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What Would People Think?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

All My Ambitions, Hopes, and Plans

[Loooooong post. This is why I resisted getting a blog for so long. It really does eat away at my time. If you actually take the time to read it, I thank you in advance.]

Kenny and I hosted a Christian Legal Society dinner last night. The guest of honor was Erin's dad. (Yes, he's a Nebraska Supreme Court Justice. I find that really cool but Erin doesn't trumpet the fact too much. She's not the type who name drops, especially not the type who name drops her dad. But I guess I just let the secret out to my audience of...what...10? If that much.)

Mr. Gerrard spoke with us some about the question we lawyers often get: "How can you be a Christian and a lawyer?" Or even "how can you be a good person and a lawyer?" Given this world's low standard for what "good person" means and the outrage with which that question is often asked - often it takes the form "how can you defend someone you know is guilty?" - the question merits consideration.

Mr. Gerrard's response was "guilty of what?" He explained that he meant that both a in a legal sense - i.e. one accused of murder may only be guilty of manslaughter and thus deserve a lesser penalty - and in a theological sense. When Jesus's enemies brought before him a woman caught in the act of adultery, she should have been stoned under the Mosaic law. But Christ wasn't filled with the righteous indignation of his scheming questioners. He saw this broken woman and, in a very real sense, he advocated for her and saved her life.

That's where my heart lies. More often than not, when a lawyer encounters a client, that client is hurting and broken. Often the client has made a terrible decision. Mr. Gerrard argued, and I agree, that we as lawyers have a responsibility beyond mere legal advocacy to improve the lives of our clients. As Christian lawyers, especially, we must love them with the same zeal that Christ loved the prostitutes, swindlers, drunkards, beggars, lepers, and outcasts.

I actually had to wipe away the tears as Mr. Gerrard was talking and I heard him describing what I want to do....indeed what I have done in the past. Am I doing that now? Am I on the path to doing that? I'm reminded of something an acquaintance of mine wrote once (and, yes, she's a law student; her words in italics):

I do not want to be a lawyer. I want to teach United States history at an Episcopal private school in the mountains. I want to live in a well-built log cabin with a vegetable garden out back. I want to keep chickens in the yard and have little barefooted children tugging at my apron strings.

I do not want to deal with the desperation, messiness, brokenness that sags the shoulders of most folks who walk into a legal aid office. I do not want to hear the story of the kittens' heads being snapped off by the abusive husband who tells his wife she better be careful or he will do the same to her. I do not want ever again to hold a screaming baby with the tell-tale signs of fetal alcohol syndrome while her mother seeks an order of protection against the baby's abusive father.

You want to know what the really crazy thing is? That's precisely what I want to do! I want to look "desperation, messiness, brokenness" in the face and respond with love. I want to make the hard decisions which seem to have no right answers. I want to fight the usually-but-not-always hopeless fights and make my client's life a little bit better. (Hey, even taking a murder charge down to manslaughter is a victory.) And occasionally there will be the big victories that make life doable.

Instead, I will be working a comfortable 9-to-5 job when I graduate, for a nearly 50% greater salary than local public defenders or Georgia Justice Project attorneys make. I won't be making mega-bucks at a big firm, but I don't think I will encounter many broken people either.

What am I doing? Well, I'm reminded of a song lyric I heard in church today:

All of my ambitions, hopes, and plans
I surrender these into your hands

I ever tell you how I got this job at the Department of Labor? It's a crazy story. They came to Duke for on-campus interviewing, but I didn't even know they were coming. I hadn't been having much luck in my on-campus interviews at that point and that day I had come to school in a Charlie Brown t-shirt and shorts sporting 2-days worth of facial hair. Suffice to say I didn't look that professional. But someone informed me that DOL was coming that day and I figured it was worth a shot. I popped my head into the interview room to ask if they had any openings. Yes, they said, they had one in 30 minutes. So they gave me a paper about their program and I quickly printed out my resume, transcript, and writing sample. I came up with some questions and did the interview. It went well, but given the way I was dressed and the last-minute nature of the interview, I didn't give it much thought.

Months passed and I continued the increasingly frustrating job search. I panicked on occasion. I prayed a LOT. Then, out of the blue, I got a call that I was one of the finalists for the DOL job. One month later, with no additional work on my part except giving them my references, the job was mine.

After all the work I did, and all the praying that God would show me the way, to have this job just fall in my lap....I truly believe this is God's will.

And besides, it's not that bad. This office does plenty of good work. And the regular office hours will mean I will have more time to spend with my wife, an especially important consideration early in our marriage as we are getting used to life together. Also, I was able to refer a potential client to the Georgia Justice Project recently...so my contacts with GJP could still prove useful. And if I want to help broken people, Atlanta's not lacking in volunteer opportunities.

Bottom line: I don't exactly know what I'm doing, but I'm trusting God on this one. I'm surrendering my ambitions, hopes, plans, and dreams into His hands.


  • I hope to keep in touch. I suspect you will have a very fulfilling and promising career and marriage. What an exciting time!

    I'm sorry I didn't get to see Erin's dad, even if CLS isn't my club, it would be wonderful to see someone so inspirational. I just took a job with the PD's office and I will keep his words in mind for a long time.

    By Anonymous Amy, at 2/19/2006 6:21 PM  

  • All I will say is this: your job doesn't have to be your vocation.

    By Anonymous bob amar, at 2/20/2006 9:52 AM  

  • Dear Beautiful,

    I debated on if I should write this as a post or email it to you. I have a feeling anyone who reads my post will be sick, but I think would agree :)

    You have such a beautiful heart! Thank you so much for sharing. Your heart to serve others inspires me. I am at work at Oasis, and because I have gotten so burned out at times I think what do I need to do to get through the day, instead of asking how can I love my clients (who are difficult teens) for who they are and challenge them to change! You reminded me of the importance of loving my client not just serving them. You remind me that we are all broken and hurting and in need of love. Yet it is hard to love those who need it the most. It is hard to love those who do not show you and others love. Yet what I am finding in my work is there is always a reason for the behavior. For example, many teens who are violent have been hurt badly by their own parents and are afraid to be hurt again. I have realized that when I hear why they react the way they do, all of a sudden I feel mercy and love. I think that is what Christ sees. He knows why we respond the way we do. He knows our pain and has compassion.

    Well a long post... but I tend to be long winded, right beautiful? :)

    I love you Ben and Thank God for you! Your heart is beautiful and you truly inspire me!

    By Anonymous christy, at 2/20/2006 12:26 PM  

  • Man, when Jesus was on, he was friggin' on, wasn't he?

    Amen and awomen to what Bob said. You'll have the opportunity to express your faith in many ways both in your job, and externally to your job.

    I'm not sure whether I personally believe its God's plan per se, but I do firmly believe stuff happens for a reason, and often in crazy unexpected ways. Your tale of employment is one such example. My own tale of employment would in fact be another. So just keep on truckin'.

    By Blogger Mike, at 2/21/2006 10:56 AM  

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