The news of Lucas Leonard’s brutal death shook our sleepy neighborhood early last week. Texts flew between mothers as we tried to make sense of what had happened, find out where the children were, and what could be done. In the aftermath we were faced with the horrible reality that the parents of Lucas were charged with beating him to death and also his brother, Chris, who remains hospitalized. We were all also faced with the absolute shock that Debi Leonard had been involved.
My thoughts flew back to the last time I’d seen part of the family, while chatting with Debi at the town pool, our boys doing laps, her face lit, smiling, and friendly as always, pausing in our conversation to cheer on her youngest, who successfully dove to the bottom of the deep end to retrieve a dive stick his instructor had thrown in. He beamed back at her. Debi handed him a towel and lovingly tousled his wet hair. That is the way I knew Debi - affectionate, kind to everyone, warm and friendly. We’d run into each other while our kids swam, played soccer or ice skated together in the winter.
I tried to make sense of the evil involved and sought counsel from a pastor friend of ours on how to help our children cope with the stomach-sickening evil our community had been handed. Our oldest daughter walked around in tears over her friend Grace Leonard’s loss and pain, and another one of our children coped by asking endless questions, his mind clearly trying to make sense of the insensible. Our pastor friend explained that when we do not have a clear understanding of the gospel, that is, that Christ has done everything and is everything - our hope, our salvation, our right standing with God - that we are left with despair and hopelessness and have to contrive a holiness or goodness of our own making. The product of this seems to be the “church” Debi attended, where rules and harshness reigned in an attempt to obtain a holy life. How I wish Debi and I had conversed about Christianity or church instead of the daily niceties and small talk!
Our nine year old asked me, ‘Mama, how could she do that when she was such a nice person?” Debi taught our Ella a crafting class several years ago and left a positive impression with our daughter. Carefully, I explained to her that niceness does not take care of the sin inside each of us. Neither does hours of Bible reading. Nor does being a kind person. I could tell our sweet and sensitive Ella was struggling to make sense of this all.
“Kindness is like a blanket for sin. It might cover it up and make things look pretty, but the sin is still there, underneath. The only thing that completely takes away sin is the death of Jesus on the cross, when He showed His great love for us by taking the punishment for our sin. After He did that, and we trust in Him, we’re left pure and shiny clean, standing before God. There is nothing else we can do to make Him love us more or less. All we do is love Him back and the goodness in our hearts then, is out of our love and gratefulness for Jesus.”
While Ella snuggled in close for another hug, I prayed again for our hurting children and hurting community. People ask where God was in situations like this. My answer would be that He was ready to intervene through those who watched the beating and but then did nothing, He was in me when I failed to pick up any hints of the terror in Debi’s life, He was waiting for action in those in the community who knew something was terrible about that building and did nothing. God didn’t let the Leonard children down; people did. It is a story and endless scenarios all of those who knew Debi or the children will play over and over in our minds and hearts a thousand times as we try to figure out what we could have done. In the end, we may have no answers but only confidence that God is good despite of our failings, that this grieves the heart of God, and that He is the only hope.
I wish I shared that hope with Debi and not assumed she knew it because she said she belonged to a "church". I wish I could have told her that she was enough, more than enough, in Christ's eyes and that His eyes are filled with love with complete and overwhelming love for her, unbarred by all that she was taught and told she must do to be good enough. I should have been a better friend.
Edited to add: It is my sincere hope that Debi is, for some reason, taking blame for what she did not do. I think that is everyone's sincere hope, no? Let's pray for truth to reign.