Monday, June 13, 2011

Breathing Again

If anyone's entitled to harbor hatred and bitterness, it's Brooks Douglass and his sister Leslie.  Their parents were brutally murdered by a couple of drifters in October of 1979. Brooks was 16, Leslie 12.  After serving for a time as missionaries in Brazil, they took a pastorate in a baptist church in Oklahoma City.  Brooks happened to be the one to open the door to Glen Ake that Sunday evening; he asked to use the phone. Richard Douglass and his wife Marilyn didn't hesitate.  That's just how they were, always helping someone out.  But Glen Ake was up to no good.  He and his partner, Steven Hatch, pulled their guns, tied up Brooks and his parents and then shot his folks in cold blood.   Brooks watched his parents die while his sister was being raped in another room.  The two men took what little they found of value,  proceeded to shoot the two younger Douglasses and  left the house believing they'd gotten away with it.  But they made one serious mistake.  They never checked to make sure the kids were dead.  Glen Ake would end up serving life in prison and Steven Hatch would die by lethal injection.

Brooks has written a book chronicling not only that horrible period  in his life but what transpired out of it as well. The years to follow were gut wrenching, and the insensitivity towards these two young people who had already suffered a horrible tragedy was deplorable.  Their home was repossessed, belongings were sold to pay medical bills, and the years of appeals and court proceedings opened up the wounds of these two young people again and again.  Eventually Brooks would go to law school, become the youngest state senator to ever serve in the Oklahoma legislature and would become a champion at passing legislation securing victims their rights.

The title of his book,"Heaven's Rain," is taken from a passage in the book of Matthew that talks about the rain falling on both the just and the unjust.  It follows the part where Jesus talks about loving our enemies and praying for those who use us.  The Message Bible puts it like this:  "You're familiar with the old written law 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.'  I'm challenging that.  I'm telling you to love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.  This is what God does.  He gives his best--the sun to warm and the rain to nourish--to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.....Live out your God-created identity.  Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."

One day while serving as a state senator Brooks was taking a tour of the prison where Glen Ake was incarcerated.  On impulse he asked to see him and was granted  permission.  It wasn't until he was actually sitting across from him that he realized how difficult this was going to be.  He had no idea how much rage there was inside of him, anger he'd been holding back for 15 years.  For an hour and a half he would look into the face of the man who had changed the course of his life, and it was this same man who would tell him how sorry he was at what he had done to him and his family.

The morning of the day that  Pastor Richard Douglass was murdered he would preach his last sermon.  It was on forgiveness.  This was the legacy that Brooks' parents had left him, and in spite of all that he and his sister had endured, his faith had remained intact.  As he sat there with his family's killer, he knew what he had to do.  He could do nothing but what his father had preached and lived. He looked at Glen Ake and said, "I forgive you."  This is how he describes what happened next:

"When I told him I forgave him, I remember falling back on the chair and literally feeling like my body was full of water and it was poison.  I felt like the water was floating out of the room and it was so surreal!  After 15 years I felt like I could breathe again.  I was almost hyperventilating because of that feeling.  When I walked outside, the leaves on the trees were green, the sky bluer.  All of my senses were heightened."

Matt Maher's song  "Alive Again" has a  phrase that says this:  "You broke through my darkness, washed away my blindness.  Now I'm breathing in and breathing out.  I'm alive again."   What was it Brooks said?   "I felt like I could breathe again."  I don't think he could have described it any better than that.
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