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
I confess I’ve had many conversations regarding Kathie Lee Gifford over the years. She would be listed on my Women’s Bible Devotional and yet when I watched her on Regis and Kathie Lee she was suggestive at best. It drove me crazy. I didn’t see Christ’s light and her approach was a turn off.
Fast forward and she returned to television with the fourth hour of The Today Show. Although I thought it was a step down for Hoda Kotb and her journalism skills, I thought it was a good fit for Kathie Lee. She seemed tamer, more relatable. Her walk seemed to match her talk.
When I heard about Frank Gifford’s death, it really shook me. I think part of it was we have a ten year gap in our marriage and it was a topic we took seriously before we got engaged. We talked about leaving the other behind. I couldn’t imagine the grief Kathie Lee and her children had to be feeling.
Yet I saw her post on Twitter and I heard Hoda share how strong Kathie Lee was.
And then I saw this.
Honestly, it’s one of the best moments of live television I’ve ever seen.
Kathie Lee on her first day back to work after losing her husband shared his last moments. His faith. Her faith. Their faith.
And her challenge about the stone.
I challenge YOU to watch. It’s about 8 minutes and they go fast.
It’s inspiring and emotional.
May God bless her and her children.
Most everyone knows I’m from Upstate NY. Although my hometown is Corning, I received my BA from the State University of New York at Geneseo. It was 1990-92 when I was there.
The school for the most part was divided into two categories: Upstate NY and NYC/Long Island. Now remember the time frame. Come Superbowl time, it was the Buffalo Bills and NY Giants. Talk about a battle. No, not the football teams. My friends.
When it came down to that one kick that unfortunately didn’t give the Bills a win, my dorm shook. No lie. The uproar between upstate and downstate probably scored on the Reichter scale.
Those were the Jim Kelly years and Geneseo was close enough to Buffalo somehow as an Upstate-er I felt a connection. There were times we heard the players used our track or were on their way to party at the exact places we were at. We had friends of friends of friends who had been to parties. He was part of my college scene by association and again, with that Superbowl moment, embedded into my college memories for life.
It seemed fitting as I graduated and moved on, the Bills kind of faded as well, at least as far Superbowl invitations and national fanfare. I’d hear Jim Kelly news here and there but I was busy carving out my place in Upstate NY.
The next phase where I felt a connection was after college, after marriage, after children. I was evolving as a woman of faith—not as tied to approval as I once was, but still not where I am today. It was the darkest time of my life. My dad was dying. My husband was on the precipice of moving to Ohio for a new job. Our baby was still sick with multiple breathing issues that often had her hospitalized. I wasn’t healed from her near death and how it came at a doctor’s hand. I heard about a women’s luncheon at our local radio station where Jill Kelly would be sharing. I knew Jill was married to Jim and that they had the little boy, Hunter. I thought it would be a nice break to see what she had to say.
Jill’s testimony remains a spiritual marker in my life. As she shared life with Hunter she talked about how each ER visit to them could mean his last. Our situations were different yet I knew that fear she spoke of. How many ER trips we’d endured. Our pede even gave me his personal cell in case I needed it. He had to convince me she was going to live to see her first birthday. When Jill spoke, the grief imploded and I sobbed as she spoke. She was so honest about her past and where her faith was at that moment. Where Jim was at spiritually. Then she shared a verse that was helping her through it all—the therapies, the ER visits, caring for her daughters, encouraging Jim.
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8
I grabbed that verse and held on for dear life as we navigated more grief, sickness and change. I followed the headlines as Hunter left this world. I never forgot that verse. As our daughter stabilized I prayed for the Kelly family. I couldn’t even fathom the depth of their grief.
Fast forward and I then read about Jim’s cancer. I lifted up prayers and continued to follow headlines. When I read the cancer came back, I felt my gut drop. I wanted to do something for them, still remembering how Jill’s talk gave me the courage to move forward in faith. How so many great college memories were intertwined with Jim and the Bills. The only thing I could think of was to pray. I wrote one out on the Facebook page, returning that same verse to them in their great time of need.
During this time I saw Erin’s posts on social media. As difficult as her situation was, a young woman already fluent in grief, sharing their journey to encourage others. I saw such a gift in her writing and a maturity in her faith.
And here we are. Kelly Tough is Erin’s account of her life and faith and I want to say more than that, but I’ll wait for my review tomorrow. But for a family I’ve never met, somehow when I read the Kelly name, I always perked up.
And I think I always will.