Heartbroken

It had just rained. Steam rose from the pavement. As soon as I walked out of the air-conditioned building, I felt as though I had walked into a rainforest.

This is a frequent feeling in Florida, especially after rain falls. I walked along a boardwalk situated just feet above a damp, swampy marsh and reached a deck on the end, looking onto a lake. The sounds of frogs and birds played as the hum of the freeway could be heard in the distance. I sat down, alone, on the damp wood staring at my phone, waiting to hear the fate of something I’ve earnestly and whole-heartedly prayed about for the last twenty-five months.

With every slight blow of the wind, droplets fell from the trees and onto the screen of my phone. And every minute or so, each verdict was read, leading up to that final moment: the sentence. Life in prison without parole or death.

Tears streamed down my face as I said out loud, “Please Jesus. Please.” Please God. Don’t let them do this. Don’t let them give this precious man a sentence of death.

As someone who has, for a long time, been a strong supporter of the death penalty, I have never so badly wished for a life sentence. But for some reason, from the moment I first saw the picture of this man in the grainy survellience tapes released by the FBI, I have wanted nothing more than to see him turn his life around, even if it is in prison, and feel remorseful while being redeemed by the blood shed by Jesus. I have wanted nothing more than to see this man in heaven one day, and to be able to call him my brother for eternity.

And that’s what I’ve prayed. Nearly every day for the last two years and one month, I have earnestly prayed for his man, for his heart, for his soul, for his mind, for his family–for everything, all to lead up to his eventual faith and salvation in our one true God and His Son.

My thought process was: if Dzhokhar (“Jahar”) spends his life in prison, it will essentially buy him more time on this earth, thus more time to make that turn and receive that redemption he so desperately needs. If he dies, unchanged, that’s it. There are no second chances. He needed all the time he could get to remain on this earth, and if that meant life in prison, then that’s what he would get.

I have almost always taken the side of the prosecution in every last case I’ve ever studied, followed, and read. For crying out loud, I almost went to law school to become a prosecutor so I could personally play a huge part in helping convict these criminals who, by all accounts, I believed certainly deserve death for what they’ve done (should it be a capital offense). And even though this man has done heinous, awful, terrible things, I never once believed the death penalty was justified for him. Not for a second.

People often ask me, “Why him?” Why do I feel so strongly about wishing the best for him, when my past shows I always want “the worst” for others? I don’t have an answer to that, because all I can say, without a doubt in my mind, is God has placed this tremendous love for him within my heart. God has placed it within me to pray for this man, to pray for his salvation, and to pray for his redemption. Because if we’re being honest here: I have never wished that for a convicted criminal until now.

God has shown me, over the last two years, just a small fraction of a percentage of how he feels toward people like Tsarnaev, like Emwazi, and like bin Laden. He’s shown me a small portion of the love He feels for these people and the sadness He feels when they have not only rejected Him, but they’ve caused pain and hurt onto so many others undeserving of it. He’s shown me His desire for all of His creation to come to Him, no matter what they’ve done on this earth. There is nothing He won’t forgive, whether it’s placing a bomb at a marathon, killing three innocent people including a child. Whether it’s cutting off the heads of innocent prisoners solely for your own selfish “religious” purpose. Whether it’s flying commercial airplanes into buildings, killing thousands of people. It does not matter. God forgives it all, and to Him, there is no “worse” sin than another. It’s all the same to Him, no matter how trivial we may think our “little sins” are on the “scale of sin” we as humans have conjured up in our heads–it’s all the same to Him.

And that’s where I have a serious problem with the “earthy punishment justification” this world and this country, especially, has developed in recent years, especially living in a world so saturated with terrorism. Because the fact of the matter is this: all sins are the same to God; He has no scale. Our punishment as humans for all of the sins we’ve committed in our lifetime is death. So who are we, as a society, as humans even, to say one sin is worse than another and therefore, justified to kill another human being because they’ve reached “the top of the sin scale”? Who are we do that? Who are we to decide someone’s sin is worth paying for with their own life?

So there it was. The sentence, at the end of the twenty-four page verdict form: death.

I cried out to God, “No. No. NOOOOO!” I screamed. I fell to the ground, my body draped over my legs. I struggled to breathe I cried so hard. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe twelve men and women had unanimously decided it was appropriate that this man–this precious man, created in the image of our God–would pay for this horrific crime with his life. How could this be true?

My face was covered in mascara and eyeliner. I tried to wipe it away, but it didn’t matter. Perhaps the heat and the moisture outside was quickly baking it into my skin. Shaking with fear, sadness, and struggling to breathe, I walked down the boardwalk, back into the building, unable to control my sobs. “No, no God,” I kept saying. “He can’t die. He can’t die for this.”

