Quest for Justice Instead Leads to Forgiveness

WPST-TV 10News, Tampa, FL, USA  Twenty years ago this month, Bruce Murakami pulled up to a burning car on Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa to offer any assistance he could. To his horror, Murakami soon discovered that his wife, Cindy, and their 11-year-old daughter Chelsea, were inside the burning minivan. They both died before he or anyone else was able to rescue them.
At first, Murakami wanted the man responsible for this wife and daughter’s deaths to pay. After all, the driver of the car that ran into his wife’s van, Justin Cabezas, was speeding at more than 90 mph at impact.
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“I was angry, livid. . .” Murakami admitted. “I said to myself, ‘Let me find the punk, I’m gonna take care of him.’” 

Bruce Murakami, left, and Justin Cabezas encouraged morning commuters to slow down on Kamehameha Highway in Kane’ohe, Hawaii.

When Cabezas was not initially charged with causing the crash, Murakami’s life went into a tailspin of depression.

“I was a walking zombie. I sold my business, sat on the beach every day. I put my Bible down. I didn’t want anything to do with God. Nothing”

Three years later, Cabezas was finally charged with 2 counts of vehicular manslaughter. But something happened when Murakami finally saw Cabezas in court. He wasn’t the monster Murakami had envisioned. That’s when this father’s fight for justice turned into a father’s fight to forgive.

“I started preaching to myself on forgiveness. Even though I never met this kid, I started forgiving him for what he did,” Murakami says. “After we met, I knew he was suffering as much as I was.”

Cabezas was facing up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Murakami shocked the court, however, by asking the judge not to send Cabezas to jail.
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“If he goes to prison for 30 years, everyone’s going to forget about him. Everyone’s going to forget about Cindy and Chelsea,” Murakami said to the judge. “What if he and I went out to schools and talked to young people?”

With the court’s consent, the two men went to hundreds of schools across the country, speaking to more than a half-million kids about the dangers of speeding. But Murakami also used those presentations to help kids understand that even after tragic mistakes, they too could find redemption like Cabezas.

“I didn’t want to waste his life. He came from a good family. We’ve all made mistakes,” Murakami added.

Murakami and Cabezas also founded a not-for-profit organization called Safe Teen Driver that includes a unique driver education program offered free to teens who learn by driving actual professional go-karts on a professional track while practicing skills that could save their lives. Parents are required to participate and learn the importance of their role in developing a safe teen driver.

Cabezas went on to become a successful real estate agent in Texas before dying of cancer last summer. Murakami went to the funeral and spoke from the pulpit about the importance of forgiveness.


Read the full story: Tampa man’s quest for justice instead becomes lesson in forgiveness

Watch a short video from WPST-TV 10News, Tampa, FL about Bruce Murakami’s life-changing decision to forgive.


 

How can you create a forgiving community for oppressed people? Don’t you first have to validate the injustices by solving them? Forgiveness without such validity seems weak.

One can validate oppression by acknowledging it and calling it what it is: unfair.  One can own one’s legitimate anger over the oppression.  Yet, if one waits to actually solve the injustice before forgiving, then those who are oppressing win twice: once with original and ongoing oppression and second by having the oppressed people living under a constant state of unhealthy anger or resentment. That resentment, over time, might be so strong as to destroy individuals and families within that oppressed community.  Forgiveness without a correction of the injustice at the very least solves that one problem of destructive resentment.

Learn more at Healing Hearts, Building Peace.

Can a person get rid of anger permanently simply by letting it out or is forgiveness necessary to be rid of anger?

The answer depends on the level of injustice and the depth of the anger.  If the other was insensitive without being cruel, then your expressing an appropriate, measured level of anger may take care of the issue.  On the other hand, if you have been treated very unfairly and your anger is deep, then catharsis (letting out the anger) may not be effective.  Forgiveness then may be required to rid yourself of the anger.  Please keep in mind that catharsis by itself, when the problem is serious and the anger is deep, actually can increase the anger and lead to a pattern of being angry and expressing it.  Catharsis then needs forgiveness to deal in a healthy way with the anger.

Learn more at How to Forgive.

My spouse keeps up subtle put-downs on me.  I forgive….and forgive again….and it keeps happening.  I am growing weary of forgiving. Help!

When you forgive, try also to ask for fairness once your anger is lower.  Forgiveness and justice need to exist side-by-side.  From a position of reduced anger, consider letting your spouse know of your inner hurt from these “subtle put-downs.”  Your spouse needs to hear this so that a change in behavior can occur, and perhaps an asking-for-forgiveness from you.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

After Nine Agonizing Months of Captivity, Elizabeth Smart is Freed, Forgives Her Kidnappers

The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com – You’ve probably read or heard the story, but it’s worth repeating with a final twist.

