life

Murder Down the Street

There was a line of police cars just down the street when my daughter and I headed out late Friday morning.

“I wonder what’s going on,” she commented.

We took our usual route, walking our dogs past the softball diamond and tennis courts, through the playground of the abandoned elementary school, across the basketball court, through the woods and back.

As we were nearing home a news truck drove past.

The hound was busy sniffing the base of a mailbox so my daughter and the beagle were several feet ahead when the truck stopped and the reporter rolled down his window.

I caught up just as their conversation ended.

“What did he say?,” I asked as they drove off. “What’s going on?”

“He said, ‘It’s the craziest thing, isn’t it?’ I told him I didn’t know what was going on, that I saw the police cars when I headed out to take my dogs for a walk and wondered what had happened. He looked stunned and said, ‘You didn’t hear about the car and the dead body?’ He looked like he was about to say more and then he just said I have an awesome beagle.”

“How would I have heard?”

Indeed, cocooned in our warm little nest there on the cul de sac, we were completely oblivious.

As soon as we were back in the house, my daughter googled.

At about 1:30 am a neighbor reported a car on fire behind the elementary school. When the firetrucks arrived the car was completely engulfed in flames. It wasn’t until the flames were extinguished that they discovered the remains of a woman.

The police followed tire tracks from the school yard to the house down the street, to the white house with the blue shutters.

My daughter looked up from her computer, “How dumb do you have to be to kill someone and leave the body and the car practically in your backyard?”

Two young men – a nineteen year old who lives in the blue shuttered house, and an eighteen year old who lives in Detroit – were taken in for questioning. The house was being searched.

“Perhaps you can get away with not covering your tracks in Detroit because there is so much crime there,” I replied, “but these are the ‘burbs.”

In the brief online clip, the reporter mentioned that the police knew the identity of the victim, confirmed by dental records, but they hadn’t released her name. He said she lived down the street from the white house.

Information was sparse: She had a child, a neighbor told the reporter she often sat in her car listening to the radio, she might have been ambushed…

We tried to figure out who she might be. We tried to figure out a motive. Why was a mother out in her car listening to the radio at 1 am? Was it random? Was she ambushed? Was it safe for me to walk the dogs alone?

I took a picture of the basketball court back in November when I was walking the beagle.

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The leaves are off the trees now and they are off the court, too. When my daughter, the hound, the beagle and I walked across it Friday morning, we had no idea a car and a body were ablaze upon it just 10 hours earlier.

We hadn’t noticed the charred spot.

But when the hub, my daughter, the beagle, the hound and I walked through Saturday morning, we looked. And there it was. No sign anything had happened there except for the charred blacktop.

A police officer walked toward us on our return loop. He said he hadn’t read the report, didn’t know the details so he could walk the grounds with fresh eyes.

I asked why there wasn’t more information being reported. He said they don’t want future jurors to have preconceived notions when the case goes to trial. I understand that.

“It would be nice, though,” I said, “to know whether there is a killer loose in the neighborhood and whether we are safe.”

“We’re pretty certain we have the killer in custody,” he said, “but there are still unanswered questions.”

The victim’s identity was released Saturday evening, along with a picture.

The picture looked like a mug shot.

An autopsy revealed that she died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Once her identity was known, comments on the news article painted a picture of a drug user who owed a lot of people a lot of money.

There was speculation that she couldn’t pay her dealer and he shot her to send a message. An eighteen year old shot her to send a message.

This is the sort of speculation and preconceived notions that I’m sure the police wanted to avoid.

But it is a relief to know that it probably wasn’t random.

We won’t know the facts until the trial, but whether she was a junkie going out to her car to shoot up or a mom going to her car for a few minutes of peace and quiet, it’s equally awful. Whether she was ambushed by random teenagers or shot in the abdomen by her dealer it’s equally awful.

It’s awful for the seven year old who no longer has a mom. Right before Christmas.

It’s an awful emptiness of soul that allows an eighteen year old to pull a trigger, take a life, burn a body, and perhaps throw the murder weapon into a nearby lake.

There is an outstanding warrant for the eighteen-year-old’s arrest in Detroit for a carjacking. Thank God there is that to hold him on.

I think about the bright, sweet, hopeful faces of the inner city boys I’ve met over the years – as a camp counselor, social worker, volunteer tutor, Bible teacher – and I wonder at what point those innocent six, seven, eight, nine, ten year old boys become boys capable of drug dealing and carjacking and killing at eighteen.

Lord have mercy.

 

 

 

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life

She Was a Beautiful Girl

“You are remarkably lucid for being high,” I said, noticing her pupils.

“Oh, yeah,” she said.  “I’m normal when I’m high.  It’s when I’m not high, when I’m desperate for a fix, that I act crazed.”

She was a college student, home for the summer, in for a free pregnancy test and very concerned about the effects of heroin on a fetus.

We both let out a sigh of relief when the test turned out negative.

“Where do you see yourself in ten years,” I asked.