But according to the verdict from that jury, he will. After everything. After all of my prayers, my cries to God, my begging Him to instill some love and compassion into those jurors — it just didn’t happen.

Through this journey God has called me on, and I’ve followed Him, I’ve met others who feel the exact same love in their heart for Jahar as I do. People who, all over this country, all have the exact same story. Just like me, they didn’t choose this; God chose them. God placed this love, passion, and desire within their hearts just as He’s done for me. I remember one of the first things one of them said to me after we “met” was she thought maybe the death penalty is what Jahar needs to bring him to salvation, out of sheer desperation, being imminently faced with death with an execution date looming over his head. While I agreed, I never believed it would come to that. I never believed he would get the death penalty because I had believed all this time he was going to be spared from it. And now–it is what he’s facing. Maybe it will be ten years from now, maybe it will be twenty years from now, and maybe I’ll never know his own fate until I die myself, but I will never stop praying for his redemption, forgiveness that comes through our Father, and most importantly: his salvation through Jesus.

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Steve Jobs: iSad.

On Wednesday, the news came as complete shock. My boyfriend and I were getting ready to turn on one of our favorite shows, when he opened the internet browser on the computer just for a minute. Across the top was a bar:

BREAKING: Steve Jobs died.

He read it aloud to me, “Steve Jobs died.”

In that exact moment, my stomach dropped and I felt an aching feeling run through my entire body. Then there was shock. “What?!” was all I could say. But then again, we all knew of his public battle with such a deadly form of cancer, and the fact that he had so recently stepped down from his title at the company he started literally from nothing.

But that sickness I felt was just that — sickness. Like I was going to throw up. As a former roommate of mine put it when I told her the news of her ex-boyfriend passing, “I know how you upset you get about death, and I hope you’ll be okay.”

When she told me those words, it was like my exact feelings that I had never spoken aloud to anyone were finally verbalized. I do get upset about death. Especially when it is someone that I know, or even once knew. But truthfully, what upsets me the most about death, as a Christian, is feeling absolutely helpless just knowing (or believing, rather) where that person could be, forever.

I have never considered myself a judgmental person, despite my Christian beliefs, that are often mistaken by others for nothing other than judgment. I have always tried my hardest to listen to everyone, and take in what they say. If I meet someone who has different beliefs than me, I ask questions, I listen, and I try to understand where they are coming from. Because the truth is, we all believe what we believe for a reason. Everyone has gone through different experiences in their lives to shape them into who they are today. So, if you tell me that you don’t believe that God exists, I respect that, and honestly want to hear your story. There is no right or wrong with religion–because the fact is true for everyone: we all think that we are right.

And maybe we are. Maybe Christians are right. Maybe Atheists are right. Maybe Buddhists are right. The truth is: no one knows who is right or wrong as long as we live on this earth. So I can sit here and tell you until I take my last breath on this earth that Christianity is the only “right” in this world, but honestly I will not know until I die. We all hope that we are right, but we also have to acknowledge that someone will be wrong, but at that point, it is “too late” because we are dead. And no one can come back after they die, so who knows?

So, back to Steve Jobs. When I heard of his death, immediately, I was sick. (I guess I’ve established that three times now.) Because to me, as a Christian, learning about the death of someone that is so publicly a believing and practicing Buddhist, makes me so sad. It makes me upset. It makes me angry. It makes me mad. And in that moment, all I can do is what I believe is right–pray. Pray that God somehow intervened in Steve’s finally weeks, days, or hours. Maybe that he sensed the end was coming for him, and realized that forever is just that–for ever. And once you die, that’s it. There is no second chance.

Perhaps you understand the one statement that I am skating around but will not say publicly because those don’t share the same beliefs as me may get upset, but hopefully you do understand what I am saying. And when you stop and think about it–that one statement–it is absolutely, undeniably, ridiculously terrifying.

There’s one thing that we all can agree on despite our religious beliefs and differences: Steve Jobs was the definition of brilliance. He was undoubtedly blessed. (In my opinion of course), the Lord blessed him with an amazing, literally one-of-a-kind mind that was capable of so much success. The reason I am able to type all of these words out right now on a laptop is because of that man and his brain. He transformed so much of our world and I believe he absolutely deserved his success. The Lord does not choose to bless all of us with a mind like Steve Jobs, but He blesses each of us in other ways. (For me, I like to think that He blessed me with writing, but that remains to be seen!)

