Saying No

October 21, 2009 | 30 comments

I drove east, two states away, to watch a man die.

It was part of my job as a news reporter: recording what happened before last breaths were taken. I was unofficially on the “Death Beat” — covering carnage left by ravenous tornadoes, consuming fires and death-hungry gunbattles that fed on 14-year-old gang members (each of them somebody’s son). I remember looking into the casket of a boy once, who’d been shot on the streets of Omaha, Nebraska. His mama had placed a love-worn teddy bear in his lifeless, boy arms.

I’d covered unplanned death a hundred times or more. And I had grown steely cold to it. For it was the only way I knew to survive it.

But this pilgrimage eastward was different: this death was scheduled, and the idea of seeing a killer face-to-face before his heart stopped cold sent my own heart pounding.

On that summer day in 2001, I had been assigned to cover the execution of Timothy McVeigh, who had bombed the Oklahoma City federal building six years earlier.

McVeigh was to die at 7 a.m. by lethal injection in the execution chamber of the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

I showed up in Terre Haute the day before.

Belly swelling with our firstborn, I walked a mile to the prison grounds, and it was like walking down Midway at the State Fair. People were outside the prison grounds selling 25-cent lemonade and shish kabobs. Others hawked T-shirts. Protesters were picnicking at the roadside. News reporters were “carrying it live,” sharing death with a worldwide audience.

This was how America participated in the dizzying deathwatch of a terrorist. And I had just become a part of this macabre spectacle; me, this round-bellied mama-to-be with a spiral-bound notebook in my hand.

An editor assigned me to travel to the prison because of an Iowa connection to the story. A native Iowan had died in the bombing, and his brother was assigned as one of the 10 victim witnesses to watch McVeigh die.

There were 10 other seats available for news media, and I was instructed by my editor to sign up for a “chance” to see the killing of a killer.

A reporter’s “dream” became one woman’s nightmare. I knew by the time I was halfway across Illinois that I couldn’t watch someone be killed — no matter how “humane” the process, no matter how much pain McVeigh had inflicted on others, no matter how many times I’d seen the aftermath of death before.

I Just. Couldn’t. Do it.

I felt physically sick, so prone to queasiness anyway as new baby-life grew in me. How could I watch as they injected a lethal cocktail into human veins?

Sodium pentothal, to render him unconscious.
Pancuronium bromide, to collapse his lungs.
Potassium chloride, to stop his heart from beating.

All I wanted to do was go home. The world was racing and protesting and chanting for death, and reporters with microphones and cameras were finding their places, and I wanted out of the race.

I just wanted to rest.

I went back to the hotel room to file the story of McVeigh’s last day. And instead of returning to the prison that evening to sign up as a potential witness of the next morning’s execution, this weary mama went to bed and prayed a feeble prayer: “Lord, help me.”

I couldn’t do it. I chose rest over the race for a story.


For a time, I occasionally second-guessed the decision. What kind of reporter was I anyway?

As a reporter, perhaps I failed that day. I did get a story, after interviewing other witnesses to the execution, but it wasn’t the same as a firsthand account. Though in this sense I stand tall: I had considered lying to my editor, telling him that I had signed up as a witness but that my name hadn’t been drawn. I decided to tell him the truth instead. (He didn’t hide his disappointment.)

As I drove west toward Iowa that afternoon, this mama-to-be felt peace. I was a pilgrim just beginning to grow in the freshness of my faith. And for the first time I can remember, I responded from my heart with a resounding “NO” when everything else in me said “YES.”

Even now, I still remember that day when I first picked rest over the race.

My life is quieter now, here on an Iowa farm. But even here, life can feel like a race sometimes. I’m asked to do a lot of things that others want me to do. Often, I say yes. But sometimes, I know I must say no.

Too often in my life, I’ve said ‘yes’ to things I didn’t really want to do — for fear of disappointing someone, for fear of looking like a failure.

But something changed in me that day on the grounds of a federal prison. Because I learned that day that a woman’s heart can respond with a resounding ‘no’ even when the world says ‘yes.’

Photo: From my McVeigh file. The gurney on which a terrorist died.

Friend, how do you find rest in a racing world? How hard is it to say no?

holy experience

Each Wednesday, I join Ann Voskamp as we Walk With Him.
This week, we consider “How to Find Rest in a Racing World.”

