“Roy. Someone just rang the doorbell.”
I was startled awake about 3:15 last Thursday morning. Our doorbell rarely rings, even during the day. Most people knock and just let themselves into the house. So to be awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night was very disconcerting.
Roy stumbled out of bed and headed to the door as I stayed tucked safely in our room. He quickly returned to the bedroom.
“It’s the police,” he said.
My heart sank. The police don’t show up at your door with good news. The police don’t awaken you in the middle of the night with good news. I knew my younger two kids were safely tucked into their beds sound asleep, so my mind immediately went to my oldest who is away at college. What happened to him? I had just seen him that morning at his surgical follow-up, but I hadn’t talked to him since noon. Something bad must have happened.
I jumped out of bed and made myself presentable before rushing to the front door. Roy had stepped outside with the officer. I began listening through the door, trying to brace for what was to come.
But the conversation wasn’t about Blake. I began to make out pieces of the conversation, a conversation focusing on my younger son. I opened the door and began to listen more closely.
A car had been stolen from a nearby neighborhood, and the thieves had ditched the car around the corner from our house. The police were hot on their trail, chasing them on foot through the neighborhood. The wet grass had provided an easy way to trail them…until they decided to hit the concrete and the police lost them.
In the course of the “investigation,” the officers asked the girl whose car was stolen if she knew anyone who lives in our neighborhood. Now, you have to understand we live in a small town where everyone knows everyone. I guarantee every kid in the high school knows at least one kid who lives in our neighborhood…just as every kid in the high school knows at least one kid in each of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Cole lives in that addition,” she said innocently. “But he would never…”
The officers left before she could finish her statement, before she could say he would never steal a car. The officers were so intent on catching the thieves, they jumped on the lead and came straight to our house to see if Cole was in his bed sleeping…or if he was the mysterious thief they were chasing through the neighborhood.
I knew Cole was in bed asleep. I knew he had been at the house most of the evening. I knew he had left to feed his sheep but had returned at 9:40 and gone straight to bed. But, to defend my son and prove the police were looking in the wrong place, I grabbed my phone and headed to his bedroom. Sure enough, he was sound asleep, his phone next to his head softly playing music. He didn’t even flinch when I opened his door to check on him. I could barely hear the soft sounds of his breathing.
I went back to the front door, to our unwelcome visitors.
“He’s sound asleep in his bed,” I said. “And his phone hasn’t left the house since 9:41 pm,” I added as I showed them the app that gives me his whereabouts at any given time. “And furthermore, he’s the president of the FFA and a straight A student. He’s not the type of kid who would steal a car.”
My fear and dread had given way to anger and disbelief that the police—that anyone—would dare wake us up and accuse my son of stealing a car. Sure. He’s an ornery teenage boy. He has his moments of irresponsibility and lapses in judgement.
But stealing a car?
I’ve spent more than enough time thinking (maybe fuming) about our little incident with the police. I’ve wondered how they could jump so quickly into suspecting my son, simply because he lived in the neighborhood. And, honestly, I’ve wondered why anyone would ditch a stolen car down the road from his/her house. If that were the case, the thieves would belong in the category of world’s dumbest criminals.
But I’ve found myself wondering how often we are just like the police. How many times do we jump to conclusions before investigating the full story? How many times do we assume someone is guilty just because of their acquaintances, their whereabouts? Or, how often do we—even unintentionally—point the finger at someone because we are less than cautious about our words?
As we’ve begun to recover from this little unexpected interruption in our lives, I’m looking at my own life. I’m wondering how often I’m just like those cops, jumping to conclusions without knowing the full story. So today, I commit to…
Listen to the full story. If the officers had taken their time, they would have heard the girl tell them that my son would not steal her car, that he’s not that kind of kid. I know. They were in the heat of the moment, with officers literally in a foot chase throughout our neighborhood. I know time was of the essence. I know in our small town, it was probably a really big, heart-pounding event to be chasing suspects on foot in the middle of the night.
But let’s not forget that we are dealing with people’s lives. We are handling reputations, which can be a fragile thing in this day of social media and instant access to the world. Let’s remember there might be more to the story, another side that needs to be heard. Let’s take our time and extend grace and love and show patience in forming our opinions.
Know a person’s character. My kids are not perfect. I’ve probably made a lot of mistakes in raising them, but my primary goal has always been to raise kids with character and integrity. They might not have the cleanest room. They might wear some interesting combinations of clothes. But, I hope I’ve instilled in them character. Integrity. Honesty. Love for God and love for others.
If the officers had known my son’s character—or even taken the time to listen to the girl—they would have never even bothered us that night. Character is a huge part of our reputation. It’s a huge part of keeping us undefiled by this world.
I want to make sure I always spend enough time getting to know someone that I can see their character, that I can truly know who they are at the heart level. I always want to make sure I live my life above reproach so my integrity will shine through in all I say and do.
Watch my words. Our words can have a tremendous impact on others. We need to make sure we use them wisely, always being aware of how our words can tear down or build up others.
Scripture tells us to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25), to let no course jesting or obscenities come from our mouths (Ephesians 5:4). It tells us to think on things that are lovely and noble and true and right (Philippians 4:8) because our mouths speak out of the overflow of our hearts (Luke 6:45). If our words are not pure and loving, we need to check our hearts and see what we are feeding our minds.
I’m thankful my son does have a good reputation, that he’s a young man of character and integrity. I’m also thankful that multiple neighbors have video footage of a woman running through their yards at 3:00 in the morning on the night of the theft…and others have video footage of individuals rummaging through their cars.
What a crazy life we sometimes live. I just want to make sure I am always living it God’s way.