In the early morning hours of June 5, 2002 — the day after she received awards for excellence in physical fitness and academics at Bryant Middle School in Salt Lake City, Utah — 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home at knifepoint.  The next day, the FBI told her parents, “If she’s not home in the first 48 hours, she’s probably not coming home.”

Smart did not return home quickly despite a massive regional search effort involving up to 2,000 volunteers each day, as well as dogs and planes. The search continued for weeks.

Her abductors, homeless street preacher Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee, held her at encampments in the woods 18 miles from her home and in San Diego County, CA.  They kept her shackled to a tree with a metal cable to keep her from escaping.

Nine agonizing months of captivity

Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart during her captivity, sometimes multiple times daily, told her she would never see her family again if she tried to escape, and regularly threatened to kill her. He often forced her to drink alcohol and take drugs to lower her resistance, and he both starved her and fed her garbage. 

Elizabeth Smart (left) and her captors.

Smart endured the unimaginable for nine agonizing months before she was spotted with Mitchell and Barzee in Sandy, Utah, on March 12, 2003 by a couple who had seen Mitchell’s photos on the news. Smart – disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil – was recognized by officers during questioning, and Mitchell and Barzee were arrested.

After years of delays and mental evaluations, Mitchell was found guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity. On December 11, 2010, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. For her role, Barzee eventually was sentenced to concurrent terms of fifteen years in state and federal prison.

Forgiveness is not acceptance

For Smart, the ordeal carried a heavy price tag but she says she has long since forgiven her captors and has not allowed it to define her life. During a recent presentation at Indiana University Kokomo, she explained it this way:

“When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a victim anymore. I see an activist, I see a wife, I see a mother, I see a friend, I see someone I’m proud to be. 

It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we decide to do next, how we move forward, how we pursue our lives.

It’s not the acceptance of the action done against you. I don’t think forgiveness is saying, ‘It’s OK that you raped me.’ It’s not saying, ‘We’re going to be friends now.’

I will never be OK with the act of rape. There is no circumstance on earth in which I will say rape is OK.

It is not that you accepted the evil that was done to you. It is an acknowledgment that it has happened, and that you have dealt with your anger, your grief, and your pain, and you are able to then move on.

It’s loving yourself enough to let go of your pain and move forward.

If I get to the end of my life, if I die, and I find out religion is one big lie, I still won’t regret it because it’s helped me to live a better life, to be a better person, to care about people, to believe in forgiveness, to believe in hope.”

Since her abduction, Smart has gone on to become an advocate for missing persons and victims of sexual assault. With encouragement from her family, Smart has stepped into the public eye, writing two best-selling books, and lobbying with her father for laws to protect children including the Protect Act of 2003.

Smart also founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, to raise awareness of predatory child crimes. She is now married to Matthew Gilmour; the couple has two young children.


Read more:

Kidnapped at 14, held captive and raped, Elizabeth Smart says now: I was lucky – The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com

Elizabeth Smart shares story of hope, triumph, forgiveness – Indiana University Kokomo 

Elizabeth Smart Biography – BIOGRAPHY.COM


Send us your comments. Tell us what you think of the Elizabeth Smart saga. Enter your comment below under “Leave a Reply.”

After Near-Fatal Shooting, Woman Forgives Husband Who Hired Hitman to Kill Her

BBC (UK) World Service Website, Carrollton, Texas – When Nancy (Shore) Howard drove home from church one day in August 2012, she was confronted in her garage by an armed masked man who grabbed her around the neck and demanded her purse. As she struggled to get free, the man shot her. The bullet traveled through her head and pierced her left eye before lodging in her right lung.

When she recovered consciousness, Nancy could barely breathe and was in excruciating pain. Somehow, miraculously, she struggled into the house and was able to call emergency services.

Nancy Howard’s story is told in the book
The Shooting of Nancy Howard

At the hospital, police were able to contact Nancy’s husband– John Franklin Howard, known to everyone as Frank–who quickly flew home from an out-of-town trip. The three children the couple had raised during their 30-year marriage were also soon at their mother’s bedside.

While Nancy is undergoing painful repairs to her face, throat, and  paralyzed right arm, detectives aggressively pursue suspects, including Frank. They first discover that Nancy’s husband has been having a three-year affair. A few days later, they uncover connections between her CPA husband and a group known as the East Texas gang. The story becomes increasingly bizarre as evidence surfaces of a murder-for-hire conspiracy initiated–to Nancy’s horror–by her husband.

