Anger Turned to Peace
by Janet Perez Eckles
The bailiff opened the large courtroom doors and stepped into the hallway. “The jury has reached its verdict,” he said.
I gasped inwardly. The buzzing from the crowd turned to an instant hush. The jury had spent three hours to make its 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 moment had arrived. I held my breath. My heart beat with force. We were about to hear the final verdict.
“Finally, finally, we’ll see justice carried out!” I thought.
A little over a year earlier, the phone had rung late at night on September 7, 2002. 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 repeated silently over and over again.
In the midst of anguish and desperate prayers, the doctor walked in, “Are you the parents of Joe Eckles?” he asked.
I jumped to my feet, “Yes, how is he? Where is he? When can we take him home?”
And that’s when the news crushed my heart. Our 19-year-old son Joe had not survived the multiple stab wounds he had received.
I crumpled under the weight of his death.
“These things don’t happen to good boys!” I wanted to shout. The light of my life had been snuffed out. My husband and I sobbed. Questions of what had happened, how, and why mixed with the pain. Joe was the captain of his football team, captain of his Lacrosse team, witty, handsome, a leader in every way. How could this happen to him?
I prayed, not with words, but with cries only God could hear as they came from the depths of my soul. I asked for strength, for direction, and comfort.
Weeks crawled by, and perhaps slower than I wished, peace trickled in. And it was God’s grace that sustained me enough to move forward through daily routines. 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 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 October 27, which was my 51st birthday. It would be exactly one year and two months after Joe’s death.
“I’m not sure if I’m ready,” I confessed to my husband.
He gave a pained sigh. “I don’t know myself, but we need to see justice served.”
The trial began. And although we sensed the support of our family and friends around us, that courtroom was an odd, uncomfortable place, cold and harsh. We were the victims, and sorrow intensified the unwanted experience. The grief in our hearts blurred the details of the legal proceedings. Each witness was called to relate his/her side of the story. An altercation had caused our son Joe and the other driver to exit their cars. A fight broke out, and Joe didn’t know the man was armed with a knife.
“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 almost the same force they entered Joe’s body. Once all testimonies were heard, the judge read the instructions to the jury.
After hours of deliberating, they called us back into the courtroom.
“Jury, did you reach a verdict?” The judge asked.
One of the jury members stood. “We have.”
I held my breath as he read the three charges. Most words were a blur to me, but what pierced through my head was, “Not guilty on all counts.” A gasp of horror burst from our side of the courtroom. Shouts of glee and cheering came from the other side. They celebrated his acquittal. We were horrified with the injustice. The man who took our son’s life had 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 heartache of our son’s loss. We held each other up night after night while my husband and I prayed.
One evening, he paused after our prayer. “You know,” he said with a soft voice, “God may forgive this man. We need to forgive him too.”
“I agree,” I said.
Like a wet, heavy blanket off my back, heartache lifted off my heart. That’s exactly what we needed to do.
Once we chose to forgive the man who took Joe’s life, our world changed. The darkness of our pain was dispelled like the blackness of night by the morning sun. We never saw the man again. But had we encountered him, a word of forgiveness would be extended instead of vengeance or rage.
Through prayer, we had asked God for comfort, but He gave us more than that. He gave us the ability to feel peace.
“How can you let go of something like that?” a friend said to me back then.
My answer has always been: If we had not forgiven him, we would be the prisoners, trapped inside the bars of bitterness. We made the choice to be set free, to live in the liberty that forgiveness brought.
In that freedom, Joe’s memories are sweeter. In that freedom, our wisdom is greater—to recognize the gift he was to us for 19 years. And once free, we invited joy and laughter back into our lives.
That joy is sometimes accompanied by tears. But those tears are different now. They carry gratitude for our sorrow that turned to healing, for the injustice that turned to acceptance, and for the anger that turned to peace.
Janet Perez Eckles is an international speaker and author who helps thousands to overcome trials, thrive in relationships and reach personal and professional success. www.janetperezeckles.com
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