What saddens me to the extreme about Steve, and again I am not judging when I say this but am merely making an observation, is that I wish so badly that he could have credited God for his success. That maybe he could have believed that none of what he did would have been possibly without Him, because God made him that way for a reason. But of course, not everyone thinks that way, but I ultimately wish that he could have attested his brilliance to God. If that were the case, I don’t think I would have felt so sick learning about his death.

Regardless of Steve’s beliefs, or spirituality, or personal life, he is still a person. He is still a human being. And he is still a life. I feel a huge weight of sadness for his wife, who is now a widow (at a relatively young age), and for his four precious children who now have to live their rest of their lives without a father. It is a tragic story no matter which angle it is viewed — Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Agnostics. No matter what, this brilliant man has left this earth way too soon.

Maybe he is right. Maybe he died, and his family is at peace with his death because he will be reborn into another being, such as an animal. Maybe others are right and he died, and he’s just … gone. Maybe Christians are right and he stood before God (our ultimate and only Judge) and was asked why he should be allowed into His eternal kingdom. Whatever the case, we have lost someone who has changed technology and the world as we knew it; we have lost a human being who has done so much good; we have lost a person with a beautiful and now grieving family; and we have lost someone who will continue to inspire me, to truly never give up on your dreams.

Why I believe all animals do go to heaven

The first true loss of a loved one I experienced was on February 25, 2004 when my precious baby, Princess (though rarely called that as we are big on nicknames in our family), suddenly had to be put to sleep at the young age of seven years old. It was one of the hardest things our family ever had to go through, and to make matters worse, my dad was deployed to the Middle East for four months the very next day. We were absolutely sickened by the loss of our beautiful animal we rescued from the wild in Clarksville, TN.

When we took her to the vet on that fateful afternoon, we said our goodbyes to the cat who was struggling for her life. I was out of control crying, petting her for the last time, as the vet and my parents all gathered around her one last time. “In a few minutes, you will close your eyes to sleep, and Jesus will come take you. He will take you home, sweetheart. Do not worry. You will be fine,” I told her, repeatedly.

“Say hello to our precious Jasmine,” my mother added. Jasmine was their baby that they had adopted before I was born, who had died of a seizure two days after his 13th birthday in 1999.

We were all crying as we watched her be taken to the back room where my parents joined the vet one last time. My sister and I waited in the waiting room, sobbing.

After we came home that afternoon, we were a grief-stricken family who could not even bare to look at her food and water dish, or even one of her many hairs she left behind on the carpet. I prayed out loud through my tears, “God, please tell me where she is. Please let me know if she is okay.”

The next day, I awoke to my find my mother sitting in the living room with her Bible and some coffee. She had tears streaming down her face and she said, “I’ve never done this before, but this morning, I randomly opened the Bible and at the top of the page, was this verse,” and she handed me the Bible, opened. Sure enough, there at the top was this:

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. -1 Corinthians 15:44, ASV

I looked at her wide-eyed as that verse stood strong at the top of that page. She told me, “Can you believe that? If it has an earthly body, it also has a spiritual body!” We both smiled through our tears, but still weren’t entirely convinced just by the one verse. Later that day, she told me that she had come across another verse as she began to research God’s view on animals some more.

Right before Genesis states that God created humans, it says that he created animals, both in the sea and on land as livestock.

God made every one of them. Then he looked at what he had done, and it was good. -Genesis 1:25, CEV

God created animals before He created humans on the sixth day, and He looked at those animals and saw it as none other than “good.” He gave them an earthly body, so that they may also have a spiritual body, and He saw their creation as a blessing to the earth. How wonderful to know that our God truly cares for our animals! And not just our domestic animals, but also our whales, lions, and fish!

Later on after we had discovered these two Biblical references relating to God’s creation of animals, my mother came to me holding a small book titled something along the lines of, “What Heaven is Like,” with colorful, water-colored painted illustrations and one-liners on each page on what the author believed heaven would be like. It was one of those small gift books available near the register at Barnes and Noble, or perhaps a book you’d consider as a stocking stuffer. Nothing too intense, but also not a child’s book. Just a simple account of what someone’s dreams of heaven. I read the book aloud next to my mother on the couch, crying as we turned each page, struggling through every sentence. Throughout the book, there was one constant illustration, though subtle on each page. It was of a young girl with light brown hair, holding a calico cat. Every page contained this illustration even if the words on that page weren’t conveying anything about animals, there was the little girl in the corner, or in the background, holding her calico cat. I smiled a little as we approached the last page and read the last line (I wish I knew what it was but I can’t remember), and we both looked at the girl with her cat again.

