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Terri Schindler: a year’s agony

One year ago today, Terri Schindler (Schiavo) began the slow and agonizing path of starvation and dehydration, as the nutrition tube was removed from her body. Terri, as you hopefully recall, was brain-damaged and in hospice. Sadly, some of the very persons who should have sought to preserve her life actually fought to end it. Her husband (whose hopes to move on with his adulterous life were more important than the life of his wife) had convinced a morally bankrupt Florida judge to order the starvation of Terri.

While American citizens watched on television, listened by radio, and read by Internet, the legal battle was fought to the very end. Terri’s parents and siblings made every possible legal effort to save her from the cruel and unusual death she suffered. Despicably, those intent on murder were successful in their quest. Despite rumblings from President George Bush, the U.S. Congress, the Florida legislature, and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the conspirators of disaster worked their wileful deed. As Terri lay conscious, painfully aware that she was thirsting to death, her husband and his attorneys congratulated themselves on their endeavor.

Although this situation seems reminiscent of a horror story, it actually happened. The events played out publicly in Pinellas Park, Florida. Millions of Americans were aware of the sadistic state-sanctioned murder of this innocent woman. Thousands gathered outside the hospice where Terri lay dying; they were there to encourage her parents and siblings, to pray for God’s intervention, to seek justice from the secular authorities. Press conferences were called; demonstrations were held; prayer gatherings were organized; public and private entreatments for intervention were proffered. Sadly, the deed was begun and carried to its end.

A year ago, I wrote some things about this harsh event. I was present for a few days at the concentration camp hospice where Terri was incarcerated. The local police were out in force to ensure that no one carried food or water to Terri. They were also present in her room to ensure that she be allowed to die the unnatural death that was inflicted upon her. I saw a few familiar faces among the crowds, and met many common citizens who came to weep and pray.

I will offer a few more reflections over the coming days. Terri should long be remembered. She should be remembered because she is one of God’s children, valuable simply because she was created by him. She should be remembered because she was a public sacrifice for the seared conscience of an increasingly godless people. Let us not forget Terri Schindler, the lady who was butchered by the blood-stained hands of politically powerful reprobates.

Friends of God

There were many friends of God in Pinellas Park.

I’ve already mentioned Tracie. She was very kind, and her devotion to godly servanthood was obvious. On Saturday, I bumped into Thomas Bowman, my friend from Kentucky. He had once again travelled long hours from home to stand for God’s truth. Thomas communicates the word of God through his music.

Monsignor Malanowski was very gracious; he and I spoke a couple of times for several minutes, and I could see the clear love he had for Terri and the Schindler family. Brother Hilary and I briefly spoke a couple of times also; his strong support for life was also evident.

My travelling companions were Steve and Jeff, friends from the Huntsville, Alabama area. Jeff had travelled down on Wednesday. Steve and I travelled down together on Thursday evening. Sunday morning, Jeff and I drove back home while Steve stayed another day. These two great men of God have before stood for truth on other important issues. I was honored to be with them in this fight for God’s kingdom.

On Friday, I met Tim Bayly, a Presbyterian pastor who, with a fellow minister, was blogging from outside Woodside Hospice. Tim and I talked briefly and greeted one another a few times afterward. He invited me to join in a service on the grounds Friday afternoon but I was, unfortunately, detained elsewhere during the appointed time. Saturday, I watched as one of Tim’s associates, David Currell, was arrested for attempting to go in to save Terri from starvation. When a handful of protesters became shrill and venomous toward the police officers, Tim reminded us all to respond in love.

Saturday afternoon, a local man named Jeff came by with an offer to marry Terri. He saw this as a solution to the problem by giving him status as her guardian. I explained to him that there would be two problems with this idea: 1) Terri was already married and to marry Jeff would make her a bigamist, and 2) Terri wasn’t able to giver her consent to the marriage, even if it weren’t bigamy. Jeff gave me his phone number, anyway, just in case something worked out. While this may seem a bit strange, it is only a small example of how much people were willing to help save Terri, a person few of us had met but all of us cared deeply about.

Sunday morning, I went to an early interdenominational service on the grounds. The sun had not yet broken through the clouds when two Protestant pastors led us in singing, Scripture reading, and prayer. The two pastors, whose names I don’t recall, had decided that they were going to attempt to take the Communion elements in to Terri; Father Malanowski had been rebuffed the day before when he attempted to give her Communion. The two pastors went inside a small tent for private prayer together while the thirty or so others of us prayed. We broke off into groups of four.

It was during this time that I prayed with three Roman Catholic friends. One man had been a constant figure on the grounds, frequently carrying a crucifix against his shoulder. The lady, whose name was Mary (if memory serves correctly), had a sweet composure and was obviously seriously concerned with the horror being witnessed. The third prayer companion was David Vogel, a musician and singer. I’d seen him around a couple of times, once while he directed traffic in and out of the area where the Schindler family was stationed. He was one of the first arrested for trying to take water in to Terri.

Our group prayed earnestly for several minutes: the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and other prayers. We finished and looked up to see the police handcuffing the two pastors and placing them in a police car. David shared his deep concern over the horror but also expressed his great joy over the unity of Christ’s body in standing for the value of life.

Indeed, there were Christians from all traditions present: Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Anglican, independent, etc. From rosaries and crucifixes to tambourines and plastic buckets, from highly charismatic extemporaneous prayers to traditional liturgies, the hearts of God’s people cried out for his mercy. Even though our obvious man-made divisions didn’t go away, in the eyes of God, we all stood as his people.

