July 9, 2023 – Bixler –
I went to church this morning! In fact, since March I’ve been going almost every week and I like
it. I was raised in the First Church of the Nazarene in Oregon. My aunt worked there, and my
mom was a devout Christian. We went to several Sunday morning services (service, study
group, children’s church) and returned Sunday evening for another service. We also attended
the Wednesday evening service. At thirteen my family moved me to Pennsylvania, and we
joined the local First Church of the Nazarene. My mom was insistent upon me always going to
church with her, so I rarely missed it.
I’ve always been inquisitive and when things don’t make sense, I need to understand them. As a
teen I asked church leaders a lot of questions. Often, they were prompted by the contradicting
teachings. Additionally, my pastors were not supportive when I needed them most. I needed
their protection, and they did nothing. I’ll spare you the long diatribe and just say that by the
time I was eighteen and could make my own decisions, I left the church entirely. I’d witnessed
hypocrisy for 18 years and was sick of it. None of my negative feelings reflected how I felt about
God. The humans were the problem, not God. I didn’t want to sever my relationship with Him; I
wanted to separate from organized religion.
For more than thirty years, I only stepped into a church a few times. Usually in support of a
friend. However, I always retained faith in a higher power. I used to say, I eliminated the church
from being the middleman created a direct connection with the man upstairs through
spirituality. I reached out to God during highs and lows. But in reflecting, I was inconsistent in
my relationship with him during the times in between. I thanked him when things were great
and I asked for his help, strength and guidance when I was struggling; however, during stable
uneventful times, he was not a priority for me and often ignored the guidance and direction he
was providing during those times. Admitting this is hard. I now see how self-serving that
relationship was. I’m ashamed of how I engaged in our relationship.
For most people who’ve been arrested they can likely relate to this… being arrested for the first
time is surreal. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. It was THE wake-up call that
changed the course of my life. I have your day, weeks, months mentally mapped out and then
BOOM! Everything permanently changes. I spent one night in the local prison, and it was the
saddest night of my life. I was so worried about my son who was 7 years old at the time. I
dropped him off for school that morning and was supposed to meet him at the bus stop. No
one at the prison cared that I needed to make phone calls to find someone to get him. I was
panicking and powerless to do much.
During the day of my arrest, I KNOW that God was with me. I had never been arrested and had
no idea what was happening or what to expect. Two hours later as I sat in the cold cell in
basement of the courthouse still wearing my black polka dot pajama pants, black sweatshirt
and the cream-colored slippers that I was arrested in, they brought a woman in with me,
Nicole. She was brought in for not paying a $800 fine. She’d been through the system and was
quite familiar with how things worked locally. We ended up together for the next 24 hours. We
transferred to the prison together that first evening and we were cellmates. She prepared me
for the process and procedures I should expect. She gave me so much guidance and had my
back. In my darkest loneliness time, she helped me feel less scared and safer. I knew that
meeting Nicole didn’t happen by accident, it was orchestrated by God.
Since that day, I talk with God every day. When I have a gut feeling I follow it. When something
feels wrong, I avoid it. These are the detour and road-closed signs that he provided so many
times in the past that I chose to ignore. Well, I don’t ignore anything that may be coming from
His direction. I found a fantastic Christian radio station that I listen to every day. The music
gives me hope and helps me remain vigilant in my efforts to rebuild a life I can be proud of.
Earlier this year, I reached out to a high school friend through Facebook. Assuming she knew
about my case, it was uncomfortable. My situation was very public and made front page news. I
assumed she knew, but I knew she used to attend church. I had a feeling I needed to begin
going to church again so we arranged to meet there. We go almost every week. Since that day,
my friend and I have rebuilt our friendship. Turns out that she didn’t know about my case. She
doesn’t care about the bad choices because she knows who I am as a person. I value the few
people still in my life that see me for more than the crime I committed.
So… one of the many silver linings that’s resulted from this tragedy is my relationship with God.
I was baptized 10 days before my sentencing hearing. It was emotional. I felt as though I was
shedding the skin of the shame and sin I’d been wearing for so long. I’ve come to terms with
knowing that many people will never give me a second chance or an opportunity at
redemption. Some will never be willing to consider anything other than what they’ve read
about me and my case. What matters most are the people I love who have had my back
through this chapter of my life. They know my heart, my intent and who I am as a whole versus
a snapshot in time. Moreso, I care about what God thinks. I have begged for forgiveness on my
hands and knees. He knows the truth about me and ultimately, that matters more than