"You keep carrying that anger, it’ll eat you up inside…" Those lyrics from Don Henley (who I happen to think is the greatest singer/songwriter of all time as well as a modern day sage), are true to the very core. During a concert with The Eagles he said (referring to the song from which the lyrics are quoted), "This song took me 42 years to write and about four minutes to sing." I can totally relate.
The past three-plus years has given this father of three more than enough reasons to be full of anger, hatred, bitterness and something worse. I have been at the bedside of a wife and children on death’s door. I performed the funeral for my 2-year-old, murdered niece. I have had much taken and stolen from me in this life. I have had a therapist look me in the eye and say, "Paul, I have no idea how you can even get out of bed in the morning, and nobody would blame you if you didn’t." I have dealt with the kind of anger that rips apart your soul and leaves you devastated.
In the middle of the fog of devastation, which circled my life over this time, one memory is clear in my mind. I learned a lesson from another Paul, who opened every letter he wrote to his friends with a standard greeting, "Grace & Peace." I have learned what those words truly mean. And (in case you are wondering) they are not taught and rarely (if ever) practiced in most churches. Through my study and experience, I have learned much more about unmerited favor and undeserved relationships than I could have ever learned otherwise. I have learned that true grace and peace brings us to "The Heart of The Matter" which is, in the end, forgiveness. And that is more powerful than anger, or revenge, or being right.
Because of a new-found understanding of grace and peace, I made a decision to let go of the anger I held toward the men who hurt and attempted to destroy my family. I decided to forgive (to the best of my ability) those who (I felt) did not take responsibility for the evil that literally destroyed my semblance of a life. These are not words. I am telling you the truth from my heart. If I can forgive, I believe the people in our community can forgive. Yes, I hurt; every day I hurt! I may still not understand what will totally heal my hurt. As Don Henley says, "the more I know, the less I understand…" I am convinced however, anger and revenge will never heal my hurt and they will never heal yours.
In light of recent articles regarding funeral pickets and council meetings and the NAACP, I think it is important for this community to know I neither endorsed the picketing, nor do I endorse those actions that would cause more pain to a grieving family that is still trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of their innocent child. I endorse grace and peace. Forgiveness is hard to define, but letting go of the anger for those who have hurt you is the only way to put to bed injustices that have been done to you. I realize it is easier said than done but for those who have the courage, I extend the challenge.
As for me, I choose grace and peace. It is not an easy choice, but it is my choice and a choice I have to remind myself of every hour of every day. So, to the family of the man who attacked my family, grace and peace. To Mary Barnes, whom I harbored so much bitterness toward, grace and peace. To those who helped my family through our tragedy (and there were many), a huge thank you and grace and peace. To those who took advantage…grace and peace. To those who fought for truth…grace and peace. To those I didn’t agree with…grace and peace. To the one who had my soul…grace and peace. To those who didn’t understand a former pastor dealing with devastation and for those who did…grace and peace. To those I have hurt and to those who have hurt me…grace and peace. For the sake of my three beautiful children…grace and peace. For the sake of our community…grace and peace.
And, a big "shout- out" goes out to those in our community who have demonstrated grace and peace toward me. Namely, the God-Fatha’ of grace and peace, Weyman Smith. The king and queen of grace and peace, Clay and Brandi Hodges. Trace Colson, Trey Bailey, Frank and Jessica Terrones, Maria Morales, Jamie and Tiffany, The Finchers, and the select. And of course, the ambassadors of grace and peace, Phillip Lehman and David Payne.