Monday, July 14, 2014

Handcuffs and Bail Hearings: Lessons in Grace

Oh the spaces between my blog posts!
The wide times of silence, evidence of a full calendar, busy weeks and a happy life. Toronto is a city so bustling with activity, entertainment and opportunity I have to discipline myself to say no more often and ensure I sleep adequately.

Without recounting all the days past, I will sum up my recent times of silence as learning about parenting.
I was asked to return to my nanny position briefly, and was happy to spend time caring for a charming, talkative two-year-old. I also returned to my part-time job of working with young offenders. But, more than caring for the dependent toddler, for whom I needed to prepare all food, change his diapers and carry the 40-some-pound child most places, I have learned about how to parent from the teens.
This is because I see the youth at their worst and I glimpse their interaction with their families at one of the more trying times of their relationship.
I overhear conversations with parents, or witness visits between youth and their foster families, single parents (either fathers or mothers), or their biological parents. I hear the support, the encouragement, the love expressed. I also see the disappointment, I hear the reprimands, see the wagging fingers and observe the "I told you so..." from mothers and fathers. I see a variety of family demographics, completely unique youth and an array of parenting styles.

Some context in my interest, as a single person, in parenting is that I unequivocally want to adopt in the future. How far in the future, I do not know. While I am still single or wait until I maybe get re-married? Also something I don't know. I've just been trying to spend my present time preparing, learning and gleaning wisdom from wherever I can. As it turns out, my job is an ideal place.

An example from a few weeks ago: one of the youth had an upsetting phone call with her family. She had court the next day. She had had court two days ago, waited for hours in a cell until called before the judge. While she could have received bail and been released, none of her family was present at court to post bail or refuse to post, so the court was put over for another two days. The youth was pleading with her family to please attend court. She was not even requesting that they pay bail, just please come to court. Then she wouldn't have to keep doing this same procedure again and again. My heart ached as she pleaded with tears individually to mother, brother, father, to please just be there for her.
She wasn't requesting that anyone defend her, support her actions or condone her offense. She was only asking that they be physically present for her. The person, not the actions. The human, not outward behavior.

Isn't this what Christ did for us?
He didn't condone our sin. He never, ever said it was okay. But he showed up. And he didn't just pay our bail - he served our entire sentence.

I'm not a parent, and I am not suggesting that it would be good parenting to simply pay your child's bail. But I have been learning, through watching youth and their families, about the importance of grace and unconditional love.

You see, the kids who come to my program are not charged for what would be a misdemeanor or 2-years or less jail time, or "small offenses". The list of charges that get youth sent to our program are the "big" things: the ones that get adults get lengthy prison sentences. I've seen every charge you can thing of (except terrorism and espionage). But a person is not a charge, it is not all of who they are. Behind a charge is a youth with a personality, talents, and a family.

And that family makes a huge difference in that youth's life. When I think of the unconditional love of a mother and father, I think of the parents who come to my program and hug their child and tell them "you are mine and I love you no matter what." And then, they make it clear that they despise, even hate, the actions of their child. If the youth returns home, the rules are going to change. Not because the love changed, but because they deeply love them, life will shift to attend to this issue.
But their love? Their love hasn't moved.

That is the love I know from God. That no matter where I run to, how bad I intentionally sin, His love doesn't decrease; instead, His grace abounds.

Some parents want to dole out punishments, thinking being arrested, in custody and held at a location other than their home is too small for the wickedness of their child's deeds. But if they come in with that, if that is the first thing the youth hears; then often, that becomes the only thing the youth hears. Even if more punishment is warranted to address the broken trust, the direct disobedience; the direct violence - if punishment is where the conversation starts, the youth won't be able to hear forgiveness or continued love.

A youth recently came to our program directly from the police station, his charge was assault on his grandmother, who was also his guardian. To come in this situation with grace is no easy task. I don't know how the grandmother would address this; but I know it would not be healthy or beneficial to ignore the violence against her, the threat to herself. As someone who has been assaulted by my ex-spouse, I know from experience how dangerous, difficult and heart-wrenching this type of situation is; I am not saying to ever ignore the offense.
Remember, too, I am considering this from a parenting standpoint, where one is an adult, the other a child. One has authority, certain duties and the other has dependence and necessities. Getting married to a person requires two adult individuals making promises to one another. In parenting, the parent alone makes a covenant and commitment with the child.

I don't know how the grandmother responded to this youth. I never spoke with her or saw her. What I do know was that the youth's first words in our program was "I want to call my grandma."
The youth had such a relationship with his guardian that it was his desire to talk, to have communication. Whatever fears he had about her anger, about her exacting revenge or doling punishment was inferior to his desire to talk to her. He knew that her love for him was bigger than his fears of her anger.

Grace does not ignore the harm, the sin.
But it doesn't start there or keep the focus there.

Graces starts with love.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.
Whoever puts his trust in God’s Son will not be lost but will have life that lasts forever.
For God did not send His Son into the world to say it is guilty.
He sent His Son so the world might be saved from the punishment of sin by Him."
John 3:16

God doesn't ignore our sin. Sin is the entire reason we need saving. But He also didn't send his Son to punish us, or to condemn as a judge, although He could do so. Our sins deserve that. We would have no one to pay our bail, to stand as our defense or speak on our behalf. We are all guilty, deserve whatever our consequences.

But He came to save, not to condemn. He started with love, not with punishment.

So, over my past few months of silence, I've been busy learning about being a parent. How to show grace when I want to immediately punish. How to reinforce unconditional love without approving of one's actions.
Because that is what God has done for me; God, who is the best and perfect example of a parent.
After all, He is our Heavenly Father.

*some details of stories have been changed for confidentiality purposes.