Bitter or Better: A Story of Grace in El Paso

Regardless of the age of your children the death of a child will always be a parent’s nightmare. Recently the El Paso Times reported on a court case that stirred my emotions as a parent and a follower of Jesus.

A twenty-two year old young man faced sentencing for a hit-and-run accident when his car struck and killed a twenty-nine year old man. In a moment of panic the young driver sped from the scene and eventually abandoned his car in hopes of escaping the horrors of what had happen, but the evidence led detectives to his door, and soon he was justly convicted of his crime of fleeing the scene.

On the day of his sentencing, Rene Chacon asked the family of his victim for forgiveness. He turned to the family and said,

“I apologize for any discomfort or pain I have caused you. This was an accident. I know my actions were cowardly, but I panicked. I’m sorry.”

Even though I have had a child hit by a car who escaped with relatively minor injuries, I have no idea how I would have responded to this apparent heartfelt apology. In the courtroom the responses of the two estranged parents could not have been any more different. The father in hurt and anger raged at the young man saying:

“”You left my son lying dead in the street like he was a piece of trash. My son was not a piece of trash.  You then ran like a coward with your tail between your legs without looking to see who or even what you had hit. Unfortunately, you will get your worthless life back in four years but I want you to forever remember the name Brian Lee Gattis. In closing, I want to say that you will burn in hell.”

This angry grieving father express in sharp strong words what many people feel during times of great loss, especially when children are involved. He wanted justice. He wanted revenge. He wanted this young man to suffer for his crimes and to pay the ultimate price. We have all been there. We are drawn to movies that pit good and against evil and good crushes evil and destroys it.

In sharp contrast, the mother of the victim, who flew in from out of state to attend the sentencing looked straight into the eyes of the young man who drove the car that snatched her son from her arms and said,:

“Rene, I flew in here from Montana for this, and I want you to know I do forgive you. That is the only way we are all going to move on.”

With her words grace and mercy filled the room. Vengeance is about getting even. It is about inflicting hurt out of your pain. Grace moves us on. Grace never demands the final word, but offers new beginnings and hope.

Years ago an older member of my church who had suffered his fair share of suffering in his lifetime that included the horrors of war and family tragedies said to me,

“It is not what happens to you that matters, but it is how you handle it. Bad things can either make you bitter or better.”

Rarely have I ever seen such a bold contrast between grace and hate.

On the record, Jesus shot rather straight-forward on this issue in the Sermon on the Mount when he noted:

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)

If you are a struggling with an injustice in your life today, I would strongly encourage you to take the “grace path” because this grieving mother nailed it when she said, “That is the only way we are all going to move on!” These were her final words as she hugged the mother of the young man who was sentenced to prison. Two mothers with broken hearts bound together by grace.

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Filed under El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso

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