By Melony Pugh-Weber
I had just ordered 9 chicken sandwiches and 7 cheeseburgers in the drive-thru of a local fast food restaurant. A friendly worker greeted me at the window to let me know that my order would be ready soon. This particular man was very personable and had helped me before, but usually he didn’t work the window.
And while I love to talk about my work with Touchstone, I felt it particularly necessary to explain to the worker that all this food was not just for me. I quickly told him that I work for a nonprofit that helps teens and that this food was for meetings that we do during their lunch at a local high school. The man responded that he would love to help teens. I then added that the food I had just ordered was for students at John Overton High School.
“I went to Overton,” the worker exclaimed! He added that he had played basketball while he was in school there. I asked when he had been there. “A long time ago,” he replied. “I left Overton back in 2003.” Something in my heart quickened.
“What’s your last name?” I asked. Shaw was his reply. For some reason I hesitated to ask directly. “Do you have a brother named Michael?” I asked. With great surprise, he responded, “I’m Michael.” My heart was pounding! Michael. Could it be that Michael Shaw? My Michael Shaw?
I can’t say that I actually knew Michael Shaw. But, I can say that one incident connected our lives in the most unexpected way. It was 1999. I had just gotten back home to get ready for work after dropping off my kids at school. As I pulled into the driveway behind my house – for just a moment, I saw a young male who seemed to be carrying a sack over his shoulder the way Santa Claus would. He was there, and then he disappeared. A strange feeling came over me.
From the outside, everything appeared OK at my house. I unlocked the back door and went in. My eyes immediately went to the table where I had left my cell phone that I had forgotten to take with me plugged in. It was gone! And, so was any feeling everything was OK. The door was locked, so how could he have gotten in? I started checking the other doors and windows, and looked to see what else was missing. When I made it back around to the door I had entered, I saw a window that was open the tiniest bit. An old window that we had never managed to open had been pried up and must have been the intruder’s point of entry.
I called the police to report the robbery. A patrol car showed up in my back driveway sooner than expected. They wrote up a report and left. I called my cell service provider to inform them that my phone had been stolen. They let me know that they could check the record of calls to see if my phone had been used. Surely, this could help locate the scum who broke into my house. I called the police, again.
A while later, another police car pulled up to my house. But, this time it was a supervising officer. The sergeant said he would get a fingerprint unit over to my house to check for prints. A short time later, another officer arrived and took fingerprints from the back door and window. The police officer was very kind and caring, but I was still feeling wounded by everything that happened that day. I had little hope that the person who caused it would be caught.
What I didn’t know was that there was a 15-year-old boy out there feeling even more hopeless than me. Three days later, I received a call from a detective letting me know that the fingerprints identified a student at Overton as the person who broke in and took our stuff. The detective told me that it took some doing but, the boy had confessed. And, unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time he had been in trouble. And sadly I learned later, not the last.
Suddenly my thoughts returned to 2018, and I realized sitting in that drive-thru that I was looking at a man with whom I already had a connection. “Michael… You robbed my house 20 years ago, and I’ve been praying for you ever since.” I was looking at a 35-year-old who had broken into my home when he was a 15-year-old high school student.
In a mix of surprise, joy, and me on the verge of tears, we quickly connected. Michael confirmed having robbed my home saying that he did remember that day. I wanted to know so much about what had happened the last 20 years, but because my large order wasn’t ready yet and a long line of cars was forming behind me, Michael had to say, “Umm, could you pull forward out of the way, and I’ll bring your order out to you!”
For some unexplained reason, I think that we were both actually happy to see each other. A minute or two later, Michael came out with my bags of food. He told me that after he served time in a juvenile detention facility, he tried to make a change in his life. Unfortunately, he had the heart to change, but he was still connected to unhealthy influences that pulled him back into trouble.
I told him how Jim and I prayed for him every night at bedtime with our children. We asked that God do His good in Michael’s life. Part of me had wanted Michael to get paid back for the harm he had caused us. But, thankfully, that feeling didn’t last. God had given me a heart to see kids change, and that their lives be restored for good. But, there’s no guarantee that I always get to see that change.
My life’s work is all about helping teens change. But, the kid who robbed us was not the only one who needed to change. I was angry. I took the break-in very personally. But, my family and I started praying for Michael Shaw. We prayed that God would do what was needed for Michael’s good. Thankfully, instead of retribution, we were hoping for something better. We were hoping for redemption.
Michael’s life hasn’t changed magically overnight. His life has been tough these last few years. But, that’s not my story to tell. That’s for Michael to tell. He told me that he has been trying to write a book about his life, but he can’t seem to finish it. I smiled and told him that I thought I knew why. I told him it was because he must have been saving a chapter for me. My husband and I were able to get with Michael four days after we reconnected. We talked about the last 20 years. Michael thanked us for caring about him.
Just as we were parting ways, Michael exclaimed, “Wait, I forgot something. I haven’t apologized for the harm I caused your family. I am so sorry for what I did to you.” We smiled and told Michael that we forgave him. After a big group hug, Michael stood frozen. I asked if he were OK. Michael said that he had never done that before. I asked, “Done what?” He explained that he had never apologized to anyone before for the harm he had done. His remorse opened the door for something else that he had never experienced before – forgiveness. We’ve been part of each other’s stories for almost 20 years. Only now, I think we’re starting to understand why. And, the story continues