When something bad happens to you, do you react with anger? With denial? With acceptance? With forgiveness? With hope for the future?
Joy attended a panel with three men who were wrongfully imprisoned for many years and then were released because of DNA evidence or trial errors.
Rev. Gregg Smith, a pastor at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church, where the panel discussion was held on Sunday, February 6, told the audience that he was astounded at the way these three men reacted.
The worst thing that happened to Rev. Smith last week was that his dog, stressed because of the Texas icy weather, peed on his bed, he said, emphasizing that the bad things that have happened to him are minor compared to what happened to these three men.
“I am astounded by the level of grace and forgiveness that these men have shown,” Rev. Smith said.
Learning from three men who held onto hope
At first, he was bitter and angry, explained Billy Smith, who served 19 years and 11 months for a wrongful conviction. “But I started praying the serenity prayer. I had to let go of the hate and the rage and the fear because they were eating me up inside.”
Steven Phillips, who served 24 years for a wrongful conviction of aggravated rape, also relied on his faith. “Help me, Lord, with your strong right hand. Help me because I cannot do this by myself,” he remembered praying.
“You can go through a bad situation and you can come out bitter or you can come out better,” said Richard Miles, who served 15 years for a wrongful conviction.
Peyton and Dorothy Budd featured all three of these men in their book Tested—How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope.
“While most of us will never face what these men have withstood, we are all tested in ways that threaten to overwhelm us,” Rev. Dorothy Budd says in the book’s introduction. “In our own moments of testing, we can be strengthened by the examples of these men.”
Finding her own grace and hope
Most of us aren’t saints. All three of these men were angry at first. It took them time to learn to live with grace and forgiveness and to become better because of their experiences.
We’re thinking now of Ranna, Fayteen’s daughter, who will have surgery next week to remove breast cancer. Ranna was angry at first—especially when her surgery was postponed because of icy winter weather.
Ranna’s still scared—and we’re scared with her, too. But Ranna has reacted with wisdom and acceptance, and she is relying on her faith. She’s ready to get the surgery over with. She’s looking forward to the future with hope.