Bryan Stevenson is famous for this quote that sears my brain: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done.”
Stevenson, an attorney, is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative that fights injustice and discrimination among the poor, incarcerated and condemned. You can read more about him and his project here . We had to listen to a TED Talk with Stevenson as a class assignment last year, and I only recently finished his book Just Mercy. It’s life changing stuff.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning when I went out into my back yard and my life was changed.
It was the first time in years that I was wearing a bikini in public, if my backyard counted as public. There was some anxiety involved.
The lounge chair unfolded, my water hose’s wand attachment set on mist, I laid my unevenly tanned body out to soak in some of the sun’s hottest summer rays.
My cell phone was playing music, and I had set a timer so I evenly baked on each side. I was in bliss as the cool mist completely negated the heat of the sun.
Then the dogs began to bark ferociously in one of the backyards across the alley from mine, letting me know they had found something unusual about their surroundings. Pushing myself up on my elbows to look around, I figured the dogs had sighted a rogue squirrel.
Until I heard some crashing in the bushes between our yards.
A man emerged out of the bushes, running along my neighbor’s chainlink fence.
He hopped the fence into my backyard.
And ran straight for me. Bikini, water hose mister, lounge chair, bright sunshine.
I stared at him as he ran closer and closer. Was this real life?
I could only think that if I was going to get robbed or raped, I was certainly not going down without a fight.
This was my backyard after all.
He ran not even two feet away from me, and then ran past me.
“Excuse me,” I said, and craned my neck back to see him. The man slowed his run and looked back at me. “This is private property.”
“Uh…sorry,” he stammered, and disappeared between the next two houses.
I relaxed back on my lounge chair, and thought about what had just happened. What on earth does this mean, God? I was asking.
My timer on my phone went off, signaling my baking was adequate. I switched the hose to shower mode and watered the flowers on my porch.
A friend whom I had just texted the strange encounter to urged me to call the non-emergency police line. “I’d like to report some suspicious behavior,” I told the dispatcher.
The police were at my door in a minute, barely long enough for me to change out of my bikini.
“Can you describe him?”
“Well, he had on a baseball cap, a light gray T-shirt, black shorts, was either holding something in his right hand or holding his pants up.
“And he had clown eye tattoos on his face.”
The police officer didn’t miss a beat.
“Yeah, that matches a description we have of a man involved in an accident a few streets over. We don’t think he’s dangerous. Just probably driving without a license.
“Which way did he go?”
The police left. I pondered my tattoo-faced trespasser.
To be honest, if it wasn’t for the black lines running down from under his eyes, I don’t know if I would have been so bothered.
It was just so unusual. I figured he must have been a Juggalo, a fan of the band Insane Clown Posse. They often wear makeup and such to concerts.
I told a few close friends about the encounter, and waited for his mug shot to appear in the newspaper or online. It didn’t. I regaled my Sunday School class with the story, which five days later was starting to become quite amusing.
(Seriously, who insists on telling a possibly nefarious trespasser, while she’s less than half clothed, that he was on private property? I’m a moron).
My friend Jake, who is a first responder, said I was mostly bothered because he didn’t stop and say “Nice bikini.” Pshhhh. Maybe.
Then almost a week later I received a screen shot from a friend from a local news article, including a mug shot of a tattoo faced gentleman.
Being the nosey little goose I am, I quickly brought up a link to the news story.
My trespasser was arrested late Sunday night after leading police on a chase across three counties. The photo was very much of the dude who crossed my backyard.
I truly had no thoughts of justice reading the story; I was just happy he wasn’t a figment of my imagination.
And then I started reading the comments about him on social media.
And I was sick to my stomach.
“I want to say thank you to the Paducah police for hunting this piece of garbage down.”
“What tribe is he from?”
“Looks like that wasn’t his first bad life decision.”
“He sure dislikes himself.”
“He don’t look guilty at all lol!!”
This man was created in the image of God. The VERY image of God. He appears to have been guilty of a very serious crime, possibly more than one.
No, I’m not thrilled he ran through my backyard without permission.
But…each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done.
That’s Jesus’ entire reason for dying on the cross. I am worth more than my sins. You are worth more than your sins. This tattooed man is worth more than the unusual markings on his face and reckless behavior.
Jesus, perfectly innocent, was condemned to die in the worst way possible, so bad drivers, tattooed men, and divorced, snarky women could have a life of eternity with their Creator who loves them.
Face tattoos and all.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to Mr. Trespasser. He may never re-enter society as a productive individual.
But I know that he, and others like him, will never experience the grace of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus unless we apply it to him first.
It starts with me.
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus said.
*I’ve opted not to use Mr. Trespasser’s mug shot, name, or any links to the website or story. I hope you realize this story isn’t about him. It’s about us.