I was surprised.
It wasn’t because I got caught. It wasn’t because of the punishment I was going to face, or the disappointment coming from those who expected more from me. I was surprised because I didn’t realize what I did was wrong until after I was found out.
August 30, 2003 started out like any other day. My parents allowed me to have some friends over for my birthday, and we spent the night testing the myth of adolescent metabolic function. We pigged out, joked around, and did everything that you would expect budding teenagers to do. We ended the night by going out for a stroll in my neighborhood.
We knew the kid down the street’s parents weren’t home, and that he and his friend were out toilet-papering houses. One of the boys with us used to house sit for them, so he knew where the key was. It didn’t matter anyway. We lived in the type of neighborhood where people didn’t lock their doors. They had no need to, or so they thought.
The next day when the kid returned to his home, he knew that something was awry. After some minor investigative work, one of the kids in our group (the one who used to house sit for them) confessed that we went in the house. We didn’t trash anything. We didn’t steal anything. But you could imagine the insecurity that the family felt knowing that their sanctuary had been marauded.
It is crazy how God can use the most miserable and bleak situations and turn them into celebrations.
This incident was the “light bulb” I needed. It showed me my own depravity and the depravity of the world, knowing that even “good kids” were subject to actions I thought were only capable of those at the world’s underbelly. Kids of the suburbs need Jesus just as much as the men on death row. I was now proof of that. I experienced it first hand. I might have broken into a house, but through this situation, God had broken into my heart. He chiseled away the mess I was in. And I would never be the same.
When we went to court to plea our case, many of the parents had lawyers advising them to plea, “innocent.” If you know anything of the court system, even if you are guilty it is better to plea innocent, so your lawyer has the chance to work a deal with the judge. Regardless, the idea didn’t sit right with me. I knew I was responsible, and I wanted to show the judge and God that I was willing to pay the earthly consequence despite my heavenly verdict. Sometimes we still have to face consequences on earth that God has pardoned. It is just another portrait of our frailty – pointing to a future hope of reconciliation.
The judge took kindness on us. We got the minimal sentence – no jail time, no community service. I got the incident wiped from my record. People who do a background check on me don’t even know this story. We had to pay a small fine and had to pay a few visits to a probation officer… who was also a pastor.
I remember having to tell my wrestling coach about the incident. Half of the guys who got arrested were on the wrestling team, and we knew that our getting in trouble would affect the team. After we told him what we did, he paused, and then he singled-me-out and rebuked me in front of the whole group. It was my second year being wrestling captain of our middle school team. He told me that by doing what I did, I didn’t do what a leader was supposed to do. I was a follower – doing what I knew was wrong but following regardless. It was a lesson that I have never and will never let myself forget.
Have you ever done something so horrific that you surprised yourself? Have you ever been a follower in a situation where you were supposed to lead the people out of the mess? Have you ever let down the people you cared about most? Are you paying the earthly consequences of actions that have already been forgiven in heaven?
Remember that God is for you. If you seek him, you will find Him. He has His hand outstretched in your direction. He is offering you a gift of reconciliation and grace. You just need to accept it by faith. God is about reconciliation. He is in the healing business… and business is good. If you are in a situation with no visible horizon, know that God loves to make those situations beautiful – just like the sun at dawn.
He will make it beautiful, because He alone gets the glory when He does something we can’t do on our own.
Seek Him. Discover Him. Embrace Him.