When our foster daughters came to live with us it became apparent they had a negative view of law enforcement as a result of their early life experience. If we ever saw a police officer they became nervous--afraid we were going to get arrested. The girls would frantically duck and hide in the car if we saw a police cruiser. They were convinced police were out to get us.
While I realize recent national headlines and cases have exposed varied experiences with law enforcement, I really wanted to help these children see that their life experiences are not the norm. We have had many conversations about how if you aren't breaking any rules, you don't have anything to fear, but yesterday afternoon it was put to the test thanks to a yellow light.
We were traveling through a deserted intersection downtown on a Sunday afternoon. I thought I could make it. I was wrong. Just as my big white Suburban went under the unmistakably red traffic light, I noticed the man in blue.
I whispered a quick prayer for calm and announced to my carload, "I made a mistake and I am about to have to talk to a police officer about it. Don't worry. I will get a ticket but it is going to be Ok."
"Are you going to jail?"
"What will happen to us?"
"Will we go to jail too?"
"Are K, R & P going to be in foster care now?"
The anxious questions came rapid fire from the little girls in my backseat. They have seen similar situations with frightening endings.
I pulled into an empty parking lot and rolled down my window.
"I am not going to jail. I am just going to need to apologize and pay some money as a fine."
As the officer approached there was silence in my backseat.
"Hello, Ma'am. You knew you ran that red light, didn't you?" He got straight to the point.
"It was not my intention. But, yes, I did. Sir, before we go any further, could you let this carload of concerned kiddos know that we are just going to talk and fill out forms and you aren't planning to arrest me?"
His mouth turned to a slight grin and said, "Roll down the window."
As the back window went down, he was greeted by almost a dozen wide, young eyes. He kindly introduced himself and turned back to me. "Let me see your license and if everything comes back clear we can talk about a warning this time."
"He was so nice!" one of my girls observed.
"He's not taking you to jail!" another exclaimed.
"But you are still in trouble," a somewhat smug voice reminded me.
As the officer went back to his cruiser the kids and I talked about rules and consequences. I made the mistake. This man was doing his job. Then we quietly listened to a song on the turned down radio. I was reminded again how God is redeeming the lives of these children.
I felt an overwhelming desire to tell this officer what a powerful lesson he was being used to teach, but knew I shouldn't embarrass the girls by pointing out that they are foster kids or revealing the parts of their family's story that made this peaceful, cooperative interaction so important.
I considered getting out of the car but remembered too many grainy police videos of interactions gone wrong. I opted for a rumpled envelope stuck in my visor, scratching a quick note explaining a little about the passengers in my car and the beauty of this positive experience with police.
When he came back to the car with my official written warning I was almost in tears.
"I need you to know what a good thing you have been a part of today," I said as I stuck the old envelope in his hand.
He looked bewildered until he started reading it, then his lip quivered and my voice shook as I addressed the kids again.
"This officer's job is to enforce rules that keep us safe. I made a bad choice that could have hurt someone, so he pulled me over to remind me how important it is to follow the rules. Let's thank this officer for working hard to keep people safe."
He inhaled to a chorus of thank yous, exhaled a smile and walked back to his cruiser.
I plan to keep this warning on my bulletin board--yes, as a reminder not to speed up on yellow--but more importantly to remember that there is grace and redemption all around us if we open our eyes to see.
I may be their foster mom but daily I see God use other adults--some intentionally and others quite unwittingly--to mark and influence these little hearts and lives.
Nothing in the economy of God is wasted...even a lead foot!