Investigators eventually uncover evidence that Frank has been paying large sums to the criminal gang–apparently to kill his wife–and that gang members were exploiting him for more and more money. The money source is Frank’s rich client, from whom he has extorted over six-million dollars, some of which he has used to give his mistress extravagant gifts. Frank is arrested and charged with attempted capital murder.

At Frank’s trial, the jury took only two hours to find him guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison and will have to serve 30 years before he will be considered for parole. By then he will be about 85 years old. A year later, the shooter is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to sixty years.

Nancy Howard Pic3
Nancy Howard after multiple surgeries, fitting of prosthetic left eye, and months of rehab. Photo by Daniel Bostick, BBC.

“I have forgiven him,” Nancy says of her husband. “The Bible says that if we don’t forgive those who have harmed us then we are unable to be forgiven and I couldn’t afford not to forgive him because I couldn’t live with bitterness.”

She goes on to say, “It’s because I still loved him at the time, and you know I have to say I still love him, not in a romantic love, but in a love that he’s the father of my children, and there’s always going to be a love there.”

Nancy says she “vigorously” celebrates every birthday she has had since the shooting and still experiences joy singing in the church choir. Nearly six years after the horror of the attack on her doorstep, she is moving on.

“I’m able to be thankful once again for how God has saved my life and the healing that’s happening in my children’s lives, it’s awesome,” she says. “I’m excruciatingly happy.”


Read the full story on BBC World Service: “My husband hired a hitman to kill me – but I forgive him”

Listen to Nancy Shore speaking to Outlook on the BBC

Read Nancy’s story: The Shooting of Nancy Howard: A Journey Back to Shore
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“Become My Son”: A South African Mother’s Response to the Man Who Murdered Both Her Son and Her Husband

What we can still learn from the South African experience

A guest blog by R. H. (Rusty) Foerger
Originally posted on his website
 More Enigma Than Dogma on June 20, 2018

Truth and Reconciliation is a profound process that takes longer, costs more, and is messier than one can imagine.  Here is one story from the South African experience:

After Apartheid ended in South Africa, a white police officer named Mr. Van der Boek was put on trial. The court found that he had come to a woman’s home, shot her son at point-blank range, and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby. The woman’s husband was killed by the same men, and his body also was burned.

Unfathomable Cruelty and Indignity

I can’t fathom the source or the energy needed to fuel such cruelty. But more unfathomable is the surviving woman’s response (the mother of the son and wife to the husband murdered and burned). What must she have thought and felt as she sat in the court room being burdened and re-traumatized by evidence?

A member of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission turned to her and asked, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done for this man?”

How is Justice to be done?

That’s the right question, isn’t it? What is justice; how can it be achieved; how does it look different from mere retribution and punishment? But the judge asked “how should justice be done for this man?” – not – “for this surviving woman.”

What would this wife & mother say in the face of such murderous cruelty that further caused indignity to her husband’s and son’s remains?

“I want three things,” the woman said confidently:

“I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial. My husband and son were my only family.”

Become My Son!?

 “I want, secondly, for Mr. Van der Boek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.”

This is truly a breathtaking request. We can finish her sentence starting with “I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I . . .” – fill in the blank!

  • So I can get him to feel the crushing poverty I live with.
  • So I can have him feel the full void of my loss with no husband or son.
  • So I can have him feel every distrusting eye scrutinize him as the minority in our community.

But no; she finishes her request with “so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.” How much love does she still have?

And I could not find if Mr. Van der Boek could possibly receive such love. Did he come out, as she asked, twice a month to spend the day with her for the sole purpose of receiving what ever love she may still possess?

Finally, Forgiveness

“And finally, I would like Mr. Van der Boek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van der Boek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”

From Michael Wakely, Can It Be True? A Personal Pilgrimage through Faith and Doubt.

Forgiveness cannot be demanded

I am not naive enough to think that it’s all good in South Africa, or that forgiveness should be given because it is expected, or that forgiveness should be given because it does as much to release the forgiver as it does the forgiven (for a contrasting view, readYou may free apartheid killers but you can’t force victims to forgive). But as the woman in the above noted story alluded, forgiveness is possible when we recognize our own status as forgiven people.


This blog is reposted with permission from R.H. (Rusty) Foerger.
Visit his website: More Enigma Than Dogma

Related blogs by Rusty Foerger:


 

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