“Between the heroin and the Hepatitis C, I’ll be dead in ten years,” she answered.

“What’s so great about heroin that you are willing to die for it?”

“It’s not that the heroin is so great, it’s that the withdrawal is so horrible.  It can take 18 months to get the effects out of your system.  I’ve been in rehab three times and it’s just too hard.  I won’t try again.”

She didn’t think she got the Hep C from a dirty heroin needle, she thought she contracted it from an unsanitary tattoo needle.  Her plan was to stay high until she died.  In the meantime she was in college studying interior design.

I asked her how a talented, intelligent girl from the ‘burbs, with a loving family, ended up addicted to heroin.

She said when she was in seventh grade she learned that marijuana is a gateway drug.  She didn’t believe it.  So she and her friends tried it.  Before long they got ahold of some that was laced with LSD.  From there it was a short progression to heroin.  And heroin is a powerful addiction. (As I told you in I Still Break Her Heart, when I was a social worker I saw moms choose heroin over their children every time.  Not because they loved heroin more, but because it takes that strong a hold.)

She said I could tell her story and I do.   I tell it often.

I usually ask for feedback after I speak to a group of kids.  What did you like?  What did you learn?  What was helpful?

Most of them say they liked the stories best.

True stories.  Cautionary tales.  From my years as a social worker and pregnancy center director.

It takes 25 years for the human brain to develop completely.  The last thing to develop is the ability to look ahead and understand the long term consequences of your actions.  That’s probably why they like the stories best.  It helps to know how things play out.

And that’s why God gave them parents, teachers, pastors, principals, coaches, mentors, big brothers and big sisters.

So tell your cautionary tales.  And if you don’t have any, tell mine.

Kids need to know.

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Jesus, life, Light

Abundant Love. Abundant Compassion. Please.

A little boy named Isaiah is on my heart and in my prayers.  His siblings are, too.  But not often enough.

The Tuesday after Easter my friend, Linda, who heads up an after-school tutoring program at his inner-city school, asked him why he wasn’t at the easter egg hunt at church.

“We had our own easter egg hunt,” he beamed.

After several years of living here and there, with this aunt or that, with this friend or that, some siblings here, some siblings there, he and his mother and all of his six siblings had finally moved into a home of their own – all of them under a single roof.

Isaiah was so happy, so proud of this step up that his mother had taken.

A few days later the kids were upstairs in their bedrooms.  Their uncle was on the sofa in the living room watching television.  Their mom’s boyfriend walked quickly through the front door.

“Where’s Kenyetta?”, he asked.

“In her bedroom,” the uncle answered.

The boyfriend climbed the stairs to her bedroom and shots rang out.  Kenyetta was dead – shot several times in the chest.  Isaiah’s two-year-old sister, who had been standing next to her mother’s bed, was shot in the leg.  But alive.

The new house is vacant now.

Isaiah and his three siblings-who-share-the-same-father are living with his father now, along with another sibling, who has a different father.  He wouldn’t/couldn’t take the oldest, who is 15 and pregnant.  The seventh sibling is in detention at Children’s Village.  He and his anger issues.

The lesson in Bible study this morning challenged us to look for the beauty in the ugly.  To thank God in the midst of the mess.

I can’t think of much that is uglier and messier and more heartbreaking than a little boy beaming one week and absent the next.  Crushed.  A happy, proud step up followed immediately by a crushing crashing down.

At Kenyetta’s funeral – at Isaiah’s mother’s funeral – the pastor implored the 500 in attendance to turn the tragedy around – turn it into an end to domestic violence, an end to drugs.  Amen.

I am having trouble seeing the beauty in the ugly right now.  All I see, all my heart feels is the crushing blow to a little boy’s joy.

But I pray that Isaiah will one day see it; that the city will one day see it.

In the meantime, Father, will you fill every caregiver, every adult that Isaiah and his siblings encounter with an abundance of love and compassion for them?  Abundant love.  Abundant compassion.  Not just today, not just this week, but every day and every week and every year until they are all fully healed.  Until they all see the beauty in those fragile ashes.

Thank You for love.  Thank you for redemption.  Thank you for healing.  Thank You for bringing life from death, beauty from ashes, I know You will.

Thank you that we who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

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faith, life

Thanks God!

My favorite restaurant was El Azteco.  No matter how broke I was, I could always afford a bean burrito.  They were REALLY good bean burritos.  I’ve never had one as good as theirs.  I think it was the cheese they used, and their perfect ratio of bean to onion to cheese.   If I had a friend who was willing to share one with me, I would also splurge on a Topopo Salad.  I scored their recipe shortly after I was married – still make them every now and then.  SO GOOD!

Joe Szilvagyi, Creative Commons I didn't say they were neat or well presented, I said they were GOOD.

Joe Szilvagyi, Creative Commons

I didn’t say they were neat or well presented, I said they were GOOD.

