Tissues can dry up phony tears, but they cannot stop the flow of real ones.
This thirty-four year old woman made a simple request: “I just want to be done with this. It would be easier for me if you just sent me to prison.”
“How would that make things easier?” I asked. I don’t normally send people with low level, non-violent felonies to prison. It is not favored in the law and rarely produces the behavioral change we all desire.
“I wouldn’t have to keep coming back to court for violating my probation. Judge, I’m tired, and I just want to be done with all this,” she said again.
There was something about her that made me probe deeper. “Do you have kids? Are your mom and dad still alive?”
“My kids have been taken from me. And I don’t get to see my parents anymore because of my lifestyle.”
“What about your lifestyle?”
“My drug use. My running around,” she confessed, eyes brimming with tears.
She was utterly hopeless. The foundations of her life – bedrock things for most of us – were as loose as sand. What would her life be like at fifty-four? Would she even make it that far? What could be done?
“Let me tell you something,” I said. “You are far too valuable to just give up at age thirty-four. You were created to be someone; to do something. And that something does not include giving up on life. How have you been supporting yourself?” The tears rolled non-stop as she held my gaze in silence. She had no means of support and had not yet graduated from high school. She had good reason for her despair.
“Let me ask you something,” I continued. “If you could do anything at all for a living and didn’t think about your ‘failures’ so far, what would you do?”
“I think I’d like to be a carpenter.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. “A carpenter? Why?” I asked.
“I think it would be fun.”
The tears stopped and a sheepish grin began to spread across her face. In a moment of hope, her entire appearance was transformed. Could she actually learn to be a carpenter? Would anyone hire her, with her criminal history? I found myself wondering when the last time was she had thought of something that she wanted to do just because it would be fun. And when was the last time anyone had believed in her so that she could have a moment of hope?
Jesus, the carpenter, said the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And he told us that the one who shows mercy when others would give in to revulsion is the one who “proved” himself to be a neighbor.
Can you see yourself as a neighbor to the woman who stood before me? Would you prove it by making her your apprentice and then hiring her? Do you see the irony? She wants to be a carpenter!