I spoke last week for the graduation ceremony of the Williamson County Drug Court. This is an innovative program, 15 years old now, that is spreading across the country. Repeat drug offenders are given a chance to attend a 2 year, rigorous rehabilitation and recovery training in lieu of a return to prison. The 2 years are incredibly demanding including classes 2 nights per week, several 12 step meetings a week, holding down a steady job, completing a number of hours of service work, and weekly drug testing and court appearances. The presiding Drug Court judge in Williamson County told me that the recidivism rate for these graduate is 15% versus 85% for those put on probation or simply sent to prison. What a great program!
After I spoke, 10 graduates proudly walked across the stage and received their certificates. Each one briefly told their stories to this packed audience of family and friends, local and state politicians, law officers, and both prosecuting and defending attorneys. As they spoke I was impressed by two things. First, how each one came to that place because of a series of fairly innocuous decisions. One young man decided to drop out of the Navy and get a job offered him by an old high school buddy. A pretty sharp business man joined a group of people that spent the weekends “unwinding” with recreational drug use. Every graduate told a story of making a decision that at the time seemed relatively unimportant but started them down a destructive path.
The second thing that captured me was the quality of these men and women. They ranged in age from early 20’s to late 50’s. There were 7 men and 3 women. One young man was black, one Hispanic, and the rest white. They came from obviously different socio-economic backgrounds. But they were all good people. Articulate, personable, nice. Now I’m sure that 2 years of self-reflection had really helped them project the very best of themselves but at the core you could tell that they were men and women that you could have lived beside, sat in church with, gone to school with, and been glad to call them friends.
I don’t know where they will go from here. If the Judge is right, 1 or 2 of them will end up back on drugs and in jail. But 8 or 9 of them will find productive, peaceful places in society. They will earn paychecks, have kids, volunteer to coach little league, and sing in the choir at church. They will live the rest of their lives, I hope, thanking God for the second chance and for the privilege of being a “new creature.” And, if they are like me, they will also wake up in the middle of the night occasionally and wonder what life might have been like had they made a different decision way back there. What could they have done with the wasted years, missed opportunities, lost relationships?
And then, hopefully, they will go on, realizing that to dwell in the past is unhealthy and to get too caught up in the future is unproductive. They will remember to live in the moment, in the present, the here-and-now. And they will ask God to give them the wisdom to make good decisions for today and to trust Him with everything else. And they will live life one step at a time, one decision at a time. You and I could learn a lot from them.
Deuteronomy 15 is always a fun chapter to read. What if we would adopt that concept today? What if I could call my mortgage company and say, “Hey, I know it’s a 30 year lone but my 7 years are up, I think I’ll stop now?” Or what about calling Visa and saying, “7 years guys. Thanks for the memories?” It would be great to have a clean slate.
But Deuteronomy 15 is not about mortgages or credit cards, it is about equality and social justice, and treating one another fairly. The next section of the chapter deals with setting servants, really slaves, free. Deuteronomy 15, at least as it applies today, is about the fact that we as believers should see our responsibility to those on the margins of society. Isn’t it interesting that we read that on MLK Day?
I don’t have a good answer for the ills and hardships of society. I haven’t figured out how to solve the opioid epidemic in my state, or how to address the concerns over undocumented aliens. But apparently God is interested in that stuff. And before I go FaceBook crazy over the poor that are living on welfare and trying to take my hard-earned money, or get all vocal about cancelling a meeting that had the potential to stir up hatred and division, maybe I should stop and say, “What does God want me to do here?”
Those guys from the drug court, they are not just some random, no name, no face losers that I have no connection with. It seems like God is saying they are my brothers and sisters, and I should be a part of the solution for them. Maybe God wants me to set aside my own personal agenda and seek to offer a second, and third, and fourth chance. Maybe the debt that I forgive today is the one that I think people owe me, to think and act and even look like me. And if I do all of that, maybe the slave that I set free is me too. It is worth thinking about. Mike