When I had kids, I expected to raise them until they graduated high school. But then their dad left me, and I had to share custody. Beginning this month, my youngest has gone to a 50/50 schedule. It’s so hard to let go.
I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t deserve this. But it happened anyway.
I feel like a victim, and I wonder why God allows loss. Why does he let unfair things happen?
The funny thing is that my daughter sees 50/50 custody as fair. She’s happy to have equal time with both parents, and she seems to be in a healthy place right now. In fact, she got baptized a couple months ago.
Her baptism was huge for me. Not only because I got to see her profess her faith in a more spiritual way than the “Jesus Saves, Bro” t-shirts she likes to wear, but because I had a front row seat for the testimony of the woman baptized after her.
My story of victimization has nothing on hers. Diedre Gibson, or Deedee, was only my daughter’s age when she was impregnated during a violent rape. The predator turned out to be an undercover cop who was never convicted. At the age of fifteen, her world went from innocent to unjust.
Her mom talked her into keeping the baby, which she is thankful for now that she’s never been able to have other children, but that didn’t make life any easier. She turned to drugs to cope with the pain, and after joining a biker gang of gypsies, she ended up getting arrested for jewel theft.
Following years of being in and out of prison, she eventually checked herself into rehab. This is where she met the man who would become her husband. Because she was afraid of men, he had to woo her through her son. After a beautiful wedding, the purchase of a house, and a promotion to her dream job, life seemed to be turning around. But then something else unfair happened.
Deedee’s husband was killed by a drunk driver. The man wasn’t caught for over twenty-four hours, so they couldn’t prove he’d been drunk. He also claimed to think he’d only hit a mailbox, though witnesses saw him washing blood off his car at a car wash. He pleaded “not guilty,” and when he was finally sentenced for manslaughter, he only had to stay in jail 18 more days to serve his full time.
Again, the justice system failed Deedee. While she’s served a long prison sentence for stealing, the man who took her husband’s life was set free. She sued. And won $1.8 million.
The money didn’t make her happy though. She wanted her husband back. She returned to a life of drugs because she had nothing to live for. In and out of prison she went. At one point she got clean for five years, but then a dolly of delivery goods was dropped on her while working as a waitress, and she had to be life-flighted to the city for emergency surgery on her broken vertebrae. They gave her pain killers, prompting another addiction.
The cops arrested Deedee one last time for teaching a friend to steal jewelry. The friend got caught. Deedee got fingered.
By this time, she had a relationship with the judge. He called her up last, as he always did, and said she had an allotted amount of time in prison to turn her life around, or her sentence would be extreme. She listened to him. Then she listened to a prison minister. His words mixed with her near-death experience made her want to know more about heaven. She started reading books like A Case for Christ and turned her life over to the Lord. She served him the only way she knew how. By cleaning.
Whereas she used to body build in prison to gain the strength needed to protect herself, she now prayed for strength to clean around the clock so she could make the prison a more beautiful place for others. Eventually the janitors gave her a cleaning cart.
Everyone noticed how she’d changed. She was invited to share her testimony at a prison ministry meeting, and it was standing room only. The most amazing part is that as she was praying for direction on what to talk about, she also prayed that God would give her a chance to forgive the hit-and-run driver who’d killed her husband. The man’s cousin attended the meeting where she gave her testimony.
Deedee got a chance to forgive her husband’s killer face-to-face. She told him that she wasn’t any better than he was. She didn’t want him to confess to her anymore, only God. And she encouraged him to speak in high schools to prevent kids from ever driving while intoxicated. He left a forgiven man.
The prison warden also noticed the change in Deedee. He invited her out for pizza and asked why she cleaned. He thought she might be doing it only for a good recommendation to the judge. She told him she’d spent so much time dirtying the prisons, that now, as a new person, she wanted to clean up the messes she’d made. It wasn’t about wanting his approval to be set free because she already felt free.
He wrote her a recommendation. As did all the guards.
The judge called her up first this time. She told him that she’d changed. He responded that he knew. And he let her go.
Not only did she get a beautiful reunion with her son, but that day she called up her lawyer and told him to pay back any money that had been collected from her lawsuit. The lawyer didn’t understand. She explained with the words, “His debt is forgiven.”
As I ponder the power of these words, I’m reminded of the parable of the unforgiving debtor.
In Matthew 18:32-33, the king says, “I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”
If nothing unfair ever happened to us in life, if we never had to learn to forgive those who have wronged us, could we ever understand the enormity of what Jesus did on the cross? Deedee probably has a better understanding of that sacrifice than I ever will.
I know it’s hard. I know it hurts. I know it takes time to heal. But by hearing Deedee’s story and the mercy she granted, I am reminded that I don’t want fairness.
If life was fair, I would never have been forgiven for my sins. And that lesson is the most important thing I can give my children. No matter how long they live with me.