Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Miracle on University Avenue, Des Moines

Imagine, for a moment, that you had just stepped into your car in the grocery store parking lot, and then feel a pistol pressed to your head and an order to get out of the car. Would you cooperate, or defend yourself? What if the perpetrator then whacks you on the head, shoves you onto the asphalt and peels away.

What Des Moines man Fred Bobenhouse did was stumble back into the store, bleeding and trembling, and ask an employee to call 911. Authorities tracked down the stolen car within minutes. Unfortunately, the carjacker put the pistol to his own head just before police confronted him.

This is only the beginning of the drama slowly unfolding in The Des Moines Register from the time the story first broke on December 22 to the follow up article published December 24. The carjacker was not your typical offender. In fact, Richard Brown had no criminal record. He was a law-abiding citizen according to family members, and was a car salesman until given the pink slip. The lousy economy hit him below the belt. He couldn't support his wife and young daughter.  His despair was mounting. The day he assaulted Bobenhouse, he was on his way to apply for food stamps. Tragically, despair won.

But here's the miracle:

According to The Des Moines Register, Bobenhouse said that he has forgiven Brown and that it's a shame the family has had to live through this. Bobenhouse's church, University Ave., has established a memorial fund. Bobenhouse has pledged more than $500. When Tiffany Brown, Richard's widow, heard about the church's gesture, she was overwhelmed.  "We believe this is the true meaning of a Christian," a relative added.

I don't know Bobenhouse or the Browns. I'm not a member of the church. All I know is the version published in the paper. Yet this story has so gripped my heart that I am compelled to share it. It teaches me to pray for compassion, and shed cynicism and bitterness. It teaches me to pray for gratitude, and shed discontent and fear - if only for today. It reminds me to shift from self-pity to awareness of what's within my control to help others. If an 84-year old man can practice forgiveness and mercy, then so can I.

My prayers also go to Tiffany Brown and her five-year-old daughter. How does a mother explain suicide to a little girl who apparently adored her father? May God have mercy on them now.

Thank you, Bobenhouse, for showing me that miracles still shine like a warm June sun in the midst of a bleak winter. And for opening my eyes to my blessings in the present moment.