Ann writes today: “… resting in Christ does not mean doing less for Christ. Resting in Christ is not the same as simply resting; it is not inactive, apathetic. In Christ, to rest means to run. In Christ, rest means to pursue love, to ardently run towards the arms we long for.”
Hers is a lovely post.

Would you consider joining us over at Ann’s?

by | October 21, 2009 | 30 comments


  1. Monica Sharman

    THAT was obedience. Sure was.

  2. Rosario

    I am speechless. Wow! I think I will had done the same. Thanks for sharing this post.

  3. Beth.. One Blessed Nana

    I was right there with you sweet sister. I couldn't have watched either.

    My husband and I were present when they unplugged not 1 but 2 of his best friends from life support. We watched them go from this world to eternity in Heaven. Not fun. Not easy.

  4. Bina @ Bina's Pad

    Even tho you don't need it…I am proud of you. It is so hard to walk away from something when everything around you tells you go ahead…to listen to that gnawing feeling that echos so quietly within your soul…the whisper that screams "I Am…not in that".

    Saying no is one of the hardest things that I have to do…and I struggle so deeply in those times when my heart says "Go" but God's echos "No".

    Thanks for this today, my beautiful friend.

  5. Lisa notes...

    What a beautiful testimony about choosing rest over the race. You share this story so beautifully. It will stick with me. Thanks for the blessing.

  6. Julie

    I don't have to say it…you already know in your heart…that you did the right thing.

    Learning to listen for God's voice and not the worlds voice is so hard when we fill our lives with "noise".

    Thanks for the reminder to follow HIS leading and not what everyone else thinks we should do.

    It takes guts (and a lot of HIM) and you have both! 🙂

  7. Lyla Lindquist

    Ten would have the opportunity (what's the right word here? duty? burden?) to tell the story firsthand. Only ten. The rest would tell from witness accounts and learn from secondhand reports.

    Somehow or other we get the idea that we should each have the opportunity — or the duty — to do all things. To be the first, to be the one, to be on board with something.

    We're wrong about that. Oh, to have the courage and the wisdom to let God lead us to only the things He wants us to do. To find those things and do them well, and rest in the knowing that all those other things? He's got another plan for all of that. We're not it.

    I just said No to a job offer yesterday. Your words are a very timely reassurance that No is a good word now and again.

  8. jasonS

    I grew up in OK and remember the day of the bombing vividly (it rattled the windows of our high school, 40 miles away). I can't imagine watching someone die like that. It would tear me up. I can't even imagine having to make that choice. So strange.

    We definitely need rest, which we can only really accept by faith in God. In our striving, we do and do and do. In faith, we trust Him and find our rest. Fascinating story and wonderful reminder. Thanks.

  9. Jessica

    Phenomenal and beautiful testimony. I know that as your editor let his disappointment show, Jesus was smiling.

  10. KEE

    From just what I have learned from you in the stillness of the night through this computer screen I can say I'm not suprised you made that decision. I am even proud even more now to call you my friend, with wisdom and with such a compassionate heart.

    Oh btw, I'm doing a pay it forward over at my blog, if you haven't participated in one and/or know anyone else who hasn't please send them over to my blog.

    When I recieved my gift he touched me beyound words and God knew just when I needed it. So I'm hoping to do the same and wanting people to take the same away so they can bless others.
    Thanks Jenn,

  11. mom2six

    "How to Find Rest in a Racing World"…I just did a post today – Put the brakes on. Thanks for sharing. Your words always encourage!

  12. katdish

    Wow. That was powerful.

    "But something changed in me that day on the grounds of a federal prison. Because I learned that day that a woman's heart can respond with a resounding 'no' even when the world says 'yes.'"

    Now there's a quote for ya!

  13. RCUBEs

    Having the privilege of meeting murderers, rapists, etc…they are very much like victims, too in the sense that some of them grew up in a violent home, unloved, uncared for…etc…

    God's way is always the opposite of what the world wants. And a lot of times, hard as it seems, we, as children of God, must learn not to go "with the flow"…By His grace, we can…You showed it…And you pleased Someone doing so…

  14. HisFireFly

    Thank you for reminding us t olisten to the Lord instead of always listening to the world!

  15. Candace Jean July 16

    You did the obedient thing and articulate it beautifully. Wow.

