This post is a continuation of one I wrote earlier this month. To sum it up, one year ago on July 4th, our house was broken into and a lot of stuff stolen. This year, on the night of July 4th, I woke up at midnight and peered out my bedroom window to see two guys trying to steal my scooter from my backyard by cutting through the lock on its wheel. I called the police, and they never showed, even after an hour of waiting. In that time, the would-be thieves got tired of trying to cut through a hardened steel shackle stuck in a solid foot of concrete, and had jumped my fence and went on their way.
Still stewing in frustration and anger, I tossed and turned, but didn’t get any sleep that night. When the morning came, I resolved not to let the events of the previous night get to me – I was going to have an awesome day. And so right after breakfast, I took the kids on a bike ride through a nearby park, where we had a blast. We came back home a few hours later, and dumped our biking gear onto our front porch, closed our front gate, and headed in for a cold snack. My wife then decided to take the kids out for an errand, and so I flopped on the couch and fell asleep, hoping to make up for the sleep that I had lost the night before.
Ten minutes later, I woke up and knew something was wrong, I jumped off the couch and looked out the front window, mere feet away from where I was sleeping, and saw nothing. As in nothing, because my bike had been stolen right off the porch. I leaped into a pair of sandals and bolted outside, looking up and down the street to see if I could still spot whoever had taken it. And lo and behold, there were three teenagers on bikes, two blocks away, riding up the street. I took off running after them, determined to find out if it was they who had taken it. They saw me coming and started pedaling furiously, trying to get away, a task that was made harder by the fact that the punk who had stolen my bike didn’t know how to shift its gears, and was in the very lowest gear.
But still, it was nearly impossible to catch up to the bike thieves on foot, and in sandals no less. They were going to get away. Well, they would have gotten away from other people who are less crazy than I. I saw a car coming up the same street and jumped in front of it, hands outstretched. The car screeched to a halt, and I ran over the passenger side window. I breathlessly said, “Hey, you have to help me, these guys stole my bike!” The driver looked at this crazy Korean person who had jumped in front of his moving vehicle, and had no choice but to say, “Get in!” And so I jumped into his passenger side seat.
The funny thing is that the guy was totally game, and wanted me to get my bike back. ”Hurry,” he urged, “get down under the dashboard so they can’t see you,” which I immediately did. He started speeding down the street to catch up to the boys. We finally caught up to them on a small side street, and they obviously had no idea that I had commandeered a man’s vehicle – how could they, really? We crept closer and closer, and at the last minute, I launched half my body out the side window and shouted, “GIVE ME BACK MY BIKE!! GIVE ME BACK MY BIKE!!” The boys spun around in amazement and tried to get away. But realizing the futility of biking away from a moving car, or perhaps cowed by the sound of my insane screeching, a kid wearing a garish fluorescent shirt jumped off my bike and hoofed it on foot. His friends followed him, and I noticed that one of them had a three foot long pair of bolt cutters in his hands. I deduced that these were the same boys who had been in my yard the night before. They had come to my house to try once again to get the lock off my scooter, but instead, they saw an easy score with my bike, and left with that.
I picked my bike off the asphalt, and started pedaling back to my house. There was so much adrenaline running through my body that I didn’t even thank the guy who had helped me catch them – if you are reading this brother, thank you – you seriously rock. As I pedaled home, I called the police to report the crime, and give a description of the kid who had taken it. They said they would keep a lookout, but my expectations were pretty low, given that I had to wait over an hour for police to respond the night before, and they never did.
I went home, and when my wife came home, I told her all that had transpired. She looked at me, mouth agape. After I had finished, she looked at me and quietly said, “I don’t want you to do that anymore.” I agreed, it was pretty stupid. Those kids could have been armed, or ganged up on me. I was lucky to get back the bike as easily as I had. And so I was content to leave it at that. But then I got a call on my phone that the police had located a kid who fit my description, and wanted me to ID him so I could press charges. That really caught me off guard. But I relished the opportunity to see that kid face to face.
I drove just a few blocks away, and saw a squad car by the side of the road. Two officers were standing outside of it, and at their feet, a teenager handcuffed, sitting on the curb. It was definitely the same kid. He was wearing the same outlandishly colorful shirt that he had on when he had stolen my bike, and had not thought to change it. He saw me come out of the car, lowered his head and spit at his feet. That little punk. I was ready to make this kid pay.
But as I walked closer, my heart changed. He was young, maybe 14 or 15, no older, maybe even younger. He wasn’t big at all, just a scrawny teenager. And despite the whole spitting thing, he couldn’t even raise his head to look me in the eye. I tried to remind myself that he had stolen something from my house, and probably had done it before. I tried to reignite the righteous retribution I had been storing up on my drive up the street. But it wasn’t there. I felt sorry for him. I could tell that his life was considerably less happy than my own.
The officers asked me if this is the kid that took my bike, and I nodded. They asked if I wanted to press charges, and I paused, and said that I wanted to talk to him, face to face. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, but I started anyway: “Listen, I could press charges against you and it would stick. You would be in big trouble. You know that too. But I’m not going to. You’re too young for this. You need to stop doing this kind of stuff, get away from other kids who are leading you wrong, and shape up. You’re lucky that you get a second chance today, don’t screw it up and waste it.” The officer standing next to him nudged him with her foot and asked him what he wanted to say in response, and he mumbled some half-hearted apology. But he did lift his eyes and look me face to face, even if just for a moment.
After that I went home and had some birthday cake, because it was my birthday, truly a birthday to remember.
People have questioned whether I had done the right thing by letting him go. Perhaps by doing so, I was just enabling him, teaching him that there was no consequence in life. Maybe it would have been better for him to go to juvie or jail, and be scared straight there. Then he would learn that there were stiff consequences for doing that kind of stuff. Maybe now he would just come right back and do something worse, to me or someone else. Perhaps. I had definitely thought about that myself.
But then again, the criminal justice system has not exactly been doing a bang-up job at reforming criminals, and so I had my doubts that having the kid go to juvie was going to have any kind of positive effect on him. But even more importantly, I thought about my own life, and the ministry of Jesus. His ministry to me was not to make me pay for my shortcomings and crime, to punitively teach me about cause and effect, and the rule of consequence. Rather his ministry was quite the opposite, to take my shortcomings upon himself, so that the rule of consequence might be broken. And that ministry, the ministry of grace, had transformed me through and through. What kind of Christian would I be to accept grace in my life, but not pass it on, even in a circumstance like this? So it was my hope and prayer that grace would be transforming to that young man as it was to me. Is there a chance that he learns nothing? Surely. But I am responsible for my own actions, and he is responsible for his own. I gave him grace, and whether he chooses to use it or spit at it is up to him.
Plus, who could give up the opportunity to be like the monseigneur from Les Miserables?? Not me, that’s for sure.