Last Friday, October 27th, our family stepped into a significant season of this journey. As many of you may have heard, Jalen Watson (one of the men on trial for Amanda’s murder) officially submitted a plea agreement. I purposefully took a little time before I commented on this because unless you’re walking through it it’s impossible to understand what something like this does to you emotionally. For that reason I wanted to make sure I could make a statement with as clear a head as possible. I want those of you who are walking this journey with us to stay informed on how everyone is doing.
First of all, let me say I’m in full support of this plea agreement. After hearing from the prosecution why this was the best move for the case as a whole I’m in full agreement it is the right thing. They have kept me very well informed and I’m confident in how they are progressing with the case. While I want the full extent of justice for Amanda’s murder levied, I also want each of these men to experience radical heart changes, turn from their previous ways and begin following Jesus. The justice system may be able to help with behavior modification, but only Jesus can truly change a heart. I believe the Lord has been working on Jalen’s heart significantly over the last 2 years since Amanda’s death.
What many people don’t understand is this could be a risky move by Jalen. In some circles, cooperating with the police or prosecutor is seen as a great wrong, even when the cooperating witness is providing information to assist the police and prosecutor in getting justice for a much greater wrong. Many alleged would rather receive a drastically harsher sentencing and stay silent about information that could aid a case rather than testifying against their associates. In many ways Jalen is sacrificing quite a bit to come clean about this and help the prosecution in making sure there is justice for Amanda. Regardless of his motives in doing so, I’m grateful.
Several of Amanda’s family, close friends, and I attended the hearing last Friday. Leading up to the date I was asked on more than one occasion how I was feeling about stepping in the courtroom to see one of the perpetrators for the first time in person. I certainly can’t speak for the rest of the family but I can say it has been impossible for me to explain how I felt about it. I don’t think you can adequately prepare yourself for a moment like that. I’ve been pretty outspoken about my daily decision to release bitterness in my heart against these men, but saying it from a distance and stepping into it in close proximity are two completely different things. In an amazing twist of providential directing, The Lord made sure we had these two men share their story with us at Resonate Church the Sunday before the court date. You can listen to my interview with them here and on The Nothing is Wasted Podcast on Thursday November 16th. What’s amazing is I booked Jameel and Andrew for that Sunday a few weeks before I found out we were appearing in court for the plea agreement. Only God can line up something like that!
I heard a phrase several months ago that has changed my perspective on big moments in our lives.
“God gives dying grace to dying men.”
What this is saying is that in the biggest moment of any of our lives—death—God will give us the grace sufficient enough to step into that moment. I think scripture backs up this phrase partly in verses like 1 Corinthians 15:55—“Where oh death is your victory, where oh death is your sting?” I heard Matt Chandler say one time that he believes that a Believer doesn’t even taste death, that at the last moment when death is about to close around you, God comes in and swoops you up in his grace. I’ve heard stories of people who were laying in a hospital bed in their dying moments and begin muttering things as if they were looking at Jesus face-to-face in that very moment. In Acts 7 you see Stephen getting martyred and yet before his moment of death he looked to heaven, paying no attention to the stones being hurled at him and said that he saw Jesus!
This gives me amazing hope for the last moments of Amanda’s life. I wrote a little about it in this blog post. But it also gives me hope for the big moments we have to step into in this life. If God gives dying grace to dying men, He most certainly gives anxiety grace to anxious men, and depression grace to depressed men, and worrying grace to worried men, and forgiving grace to victimized men, and courtroom grace to men who see their perpetrators face-to-face for the first time. Up to last Friday my approach has been this: look to Jesus and he’ll prepare me for what I need to be prepared for. His grace is sufficient for me.
That being said, stepping in the courtroom that day was much more difficult than I, or any of us, could have anticipated. It began shortly after we took our seats and I looked across the courtroom to see Jalen’s profile. He was looking back and forth between a paper in front of him and the judge seated on the other side of the room. When he would turn to his left to look at the judge I would see the back of his head and when he looked at the stack of papers in front of him I could make out his profile. I sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery to the far left side, my eyes darting back and forth between Jalen and the judge. From the moment I sat down, I could feel every muscle fiber in my body begin to tense up. I had to consciously coax my body to relax as I took a couple deep breaths. I finally got my body somewhat regulated when, uncontrollably, it tensed up again. Jalen was turning to look in my direction. He glanced over his right shoulder and made a sweeping pan across the front row of the gallery stopping as soon as he locked eyes with me.
I thought he’d look away quickly, or look down in shame, or something. But he didn’t. He lingered, his gaze locked with mine. I didn’t know what to do. Courtroom ethics prohibit making any kind of gesture whether cordial or offensive. I didn’t know if I should nod or look away or keep staring. As the room began to close in around me I just sat there and stared. I don’t even know what kind of expression I had on my face. I just felt empty, and anxious all at the same time. But, I couldn’t take my eyes off of his. There was something telling in them, something different than I expected. They seemed tired, hurt, broken, and maybe . . . grieved.
Finally it became too much to bear and I broke away, darting my eyes back toward the judge. I thought that would be it, but then he did it again. And again. Each time as he swept the front row of the gallery as if with just his eyes he was telling each of us how sorry he was. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what was (and is currently) going through his mind, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe his heart is softening.
Thirty minutes later the hearing was over—it felt like three hours. There was some factual information about the events of Amanda’s death that I wasn’t previously aware of. We're still having to sort through the emotions of that. I’m afraid it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Whenever the other trials happen I’m afraid we’re going to hear a lot more and it’s going to be excruciatingly difficult.
I’m grateful that the Lord gave us a little test run last Friday. I think if I had found myself in a week-long trial last week, I may not have come out very well. God knows exactly what he’s doing and how to prepare us for the next big moment. He gives dying grace to dying men.
Many of you have asked about when my book, Nothing is Wasted, will be released. It was originally set to release today, November 7th. We wanted to get it out there close to the two-year anniversary of Amanda's death. God has other plans. We will not be releasing the book until after all the trials are concluded. We want to honor the process of justice being served for Amanda and make sure nothing impedes that process. Ultimately I believe the book will be released at just the right time to help exactly whom it is intended to help. I’m praying this book helps hundreds of thousands if not millions of people as their walking out their own stories of pain and trial.
At this time we’re looking at early Fall 2018 for the release. In the meantime we’ll keep you up to date on this project as well as other resources that we’ll continue to produce to help you as you live, learn and lead in your pain. To stay current, subscribe to the blog here and subscribe to The Nothing is Wasted Podcast here.
Please continue to pray for our family as we walk out all of these next steps. Pray that God continues to help us heal that we have supernatural strength as we help others heal as well.