Many Mississippi hearts are breaking this week, including mine, in the violent and senseless death of Heather Spencer. I knew Heather many years ago when she was a bright and beautiful child attending Sardis Lake Christian Camp and area Christian teen events in the Mississippi Delta. Her mom and dad were people that I was acquainted with through church activities. Her paternal grandparents were leaders in the church at Indianola for many years. Her maternal grandparents were people I met later as I was associated with Skyway Hills Church of Christ through various church functions. Her little brother was just a little boy last time I saw him. Her cousin was at Gulf Coast Bible Camp with me this past summer.
Years have passed since I last saw any of the immediate family. Like a lot of people from our past that we knew and loved, life had taken us all in different directions and I lost touch. An email from local minister Al Sturgeon brought the shocking and sad news of Heather’s unexpected death. Al is friend and minister to Heather’s uncle and cousin and their families. News spread rapidly and Heather’s death has been the front page story of the Clarion Ledger (Jackson, MS) for the past three days.
Although I had lost touch and cannot tell you much about Heather … I do know that she remained the same loyal and sweet person she always was. Although her boyfriend attacked her earlier this year requiring 57 staples, she believed that she could help him. I know it’s easy to judge her harshly for this decision. Looking in from the outside it is hard to understand. But perhaps his willingness to go into rehab and work to overcome his drug addiction was a signal to her that he was doing better. He had only returned home from rehab a week before his violence became a testimony to the fact that she was wrong about him. How much grace does it take to love someone who has hurt you so badly? Her family begged her to leave him … and I would have also. But she didn’t. And her life was brutally ended because of that decision.
It turns my stomach to think about this beautiful wisp of a woman being beaten by this man of violence. And it’s hard to know where to go with this. What do you say? How do you pray? On one hand we ask God how could this happen … and on the other hand we look at our communities and families and ask how we could have prevented it. God didn’t prevent it and neither did we. So what do we do now?
Domestic Violence is a growing epidemic in our society. Of greatest noteriety is the murder of Nicole Brown, in which a jury absolved O. J. Simpson. Most recently in the media is the beating of Juanita Bynum by her husband Thomas Meeks – both of them evangelists. T. D. Jakes had a measured and helpful response to that situation HERE, calling upon the church to address the subject of domestic abuse. This is happening in Christian homes … and other homes. It knows no economic, religious, educational or racial boundaries. The emergency rooms across our nation last night treated women with broken limbs and blackened eyes who lied about how these injuries happened. We live in a nation that is numb to violence. Women are willing to lie and live in self-denial in order to survive another day hoping to avoid another injury.
I think of a few things this morning ….
- Educate young children about boundaries in relationships. It is NEVER acceptable for one person in a relationship to hit another person. I advise all people who suffer violence in a relationship to get out and do not return. It is painful to leave, and sometimes economically unfeasable, but it would be better to be impoverished than abused. Once the boundary of violence has been crossed there is always the potential for it to be crossed yet again in the future, and with greater intensity.
- Support your local battered women’s shelter. Find out what their needs are and work to make sure that they are met. Most of these locations are kept secret for good reason, but donations of food, clothing, necessary items, and money are all important. I believe our local shelter is run by the Salvation Army.
- Information needs to be available in our churches for individuals who are struggling with this problem. We need to join with other advocacy groups in speaking out against this crime and making sure that hotlines, shelter numbers, and the presence of compassionate caregivers is available.
- Do not worry about understanding, just plan to care. Thousands of women every year are battered. I do not understand staying in a relationship like this. It is something, thank God, I have never experienced. But even if you cannot understand this … you can provide references for help to people who do understand … and you can love and care for the abused. You can understand this person’s need for compassion, not judgment.
Heather’s funeral is friday in Jackson. I hope to attend, but am not sure yet that I can do so. I hope you will pray for her family … a large family with many associations in churches of Christ. A hurting family with more questions than answers. Still, just one family among thousands who awakend this morning with the thoughts of their lost loved one … and how one human being can treat another with such contempt and violence.
Thanks for reading.