The food at El Az was great, the prices were just right for a college student’s budget and the place was kind of funky.  Long lines always crowded the steep, narrow stairs that descended to the basement restaurant.  Lines that often formed all the way up the stairs, out the door and down the street.

I contracted salmonella from that restaurant and landed in the hospital.  My mom was called because my blood pressure was almost non-existent, wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.  But I did.  And I kept trying to go back.  I would open the door to go in, get a noseful of the food being prepared below and start to wretch.  Quick, close the door and move on.  It continued like that for a couple of years.

When I could finally stomach the aromas and the food, I became a regular again.  I dated a boy briefly.  A bad boy, which was completely uncharacteristic of me because I don’t like bad boys.  My sister called him my walk on the wild side.  He was a bus boy/dishwasher at El Az and he mentioned that they were hiring.  I needed some extra cash so I said maybe I would apply.

“You aren’t funky enough,” he said.

Not funky enough?  I wasn’t sure what he meant but I knew he was right.  I started thinking maybe I wanted to be funky enough.  And as I was wondering that, he invited me to a party thrown by one of his El Az co-workers. Practically the whole restaurant staff was there.

As I stood among them feeling conspicuously un-funky and wondering what it would take to be sufficiently funky to fit in, I had a sudden, distinct vision.  I saw those funky souls desperately clamoring and clawing, trying to emerge from a pit.  Looking around at them in that living room, they seemed to be having a good time.  Yet the thousand words that God spoke with that picture clearly said, “Don’t want to be like them because they desperately want to be like you.”

That moment was the abrupt end of wanting to be funky, the end of going to El Az parties and near the end of the boy.

I didn’t even know God yet, but He knew me.  And He knew the plans He had for me.

Thanks God!

P.S.  I’m not necessarily recommending El Az.  When I was there a couple of years ago the food seemed to have gone waaay downhill.  It could be me or it could be them.  All I know is that my husband peeked into the kitchen as we were leaving and saw nothing but row after row of microwave ovens.  Call me a snob.

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Surprised By Joy

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I guess I expected them to arrive somewhat weary and heavy-laden, downtrodden and in need of rest. Instead they were lively and strong.  Pure joy entered the welcome reception on Friday night as each woman looked me in the eye, introduced herself and shook my hand.  All except one.  One offered only her fingertips and looked me over with suspicious eyes.  “I’m not here to judge,” is what I thought.  “Welcome!” is what I said.

The women helped themselves to a spread of cheese and crackers, sliced melons, grapes, pineapple, assorted veggies and assorted dips, smoked whitefish with a beautiful array of fancy toppings and a variety of lemonades and punches.  It was just right.  Polite, jovial conversation centered around the freshness, sweetness, deliciousness of the food.

Then my daughter entered with goody bags, one for each woman, personalized with her name on it.  A handshake would no longer do.  One got up and gave me a big hug.  “Ohhh, I like hugs,” I exclaimed.  That brought several more to their feet to give hugs.  One massaged my shoulders when I mentioned that her hug felt good against my achy back.  It was going to be a good weekend.

After the reception the chicks and I walked to town for pizza while the hens stayed back to talk.  While we were gone Margaret, the one who greeted me with caution, had a seizure.  She has brain cancer and in all the excitement of the trip she forgot to take her medicine.

Over lunch on Saturday Margaret told me that she is blessed.  She had heard of the Island and had seen it on tv, but she never thought she would actually get to visit.  She told me her story – about how she became acquainted with the other women through rehab.  About how someone slipped her a drug when she was a young teen and she was hooked right off the bat.  She loved the way the burn moved through her body.  She loved the effect it had on her brain.  Some people don’t like that effect, she said, but she did.  She was proud to report that she never sold her body for drugs.  She sold things.  Things that she had stolen from Home Depot or Lowes.  Her father was a sheriff in the Chicago area so she got away with a lot as a teen.  But eventually she caught a bus to a new town so that her family wouldn’t know how addicted she was.  She left children behind.

But now she is blessed.  Blessed because she is clean.  Blessed because she and her boyfriend live in a loft – something that has always been on her bucket list.  Blessed because today she was on the Island.  Blessed because her children were cared for by someone who assured them that it wasn’t them, it was the drugs.  Blessed because she has been recently reunited with her children and they have forgiven her – have always forgiven her.

Margaret said that through it all she was aware of God’s love for her.  She would often talk to Him in the drug house, to the chagrin of the other visitors.  One day she told the drug man that she was  done.  She was going to get back with God.  Surprisingly, he directed her to a Christian rehab facility.

As I got to know the women, heard their stories and marveled at their joy, I began to really understand what Jesus meant:

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Church, as I have known it for too many years, has been mostly a gathering of Pharisees.  Oh how I long for the fellowship of those who love much.

It was such a sweet weekend.  June, who you’ll meet next, kept flying “first annual” up the flagpole hoping I would salute.  First annual it is.  If my little ministry could afford it, it would be first semiannual.  I love those women.

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