“Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: A Nap, A Party, and A Birthday Gift”

 “We make decisions, and then our decisions make us.”      R. W.Boreham

“Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray.”     James 5:13a NLT

            Each one of us makes decisions many times every single day. Most of the decisions we make are very minor, inconsequential ones that have little, or no, real impact on our day-to-day existence. Still others have a slightly greater effect on the course we are on and then, at a few points in our lives, major decisions are made with prior, full knowledge of the life-altering potential of those decisions: decisions on which college to attend – or whether to go at all; to get married; to get divorced; to change jobs; start a business or even to start a family.

            And then there are those decisions that are born in the first category that – for some seemingly unfathomable reason – grow up having a totally unexpected, unplanned, and profound effect on the person making the decision and – usually – many others around that person.

            Most of the decisions that wind up in this category have tragic consequences. Some have criminal consequences. Still others have both.

            I am going to “introduce” you to several people that I don’t actually know. In one case, I don’t even know the individual’s name, but as the circumstances surrounding their decisions unfold, hopefully we will all realize that we do, in fact, know them (or someone just like them), and the names are not important, just as where they live is neither relevant or significant.

            What will be important is what each of us discovers about ourselves as we consider the circumstances of these people and the effects of the decisions that they made – on themselves and those around them.

            Teresa Chapin, 37, of Council Bluffs, Iowa made a decision to put a 5 month old child down for a nap at a daycare she owned.

            In Des Moines, Iowa, 17 year old KeeVon Bernstine, a prominent member of the Lincoln High School football team, made a decision to go to a party.

            And way over is Las Vegas, Nevada, the granddaughter of Claudette Porter, 75, made a decision to give a very special birthday gift to her grandmother.

            As a result of these three seemingly innocuous decisions, there were 3 deaths, 1 person was hospitalized, 2 people were jailed, and many lives were affected, several in ways that can never be adequately described through the black-on-white words of a man sitting in prison for decisions he made.

            Here, then, are the stories of a nap, a party, and a birthday gift:

            On August 17, 2011, Teresa Chapin put 5 month old Lane Thomas down for a nap. It was about 2:30 pm. When Ms. Chapin’s young daughter went to get him at 4 pm she “found his cold, unresponsive body lying face down.” Ms. Chapin performed CPR. Someone called 911.

            Lane had been placed on an adult bed for his nap. After an autopsy, the infant’s death was attributed to “sudden unexplained infant death.”

            Ms. Chapin voluntarily surrendered her license to operate her daycare on August 25. She was arrested early in October and charged with “neglect of a dependent person”, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and “child endangerment”, which is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

            According to the story in “The Des Moines Register”, Sheriff Jeff Danker said, “Teresa is a licensed day care provider in the state of Iowa and has experience and education about child development needs. A provider should have been aware of the hazards of excessive bedding for an infant the age of Lane Thomas.”

            Teresa Chapin made a decision to place 5 month old Lane Thomas on an adult bed for a nap and, tragically, he died, and she now faces up to 15 years in prison.

            We will discuss this tragedy further, but right now, let’s tell the story of KeeVon Bernstine’s decision to go to a party.

            According to police, Bernstine had been at a party on July 17, 2010 when a 20 year old “female acquaintance” informed him that she no longer wanted to speak to him.

            In an article in the “Des Moines Register”, Bernstine “reportedly became upset and started yelling at her. When she yelled back, Bernstine allegedly slammed her against a car and punched her in the face knocking her out.”

            Witnesses reportedly saw the assault and took the woman to the hospital, but not before Bernstine had “kicked the alleged victim in the head twice while she was unconscious, authorities said, which caused swelling, bleeding, and numbness to the left side of her face.”

            He was not charged in this incident until early October, for some reason. Bernstine is facing 5 years in prison for “willful injury causing bodily injury”, a Class ‘D’ felony, as well as 1 year in prison or an $1875.00 fine for “assault causing bodily injury” which is a “serious misdemeanor”.

            KeeVon Bernstine made a decision to go to a party where he made another decision. He decided – “allegedly” – to react so violently to rejection by a “female acquaintance” that he punched her in the face, knocking her out. Then kicked her in the head twice as she lay there unconscious – absolutely, totally, completely defenseless.

            For these brutally violent actions Bernstine faces – if convicted – a maximum of 6 years in prison.

