use my passion for God and good instead of evil, (See look, I make pop culture references sometimes…) I easily fall into the traps of lust.

All of this to say, I am a hot mess, and yet God is using me anyway. Just like He used Peter, and just like I’m sure He is using you.

God has built His church out of screw ups and sinners… Screw ups and sinners whom He loves and is redeeming.

Peter went on to be one of the pillars of the early church and yet there he stood, just hours after His King had been arrested, and essentially spit in His face by denying Him not once, not twice, but three times.

I think that we often fall into the lies of “I’m not good enough to be loved by God” or “There’s no way that God could love me after I have [insert your supposedly unforgivable sin here].”

Yet He does.

He sent His Son to die for us because He is a forgiving Father who constantly redeems our stories.

He forgave and redeemed Peter, one of the people closest to Him on this earth, after he denied Him three stinking times.

God continues to forgive and redeem me when I put my foot in my mouth or when I figuratively cut off an ear in my own zealousness.

That truth is what this season is about. Easter isn’t about little chickens, candy, or visiting a creep dressed up in a rabbit costume at the mall.

Easter is about God and indescribable the way that He loves us, even when we spit in His face or trip and fall flat on our own faces after denying Him.

God is seeking to use you.

Will you let Him love you? Will you let Him use you in His Kingdom? Are you willing to let go of your shame and brokenness and let Him guide and redeem you?