Cherokee Billie “Remember no matter what your age or circumstances you can still have dreams and goals. It is never too late to begin again. Until we breathe our last breath there’s always time to change.”
“Well, I messed up big time,” says a youth talking to me across a table in the County Juvenile Detention facility. “My grandmother and everyone else in my family told me how disappointed they are. I know that you say that we can start again but I don’t buy it. There are so many chances you get in life and I have used them all up.”
“Who is evaluating these ‘messed up’ actions of yours?” I ask. “Are you buying in to someone else’s judgment on what you do? Or are you judging yourself? Or what?”
“I’m in jail, what you think?” he says.
“I think you are in pain and I was too flip. I apologize,” I say.
“No,” he says, “You are right. I down myself too much and I shouldn’t be listening to how people try to chop me down.”
“Which of your actions were being done out of boredom and which out of malice or anger?” I ask.
“I guess that drinking was out of boredom and slashing tires was out of malice.” he says.
“So, in terms of criminal activity, you didn’t use force or a gun or rape or anything that caused serious damage except for the tires? And if you were the judge, what would you say about you?”
He grins “I would say that I am a no good kid who only gets into trouble.”
“And if God were the judge, what might the Creator say?” I ask.
“I give up?” is his answer.
“Humor me,” I say. “Tell me about three times you were given a new chance to start over again.”
After several minutes of thinking, he says “The first time I was arrested and got probation and not jail time; when I told my girlfriend I was sorry and she took me back; and when I messed up at the church in California and was welcomed back the next year.”
“And did you deserve another chance in any of these situations?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “You are trying to tell me something, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I reply. “What do you think that is?” I ask.
“That I get a new chance even if I don’t want it or deserve it,” he says.
“You got it,” I say.
With that, he receives the Eucharist and we pray together to start over again as a new person.
It never fails to move me when we re-learn something so basic: that the chance to start anew pops up when we least anticipate or deserve it. Our job is to open ourselves to be wrong, to ask forgiveness, to expect mercy over and over again.
It is a learning that is basic to our faith.