            It must be stressed, of course, that both parties are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Again, we will come back to Mr. Bernstine in a moment, but first, our third – and final story. The story of the very special birthday gift.

            According to Jim Porter, his wife Claudette, 75, had talked about going skydiving for 20 years. A granddaughter – for whom no name was given in the brief “USA Today” article I read – went to veteran instructor James Fonnesbeck to purchase a special birthday gift for her grandmother: A “Skydiving Adventure”.

            During the tandem jump – where the instructor and “student” are harnessed together, the primary parachute failed to deploy fully. The instructor pulled the cord to release the backup parachute, but it got tangled up and failed to open as well.

            Claudette Porter and Mr. Fonnesbeck plunged to their deaths.

            Fortunately, Claudette Porter’s granddaughter was not arrested. This fact is probably the only bright spot to be found in any of these stories.

            The article did not state who was present, but I imagine that, at the very least, Jim Porter and the granddaughter were there, sharing this special occasion with Mrs. Porter. What I cannot imagine is their shock and utter horror as the realization hit them that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.

            I ask all of you to turn to the Lord with me and pray for the man who watched his wife, as well as another human being, fall to their deaths as a longtime dream come true turned into a nightmare of horror and a lifetime of loss. I ask all of you to join me in prayer for the granddaughter as well. She is undoubtedly devastated that her well-intentioned gift of love turned into a tragedy of death and she will probably claim responsibility for it, and suffer through it, for a long time to come.

            Obviously, this innocent decision to give a special birthday gift to someone she loved has altered the course of her life. It has altered the course of Jim Porter’s life as well as the lives of all the rest of Claudette Porter’s friends and family. Finally, it has altered the lives of the family and friends of the instructor, James Fonnesbeck, and we must also pray for them as well.

            In the case of Teresa Chapin, she made a decision that parents, grandparents, and babysitters have made for probably as long as there have been beds. I am guilty of doing the same thing with both my daughter and my son. Fortunately, the dozens of times I made that same decision did not result in the same tragic ending as Ms. Chapin’s did.

            A child is dead and his parents – well, suffice it to say that it is doubtful many of us can comprehend the depth of their pain. We can, however, offer prayers that God will wrap them up in His love and give them comfort in their time of sorrow.

            At the same time, we should also ask God to wrap Ms. Chapin and her daughter in that same love for this tragedy has effectively, irrevocably, altered the course of both of their lives.

            The article did not give the age of Ms. Chapin’s daughter, but given her own age of 37, most likely she is in her teens. Can any of us possibly imagine trading places with that young woman as she reaches out to wake Lane from his nap, only to feel his “cold, unresponsive body”?

            I shudder to the very core of my being as I try to envision what it must have been like as the reality of the situation began to sink in and reveal itself to her.

            I can almost hear the shocked screams of disbelief and horror as she cried out to her mother, and I can almost feel the ensuing chaos and confusion as CPR was administered and 911 was called.

            And I can almost feel their agonizing helplessness as the fact that this tiny boy was to never go home to his parents again began to penetrate and take root in their minds.

            There is no doubt that the effects of this tragedy will stay with all concerned for the rest of their lives.

            As for the decision to charge Ms. Chapin with a criminal act, I honestly cannot comprehend what possessed the local authorities to do so, but the only purpose that can possibly be served is to complete the devastation of Teresa Chapin’s life, to say nothing of her daughter’s.

            There will be no winners here, that she – her business – will be held liable for civil damages is a certainty, though obviously any settlement will fall pitifully short of replacing what was lost to Lane’s family.

            It seems sadly typical of today’s society, though, to label a tragic accident as a criminal act as if doing so can somehow help. We seem to do that more and more these days and use the law as if it were a magic salve capable of wiping away pain.

            Seriously – what victories are to be won here? What can possibly be achieved? I, for one, think the point has already been driven heartbreakingly home.

            May God bless, and help, them all. And may God also help a society that things making things worse somehow makes them better.

            Of course, now we are left with the story of KeeVon Bernstine.

            Although Lane Thomas died in August, charges were not filed against Ms. Chapin until early October. The day the story of her arrest appeared on the front page of the “Des Moines Register”, Bernstine’s story appeared on page two of the sports section under the heading “High School Football”.

