On August 27, 2010, Sandra Vasquez was sentenced to 15 years in prison for reckless homicide and drunken driving after her car struck a light pole on February 11, 2007, killing five teenage passengers in her car, one of whom clung to life for eight days before losing his battle. During her sentencing hearing, proceedings stopped twice after Vasquez collapsed in sobs and had to be taken from the courtroom. The Chicago Tribune reported on August 27 that one of these incidents occurred when Sandra’s mother told how her 8-year-old son has marked the calendar each day his mother has been in jail, and the second was when the mother of one of the victims described identifying her son’s body at the morgue: ” ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, God, I can’t do this,’ ” said Vasquez, 26, rocking back and forth and covering her ears as the boy’s mother described how she tried in vain to close his eyelids.”
This post is a letter to Sandra.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and there comes a moment in a woman’s life when she must take stock of her life. Zora Neal Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Sandra, you have been forced to ask yourself some hard questions. And, I know that you, like the rest of us when we examine our own lives, will arrive at answers you don’t like. The cause of your regret is obvious and wrenching, but I want you to know that you are not alone. I don’t care how well a woman dresses, how many lavish vacations she takes, how much respect she commands at work; I promise that if, for a moment, you could get past the façade and peer into her heart, you will find that she, too, has regrets. Just like you. Just like me. Regret for loving a man (or too many to count) who she should’ve run from at “Hello.” Regret for the good man lost, because she was so used to bad she didn’t know what to do with good. Regret for playing when she should have been working, and now she has to work when she should be playing. Regret for money spent that should’ve been saved. Regret for not realizing that there’s a very short window of time to raise children and that, when it’s over, it’s over. Regret for friendships lost over pride, selfishness and careless words. Regret for not realizing the time to develop a prayer life is BEFORE a crisis. Regret for knowing better and not doing better. So for you and me, and others like us, I ask the question: What to do with regret?
Some of the greatest women in the world would do things differently if they could. I am sure that as Eve wept over the death of Abel and the permanent separation from Cain, her firstborn, she must have wished with all her heart that she made a different choice in the Garden (Genesis 4). I am sure that when Sarah realized that she had given her husband to a real woman, not a robot, who might react unpredictably after being forced to sleep with him and carry his child, Sarah might have held out for God’s best just a little longer (Genesis 16). Surely Samson’s mother must have been tormented with how she might have failed Samson when she was raising him as she saw him being dragged away by the Philistines and heard how they tore out her son’s eyes (Judges 16). She must have wondered if she was firm enough or if she was too hard? What if she could have warned him about the Delilahs of this world? I wonder if Michal, David’s ill-fated wife, while experiencing the pangs of infertility, wished with all her might that she could retract those angry words that sprung from a hardened bitter heart (2 Samuel 6:15-20).
Sandra, the trial is over, the appeals will begin – all of which is out of your control – but what to do with regret? The truth, Sandra, is that there is absolutely nothing left to do with regret, but to forget it. There’s nothing you can do about the past. It happened. You can’t take back your actions on the night of February 11, 2007, any more than any of us can undo the actions from our past. God knows we would if we could. It is impossible to erase the past from your memory, but don’t allow yourself to be mired in thoughts of what might have been. Forget it. The dead are buried. Leave them to God, but don’t let them or anything else from your past haunt you. Paul writes in Philippians 3:13, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind…” Paul admits, he has not “apprehended.” He doesn’t have it all together. He’s made mistakes. He has regrets. None of us is the person we wish we were. We’ve hurt others and ourselves, but we will not be defined by our failures. There is more to us than that.
All we can do about our past is to ask God humbly for forgiveness and accept the miracle of grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. It is goodness that we didn’t earn and don’t deserve. Paul explains in Romans 5:6 that, if we have to work for it, then it’s not grace—which is given freely. Paul explains grace another way in Romans 3:24: Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” In other ways, we have been justified by the finished work that Jesus did for us on the cross. He bore the punishment on the cross for all of our sins, and, because of Him, we have been given grace. Sandra, I happen to know the judge in your case. Clint Hull and my husband went to high school together. He is a good, wise and decent man, and I know he did his best to couple mercy with justice, but with all due respect to my friend, there is a higher judge. And that judge has already justified you. That judge, your judge, my judge, and Clint’s judge, has also heard all the evidence against you, and because of the work of His Son, when you stand before Him, He has already declared you “not guilty.” That’s what it means, Sandra, to be “justified by grace.” My pastor put it this way, “You have not exhausted the grace of God, and you have not exhausted the God of grace.” Nothing in your past or mine is beyond the grace of God. It is as limitless and awesome as God himself. The miracle of grace is encapsulated in this passage: “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, New Living Translation). I love this passage in The Message Bible. Here is an excerpt:
“Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! . . . God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. . . . Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”
Sandra, when God first devised the concept of grace, it is because He knew you and I would need it. We would fail miserably and carry guilt too heavy for any one woman to bear. God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is enough. You, Sandra, have to make a conscious decision to accept His grace and leave the past where it belongs. It’s time, Sandra, to start to live.