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Forgiving the Unforgivable: Readying my heart to meet my sister’s murderer

I made a commitment to a spiritual practice before facing my “enemy”

BY TOM HUDGENS, episode 2 (of 5) — “John Black is very eager for this meeting.”

That was the short and simple email I received from Rick Warr, a mediator with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who was arranging for me to meet John Black,* the man serving a life sentence for raping and murdering my sister 30 years ago.

Why was he eager? I wondered. What did he think would happen?

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Forgiving the Unforgivable: My prison reckoning

When I first met my “enemy,” I recognized him instantly. Then I leaned within inches of his face to hear his apology

BY TOM HUDGENS, episode 3 (of 5) — It took a half-hour to drive to Chesterson Unit, the prison in Huntsville, Texas that has housed my sister’s killer, John Black,* for thirty years.

Rick Warr, the mediator with the Criminal Justice department, picked me up at my hotel. We drove through the main entrance, past cornfields and cattle, and eventually reached the sprawling prison buildings, all made of yellow brick.

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Forgiving the Unforgivable: Getting to know my sister’s killer

I asked for complete honesty — however painful he thought it might be for me.

BY TOM HUDGENS, episode 4 (of 5)Not that long ago, I would never have believed that I would be here: Sitting face to face with John Black, the man who raped and killed my sister in 1978, chatting with him about his life.*

He apologized and asked for my forgiveness. And now it was time for me to put my lengthy spiritual preparation — which led me to this prison outside Huntsville, Texas — to practice.

I thanked John Black for reading his letter to me, for agreeing to meet, and asked him to be totally honest, even if he thought the truth might be painful or offensive.

I told him that I was speaking on no one’s behalf but my own, and that I was not trying to see if “justice had been served.” Rather, I wanted to have open communication, compassion and understanding.

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Forgiving the Unforgivable: The moment of truth

‘I can accept what happened,’ I told my sister’s killer. ‘Today, in this moment, I can wish you well’

BY TOM HUDGENS, final episodeWhen you took my sister’s life, I told the killer himself as we sat in a stark room in a Texas prison, there were, amazingly, seven people who considered her a best friend.

John Black,* who is 30 years into a life sentence, had told me about his life, with the honesty I had asked for. Now I was telling him about his victim, who was taken from the world when she was 22 and I was just 9.

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Letter from Galveston: Coping with loss after hurricane Ike

Letter from Galveston: Coping with loss after hurricane Ike

A small business owner writes about returning after the storm

BY SKIP MARTIN — After weaving my way through the maze of road blocks and debris that is Galveston County post-Ike, I finally made it to the Galveston Police checkpoint.  It was more than a week before residents would be allowed to return permanently — just two days after the storm ripped through — and officials were letting property owners back for a five-hour-period that was known as a “look and leave.”

Look, I did. What I saw resembled a city, post-battle. I drove along the causeway past piles of debris — mangled boats, crumpled washing machines, the bloated corpse of a dog. State and National Guard troops, in their crisp BDUs and driving Humvees, were only outnumbered by reporters and news trucks.

As I traveled down Broadway, a main thoroughfare,  I thought how timely the demolishing of the Taco Bell had been. A small victory.

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Living in fear: Recovery, redemption and realization

Part 4 of 4: My father jokes that I have a league of guardian angels

BY SUEANN JACKSON-LAND — There is, of course, a much more to my story than what I recounted in the first three parts of the Living in fear series published here. It’s taken me 43 years, four months and 16 days to get to Soul’s Code. Every time I thought I was ready to write “my” book, God changed the story. I wrote earlier today that I was concerned that readers might come away with the idea that the only thing I have to say as a human being is “my mom was mean and then she killed herself.” It is anything but that.

Tragedies will happen and people will let us down, that’s part of living. It’s what we do with it that matters. I don’t want to speak in bumper sticker theology or platitudes because it is different for every person within their own truth. I deeply and passionately believe in free will and that our perceptions can cripple us — or free us. I could have spent my life blaming my mother, blaming my father, and destroying myself.

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Life is a ballet

BY VICKI WOODYARD — Life is a ballet, and although it looks and feels beautiful at times our toes are bleeding and we wake in the night with muscle cramps. All of this strenuous work creates beauty and it is well worth the effort. I have never danced as hard as when my small daughter was fighting cancer. She took ballet at the age of five although she had a large muscle missing from her right leg. It contained the tumor that had to be removed.

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Prayer Wall: A courageous woman taken far too soon

Prayer Wall: A courageous woman taken far too soon

We offer our prayers to Jayne Schaffstein Veld (June 6, 1969 – September 1, 2008), and the two young sons and husband she leaves behind in San Francisco. May her soul be sanctified, and joined by the voices of angels and archangels.

We, in turn, pass on Jayne’s spirit to you. This daily prayer sustained her through a six-year battle with breast cancer, a feat which defied the prognosis of medical experts.

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Breathing Room: How do you find it after a little child has died?

Breathing Room: How do you find it after a little child has died?

GUEST COLUMN: VICKI WOODYARD

What can we do but keep on breathing in and out, modest and willing, and in our places? ~Mary Oliver

We all need breathing room. A place where we can go to be recharged. For me, that room is on the inside. It cannot be located on a GPS. It is inside of us that peace descends and no where else.

After my daughter’s cancer came back for the second time, she had to have it removed — once again from her right leg.

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Prayer Wall: “A Pain No One Can Bear to Live With”

Prayer Wall: “A Pain No One Can Bear to Live With”

A house in a small town in Wisconsin where a mass-murder took place last October is being demolished by the owner, local clergy and government.

Soul’s Code contributor Cyndi Ingle asked in a recent essay on peak experiences, Do you need a building to feel spiritual?

Conversely, can a structure be evil? We believe, but cannot prove, the answer is “no”

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