            That fact told me that, perhaps this story was less about a brutal attack on an unconscious, defenseless young woman, and more about the impact of the arrest of the alleged perpetrator of that attack on high school football.

            Another testament to the misplaced priorities of this country. (Something I can certainly feel free to speak about since no one’s priorities were more misplaced than my own.)

            According to the story, Bernstine had rushed for 946 yards and 15 touchdowns in the first six games of the season. Quite impressive to say the least.

            The director of activities at Lincoln High School, Phil Chia, said that the incident was a Des Moines Public School “Code of Conduct” violation and that the punishment for a violation was suspension for a third of the schedule or, in this case, three games.

            The article went on to state that his coach was surprised with Bernstine’s arrest and that he was “disappointed” in him. “I know him real well,” the “Register” quoted Coach Tom Mihalovich as saying. “He’s got a good heart.”

            I would agree, coach. It takes an individual with a very good heart to punch a woman unconscious and then brutally kick her in the head – twice – as she lay there totally defenseless.

            I do hope, however, that his heart is now helping him to pray to God daily, thanking Him that the young woman didn’t die, asking for forgiveness, and also asking that there be no permanent physical damage to her although the fact that she will undoubtedly suffer long-term mental and emotional damage is a given. May God help her through all that she faces.

            Of course, all of this is only “alleged”.

            If true, however, Bernstine should spend a little time in prison, since prisons should exist only to house violent offenders, and if this is not a violent act, then I don’t know what is.

            I do pray that he can change, that he wants to change, and that he asks God to help him change, but it is important to note that this was not a little after-school fistfight in the parking lot that can be chalked up to “boys will be boys”. This was a wanton act of inexcusable violent behavior that could easily have ended with the young woman’s death, or permanent disability. It was an act that should require at least some length of incarceration combined with intensive anger management counseling and he should not be allowed to touch a football for any school again.

            But wait a minute! 946 yards and 15 touchdowns in 6 games? This is a young man who could go places! I mean, aside from his on-the-field performance he is already exhibiting the very unprofessional character of many of today’s professional athletes and sports figures.

            Perhaps his talent had something to do with why it took so long to arrest him in the first place.

            It must be noted that a follow-up article in the same paper (and also in the sports section) the day after the first article reported that he had been kicked off the team and not merely been suspended.

            That would be the least that the public could expect, I think, and I certainly applaud that decision, but one has to wonder if Bernstine’s obvious talent will somehow buy him greater consideration for his willful, violent criminal act, than will be given Teresa Chapin for her part in a tragic accident.

            Whatever the legal ramifications for his ‘alleged’ actions, I truly hope he fixes that which is broken within himself before it consumes him and defines his life. Hopefully he will learn that talent without character is nothing, although it sometimes seems that many in this country don’t seem to understand that.

            Quite often, in today’s society, the desire to win – at anything – trumps everything else. Athletics in particular these days appear to be less about character building than they are about winning at any, and all costs, and if we have to overlook bad – even criminal – behavior on the part of the very people our children look up to and desire to emulate, then so be it. In light of these all-too-permissive attitudes, it is more than likely that Bernstine will land on his feet and continue to play ball somewhere and, ultimately and unfortunately – if history has its way – the only lesson to be learned will be that if you have talent, anything goes.

            I pray I am wrong and I would like this prayer to be answered.

            The young man is in need of our prayers, though, regardless of the outcome of all this, as is the young woman who suffered his anger. Bernstine has a gift and when he realizes that his gift came from God, maybe he will pray, himself, for an opportunity to use it for God.

            As for the young woman, I pray that she has suffered no permanent physical damage and that any emotional damage goes away quickly. I also pray that she puts this – and Bernstine – behind her and finds a life of laughter and joy to replace the violence and pain she experienced.

            May each of us pause for a moment to pray for all of the people who have been written about here today: the three individuals who made these seemingly harmless, inconsequential decisions and the many, many more who, like the three, were changed in some way forever when those decisions grew into something very, very different from what was intended at the outset.

            May we also pause for a moment and look inwardly and consider the things that are happening around us as a result of decisions we have made. May we think carefully and ask God for His guidance in everything we do, and how we do it, for some things – once done – can never be undone.

            None of you wants to be the main character in any of the stories I have just told, and you surely don’t want to end up in a place like the ones in which these words were written as a result of a decision made.

            I thank you, as always, for putting up with me. May God Bless each one of you

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