Today, Monday, March 31, 2014, an Intermediate Diet was held to determine if both sides are ready to proceed in my criminal trial. Your prayers are appreciated.
A Lifetime of Preparation
It was September, 1982. It was my first day of college. I was attending Mount San Antonio College (MSAC), in Walnut, California. The college was located directly across the street from the run-down, lower income apartment complex in which I lived for the previous eight years. I was 18.
At the time, I had aspirations of being a high school music teacher. I had been offered a partial scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC) to study music, with an emphasis on vocal performance. Unfortunately, a partial scholarship to a school like USC might as well be no scholarship at all. So, my local community college was the best option.
My first class of my first day, of my first semester of college was choir. Since I was a bass/baritone, I was assigned a seat in the front row. The choir director, not knowing what she had to work with, began to run each vocal section through some basic warm-ups. The sopranos were the last to be heard.
As I sat, facing forward, I heard one angelic voice coming from the top row of vocalists that stood out above all the others. It was beautiful, full, rich, clear, and heavenly. I would marry that girl. I often quip that I fell in love with Mahria’s voice before I ever saw her face. Almost 29 years later, she is my very best friend, the mother of our three adult daughters and, second only to Jesus Christ, the love of my life.
Mahria and I were married on July 6, 1985. We were too young, and we didn’t care. Both of us thought we were Christians, but neither of us was.
After an eventful first 18 months of marriage, things really got busy with the birth of our first daughter, Michelle. I had been hired by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department six days before Michelle’s birth. I was working a civilian position, awaiting the start of my academy class.
I can still hear the nurse’s voice when I think back to the call I made to the hospital around Midnight, after returning home from the birth of my first child. “Mr. Miano, you should come back to the hospital right away. We’re not sure Michelle is going to make it. She’s struggling right now. And Mahria isn’t doing well, either.”
I hung up the phone and began to weep. I looked to the ceiling, clenched an angry fist, and shouted to God, “You’re not taking my baby!”
It was several days before Mahria could see her baby for the first time. And I spent the next two weeks in a rocking chair, inside the NICU, cradling my tiny, fragile, struggling little girl. Many times I cried. All I could say to her was, “Daddy’s going to protect you. I won’t let anyone hurt you or take you away from me.”
By God’s grace, a grace I knew nothing about at the time, Michelle survived those first two critical weeks. But she was long from out of the woods. She was born with a severe Kyphosis and Scoliosis of the spine, Patent Ductus of the heart. Her kidneys appeared undersized. We would later learn she was born with Hypothyroidism, Growth Hormone Deficiency, and allergies to almost every antibiotic group known to man. I’m sure there are other things I have forgotten, but you get the point. Michelle was a sick little girl.
Marissa was born in September of 1989. By now, Mahria and I were brought to repentance and faith by and in the Lord Jesus Christ. We were nervous about Marissa’s birth. Michelle was not yet three years old, yet she had spent more time in doctor offices and hospitals than most people 10-20 times her age. By God’s grace, a grace we were just beginning to understand, Marissa was born healthy. We rejoiced and we thanked the God we now knew.
In 1993, it was time to have Michelle’s spinal issues surgically corrected. Michelle had one of the finest pediatric orthopedic surgeons of the day. The surgery and recovery would take place at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, an outstanding hospital.
The eight-hour surgery went well. The surgeon and attending physicians were pleased. A four-inch titanium rod was placed along her spine to protect the area of the fusion and to promote healing. With her initial recovery complete, we brought our little girl home sporting a full upper-body cast. She was adorable and never complained about any discomfort. I called her my little R2-D2.
One day, Mahria and I noticed a blood stain on the back of Michelle’s cast. She began to run a high fever. Mahria called the hospital and was told to bring Michelle to the hospital emergency room, right away.
Emergency room personnel are some of the toughest people on the planet—especially the nurses. But when they cracked open Michelle’s cast to examine her back, there was a collective gasp. The titanium rod that had been inserted and secured along Michelle’s spine had broken free from the vertebrae and pierced her skin, from the inside-out. Her back, in the area of the wound, was swollen and badly infected, having the appearance of a rotten tomato.
Michelle was rushed into emergency surgery. The rod was removed. Her back was left open and filleted. For five days, they packed my little girl’s open back with dry gauze, periodically pulling the gauze out to literally rip the infection from her body.
Michelle never complained.
