Image: Bangor Daily News

I stumbled into a courtroom today that was hosting a triple-murder trial that has been an ongoing headline-grabber here in Bangor. Since I was looking for another case, I spent only a few minutes listening to the witness who was giving her testimony at the time.

When I got home, however, I found out more information about the case. It has tragedy written all over it.

Nearly two years ago, three 20-somethings were shot and killed and their car was set ablaze and abandoned in a remote parking lot, apparently the victims of a drug-deal gone bad allegedly at the hands of two out-of-staters.

What jumped out at me the most, however, was the the story of one of the victims, Nicolle Lugdon. Only 24 at the time, her life was marred by tragedy from beginning to end. The Bangor Daily News details a little bit of her story (warning: graphic description):

Lugdon overcame tragedy throughout her life, according to previous BDN reports.

When she was just 2 years old, her grandmother Leanna Lugdon and uncle Theodore “Robbie” Lugdon were killed in a house fire in Bangor.

Lugdon’s mother died of a heroin overdose in March 2002. Just five months later, Lugdon’s father, Michael Melendez, killed her grandmother Linda Melendez. Both were heroin addicts and the killing resulted from an argument over drugs.

Nicolle Lugdon was in the house and hiding in a second-floor room with her 2-year-old brother while her father stabbed her grandmother 36 times. Michael Melendez is now serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania, BDN reports state.

“Nikki really had nobody in her life,” said Sutherland, a close friend of Lugdon’s who considered her a sister. “She heard her father kill her grandmother and still came out as one of the happiest people alive.”

Sutherland first met Lugdon when they were 7.

Lugdon spent many of her teenage years in foster care, said Kristina Sprague, who said Lugdon was her best friend.

“When she was living in Fort Kent [with her foster family], she did amazing,” said Sprague, 25, of Bradford. “She was going to college, she was working with disabled children, she tried very hard to be a good person up there, but as soon as she came back down this way, she lost it all.”

Lugdon was using pharmaceutical drugs, heroin and cocaine, both Sprague and Sutherland said.

Lugdon, who had a 2-year-old daughter, lost primary custody of her daughter to the girl’s biological father last October as Lugdon became more and more involved with drugs.

“When she lost her daughter, that’s when she started losing control of things,” Sprague said of Lugdon.

Her drug use changed Lugdon, her friends said.

The word “tragedy” is an understatement – and the person who says she merely got what she deserved in dying a druggie life is not a Christian.

But this is what came home to me as I was reading Nicolle’s story: what am I doing for the Nicolle Lugdons of the world – someone whose upbringing and life circumstances are about as stark a contrast from mine? Sure, I preach my sermons. I write my books. I visit my church members who have cancer. I lead out in Prayer Meeting. I chair Board Meetings.

And when I get home, I kick up my feet and watch the Bruins play in the playoffs, feeling that I deserve a little break after dealing with all the “stress” I encountered throughout my day. After all, being a pastor is a tough job.

Meanwhile, the Nicolle Lugdons of the world go to their graves, with “nobody in their lives.”

Incidentally, I preached a sermon this past week in my continuing series on Hosea that coincides exactly with my experience today. The sermon was called “And the Band Played On” (which you can listen to here). It detailed how Israel was far from God and ignoring the needs of the people all around them, and yet the “band played on,” as though life was just business as usual. God finally had to bring their feasts and celebrations and Sabbaths and parties to an end.

What about us?

Sure, I can humor myself into thinking that raising principled children in the fear of the Lord will go a long way in curbing what ails this world. And it will. But that doesn’t do anything for the people on 1st and 2nd Streets in Bangor, or Nicolle Lugdon, whose life came to an end while looking for a high and a way to escape what plagued her.

All this reminds me of the one of the greatest opening paragraphs in all of literature, written by the eminent Abraham Heschel in his magnum opus The Prophets:

What manner of man is the prophet? A student of philosophy who turns from the discourses of the great metaphysicians to the orations of the prophets may feel as if he were going from the realm of the sublime to an area of trivialities. Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, he is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and affairs of the market place. Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to the slums (p. 3)

And so I again ask the question – and would encourage you to do the same: what am I doing for the Nicolle Lugdons of the world?

What is my church doing?