It’s Not Fair

Rebekyah Brewer

Tessa4

A year and a half ago, on March 23rd, 2014 my cousin Tessa, age 27, was killed in a head-on collision by a drunk driver as she was on her way home. She died instantly leaving behind 4 surviving children. The criminal case for it ended just last week.

Her death has impacted our entire family greatly, and still impacts us every day with the loss of her laugh, the loss of her voice, the loss of her opinion, the loss of her touch, her hugs. Every day, it still feels like there is something new to be missed and freshly grieved. Every day is full of her absence, in the big things and in the small things.

My husband  and I relocated to Dallas 16 years ago not knowing we had any family in the area.  Approximately 5 years after our move, I was excited to learn I had an Aunt and three young cousins who lived nearby. They were as hungry for family as we were and soon joined our weekly Sunday lunches after church.

Our family grew especially close to Tessa. She was the same age as our daughters. Our oldest daughter-in-law and her were pregnant at the same time. They gave birth three weeks apart, both to little girls. The bonds between our families grew and we watched the girls grow up together, sharing the same crib on Sunday’s. More children were quick to come and soon our house was filled with babies and toddlers on Sunday afternoons. Tessa lived with us a couple of times while she was pregnant as she struggled with being a single mom, getting on her feet and finding that elusive true love.  The song by Casting Crowns, ‘Does Anybody Hear Her’ often brought and still brings Tessa to the front of my mind. She was running a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction, searching for her elusive prince charming and coming up short and pregnant. We use to talk a lot about what true love looked like. Leaving home early and growing up fatherless myself, I understood her search and her struggles to be independent. I admired her strength and her fighting spirit. I wanted her to know and experience that same unconditional love, peace and rest that I had found in God and in my husband after my own search.

One of my first memories of Tessa is when my aunt brought her over to our house with her on their very first Sunday visit, she was 16-17 yrs old. She was bold, aggressive and blunt and bantered with my husband quite a bit before curling up in a ball in the middle of our family room floor and quickly falling asleep while we finished visiting with her mom. I remember watching her sleep and thinking how peaceful she looked, despite knowing how troubled I knew she was. I had heard stories about her over the years, but I never had the opportunity to meet her and to know her since we had lived so far apart.

She reminded me of a small sparrow that would fly into our house from time to time seeking refuge from the storms outside and then she would fly out again when it was safe. She would often say how peaceful our house was, even though it was filled to the brim with our family and friends over for a Sunday afternoon meal.  Long after her mom stopped bringing her, she would drive herself over the years and often meet up with her sisters for a meal and some family time at our house, and a hot cup of coffee with whip cream and cinnamon on top.

I miss her presence. I miss our conversations over coffee. She was opinionated and blunt and I always appreciated and enjoyed that about her. I never had to wonder what Tessa was thinking. Our opinions often differed and she challenged me to defend my position as I challenged her to rethink hers. I fought and argued with her ten times as much as I did with my own daughters.

I wanted as much for her in life that I wanted for my own daughters. Her life was a constant struggle, sometimes from circumstances of her own making, and sometimes from circumstances outside her control. Most of her adult life she was a young single mom. She loved her kids and dream of having a normal stable family life for them one day. She dream of and pursued college when she could spare the time and energy it took. I yearned to see her dreams come true, and to watch her finally fly off as high as she was able to go. She was a fighter. I don’t know how she made it half the time, working as a single mom, cleaning houses at 9 months pregnant to support herself and all her children. I continually prayed for her, worried about her, wrestled with her, reconciled with her.

I was dreaming of a happy ending to her story as much as she was. I never saw this coming. Her story had barely begun before it was cut off and closed forever as incomplete. It wasn’t supposed to end this way; this sudden tragic ending by a drunk driver crossing the center lane late one night resulting in a head on collision that killed her instantly.

This was not what God intended. I know from the depths of my heart that God grieves with us in this. He knew the number of her days were to be but a brief comet across our lives.  Tragedies like this are never a part of God’s will. He grieves with us in our loss. He grieves over every instance of the fallen nature of this world, that continually steals our joy and our life.

“For I know the plans and purposes I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope in the future.”(Jer. 29:11)

“The thief cometh to steal, and to kill and to destroy. I am come that they might have life, that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 ASV)

These  were the plan’s God had for Tessa’s life and for all of us. His plans never change. This is what God would protect us from.   This is what drunk driving laws would protect us from. This is what a good friend would protect us from. This is what good sense would protect us from.

