The little town of Ocilla, Ga. has been all over the news as of late.
Why would a two stop-light town make national headlines?
An unsolved case—solved.
I, like millions of other people, tuned into an Atlanta-based podcast and listened to the twists and turns of a twelve-year-old cold case turned on its head. Once an Irwin County resident, I wasn't quite an outsider, but I wasn't quite an insider, either. I knew some of the names and recognized the voices. But the more I listened, the more real it got. As episode after episode aired, the churning continued, arrests were made, and the lives of families will never be the same again.
But that's not what this blog is about. I didn't know the woman who went missing because I was long gone by that time, and a bit shy to return. Years flew off the calendar and I never returned to Ocilla, simply because the county limits of Irwin held my painful memories I wished away—through no fault of anyone's except a tragic accident. Yet, monuments stood at Henderson Chapel Cemetery reminding me of the reality of what had happened.
Then, a ravaging disease wreaked havoc on a beloved brother. A brother who chose Ocilla as his final place of rest. Why?
The people of Ocilla were his family.
They weren't blood. (Ok, that statement isn't quite true. The family trees in Ocilla are in a grove where the roots overlap.) But, love was given unconditionally and returned with sincerity. Matthew had traveled the globe, yet chose to make his home with friends who were family. Friends surrounded by other friends who figuratively and literally circled around him, showering him with acts of kindness, time, and fellowship.
And the names of the people? They wouldn't want their names mentioned, because they didn't do it for recognition. They did it because they loved my baby brother. But, the people who circled around him in the living room of his beloved best friends, the hospital room, and the nursing home are the same people whose names are currently being dragged through the mud.
And now, I'm no longer an outsider whose interest is peaked by names and places.
I'm the former recipient of time from a teacher who inspired me to work with children with disabilities.
I'm the former student of a woman who sparked my imagination and encouraged me to be better than average.
I'm the former classmate of sisters who also lost a beloved brother.
And . . . I'm the sibling of a brother who received unfathomable love.
Currently, I sit on the front row as the town who loved big, grieves big.
Do I want justice? Of course. But there is a difference between justice and exploitation. In honor of Matthew, I feel compelled to present another view of the town nestled in the heart of South Georgia.
To the people of Irwin County, my prayers are with the community.
And, above all else, thank you.
Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Amanda Williams is a forty-year old wife and mother of two who can still swing her pony tail and display just a tad of sass. She is also a Jesus loving girl who realizes she is nothing without the One who saved her. Amanda has two degrees specializing in serving students with special needs and is currently working in the field of Leadership Development. She is a Christian author, speaker, blogger, and publisher who loves serving beside her husband at her local place of worship, First Baptist Church of Ocala.