“He did 30 years in prison for murder and he has nowhere to go. I think he should come stay with us,” the compassion in my husband, Emmanuel’s voice was dripping through my cell phone and into my ears where his words hung suspended in the air. “Murder?” I couldn’t get passed that word.
Emmanuel was filling me in on the details of Richard’s case meanwhile my mind was buzzing and fuzzy with images from one of my favorite stories of all time, Les Miserables. It is a story of redemption for an ex-convict named Jean Valjean who devoted his life to serving God after repenting from a lifetime of crime. I love that story. It gets me every time. But here I was in reality with Jean Valjean knocking at my doorstep and I was too afraid of the what ifs ringing in my ears to shine a ray of hope on a man who so desperately needed it.
“OK. Yes,” My own words echoing with finality like a gavel announcing the fate of a defendant.
That’s all it took to get me down on my knees in fervent and frenzied prayer. It’s amazing how easy it is to pray when you are faced with such an illogical risk like bringing an ex-convict into the same home in which you potty train your children. If only I prayed with such vigor on an hourly basis.
The people pleaser in me began fretting over what all our friends and family would think. How could you have a complete stranger sleep under the same roof as your children? Aren’t you concerned about what could happen? What if he robs you blind in the middle of the night?
What if ….?
If you are reading this, then I am willing to bet that similar questions are running through your mind as you read on. For some, it might put your mind at ease to know that Mr. Richard, as I have come to call him, was in fact very much like my beloved fictional character, Jean Valjean. When my husband interviewed Mr. Richard we discovered that while in prison, he used his time to repent of his troubled past and found God in the bleakest of places. Whenever Richard speaks of his repentance and the regret of his actions his eyes glean a sincerity and determination that could strike you to the core. You get the feeling that if his bones could talk they would sing a prayerful hymn of humility and forgiveness. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…”
Since his release from prison, Mr. Richard had been crashing on the couch of an acquaintance and persistently looking for a job but to no avail. After about 6 months or so he found himself in a rut. It was time for him to move on from his temporary place of residence but he had nowhere to go, no job, no friends or family in the area of his parole and no possessions to his name. His search for a job had proven near impossible over the past 6 months as he carried the burden of his crime with every application that he filled out. He had tried every church and shelter in the area. They helped in the ways that they could but no one was able to put him up for an undetermined amount of time so that Richard could get his feet on the ground. He was at the end of his resources. His family and fiancé were waiting for him in Arkansas but his parole nailed him down in Texas until he could be released to transfer his parole to Arkansas.
This is where his entrance into our lives began: homeless, wanting to do what’s right but feeling down on his luck and dragging his feet through the town with no place to go. Richard sat with his head in his hands on a park bench that lined a nearby walking path with nothing more than his bicycle, $35 in his pocket and feelings of defeat. Richard had nothing else to do but pray. At this time an acquaintance of ours spotted Mr. Richard and out of the goodness of her heart offered to help Mr. Richard. How many people do that these days? How many people see a stranger on the side of the road and pull over to offer a helping hand? Not many. But this compassionate woman set aside her own fears and what ifs and did just that. She and her husband referred Mr. Richard to my husband Emmanuel who, after meeting Mr. Richard and hearing his story was ready to say yes. He just needed for me to approve. Thus the phone call while I was supervising the children play at the park.
We had opened the doors of our house to people before. Some had a stained past and some did not but we had never had anyone come live with us who had committed murder. Not gonna lie- I was scared. Even after Mr. Richard shared his testimony with me and I believed him, I was still nervous. Who wouldn’t be? After all I am a woman, a mother of two small children, a wife. This character is usually the one most vulnerable to horror and despair in suspenseful movies and books. But, as I prayed, there was this gentle flame burning within me- guiding me towards the unknown. As the flame flickered, the smoke whispered to have faith and trust that God is good and that God is in control. The usual scriptures came to mind, “God has plans to give me hope and a future….” “If my God is for me whom then shall I fear…” “Fear not….” “For such a time like this…” etc. etc.
And, I trusted my husband of course. The man had always led me to greener pastures. Emmanuel was always right when it came to things like this. Recently, Richard admitted to me that what stood out to him the most in this whole situation was that I trusted my husband to take the lead in this pivotal decision. He saw it as a testimony of the strength of our marriage. While I accepted the compliment, I did not view the situation that way. I saw it more as a conversation between myself and my God. I had been praying for months for God to show me how to be a servant and here was the perfect opportunity. I saw this as a lesson in faith and dependence on the grace of God.
Mr. Richard walked through the door and Emmanuel introduced us, the kids nipping at my heels.
I smiled and shook his hand. Richard promised me that he would do whatever was asked of him and thanked me profusely. Meanwhile, I was praying like crazy. Praying. Praying. And then more praying. I got Mr. Richard towels. Prayer. I showed him around the house. Prayer. I introduced him to the kids. Prayer.
I ushered the kids off to bed and braced myself for a sleepless night. I had no idea what was coming around the corner. Sleeping in my downstairs family room amidst legos and yoga mats and the laundry was an older, Arkansas parolee who had shot a man. This would either be the beginning of a heart- warming and triumphant story a la Les Miserables or it would turn out to be something else. Spoiler alert- it’s the former.
But the story is not in the destination; it is in the journey. I hope that you will come back and accompany Mr. Richard on his journey. Having been one of his companions on this crazy ride, I can tell you that you won’t want to miss it. Stay tuned.