One day, as Michelle lay on her stomach and enduring yet another gauze change, the doctor and nurses around her bed offered her words of consolation and comfort. Michelle, turned her head to look at her caregivers and said, “Don’t worry. Jesus is going to make me all better.”
She was five-years-old.
Michelle spent the better part of a month in the hospital—three to four times as long as she spent in the hospital for the initial spinal surgery.
On Saturday, February 6, 1993, Michelle was scheduled for a minor procedure. Michelle’s little and fragile body were showing the wear and tear of weeks of intravenous anti-biotic therapy. Her veins had begun to collapse. The decision was made to insert a central line along Michelle’s collar bone to make the anti-biotic therapy less taxing on her.
I had arranged to work day shift so I could be with Michelle for the procedure, which was scheduled for late in the afternoon. But I wouldn’t see Michelle that day.
It had been an uneventful shift on a beautifully warm, Southern California winter day. As I parked my patrol car, unloaded my gear, and made my way into the station, the Watch Deputy announced on the station P.A. system that one of our deputy’s was following a car that had been taken in a carjacking, in the San Fernando Valley.
I, along with a half-dozen other deputies, rushed out of the station, jumped into our patrol cars, and rolled Code-3 (lights and sirens) to catch up to the deputy following the felony suspect. With more than a half-dozen cars now behind the stolen vehicle, the decision was made to try to pull it over. The suspect chose not to stop, and the chase was on. The suspect, obviously unfamiliar with area, drove down a narrow, two-lane, dead end street.
At the end of the street was a heavily gated, top secret test facility. The driver pulled onto a large dirt area just off the end of the road. When the car came to a stop and the dust settled, I found myself out of my car, gun drawn, about 25 feet away from the driver’s door of the stolen car. Another deputy found himself about two feet directly in front of the car.
We yelled commands at the suspect, ordering him to turn off the car and exit the vehicle. He refused.
The suspect hit the accelerator. I remember the rear tires of the white, 5.0 Mustang sink into the dirt, looking for traction. As the car moved toward my partner standing in front of it, we both opened fire.
The driver lost control of the vehicle and made a hard left-turn. Now, he was driving directly at me. With a large electrical transformer behind me, and patrol cars to the left of me, I had nowhere to go. I thought, “This is going to hurt. Who will tell Mahria.”
Inexplicably, the driver collided with one of the patrol cars and spun away from me. When the car came to a stop, the suspect sat behind the wheel, laughing. It was not his day to die.
Several of the other deputies present and I dragged the man out of the broken driver’s door window of the car and fought with him to get him handcuffed.
Everything I just shared, from the time the suspect came to the end of the street, to the time I got him handcuffed, took all of twenty seconds to transpire.
Cell phones were a relatively new commodity in 1993. Only the sergeant had one. I used his phone to call Mahria at the hospital to let her know what happened and that I wouldn’t be able to get to the hospital in time for Michelle’s procedure.
For the next 11 hours, I sat in an interview room at my station, waiting to talk to investigators, supervisors, and district attorneys about what happened—waiting to describe in detail—orally and in the form of a written report—a rather harrowing 20-30 seconds.
By God’s grace, a grace I questioned that day, I survived a potentially deadly encounter. Everyone survived that day, by God’s grace. Michelle’s procedure went fine. Neither Mahria nor Michelle needed me there. God’s grace was sufficient during palpable times of weakness.
Amanda was born in September of 1994. She leapt in her mother’s womb. Not like John the Baptist, mind you. Mahria was pregnant with Amanda when the devastating Northridge Earthquake struck.
I was working patrol when the earth began to shake. Mahria was thrown from our bed and cut her eye on flying debris. With no electricity and all of our possessions tossed onto the floors of every room, Mahria and the girls could not make their way out of our home. Eventually, a dear friend and fellow deputy sheriff, who was not on duty at the time, came to our home and helped Mahria and the girls get out. To this day, there is not a square wall, door, or window in our home.
After helping to dig some workers out of the warehouse area of the local Target Store, I made my way home to check on the family. Mahria and the girls were fine. My family sheltered at my station while I continued to work. It would be several days before I could get back into our home to make it livable again. In the meantime, we slept on my pastor’s living room floor.
These stories, along with many others I could share, have served as part of a lifetime of preparation. They have served to prepare me and my family for what we are about to experience.
On January 9 of this year, I was arrested while open-air preaching in Dundee, Scotland. The charge: breach of the peace, with an aggravation of homophobic hate speech. I was held in custody for 30 hours, before entering a plea of “not guilty.” I signed a “promise to appear,” in compliance with the judge’s order that I return to Scotland to stand trial on April 22.