“That’s you, Taylor,” my mother said.

“And that’s her,” I replied, more tears starting to come down my cheeks.

“Wh… wh… when did you buy this?” I struggled to say, realizing what God had revealed to us for a third time.

“About six weeks ago,” she said. She never buys little books like that and never really buys books, period, because she’s a big library-goer for her source of reading.

I looked at her and said, “That’s it, she’s there, I know she’s there.” God had told me through these two verses and this beautiful book that our Princess was in the hands of our Lord, free from all illness, suffering, and destruction. She was fine, and she would be waiting for me at the gates of heaven when I arrived.

And you probably won’t believe me if I told you this, but after we closed that book, I don’t remember us crying anymore about her sudden death. We were comforted with an overwhelming peace that she was in the hands of the One who created her, and that made it all the better.

The Life, The Beliefs, and the Thoughts of Osama bin Laden, Part 3

While babysitting on Tuesday night, I finished one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read, “Growing up bin Laden,” by Nawja and Omar bin Laden. I started out reading a sample of this book, thinking that the sample alone would satisfy my curiosity, but evidently it just made it worse. After caving and buying the book on my Nook, I read through it quicker than I read novels for high school and college. (Being forced to read something just makes me drag my feet, but if I read something because I want to, it has the opposite effect!)

While I was nearing the end of the book, the six year old paused his Wii game and said to me, “What are you reading anyway?”

I paused. What do I tell a child who is innocent to the death and destruction of the world? My eyes darted back and fourth.

“Well, what is it?!” he asked, flustered, holding the Wii control in one hand and the nun-chuck in the other.

“It’s about a father,” I scrambled to say. “Written by his wife and son.”

“Is that all? What about a father? That sounds boring.”

I secretly prayed that he would unpause his game and go back to fighting his Mario characters.

“Well, the father is not very nice,” I said.

“Who is this father anyway? What’s his name?” He asked.

I panicked for a response, again. I figured there was a 95% chance he probably has never heard of him, so I said it. “Osama bin Laden,” I said. He shrugged and un-paused the game.

I finished the book a few minutes later. While the book was written in 2009 and published in late 2010, it ends with Omar and Nawja leaving Afghanistan between September 7-9, 2001. Omar was warned by a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda before the U.S.S. Cole bombing that a “big event” was going to take place and that their lives were going to be at risk after it happened. (Not that their lives weren’t already at risk, but clearly he was referring to the 9/11 attacks being planned and knowing the retaliation that was going to occur)

Omar was the only one of Osama’s 17 or so children that started to question his father’s love for violence and as he puts it, “Jihad.” As he got older, he started planning his escape from his father’s training camps and compounds in Afghanistan. The children knew to not even look at their father in the eye when speaking to him (that is considered disrespectful in Muslim cultures), let alone talk back or question anything that he said or did to them. But not only did Omar look at his father in the eye, he also questioned him repeatedly until he answered him. “My father, how many people did you kill in the Afghanistan/Russia war? How many people? How many people did you kill?”

I do not believe that Osama bin Laden was born an evil person. He was once a charismatic, lovable, and smart person who in the least, had extreme Islamic views on the world. I do believe, however, that once the evil came into his heart and mind, that it multiplied to the point of him literally being happy to see destruction and death of Americans. (Omar said that when he saw his father’s reaction to the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and the bombing of the USS Cole, it was “the happiest he had ever seen his father.”) It was at that point in the book that I realized that this man had been overcome by evil from Satan, although he never saw it that way. He saw it as the right thing to do for Islam. He saw it as “good works” being done to better the world.

Evidently, toward the end of the story (so, roughly around 2000 or early 2001), bin Laden informed his sons that there was a “sign-up sheet” in a nearby mosque for boys to volunteer themselves to be suicide bombers. Osama bin Laden asked his sons to go to the mosque to add their names to the list. Omar was enraged as he watched his small brothers run toward the mosque. “How can you ask your own sons to volunteer themselves to die?”

Osama replied with something along the lines of, “I do not love my sons any more than I love other men of this country. You all are no different to me.”

I don’t understand what it is like to be a parent, as I am not yet one, nor do I know what it is like to lose a child as unfortunately some parents do have to go through for one reason or another. But I could never, ever imagine asking my own blood, my mini-me’s, the children I have created with the person I love, and have raised from birth, to become a suicide bomber, even if it was for my own religion. This was the second sign in this book that I truly saw his evil nature on a personal level. However, no matter his actions or requests toward his children, I still believe that they all loved their father, even after some of them fled from him in 2001. He was not always this way, and that is what saddens me. Just as the introduction to the book says, “People are not born terrorists. Nawja knows only the man, the West knows only the terrorist.”

