A Thanksgiving Challenge
by Mary Weaver, as told to Deb Brammer
The family photo I slipped from the pages of my Bible pictured me with my husband and our two children—before I was sentenced to life in prison without parole. As I sat on my prison bunk, I caressed my red-headed son, John, and his blonde sister, Catherine, in the picture. For sixteen months I had only seen them once a week, when my husband brought them to the prison visiting room.
These changes in my life had started on January 22, 1993, while I was providing childcare for eleven-month-old Melissa. I was putting the baby’s snowsuit on her when Melissa quit breathing. I called 9-1-1 immediately and performed CPR until the ambulance came. But the baby died within a day.
The autopsy found a two-inch skull fracture and other severe injuries that were seven to ten days old. Some doctors ignored these older injuries, however, and asserted Melissa’s death was caused by acute injuries from shaking and possibly slamming the baby just before her breathing stopped. Since I was with Melissa during the forty-two minutes before she stopped breathing, they believed I must have caused the fatal injuries.
I had never done anything to hurt Melissa but opinion on my guilt was divided. My first trial ended with a hung jury. My second trial, by judge, ended with a conviction for first degree murder and child endangerment.
Over a year had passed as my lawyers sought to appeal my case, but they still had not been able to get a new trial. Meanwhile, I was separated from my husband and our children.
I believed with certainty that God would eventually free me and clear my name. As a Christian, I knew God would get me through prison one day at a time. But I grieved for my children and for my unsaved husband. As the months passed into a year, my children had turned five and six. I would never get the year back, nor other years still to come.
As I sat in my cell worrying about my family, a guard appeared at the door. “Mrs. Weaver? You got a visitor.”
I laid my Bible aside and preceded the guard down the prison corridor. Who could this be? As I stepped into the visitor’s room, my daughter, Catherine, skipped up to me.
“Mommy, Mommy, I’m going to my dance recital! Aunt Lisa brought me so you could fix my hair!” Catherine jumped around until I could hardly get a hug from her.
I smiled my thanks at Lisa Murphy, my friend who had figured out this creative way to include me in my daughter’s special occasion.
I drew my daughter close. “I’d love to fix your hair, Catherine. Shall we do French braids?”
“Yes, yes, yes! With pink ribbons!” My daughter bounced with every word.
I removed ribbons and elastic bands from Catherine’s ponytail and pulled long blonde strands into sections with my fingers.
“Hold still,” I reminded her as I started one braid. I breathed in the fruity fragrance of the superfine hair as I began to weave the strands into identical braids, then tied perfect pink bows to them at each end.
Catherine shook her head to feel her new hairdo. “Thank you, Mommy! I can’t wait to see myself in the mirror.”
“You look beautiful!”
My daughter gazed at me with puppy-dog eyes. “I wish you could come to my recital.”
I blinked away some tears. “Me too, sweetheart, but Aunt Lisa will take pictures and I’ll study them carefully. Just remember that your mommy is very proud of you!”
I gave my daughter a quick, prison-acceptable hug and watched the two walk away.
“You are missing her recital and all the other important moments in her life,” Satan whispered.
I lifted my chin. “But God allowed me to fix my daughter’s hair. God gave me that precious moment. God is good,” I answered with faith.
I returned to my cell, sat on my bunk, and prayed. “Lord help me focus on what I have, not what I don’t have.”
A prison sentence made it easy to slide into self-pity. Satan could use the unfairness of the case made against me to defeat me, but I determined not to let him do that. Instead I thought about a prison library book I had read recently. It was a biography Corrie Ten Boom who had hidden Jews in Holland during World War II. She had been imprisoned in a bitter cold prison for four months, then a women’s extermination camp in Germany. She lived in an overcrowded, filthy cell with little to eat, no exercise, and no fresh air. She had almost no contact with her family.
Like me, this woman was unfairly imprisoned. Yet she focused on what she still had in the midst of the injustice. In solitary confinement, she thanked God for an ant that crawled into her cell and provided a bit of company. She thanked God for the sunshine when she could stretch to feel its warm rays. Later, at the extermination camp, she thanked God for fleas that infested the stinking straw she slept on because the tiny pests kept the guards away from the bunk where she hid her precious Bible.
I closed my eyes to shut out the conversation of inmates lounging right outside my own cell. My prison cell was the Ritz Carlton compared to the ones in the book. “Thank You, Lord, that my family is safe and that I can see them every week. Thank You that I have other gals to talk to. You’ve even given me a roommate who seems to be born again. Thank You that I can feel safe in prison, that other inmates haven’t given me trouble, that the guards treat me with respect. Thank You that I have a Bible and that I can read it openly, whenever I want. Thank You that I have grown closer to You in prison.”
The first year, the justice system of the state in which I lived had seized all my possessions, even my clothes. Now they were allowing me to keep a few personal things. The State could separate me from my home and family, but they could not take God away from me and they could not take me away from God. I would focus on Him and on the things He sent me to enjoy. Today that meant the joy of fixing my daughter’s hair for a special occasion.
God showers us with so many blessings every day that we sometimes get used to them and claim them as rights. While we have them, we don’t appreciate them. And when we don’t have them any longer, we complain that a right has been violated.
Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on what we have. What has God given you today?
This story comes from the memoir: Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story by Deb Brammer. Due to God’s amazing work in her case, Mary has since been acquitted. Deb teamed up with Mary’s lawyer, Steve Brennecke, to write the book. Deb and her husband also wrote a companion Bible study book called I Survived! It uses examples from Edges of Truth to illustrate Biblical principles from the lives of 5 Biblical characters. For more information see: www.MaryWeaverStory.com
Deb Brammer has been writing for Christian publication since 1980. In addition to these books and many ministry resources, she has written six novels. Since 1980 she and her husband have served in Taiwan and New Zealand as church planting missionaries.
Purchase Edges of Truth: http://www.amazon.com/Edges-Truth-Mary-Weaver-Story/dp/1491070714