Tessa’s life was stolen from her and from us and there’s no recovering her. That night, one person’s reckless decision changed all of our lives forever in an instant. It was a dumb decision. A senseless accident. It could have been so easily prevented even by just one person intervening and taking the keys or volunteering to drive. I don’t hold just the driver responsible but every person who saw his condition and chose not to  intervene and looked the other way.  They are just as much at fault through their inaction as he is through his action.

It’s been extremely difficult grieving our loss of Tessa. A year and a half later I am still reeling from the suddenness of her being torn from our lives.  My tears still remain close to the surface and break loose at will. So many memories bring her to my mind constantly, not to mention her children who are so much like her and growing more like her every day. Her oldest two children ages 6 & 7 then, moved in with my husband and I along with their father a month after the accident to recoup. I’m so thankful to maintain my relationship with them. We have all grieved together. Together we pour over pictures and videos of her just to see her smile or hear her laugh one more time. They still ask why, as do I.

Our grief has been compounded in so many ways, but especially by the wrongful nature of it. How senseless the action was that cost us so much and took someone so valuable. The unfairness of it is a twist that never seems to be relieved for long.  The criminal case has finally came to an end last week; stirring up my heart again which really doesn’t need much aid in being stirred up anymore over it.

I’m ok with the outcome of the criminal case. I know some feel the sentencing was too light. Many of her friends and family feel he needs to pay, he needs to suffer harsh punishment and do hard time in prison for it.  I can understand and agree with their feelings. The word “probation” does makes me cringe also but in this particular case, my heart honestly believes it’s just.

The 22 year old driver who took her life was convicted of intoxicated manslaughter. The Victim’s Coordinator worked closely with our family so our voices and our wishes would be heard and pursued. He received 10 years DUI probation, with vehicle interlock requirement, the ankle monitor bracelet, a very intense TX alcohol treatment program and a few months additional jail time on top of the year and a half he has spent locked up already. If he breaks probation, he will have to do hard time. In addition, on the anniversary of her death, he will have to spend a weekend in lock up, Friday-Sunday, for the duration of his 10 year probation in remembrance of that fatal night.

I think it’s strict enough to hold him accountable and responsible for taking a life through his gross negligence, but offers enough grace and opportunity to save the life of a 22 year old if he seizes the grace extended to him to take another path.

I  do forgive the drunk driver.  I want what God wants even for this young man and for every sinner. It’s what I wanted for Tessa and what I want for all my children, that he too would know and  enjoy that abundant life God intended for each of us to have and enjoy.  That he would enjoy the pleasures God has so graciously provided to us in this life that bring no harm or regret later: “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” (Prov. 10:22) I want him to prosper and not be harmed. I want him to have a hope and a future. I don’t want to see his life ruined by this tragedy further but saved, perhaps even through this. One life lost is grief enough.  Most of our family has also forgiven him and we are not looking to take another young life in this senseless tragedy.  We wish him no harm but do wish him to be held accountable and to recognize the pain his actions have caused so they would not be repeated.

I admit, though I forgive him and wish no personal harm to come to him, I still wrestle with much anger over it all. When it comes to love, I think it’s only natural that we would want to destroy anything or anyone who would destroy or harm those whom we love most.  Ephesians 4:26 tells us: “In your anger do not sin.” Anger is intended to protect but can also destroy. It would destroy anything that would destroy those we love. It does not leave us feeling better afterwards because we become ourselves what we are attempting to destroy in others – dangerous threats to those around us, in words, attitude and actions.

I know he doesn’t deserve a second chance. Whoever deserves to receive a second chance or any kind of grace? It’s unmerited. We simply need it. He needs it. I need it. We all desperately need it. God has given it to us. How can we not give it to others in return when God has so graciously poured out his grace on us through Jesus?

I have came to a deeper understanding of the effort it took for God to pour out his grace on the undeserving. Is it easy? No. My heart continually cries  over and over and over again like a broken record in my grief. “It’s not fair, Lord. It’s not fair. It’s just not fair. It’s not over for us. It will never be over for us. Our grief is unending, shouldn’t his punishment be unending?”

The Lord reminds me that though our grief feels like it will never end, it will end. He has set his limits to this life. There comes a day when He will wipe every tear away from the eyes of his children  and death will be no more, mourning, crying, and pain will also be no more for his children, for He will put a final end to all his children’s sufferings. (Revelation 21:4)

I am reminded of God’s final and perfect judgement of all man (2 Cor. 5:10) on that day. I am reminded I really don’t want God to be fair to me. I don’t want God to give me what I really deserve or to give any of my children what they deserve. That is a dangerous desire. I want God to give me and my loved ones what we don’t deserve, mercy and grace in time of need, especially a mercy and a grace that is guaranteed to be extended toward us through all eternity and not just in this life. I have so much need of mercy and grace now in this short temporary life of mine where I am so accident prone; but how much more will I have need of mercy and grace in the face of eternity?  If God dealt fairly with me, there would be no mercy or grace extended to me at all, only judgement and condemnation instead of love and favor. No I don’t want God to be fair to be me.  For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and no one is righteous, not even one person. 