Next up on my research regarding bin Laden: reading the newest book on my Nook, titled, “The Cell,” by John Miller, a former ABC News journalist who actually interviewed bin Laden face-to-face in 1998.

The Life, Beliefs, and the Thoughts of Osama Bin Laden, Part 2

It’s been nine days since the death of the world’s most wanted man, most sought-after fugitive, and arguably one of the most evil people to ever live in my lifetime. As previously mentioned, I’ve spent many hours reading, watching, and researching more about this man, now that he has died. I have started to develop my own theories through my research and have come to a few conclusions that are none other than my own opinion.

Since I am trying to look at his life with an open mind, as much as I can, despite his attempted murder of my own father with the attack on the Pentagon, I am trying to understand why he developed such a hate for America and Western civilization as a whole. I downloaded some samples of books on my Nook, particularly “The Cell” by John Miller and “Growing up bin Laden” by his first wife, Nawja and fourth son, Omar.

The first 71 pages of “Growing up bin Laden” were so intriguing that I was not satisfied with the sample ending mid-sentence, mid-chapter. (Later I was told that’s why they call it a “sample,” of course!) I decided to just lose the ten dollars and buy it. So, it came to my Nook instantly and I have been plowing through it almost non-stop since then. It is an easy read in the sense that both Nawja and Omar talk rather simplistically, but at the same time, parts are hard to read because of how they describe their lives. One thing that really struck me in the letter to the readers (written by one of the commentators, if you will, Jean Sasson) in the beginning is the following:

People are not born terrorists. Nor do they become terrorists in a single stroke. But step by step … their lives unfold in a pattern that leaves them prepared to receive the seed of terrorism. And so it was with Osama bin Laden. And the man, men, and events that planted that seed faded away. But the seed grew and the terrorist walked. And the man before become the terrorist thereafter. Najwa Ghanem bin Laden knows only the man. The West knows only the terrorist.

This statement encompasses my entire view on my research. As much as I harbor hate for him for what he did to my own life, not to mention the inhumane things he’s done to others in this country, I still hold a part of me that wants to see him as the man Nawja once knew.

Once I heard of his death, I was text messaging with a friend about it, saying our 20-something, inexperienced comments to each other such as, “Can you imagine being the person who took the shot?” After batting back and fourth with one another, I suddenly let out something that I was surprised would come out of my fingers. “I sort of feel sorry for him. He had one chance at life and this is how he chose to live it. Now, his family has to live with losing a husband, child, brother, and father.”

She didn’t respond, perhaps because she didn’t agree with me. And I’m sure that me admitting that statement publicly could irritate a lot of people, but despite what he’s done (which believe me, is inexcusable), he still has a family that loves, or loved him at one time and they have to mourn the death of him, while others are rejoicing along the streets of America.

Then I came across a verse about the death of the wicked. Ezekiel 18:23 says, “‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord GOD, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'” The Lord does not take pleasure in the death an evil-doer, in fact, He feels sad when they die, because they did not use their life as a time to repent and be forgiven for their evil actions. This is exactly how I felt in that moment I sent that message to my friend: sad. I truly do wish within my heart that he had been able to admit his wrong-doings and ask the Lord for forgiveness.

And that’s the thing about forgiveness from God. Whether a four-year-old me asks for forgiveness for lying to my parents about dumping baby powder on my white dog (true story) or whether Osama bin Laden asks for forgiveness for his bombings, high-jacking, and thousands of deaths, God always answers, “yes.” It hurts me to think that he could have been forgiven, but more than likely didn’t use his chance while on earth to ask for that forgiveness.

As I’m reading “Growing up bin Laden,” I can feel the hate that literally was festering within him. What drove him to his actions, I believe, is his extreme views on Islamic rules and culture. He did not believe in hardly anything that the western part of the world had as a part of everyday life. Things in our lives that we don’t even think twice about, such as electricity, television, doctors, or toys for our children–Osama wanted none of that in his life or the life his own children. If that is the way he wants to live, I see it as fine, because God gave us a free will. The problem with how he wants to live is that he did the exact same thing that he accused Americans of doing–pressing our ways onto others. His goal through al-Qaeda, as described in the book by his wife and son, was to try to get rid of Westernization as a whole and through that, the entire world would become an Islamic culture. They also state, at the same time, that he hated how Americans were always trying to put their Western ways into other countries. What was going on inside that man’s mind was a never-ending battle, that grew to so much hate that he took serious revenge by the actions he displayed ten years ago.