  16. Glynn

    Your post brought forward all of the turmoil I normally keep buried about the death penalty. I know all the arguments, I know God instituted human government, I know, I know. What I can't reconcile in my own heart is the sanctity of human life and the death penalty. It's a real struggle for me.

    Good post.

  17. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    I sit stunned… with no words.
    Hurting inside.

    What are we all racing towards? Front row seats at a death? Our own?

    You cut to the quick, Jennifer, again, again, you with the sharp words.

    Thank you. *thank you*

    All's grace,

  18. ~*Michelle*~

    WOW….this was an amazing piece to read. My heart is pounding with pride for you. That must have been a difficult decision, but I know you found peace when you sought what you knew was the right thing to do.

    I love "Choosing rest over the race"….wow, I think I am gonna jot that down to remind me daily. Good stuff.

    My husband often quotes this phrase "what good is it being the best if it brings out the worst in you?"

    I believe you made the choice to be the best.

    sorry for being all over the place with this comment…..this was a powerful post.

  19. Beth E.

    Wow…I can't imagine the gamut of emotions you felt. Isn't obedience to God one of the best feelings, ever?! 🙂

  20. Jennifer

    It can be so hard to say no. But if we are really listening to our heart, we will always feel at peace with our decision in the end! Thank you for sharing this story with us! I couldn't have watched it either.

  21. L.L. Barkat


  22. nAncY

    i like this very much.

  23. TUC

    Wow, what a story… so powerful. That's integrity in action.

  24. Anne L.B.

    If I'll remember to ask the Lord, I'm able to say yes or no when I want to say something else. Knowing I'm in His will is all I need. (Now if I'd only remember to always ask …)

  25. Jennifer

    Like raffling off tickets to a broadway show. When did our hearts become so hardened to killing another person, even if that person is the biggest sinner in all America?

    I thank you for sharing your obedience. I know how costly saying "no" can be. But I also know the peace it brings.

  26. Rosslyn Elliott

    Interesting. You could also argue that it's important to see what out society does through capital punishment in order to decide whether one agrees with it. But if you already know you disagree with it, I guess it doesn't matter.
    Thanks for the stimulating and thoughtful post!

  27. christy rose

    I know exactly where I was the day that bombing too place in Oklahoma city. I lived in Tulsa at the time. It was a little too close to home. I am so with you though. I could not have chosen to watch someone die intentionally at all. I love how you ended this post, "I learned that day that a woman's heart can respond with a resounding 'no' even when the world says 'yes.' And when we follow our heart, we have peace!!!

  28. Valerie Lynn

    What a powerful post and an awesome testimony to all of us on obeying that "still small voice" inside of each of us. You chose to listen to God on that day instead of participating in the "carnival" of watching someone die. Yes, what Timothy McVeigh did was horrible, but, he too must stand before the Lord on judgment day and be accountable for his actions. I applaud your stance. I applaud your obedience to your spirit. I applaud you my friend. What great courage you had that dreadful day. God bless you!

  29. Deb

    Thanks for sharing that! What an experience and what courage you had to say no. God has given me plenty of opportunities to say no recently and say yes to my family. It takes time, but I'm finally figuring out how to listen to God and that saying no is pretty easy and very freeing!

  30. Jacquelyn

    I know this post was about your decision to say "no" when the rest of the world was screaming "yes", and not a comment on the death penalty itself. But may I offer an insight to Glynn and others who may be struggling about that issue? 15 years ago in Ohio I was called to jury duty in a capital murder case. The execution was supposed to happen this month, but has been postponed until next spring. Both then and recently I had to receive spiritual counseling because of my own "conflict" in reconciling the sanctity of life with the death penalty. My pastor has finally put my heart at ease by explaining to me that the death penalty really upholds the idea of how sacred human life is to God. When one intentionally takes the life of another, the only just penalty is for him to forfeit his own. What is "wrong" in McVeigh's case and is probably most death penalty cases is the circus-like attitude that surrounds them, as you pointed out. I find no pleasure in either the crime or the penalty. In fact it hurt my heart to hear from the victim's relatives that in 15 years of "grace" this man never contacted them to offer any kind of apology or seek forgiveness. Now that he has about 6 more months I pray that he will somehow come to repentance.

    But back to your post, you have really encouraged me today…I had to say (a much, much smaller) "no" to someone today and it wasn't easy, but it was right. You have a very beautiful, encouraging blog. Thanks for allowing me to visit and comment.


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