There were many other friends of God and friends of Terri who were present. My memory doesn’t serve well enough to name them all. But, of those whom I can remember, the Ledbetters were among the crowd; Mr. Ledbetter was one of the first to be arrested in Montgomery in the summer of 2003 for standing for the right to acknowledge God through the public display of the Ten Commandments. Also, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney arrived on Saturday evening to lead us in a prayer vigil; he had been on site earlier in the week but had gone to Tallahassee to plead with the governor to intervene.

There was also another fine Roman Catholic man who told me of his arrest experience at the hospice and of his 3 1/2 years in jail for protesting abortion. There was also the professor named George, with whom I had extended conversations in person and via phone about the value of life, the vulnerability of the disabled, and the appropriateness of civil disobedience. George and I will meet again, I am certain; and we will be more prepared.

Tracie

While in Pinellas Park, I met Tracie. She was a volunteer working with the Schindler family. I’m not sure exactly in what ways she helped but I’m certain she was a great encouragement and support to them. She spent five weeks there working for the family.

I was introduced to Tracie by someone who knew she was also Anglican. Tracie had been at the site almost every hour of four weeks and had not been able to receive Holy Communion. Monsignor Malanowski had celebrated Mass with the family and various protesters but Tracie had not been able to participate because she was not Roman Catholic. I enjoyed meeting her and her parents, who happened to be with her at the time.

On the evening of Good Friday, the one day of the year when Eucharist is not normally celebrated, I led a small group in a service of Holy Eucharist on the grass in front of Woodside Hospice. I believed the situation we faced was sufficient cause to give thanks to God. Tracie was able to receive the grace of God in the Body and Blood of our Lord. Thomas Bowman, the minstrel from Kentucky, was present and led us in a few songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar. My travelling companions, Steve and Jeff, joined in worship; along with the other kind souls who participated, we meditated on the Passion of our Savior.

When we had finished, after many tears and several moments of reflection, Tracie bid us all to remember to pray, not only for Terri, but also for the Schindlers. She briefly conveyed how the weight of this horrific event was a heavy burden for Terri’s parents. She also told us of how Mr. Schindler had experienced a heart attack a few days after the last time Terri had been starved (for six days).

I am pleased to see that the Schindlers expressed their great appreciation for the volunteers like Tracie. There were many more like her who helped the family members through a time of great turmoil. May God strengthen the Schindler family and may he reward Tracie and the other volunteers for their service in his kingdom.

Black Thursday

As I left work around 9:20 a.m. to drive to an appointment today, I turned on the radio to hear that Terri Schiavo had died.

I am deeply saddened by this news. I am saddened that a beautiful child of God has left this world where she brought so much joy and received so much love from her family. I am saddened that her parents and siblings and extended family no longer have Terri to enjoy her presence and share their love with her. I am saddened for my country that cares so little. I am saddened by the rebellion against God and the compromise of the truth that many Christians have shown in this case.

The future is uncertain but I know that I will always remember this ordeal. Terri struggled to live and she was denied the most basic of natural care–nourishment. Her blood is on the hands of her husband Michael Schiavo, his attorney George Felos, the judge George Greer, the handful of appelate judges who returned to case to Greer, the other state and federal judges who refused to hear the case, the governor of Florida Jeb Bush, the president of the United States George W. Bush, the members of Congress who refused to enforce the congressional subpeonas, the Florida Department of Children and Families which refused to intervene even though they said they had the authority and responsibility to do so, and so many more. Ultimately, the people of Florida and of the United States are responsible because we haven’t been diligent to see that life-haters aren’t holding public office and because we’ve devalued human life.

I’ll offer more thoughts later. There are several actions I will be taking in response to this entire matter. The first thing I’ve done today is remove from my blogroll a “Christian” blog that supported Terri’s murder.

May God have mercy on us all.

May the Holy Spirit strengthen Terri’s family and give them peace which passes understanding. Terri stands, whole, in the Father’s presence.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. (Revelation 14.13)

Remember thy servant, O Lord, according to the favour which thou bearest unto thy people, and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, she may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Waitress

Saturday afternoon, one of my travelling companions and I left the Woodside Hospice for a late lunch break. We drove a few miles away to a restaurant next to our hotel.

Shortly after being seated, I was looking over the menu while my fellow traveller freshened up in the restroom. A waitress happened by and greeted me. She, seeing me in my clerical attire, asked me, “To what do we owe the honor of your visit with us today? Are you here for a wedding or something?” I told her that I’d been at the place where Terri Schiavo is undergoing her ordeal. The waitress cocked her head sideways and said something about not being aware of what all was going on with the case.

She then said, “I don’t know. Don’t you think it’s time just to let her go?” To which I replied, “If it is time to let her go, it’s certainly not time to starve her to death.” The waitress looked at me as if I’d slapped her. She said, “Is that what’s happening?” I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what’s going on.” She asked again and I reaffirmed my statement. She then turned and walked away, going to help a couple that had just come in the door; before she greeted the couple, she turned to me once more and said, “Is that true, Father?” I shook my head in agreement.

This exchange is another indication that the general populace doesn’t realize what is going on in this case. The press is reporting that Terri is on life support. The media, largely, aren’t reporting that she is being starved to death. They aren’t saying that she needs someone to feed her–no different than an infant would.

I’m not sure what the waitress did after we left but I hope she thought seriously about what she had learned. The truth is life-changing.