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.


Week of Remembrance: April 15, Boston

This week, nearly every day has an anniversary of an absolute tragedy that has occurred in this country sometime over the last few decades. I’ve decided that in addition to my usual Leslie/Virginia Tech tribute I try to write each year, I’d like to remember some of the other people who have also lost their lives in such horrific ways.

I’ll start with today, April 15: the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings. It’s been a whirlwind of a year as far as what’s happened in my heart and mind as a result of these bombings, and I can say with absolute confidence that I’m not alone in admitting that.

What is so easy to say when something like this happens is that the person (or persons) who is responsible for this is evil. They took the lives of innocent people, the confidence they had in their city and country, and for some, whoever was responsible for this also took their limbs. It’s easy to say how much we want those responsible to suffer and pay for what they have done, and it is easy to support the Attorney General when he announces to seek the death penalty against that person.

What isn’t easy, however, is feeling so much hurt for not just the victims of this senseless act, but for those that were responsible. What isn’t easy is seeing that they too have a family who loves them and now they have to live with the their loss in addition to the guilt that comes with knowing what their loved one was responsible for in the last days of their life on this earth. What isn’t easy is having confidence and faith in humanity again and believing that despite it all, there is still good in this world. What isn’t easy is not wanting the surviving individual to suffer in hell for eternity, despite what he’s done on this earth in his life that most believe is not forgivable (though it is). What isn’t easy is not agreeing with the decision to seek the death penalty as a punishment for his actions. What isn’t easy is praying every day for him to realize what he’s done and repent from his terrible actions, and also being thankful that he is still alive and therefore has a chance at redemption.

What isn’t easy is realizing that despite all the pain and suffering two people’s actions have caused, is that now there is a choice to be made and that choice only points to living. Choosing to live no matter your circumstances. I believe that every victim, no matter their age, sex, or religious affiliation even, has made that choice to live. And to not let another moment of their lives be robbed by such a terrible crime. Making the choice to live is not the easiest choice, in fact, it’s probably the harder one. But choosing to live despite loosing a leg, or the hearing in an ear, or even loosing a loved one, is the only choice that can allow God to work in ways that no one ever knew were possible.


I’ve Seen It All

I saw you when you purchased those fireworks in New Hampshire. “You don’t have to do this,” I whispered.

I watched you begin to read material that was full of evil and hatred. I wished so badly that you didn’t fill your heart and mind with it all.

I saw you every time you bowed toward Mecca at the mosque. “I love you,” I whispered. But I don’t think you heard me.

I heard you tell your mother you felt like two people were living inside of you. I felt so much sadness because I wanted to rid you of that; I wanted you to live with my love and the power of my spirit.

I saw your beautiful daughter when she was conceived, and I saw the look on your face the moment she was born. I know how much you loved her. I wish you knew how much I loved you, your wife, and your daughter, too.

I knew of the thoughts you began to think in your mind — thoughts with such malicious intent. “You don’t have to do this,” I whispered. But I don’t think you heard me.

I saw you when you first mentioned your plans to your precious younger brother. “Please don’t drag him into this, he needs me now more than ever,” I said. You were both in such a dark place. But you didn’t hear me.

I saw you make those bombs in your apartment each day for months. I saw as you conspired to steal, kill, and destroy innocent people. But you are my child just as much as those people are, and I love you so much. Please don’t do this.

It’s not too late. I can still forgive you.

I saw you load the bombs into the backpacks, and when you hailed the cab to take you to Boylston Street. I tried to tell you not to do this, but you didn’t hear me. You got out of the cab and walked with a bomb on your back with your dear brother following your every step.

I watched as you detonated the bomb you placed on the street. I watched as you signaled to your brother to detonate his seconds later. You didn’t have to do this, but I knew the day I created the earth that you would do this, and that the days of Krystle, Martin, and Lu were so shortly numbered.

I saw you leave that scene with little emotion, while so many people were crying out to me for help. I knew that your days were also so shortly numbered.

I watched as you took another life of a man who wanted nothing more than to protect his people. That man was absent from his body and present with me the moment you pulled that trigger. He knew absolutely no pain and did not suffer.

It wasn’t too late after the bombs, and it’s still not too late. I will forgive you for what you’ve done. Please, just ask me. I don’t want to live without you. I want you to spend eternity with me.

Though you didn’t succeed in getting a second gun, I watched as you forced your way into the Mercedes holding a gun. Your precious younger brother followed in his car, and I wanted so bad for him to walk away, but he didn’t. I knew he wouldn’t, but I wish he had.

I heard the prayers from that man in the Mercedes as he talked to me silently as you dictated his every move. He was so scared, but he also knew to trust me. I heard your conversation, and I heard what you began to discuss with your younger brother in Russian. I allowed that man to escape unharmed and I knew that your moments left on this earth were coming to an end.

I was there when the police found you in Watertown.

I watched as you fired round after round and threw bomb after bomb at the law enforcement officers.

I was standing along side you when you ran out of ammunition. I walked slowly next to you as you proceeded to run toward the bullets raining from the guns of the police. I watched as you fell to the ground and I put my hand on your back. It was becoming harder for you to breathe, and you were struggling to regain your strength.

It’s still not too late. I love you. Please believe in me. I will forgive you if you just ask.

I saw your dear younger brother run into the bullet-filled Mercedes and hit the gas pedal. I held you as the police tried to pull you away from the path of the vehicle, but the car still hit you. Blue and red lights were flashing from the many police cars and you were fading as your brother escaped, wounded and so afraid.

I love you. I created you in my image. Please, please come home to me.

And then, as you drew your final breath, I watched your soul leave your body and then, you stood before me.