I’m not saying that all drunk drivers should be let loose. There are a lot who through repeated behavior cannot control themselves and the most loving thing that can be done for the protection of others and their own protection is to lock them up.

I had a classmate and close friend of mine in 5th grade who I would ride bikes with after school. She was killed by a drunk driver one night along with her younger sister as her family came home from the skating rink. They were merely blocks away from their home.

My own mother was an uncontrollable alcoholic who would be locked up from time to time for her DWI’s. I can remember when I was a child I found a key that looked like her ignition key to her giant Monte Carlo.  When she would start drinking, I would reach into her purse and switch the keys out and place the keys back into her purse with the false one on her chain. Later when she went down to start the car to head to the liquor store for more beer or out to a bar, it would not start. After some time, she would finally give up and stumble her way back up the stairs to the house and eventually pass out till morning.  While she slept, I would sneak back into her purse and switch the keys out. I kept this routine up for years. I could not stand the idea of her driving drunk, especially after my friend had been killed. She never did figure out why she had so many car problems.

I hate drunk driving as much as anyone.  I love my mother but all the best drunk driving laws could not stop her.  She never tried rehab so I don’t know if that would have had an effect. Unfortunately the only time she did not drink was when she was behind those bars. I understand that some people need to be locked up and it’s the saddest but most loving thing in the world to lock them up. They may not see it that way. The rest of the world may not see it that way but I think God sees it that way. The same grace that keeps us out of prison sometimes is the same grace that puts us in prison.

I feel there is hope for this young man.  I think with the strict probation, the 0% tolerance, the rehab classes, the ankle bracelet, the experience of it all, his age, his lack of history, he has a chance not to be a repeat offender. If he does then he will be locked up and spend ten years in jail.  I think it’s a good law and a good way to see if there is true repentance and change of heart and a way to make every effort to treat the real problem, ignorance and addiction through the rehab classes. The laws are great, there is nothing wrong with the law but laws can’t change a heart, only God can.

For the first time, I can understand God’s wrath against the world.  It’s the sin in the world, the system behind the world, the rulers and principalities of the world that would cause such sin as this, to  do it’s harm to us day in and day out. “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Col. 3:6)

I am not angry at this young man but I am angry at this world. I am angry at all the sin, deceitfulness and selfishness that we allow to control our lives in pursuit of our own pleasure that lasts for but a moment but has unbearable consequences  on our lives.  I am angry at the world. The way it works, or the way it doesn’t work.

A situation like this would easily destroy a person and a family because there is no good in it of itself. But for those who belong to Jesus and trust in God, God promises we will go from strength to strength. Though we grieve now profusely, He will use this cursed situation and redeem it in our lives that somehow it will bring about life in the end. It will not be allowed to destroy us though it has devastated us.

It is my hope that after this young man has fulfilled his sentencing he would simply “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). Instead of breaking the law further he would uphold the law going forward and encourage others to uphold it also as far as God gives him the power, ability and influence to do so; in order that others could enjoy the full and abundant lives that God intended for us all to be able to enjoy for the short time He has allotted them to us. They are brief enough as they are.

For this man to continue on his old path, would add injury to insult to him, his family, our family and to Tessa’s memory. If we ever hear of him again, I pray that it would demonstrate this has forever changed his life for good and that he has invested  his life well to the benefit of others and not to their harm. If He abuses the grace and mercy that has been shown him and disregards the grace God extended to him here, that is between him and God before whom we will all one day give an account.

As for us, there is no such thing as moving on. That is a lie. You just have to keep going.  There is a part of us that will never accept this. Our hearts still refuse to accept she is gone, that she is not coming back this time. I still find it difficult to accept that we really did see her smile and hear her voice and hear her laugh for the last time. I find it difficult to accept that she won’t be walking in my door on Sunday’s anymore and I will always sense that someone is missing at the table on Sunday. This is our grief and it’s not fair.

In Loving Memory of Tessa Butler:

PLEASE DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE

Hold tight to the sound of the music of living
Happy sounds from the laughter of children at play
Hold my hand as we walk through the sweet fragrant meadows
Making memories of what was today

We have this moment to hold in our hands
And to touch as it slips through our fingers like sand
Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come
But we have this moment, today.

    -Bill & Gloria Gaither

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