One of our volunteers at church works as a counselor in the public school system. Last week she invited me to attend Juvenile Drug Court with her. I took her up on the offer and made it fit my schedule. I see now that her invitation was an answer to one of my recent prayers. Drug Court in Garland County is a probation program for individuals convicted of drug-related offenses. Teens appearing before the judge were at various stages of a program designed to help them make good decisions. The program is an alternative to jail time, so long as the teens enrolled can show progress. Some teens were finding more success than others. Here are some of the things I saw and heard:

  • A high school student left his hearing, having done fairly well. He and his mom were dismissed from the courtroom. Ten minutes later they were brought back in. The teen had to take a drug test as he left court. So did his mom. He passed. She did not.
  • Another boy had failed two separate drug screens since his last court appearance. Over and over again he claimed to be clean and said the tests were wrong. The judge didn’t buy it.
  • Two youth, one boy and one girl, received recognition as Drug Court graduates. They had completed three phases of the drug court program and are entering the final “exit” phase. I had a chance to ask the girl how long the program was. She said, “Well, it’s a nine month program, but I turned it into a year and a half.”
  • I saw three boys brought into the courtroom by a bailiff. They wore orange and blue jumpsuits. The shoes on their feet looked like slippers and they had numbers on the back, above the heel. Someone had written the sizes there with a black permanent marker. They wore chains on their ankles and their wrists. None of them looked old enough to drive yet.
  • One girl and her mother broke down in tears as the judge asked questions about this girl’s history. When mention was made of a former boyfriend, she couldn’t talk. She only cried. He had gotten her involved with drugs. He was out of her life now, but she was still dealing with regrets over past actions.
  • While one boy stood in front of the judge and told him his goal in life was to “make a million dollars,” my friend leaned over to me and explained that our schools had failed this kid. “He shouldn’t have passed but he was moved on from grade to grade. Now he’s in high school, but he can hardly even read.” He wasn’t taking his situation very seriously. If that doesn’t change, he’s on track to spend most of his life in and out of courtrooms like the one we were in. He couldn’t be more than 14 years old.

How was this an answer to prayer? I’ve been praying that God would break my heart for youth in Hot Springs. I’ve been praying that He would open my eyes to the hurts and the needs of youth in this city–because it’s my city now. It is too easy for me to stand at a distance and remain callous toward the hurts of others. It’s too easy for me to point a finger at sin and write people off. It’s too easy for me to fail to love.

But, because I was at a drug court graduation I also got to hear one girl tell her story of recovery. I got to hear her brag about what Jesus has done in her life. I got to hear her witness to everyone in the room. I got to hear her thankfulness for her church–my church–and the people who are supporting her recovery. And, as she reminded me of the grace of God my heart was changed. My prayer has been that God would remove my heart of stone and give to me a heart of flesh (check out Ezekiel 36:25-27). I’ve been praying for a heart that beats in time with His. I’ve been praying for a heart given new life in Christ–a heart that desires to see that new life take root in others. I’ve been praying that God would open doors to reach youth who need to know Him.

At drug court my heart was broken. I noticed God breaking apart my stone heart, hardened by sin. I began to realize an answer to my prayer. I realized the “heart of flesh” I’ve been given in Jesus, and I began to see how that heart–His heart–could transform the stories unfolding before me.

God is continuing to answer my prayer. Because I was at drug court last week, I’ll be visiting our juvenile detention center this week. There’s a girl there who’s been asking a lot of questions about God and faith. She’s not a church-goer, but she’s asking the right questions and one of the adults in her life asked if I could meet with her. Drug Court is not the place I expected to be last week, but it was the place God used to teach me. He’s breaking my heart. He’s breaking apart my heart of stone and giving me a heart of flesh. I wonder where He’ll take me next? I wonder where He’ll take you?

Father, continue to break my heart for your children.Let me not be callous to the needs around me.Teach me to love as you love. Let me know the depth of your love, so that I can share that love. Remove from me this heart of stone and give to me a heart of flesh. For Jesus’ sake, Amen!

Published November 2012