“Look! Look what I’ve done Allah! All for you! I did this for you! I got the people to realize they have to stop killing our people! Your people! I’ve succeeded.”

I shook my head and held up my hand.

“I’m sorry Tamerlan. You followed a God that was not Me. You did not believe in my Son, whom I created and sent to die for you. All you had to do was believe. And you didn’t.”

I looked at you as you started to cry, falling flat on your face at the feet of my son.

“I’m sorry Tamerlan. You rejected Me. You rejected my love. You rejected my son. Depart from Me. I never knew you.”

If I Could Talk to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev…

I would have quite a few things to say to this man. While I do not live in Boston, and thankfully do not know anyone who does and therefore I was not personally affected by this tragedy, I still feel unbelievable amounts of sadness for all of those involved. And yes, that includes Dzhokhar and his family. No matter which way I look at this situation, I feel tears in my eyes and hurt in my heart.

So much hurt in my heart.

On Friday, as I watched the “manhunt” unfold on television, I also watched a little of bit of who Dzhokhar is (or was) unfold. I think the most telling statement came from his uncle, the brother of his father, when he said, “Dzhokhar, if you are alive, please turn yourself in to the police and ask for forgiveness.” I was standing in front of the television, gaping at this desperate man while he plead for his nephew to do the right thing. It was then that I realized, and prayed, that Dzhokhar would surrender to the authorities and would ask for forgiveness.

My hope and prayer was not that he would commit suicide because he wasn’t “man” enough to face the consequences of his actions (like I feel so many do). My prayer was not that he would be killed in a firefight as his brother was the night before. My prayer was not that he would be found dead somewhere. In fact, it was nowhere close to that.

While the rest of the world was cheering, and the people of Boston danced through the streets when he was finally captured, all I could say out loud was, “Oh, thank you God that he is still alive.” (And great that they found him, of course.)

Yes. You read that right. And no, I am not supporting what he has done by any stretch. If Dzhokhar had died, we would be left with absolutely no answers. There would be no one here to tell us perhaps why these brothers did this. There would be no real conclusion to this horrible story. His family would have to bury two children (as if one is not enough already) and live the rest of their lives knowing two of their children went down the way they did. The Tsarnaev family would have no peace and neither would the families of any of the deceased or injured victims.

If Dzhokhar died, that would have been it for him.

And that is so, so incredibly sad to me.

According to what I’ve watched/seen/read over the last few days, Dzhokhar and his family came to the United States in the early 2000s, perhaps to get away from a life that was so full of violence, fear, and terror. And ironically, those three things were exactly what they both brought to America one week ago by their own choices and actions. They came here to have a better life (most likely) and what they ended up with was not that, despite the seemingly “good” track they were on for so many years.

I have been trying to give Dzhokhar the benefit of the doubt and believe that he was in fact coerced into this entire thing by his older brother. A huge part of me believes that is exactly what happened specifically because he just does not fit the profile of someone who would be capable of doing something like this. He was popular, charismatic, funny, social, and smart. He wasn’t like his brother who has been reported as quiet, estranged, deeply religious, and a loner. His brother appears to fit the profile of these types of people — similar to other recent mass murders such as Adam Lanza, Cho Seung-Hui, Eric Harris, and Dylan Kleblod. I’ve yet to hear any person who knew Dzhokhar say that they now, in hindsight, can see him doing something like this. That’s because no one can believe that he could do something like this. I absolutely support the notion that his brother brainwashed him, forced him, whatever you want to call it — to carry out this horrendous act with him. However, Dzhokhar has a brain of his own and has his own free will, and he chose to not do the right thing, despite perhaps being told otherwise. I wish so badly he had turned his back from it, but he didn’t, and still hasn’t, and that is so unfortunate.

He could have said no if his brother was trying to talk him into doing this for whatever sick reason he had in his head. He could have planted that bomb, walked away, and turned himself in. He could have surrendered to cops when they spent an entire day searching for him. He could have done so many things differently, but he didn’t, and therefore he does need to be held accountable for his chosen actions.

He is so, so young. I think about myself at age 19 and how incredibly stupid I was and the ridiculous things that I did. (And didn’t do.) Things I thought were right certainly were not right. I was still so naive about the world and yet frankly thought I had already been through so much. But now I realize that I still do have so much to learn. And I feel like Dzhokhar is in that stage of life of doing stupid things and making stupid choices. His stupid choices and decisions were more extreme than those that most 19 year olds make (obviously) and have far more repercussions. He is obviously a smart person and had a lot going for him.

Now, the best I can hope for him is that he is not executed.

Yes, you read that right. I pray that he is not executed because I do not believe that will solve anything in this case. An eye for an eye, yes, but I truly believe the person who deserved to die as a result of this entire thing has already died. And that is Tamerlan. Unfortunately as I type this, though, news is breaking that he may incur the death penalty for his charge of “using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death.”

What he did was so, so wrong. But my heart hurts so much for this kid. Because I pray that he can be spared from death so he can turn his life around. I pray that he will come to know the Truth. I pray that the Lord will work in his heart. I pray that he will repent from his actions and ask not only those he harmed for forgiveness, but ask God for His forgiveness. Because the Lord will and already has forgiven Dzhokhar.

The bottom line is, Dzhokhar, if I could talk to you, I would tell you that I will be praying for you. The Lord created you in His image and He loves you so, so much. I pray that you will come to know His love and you will repent because you have been spared by an all-knowing Father. The Lord could have chosen to allow you to die (if you did in fact attempt to take your own life on that boat), but he didn’t. He spared your life and I pray that you know that. He spared you for a reason and I hope you come to know Him and seek forgiveness for your actions.

Until then, I’ll be praying for you.

“Hey unfaithful, hey ungraceful, hey unloving. I will love you.” [underOATH]