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.


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.”

top five places I need to visit in the US

So, I know my previous list of places I want–I mean, NEED–to visit on this earth was ambitious of me and will probably take a lifetime to achieve, I realized, as well, that though I’ve lived all over this country, there are so many cities I have yet to experience. I feel like a lot of the cities in this country, though they represent one thing in the end (america, of course), they have so much definitive culture within themselves. So, I’d like to think of this list as “the top five most cultured cities I have yet to soak in.” Here they are, in order of importance to me as yet:

5. Boston, MA: I’ve heard Boston is a slightly slower paced New York. What bothers me about New York is the business and ultra-fastness of the city. If Boston truly is a slower Manhattan, I have a feeling I’d love it. Every time I picture autumn (a season that’s lacking where I currently reside), I picture Boston. It is the epitome of fall, my favorite season.

4. Chicago, IL: I have now been trapped in Chicago Midway airport twice in one-hour layovers in the last year. I have been bursting to escape out the doors and venture into the city, but having to go back through security again was what was stopping me. This city is interesting to me because Illinois isn’t well-known for much outside of Chicago, but yet this huge city with so much meaning sits in the middle of it. I love that the entire subway system is above ground and I love that its skyline is so distinctive with that one diamond-shaped building. I’m not a fan of the midwest, but this city is still on my list. A cheaper, midwest version of Manhattan perhaps?

3. New Orleans, LA: I’ve stayed in New Orleans once on a family road trip to, you guessed it, Florida when I was a child. We stayed in the French quarter but we were only there to sleep. New Orleans culture is unlike any other in this country I believe. So many things that are only found in New Orleans exist in this tiny city in Louisiana. Yes, I may be naive in still picturing the city is how it was pre-Katrina, but I’d like to think that its history and French culture is still thriving in this city.

2. Seattle, WA: I’ve never had a desire to go to Seattle until recently. I love that it is in the west coast, of course, and call me crazy, but I love that it rains all the time. I picture the city as so lush and green because of the rain. I’d never want to live in a constantly rain-filled climate, but I’d love to see a place that isn’t overly-saturated with heat and humidity all year long. I love that the love of my life, Starbucks, was founded there. To me, Seattle is Starbucks. I love the apparent “granola” tree-hugging culture I’ve heard exists in Seattle, because part of me identifies with that way of thinking. Please, take me to Seattle!

1. SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Obviously, obviously this is my number one choice. Yes, I know I am a lover of all things California and I’m clearly beyond obsessed with this state, but truth be told: I’ve only visited southern California, never been further north than Santa Monica. I’ve heard there is so much difference between northern and southern California–and I’ve also heard that if you love San Diego, you’ll fall even more in love with San Francisco. I would love to see the Golden Gate bridge for myself, experience the trolley, the extremely steep hills, and Lombard St. I’d love to actually know why there is a third, second, and first gear in my automatic transmission. And, last but not least, I am absolutely dying to visit Napa. It is beyond paradise. (Well, besides La Jolla)