Before The Letter came, my relationship with Billy Ray Anderson taught me many things. And after The Letter, I found out if I had really learned those lessons or not.
The first lesson I learned was about good and evil. I have struggled with this concept for as long as I can remember. I was raised believing that we were born into sin and needed to be saved to become good. After being saved, you had a one-way ticket to heaven no matter what. This reasoning seemed to support that after you are saved, you do good. You are filled with good. But this is not the truth that I observed at my dad's church. That church was filled with saved, good people. Yet they treated my dad horribly. They were hurtful not only to him, but to me and my mom. So from my perspective, I saw good and evil residing in these people. Then I became a mom and realized this tiny little being was way more holy than any adult I had ever known. As I watched him grow I saw the struggle between good and evil begin. Talking with Billy Ray I realized this man was a good man. He had been someone's little boy. He was sweet, he was a hard-worker and he loved his grandma. But in a fit of rage, the evil in him took over. After many talks with my hubby and a lunch with my good friend, Steve Smith, I came to peace about good and evil. I believe it resides in each of us. I believe you need to nourish the good for it to be dominant in your life. But we cannot judge others by their actions because that action lies within us all.
The second lesson I learned is about poverty. This lesson really started when I began teaching in inner-city schools. I saw these sweet, loving children living in an environment where violence is commonplace. In dealing with their parents, I realized that when you are living in survival mode you don't have time to care about education, good vs. evil, or quality of life. So many have given up and given into drink and drugs just to escape their realities. I'll never forget this one mom. She had 5 kids and I had one of the twins. I went to make a home visit and found her naked on the couch high as a kite. I judged her that day. But now I am sorry I did. I don't know what I would do in her place, watching day after day your children starving, having no new clothes, constantly having to ask for charity, having no idea how to change your life because this is exactly how it was when you were growing up. I am sorry Ms. Snell. I am sorry. Billy Ray is responsible for showing me this. He talked about what it was like to go hungry and the anger that builds up when he would see other children throwing food away. He talked about seeing other kids in new clothes and him in clothes from Goodwill or the dumpster. He helped me to see how these things feed the evil in us. There is little room for light. But then he talked about a school teacher who saw him. She worked with him one on one and taught him to read and write. His eyes would light up when he spoke about her, she was nourishing the good in Billy Ray. We must do more. We need more community centers where children can go and be nourished physically, mentally, and spiritually. I don't mean "save" them, I mean let them experience music, art, and nature. We need to provide a safe place to escape the danger of their environments. I have read about many new programs, but we need more.
The third lesson I learned was about me. I learned about forgiveness. I have been the recipient of forgiveness many times in my life and I have been the giver as well. I grew up thinking there were some actions that were basically unforgivable for me. As I have lived life, this belief has been challenged over and over. Twelve years ago, I was the recipient of forgiveness. This person showed me such grace, it has made a lasting impression. I am not sure that I have ever forgiven myself or totally accepted this gift. It hasn't been until recently, as in right this very moment that I have gotten it. I can forgive Billy Ray because he is a person, not a monster. In prison it is hard to find places to feed your soul. It is understandable that this dark, shadow side would show itself eventually. I am not sure I did then, but I do now, I forgive you Billy Ray. I know you didn't mean to hurt me. I also forgive myself and accept your gift of forgiveness dear friend. I was confused and not seeking help in light-filled places. I gave into the dark shadows within me. Thank you Billy Ray and Dear Friend for teaching me about giving and receiving forgiveness.
In all experiences of life there are lessons to be learned. Some lessons are learned over and over and over and over. I pray I never quit learning. My hope is that my heart will continue to stretch and open to all that is out there. My heart is always willing, it is my mind that is slower. So, I pray my mind will limber up and continue to accept new thoughts and new sights.