YES, NO OR WAIT.
I have heard it said that when we pray, God has one of three answers for us…Yes, No or Wait. Sometimes He grants our prayers and we are happy. Sometimes He says “No” and we wonder why He is being so mean. Still other times we don’t get an immediate answer and we have to Wait. This was the case for my husband and me as we spent years trying to find a way for him to become a full-time police officer.
He started his law enforcement career working in the smallest county jail in the entire state of WI. We hadn’t really thought about this field but we were both working low-paying jobs and since we were expecting our first child my husband decided to seek a job that would pay better so I could stay home to raise our son. Being hired in the jail was more about the money at the time. Little did we know it was just the start for us and would change our lives forever.
His working in the jail brought on many emotions for me that I’m sure I’ll get to in future posts, but today I am thinking about all of the times I heard about the conversations he had with his inmates. I didn’t know the names or the specifics of what was said but I heard many times how the way my husband treated the inmates made a difference in how they treated others.
He told of days he came into work and something happened to make an inmate angry. Some jailers would treat the inmates as they saw them, criminals behind bars, doing their time. But my husband always tried to see them for what they really were…people. People who had made a mistake, but still were people. He made connections with his people. When you spend 8 or sometimes 12 hours on a shift checking on someone at least twice an hour, taking them their meals, letting them in and out for work, dealing with their problems, etc. you inevitably start to get to know people. One of the things he would always tell me was that they still were people and deserved to be treated respectfully. If they disobeyed or were disrespectful that was a different situation but when they cooperated and followed the rules it was a different place. When certain inmates got riled up, my husband had a way of talking them down. After reading a book about it we found out it was a term called “Verbal Judo”. You can use words as your defense and often times do not need to use physical means to handle a bad situation. Often times the words even calmed them down enough that what was expected to become a bad situation just fizzled back to calm cooperation. Over time this became a skill he was known for and the inmates would ask to talk to him if there was a problem because they knew he would listen. What I took away from those years was that humans are much more than what their current situation may seem. When you get to know people or look at the big picture you often times see why they act as they do and how you treat them really does matter.
Now back to the Yes, No, Wait. It took several years, and a LOT of patience before we got to the point from wanting to be in fulltime law enforcement to actually getting the chance. Opportunities that we thought were a sure bet fell through and it actually took four years longer than we expected before my husband landed his first full-time job as a police officer. We would get to the final process in a location and then be turned down. We would apply somewhere we dreamed of living. We found places that we thought were perfect but time after time we just didn’t get the job. Then came Green Bay. After going to Law Enforcement academy here one of my husband’s classmates asked him to apply here. We had never considered it but apparently God knew best and after about a year-long process we accepted a job working for the department. Along the way we never understood the No’s that we thought should be a Yes. We grumbled and complained and began the search for a new location but the whole time we were seeking what we wanted instead of what God had in mind and it wasn’t until we listened to His will that we got our “Yes”.
During those years working in the jail all we wanted was to move on and to have him become a police officer but now when we look back we agree that the time he spent inside the jail talking to inmates and building personal communication skills were actually preparing him for a better and ultimately safer time on the road. What he learned in the jail both about himself and how to talk to people in stressful situations has helped him so many times in his job now in the city that I am grateful for the time we spent in “Wait” mode. We even had some No’s during the Wait and weren’t exactly sure how long the Wait would last but God knew and I have learned that He knows so much more than I do. When I tried to force things and pick where I was sure we were going to get hired, it only led to built up hope and then a rollercoaster ride down to the valley of disappointment. The whole time what we thought was mean was actually God equipping him and even teaching me about the value of waiting.
Today I learned that not only was God using that time to shape my husband, but he was using my husband to also shape me. That lesson about troubled people still being people has been a key part of several discussions we’ve had lately. We have talked about how you may see someone who is crabby or rude but you don’t know their circumstances. You don’t know what their life is like or what just may have happened two minutes before you saw them. Maybe they are just mean but maybe they are actually hurting and the way you treat them may just make a difference in their life. Just as the way my husband treated his inmates affected their behavior and actions, we need to think about the people around us and consider that we don’t always know the big picture.
I was able to pass this along to my students today when I was substitute teaching. While talking at the end of the day with a group of students they began to complain about a teacher and how mean he was. One of the students made a comment that the teacher must be having problems in his marriage because that’s what he would suspect if he acted this way at home. The rest of the class froze in amazement that those words actually came out of the student’s mouth so I saw this as an opportunity to talk about what I have learned about how we treat people. I shared with them the story I just wrote about above, how my husband used to work in the jail and how he learned to treat the people with respect. How we don’t always know the full story and knowing the story isn’t necessarily the important part. The important thing I wanted them to know was the difference we can make by choosing how we are going to treat people. If we treat even the meanest person with respect it just might make a difference. I had spent 20 minutes listening to my class talk about how their teacher needed to change but after my heart-to-heart with them there was a silence and a change of attitude… and maybe a change of heart in the kids. I may never see those kids again but I am sitting here tonight thinking back to the almost 15 years ago when we were waiting for our Yes to come. It came, but God used the Wait for so much more than I’ll ever know and today the “Wait” lessons I learned were passed on to a whole new group of students.
Going through a “Wait” can be one of the hardest things we have to do but knowing what I know today, and feeling how I feel right now I am becoming more and more willing to walk alongside my husband through our “Waits” because the benefits we get on the other side are more amazing and wonderful than I could’ve ever imagined while I was inside the wait zone.
Just before the final bell rang today I watched the posture soften and the complaining words of my students change into Thank Yous. The last boy to leave my room today, the one who had done most of the talking but also seemed to change the most actually said, “Mrs. L., thanks for being a top notch substitute.”
I had shared with them that being a substitute meant I was at different schools, in different classrooms all the time and this may be the one and only time I ever see them, but if I could leave one thing with them it is that even if I only ever know them for one day of their life, I hope I make a difference in that one day. I hope that in my one day I taught them something and not just off of the lesson plan, but something about life and how to be a better person. I truly think today was one of those life changing days at least for one boy and if I have to wait another 10 years for a “wait” to become a “Yes”, I am willing to do it. Days like today don’t happen enough and I am hoping that as I learn to wait I can pass on my experiences and change more lives.
“but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
TEACH ME LORD, TEACH ME LORD…TO WAIT.