17-year-old “Justin” sat in my office; head down, staring at the floor. Justin had been told about Braking Cycles by his parole officer. He told me how he wanted this to be the chance that changed his life. Incarcerated, institutionalized at too many facilities to count, and foster homes in between, this now 17-year-old wants nothing more than to graduate from high school, be a “normal kid” and become a man that can lead a normal life.
Justin shared with me how his mom was 14 when she had him, and dad was 18. Dad escaped the grip of jail for raping his mom, but didn’t escape after raping another girl a year later. Mom, now fighting drugs and alcohol, and not any more stable than when she was a teenager, and dad serving time in prison for other crimes, it only left Justin in the hands of the state.
The story then turned from his parents’ experiences to his own story...drugs, crime, rape, and so on. The point his parents story ended, his own began. The two stories meshed together, and it was clear Justin carried the guilt for them all. The shame that draped over Justin was way too heavy for someone of his tender age to wear. Justin’s features were of a teen boy, but the contrast of weight he candied, made him look 20 years older...nearly defeated.
It was clear, Justin had told his story many times before.... I knew it wasn’t because he “wanted to" but because he had always been told he had to. Case managers, attorneys, POs, therapists, foster parents, and on and on. Justin’s words were somewhat robotic. I could see there were tears on the inside that just never made their way to the outside.
As I listened to Justin’s story, I couldn’t help but draw so many parallels to my own life; My journey into parenthood at 14, my 18-year old boyfriend, abandonment by parents who simply didn’t have the capacity to care for me, the desperate desire to graduate high school so that once and for all, the cycles of poverty, homelessness and hopelessness could be broken.
All Justin wanted now was to finish high school and begin college. He would be the first in three generations to get a diploma. “I just want to make my mom proud of me for once”, he said.
I continued.... “Justin, I had a dream a few years ago I would like to share with you. I believe God gave me this dream. And as we sit here together, I have no doubt in my mind this dream is for you.”
In my dream I saw a young man, about 17 years old standing in front of me. He looked like a typical teenage boy in how he was dressed… Blue jeans, tennis shoes, hands in his pockets, a white T-shirt. What made this young man stand out however, were two things. This young man held his head downward. His shoulders somewhat falling forward. as if he were carrying a huge weight on his back. The second thing that stood out was what was printed on his white T-shirt. In massive bold black letters across his chest was the word wrong. W R O N G. As I looked closer at the word I could see there were smaller words written in black ink within the larger word. The Lord made me aware that all of the smaller black words were all of the things he had ever done wrong. So many words of guilt and shame written there until they finally made up the one huge word WRONG until it became the label he wore, his very identity.
I could see that it was these words in this identity that caused this young boys shoulders to fall forward and his head to be cast down. I could see that his entire being carried that weight and hopelessness set in to every part of his being.
As I realized this terrible sadness, all of a sudden, I saw off to the right of this young man, Jesus walking into the room. As Jesus approached this young man I could see that he was holding something in his hands. He held it out in front of him much like a waiter would hold a fine a silver serving tray. Jesus held in his hands a pressed, pristine, perfectly folded pure White T-shirt. He walked up to this young man, stopped and held this gift out to him and said, “This is for tomorrow“.
I told Justin how I had woken from that dream in tears because immediately I thought of the scripture that says His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Justin began repeating the scripture over and over quietly, almost in a whisper that grew. “His mercies are new every morning. His mercies are new every morning.” It was if Justin received those words into his very soul.
Justin’s countenance changed right before my eyes. His eyes didn’t drop to the ground a single time after that. His shoulders seemed to pull back and straighten rather than curve down. I was blown away to see the paradigm of the 17-year-old boy shift to the countenance of a brave young man, ready to take on this opportunity.
Justin began his apprenticeship at Braking Cycles that week. A clean slate, a new beginning.
“Yet this I call to mind / and therefore I have hope because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. His mercies are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
This blog is an excerpt from My Two Cents, a book in progress by Rhona Mahl.