There has been no shortage of encouragement or criticism, over the last few months. People from around the world—people who have not viewed the video or listened to the audio of my Dundee open-air sermon—have weighed in to support and denounce what I did in Scotland.
One question I have been asked by folks, including my fellow Gospel Spammers, is this: what am I doing to prepare my family and what are they doing to prepare themselves for my return to Scotland?
The short answer is this: not much.
Mahria and the girls are partakers with me of grace.
Partakers with Me of Grace
Paul wrote: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Philippians 1:7).
I am far from being the perfect husband or father. I may not even be an especially good example of either. But we are a close-knit family who, in spite of our individual sinfulness, love each other. There never has been, nor will there ever be, four more important people in my life than Mahria, Michelle, Marissa, and Amanda. I hold them in my heart. They are all partakers with me of grace.
Mahria and the girls are concerned about my soon return to Scotland. They know, as I do, that if I am found guilty I face punishment of anything from a fine to imprisonment for up to five years. My attorneys are of the opinion that a guilty verdict will result in nothing more than a fine, but, of course, they can’t give me any guarantees. But if you were to talk to Mahria and the girls, you would find that they are not worried or stressed. They are not fearful or anxious. The time since my arrest has given them time to pray and reflect. It has given us time as a family to worship, pray, and talk. The reason: my four ladies have all been partakers with me of grace.
Every moment in life—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are learning moments for me, as well as teaching moments, as I try to shepherd my family toward Christ-likeness. Sometimes I see the teaching opportunities and take advantage of them. Other times such moments slip by and are missed. But the grace of God is always sufficient in times of such spiritual weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We do everything together as a family, my ladies and I. And that includes enduring the difficult times the Lord has lovingly ordained for us. Whether illness, times of discord, heartache and even depression, life as a law enforcement family, a failed church plant, missions, or an unexpected lay-off from work with a ministry I love—my family has seen God work and move, bless and discipline, do as we expected and surprise us in breathtaking ways. Together we have seen the faithfulness of God, even in those moments when we have been faithless, because God cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Together, as a family, we have been partakers of God’s amazing grace.
While the potential of a jail sentence for me is a new experience for my family, in many ways it is nothing new. It is yet one more opportunity for our Lord and Savior to teach us, hold us, sustain us, discipline us, sanctify us, test us, measure us, grow us, and love us. We’ve seen Him work before.
Our inherent fallibility has, in some times past, precluded us from seeing His handiwork until after He has completed the work. Our sin in the midst of His work blinded us to His presence and loving efforts on our behalf. Repentance in the aftermaths, used by God to remove opaque veils from our eyes, allowed us to see what we missed in the midst of the trial. And each time He showed us that we were partakers of His grace.
Mahria and the girls have been partakers with me in every critical incident I ever experienced as a deputy sheriff—the shooting previously described not being the most critical. They have been partakers with me in more than 20 years of ministry involvement and leadership. They have been partakers with me in a failed church plant, the struggles of missionary work, and a time several years ago of such spiritual and emotional darkness that most days all I could pray was, “I will not deny you today, Lord!”
Mahria and the girls have been partakers with me of grace through many years of gospel defense. And, if the Lord wills it so, they will be partakers with me of grace in my imprisonment. They will be partakers with me of grace as I make a defense of the gospel in a Scottish courtroom (if it comes to that). They will be partakers with me of grace if that defense is subsequently made in a prison dorm or cell to other prisoners.
And let me be clear. The only way Mahria, Michelle, Marissa, and Amanda could be partakers with me of grace in this current momentary light affliction, or any other affliction—past or present, is that God has extended His matchless grace to them, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
I don’t want to go to jail. Mahria and the girls certainly don’t want me to go to jail. I have no doubt tears will be shed by all of us as I leave for the airport to make the return flight to Scotland. I will hold Mahria and the girls in my heart, no matter how long the Lord determines for me to be away from them, and they will hold me in theirs.
So, the answer to the question, how I am preparing my family for the possibility that I may be sentence to spend an unknown amount of time in jail, is really a simple one. I’m not doing the preparing. God is. And He has been preparing all of us for many years—for as many years as we have been partakers of God’s grace, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” Philippians 1:7
Tony has preached in many churches across the United States and in Canada.He has served as the keynote speaker at several different conferences. Tony is serving the Lord as an itinerant preacher and open-air evangelist.
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