My mom said, “Ruth, I hope you write this story.” So, Mom, here it is…
Monday at 8:30 AM was the most recent court hearing in a series of multiple court hearings for our daughter. As with the others, I attended alone, shouldering the requirement for a parent to be present. I knew there wasn’t much extra time built into the morning routine because I dropped the boys off at school and one is always late. Always. He ran after me as I pulled out of the garage, jumping in the car.
“Why are you so rushed?” he asked.
“I’m not rushed. I have to be on time because I don’t want to be in trouble with the court. I like my freedom.”
“I don’t see why you have to show up when you’re not the one who did anything wrong,” the other said.
“Sometimes you just do the things that need done, whether they feel fair or not,” I said. It was more of a reminder to myself than anyone. I dropped the boys off at school and continued on my way. I would have preferred to have more of a time buffer. I reminded myself:
It is okay.
It is what it is.
Good things are going to happen to me and through me.
There was road construction around the courthouse, so I drove around looking for a parking spot. I finally found a place on a side road. There was going to be a little jaunt to the courthouse. Usually I treasure parking far away and walking. It’s another reason I like to allow extra time. Today it just added to the mounting stress. Just because I’m familiar with juvenile court hearings, doesn’t mean it doesn’t pull down my energy levels.
I stowed my watch and cell phone in the glove box. No electronics in the courthouse. I grabbed my wallet, opened the door, hit the lock button, closed the door, and remembered—I didn’t have my keys.
I don’t need the keys in the ignition to start the car. I just push a button. I always keep the keys in my wallet. The day before, Andy had the keys in his pocket. Sam grabbed the keys on our way out the door this morning and dropped them in the cup holder. I didn’t think about it until I slammed the locked car door.
Standing on the street, looking in my wallet at the empty space where the keys belonged, I shrugged. There was absolutely nothing I could do now. I took a deep breath and walked to the courthouse, arriving with just a minute to spare. I prayed that good things would happen to me and through me.
Walking up the stairs to the third floor of the courthouse, I chuckled. Of all the things, I locked my keys and my phone in the car. It was in the middle of a series of events that didn’t feel good this morning, and now I was going to sit through a court hearing where my daughter would be sentenced. Long ago, she exhausted all of the good options for living life and blew through the not-what-we-hoped options. She’s been given an uncanny amount of opportunities for therapy, for overcoming, for setting her life on a path that would lead to goodness, sunshine, and rainbows.
There would not be much in the way of sunshine and rainbows inside the courtroom today. I filed into the courtroom with a group of parents and teenagers who were all summoned to appear today. Many were fretting. One mother was wringing her hands, “I cannot believe we are here,” she said to her son. A father paced. Another appeared with the director of a local residential facility. He slept on the bench; she read a book.
My daughter sat alone in the jury box. Everyone noticed her because of the fluorescent orange jacket. The handcuffs and ankle shackles indicated she was in more trouble than the young boy with the cowboy boots or the teen who slept on the bench. My daughter’s hair is in two French braids, and I remember the way I calmed her when she was younger by plaiting a braid. It has been many years since I combed her hair and wove a braid. She’s not been home for many years.
An officer stood guard slightly behind her. I greeted him and asked permission to speak to my daughter. He nodded. I asked if I were allowed to hug her. He nodded again.
I hugged her, she leaned in, unable to hug me back because her hands were attached to a thick leather belt around her middle. The chain led down to her ankles.
She leaned in. “Where’s Dad?” she asked. Even after all of these years, I still fall short. I will always fall short in her eyes. I chat with her in the silent courtroom. I tell her about the latest trick of Luna’s. I mention the sunshine today, and the sky I noticed over the courthouse.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Okay,” she says. “I’m glad I will know what’s going to happen after today.”
“You know what matters most, right?” I ask. It is the same conversation we have over and over. Each court hearing. Each phone call. Each moment we talk.
She smiles, but I don’t see her dimples. “Yeah,” she sighed, “It’s the next right move that matters most.”
I hug her again, return to my seat and watch the video explaining our rights. I’ve seen it eight times in the past few weeks. We exit the courtroom and the officer allows me to go with my daughter. We chat in the jury room.
The probation officer comes and informs us that the court-appointed lawyer is not here today; therefore, we will not be able to have the hearing. The unknown looms, and there will be another hearing date assigned—another day of missed work.
My daughter, who is now uncuffed and unshackled because she appeared before the judge, is frustrated. She says, “I’m frustrated.” This is not significant for a seventeen-year-old. Seventeen-year-old people can identify their emotions. They can respond to emotions in acceptable ways. Yet, this is a milestone for her. She identified her feeling, and then the tears started rolling.
How long has it been since we’ve seen her cry? Angry people do not cry.
I hug her and she sags against me. She is much larger than me, and my small frame should not hold her. I do, anyway. I hold her and she cries. I tell her she is loved and she can make the next right step. I ask her if she wants me to pray.
She nods and sniffles. “Yes, please.”
It’s a leftover rote phrase from childhood: Yes, please.
I pray while the officer stands close in the small room. She cries and clings to me.
“Amen,” I say.
“Amen,” she says.
I pat her back and pull away. The officer says, “Face the table,” and they begin the clicking, buckling, and shackling that comes with the life of an inmate. Stephanie knows the moves. It is an ugly dance.
So it be, the meaning of amen lingers in my mind.
“I’ll see you in a couple of weeks,” I say. I smile. I nod to the officer. “Thank you,” I say, looking him in the eyes. He was kind. It was a gift to sit and chat with Stephanie. It was a gift to offer comfort. It was a gift that she was unshackled long enough to hug me back.
On the way out of the courthouse, I stop at the metal detector and ask the officers to use the phone. I call Andy. Like me, he chuckles at the mistake of locking my car keys and cell phone in the car. “I’ll go home for the spare set and bring them to you,” he says.
It is not how I want to spend the day, and I’m frustrated for more time away from work. I shrug and smile. Hang up the phone and thank the officers.
Stephanie shuffles through the door. The orange jacket makes me squint in the sunshine, and the block letters on the back of the jacket label her: INMATE.
She doesn’t notice me watching her.
I used to think I wasn’t the kind of person who would have a daughter as an inmate. It was back when I thought life was about getting things right. I thought if I did this right thing, followed by the next right thing, in the right way and the right order at the right time, then life would work out exactly like I planned for it to be.
Perfectly perfect because I was a perfectionist who did the right thing.
Walking to my car, still chuckling about locking my keys inside, I realized I’ve come a long way. Today I embrace imperfection. I realize that it’s not up to me to get everything right. Instead I choose to love and offer goodness, kindness and mercy even when the world is chaotic and people are hurtful. The sun is shining and, really, it’s a good day to lock the keys in the car.
Really, I wish I didn’t lock my keys in the car. I know good things are happening to me and through me, but it’s one of those days when it doesn’t feel like it is true. I’ve learned that God turns things for good of those who love Him and serve according to His purposes. I love God. Maybe, I prayed, You could turn things for my good?
I arrived at the car and checked the locks. They were still engaged. I was still locked out. I knew I had time to kill, but I didn’t know what to do. I walked around the front of the car. Paused. Turned around.
There, on the road, were my car keys. I didn’t drop them there because I was in a hurry to get into the courthouse. I never walked to the front of the car. I giggled and picked up my keys.
There are all kinds of ways God lets us know we are not alone.
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