Vanessa donned the black robe being careful to show it the respect it deserved. She had worked long and hard to earn the position of Family Court Judge and was both honored and humbled by the achievement. The court had been plagued with mismanagement, resulting in a backlogged schedule equaled by no other court in the district. Vanessa was determined to run the court efficiently and fairly. Since taking the oath six weeks ago, she had been able to clear cases previously scheduled for seven weeks. She was gaining ground, but there was still too much to do.
“All rise. The court of Family Law is now in session. Honorable Judge Vanessa Hart presiding.”
Vanessa took her place on the bench. “Bailiff, call the first case please.”
“Case number 68064. Johnson vs. Johnson. All parties please step forward.”
Vanessa watched as a 16 year old boy walked forward, followed by a middle aged man. The boy’s arms were tattooed and his head was shaved. What spoke to Vanessa were his eyes. They were vacant, as if there were no living creature behind them. She turned to look at the man behind the boy. Her heart skipped a beat and she audibly gasp as she recognized him.
When Richard saw Vanessa, the shock, embarrassment, and dismay registered on his face with lightning speed. It would be his luck to come up before this judge! How was he going to explain his circumstances? How could he ask her for help? Should he apologize first?
“Judge Hart, I’m coming today to ask for help with my son. Robert was a good kid, but when he turned 14 years old, everything changed. He started missing school and ignoring curfew. His grades are dropping and I am at my wit’s end as to what to do for him. I really need help. I am begging for help.”
“What is going on, Robert?”
Robert began explaining and justifying his philosophy of life, which could be summed up as ‘party, party, party’.
As Robert talked, Richard watched Vanessa. She hadn’t changed much in the last 18 years. She was still beautiful, with soft caring eyes. Richard could see the compassion as she watched Robert. He also remembered the last time he had seen her. It hadn’t ended well.
“Has there been a change in the home in the last two years?” It took a minute for Richard to realize that she was speaking to him.
“My wife died after a long battle with cancer. Her illness and death were hard on all of us. The last year of her life, she required constant care and I wasn’t able to give Robert the supervision he needed. By the time I had dealt with my grief, he was out of control.”
As Vanessa watched Richard, her mind was transported back to the last time they had spoken. She remembered the stone cold look in his eyes. She remembered the harsh words that had come out of his mouth. Mostly she remembered her broken heart. No matter what he said to her, she had answered in a soft voice. Not that she was following Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” She just kept hoping he would realize that she didn’t deserve to be spoken to in that manner. He had broken up with her. Why was he so angry with her? True, she hadn’t taken the news of the break well, but that was had been weeks ago. She had since agreed, so why was he so angry now? She desperately searched her memory in an effort to understand what she had done to warrant his behavior.
Vanessa looked across the courtroom at Richard. Many things had changed in her life, but her heart had not. It would always belong to him. Pay attention, Vanessa. You have a job to do. She thought as she mentally shook herself. What had he said?
“If we don’t do something, my son is going to be lost to me forever. Please, Your Honor. I am desperate.”
“What have you tried so far?”
“I tried punishment, love, ignoring his behavior, and counseling. The counselor thinks he is angry about his mother’s death, but I can’t help that.”
“Robert, are you angry about your mother’s death?”
“Who would I be angry with?” Robert said defiantly.
“Are you angry with your mother?”
“That is stupid. It wasn’t her fault she got sick.”
“Anger is part of grief, Robert. It is alright to be angry that she left you.”
“I’m not angry with my mother.”
“Are you angry with God?”
“I don’t believe in God.”
Immediately Vanessa looked at Richard, who hung his head in shame. “Explain that to me.”
“My wife was an atheist. I thought that she would change after we married, but she didn’t. Eventually, I got tired of attending church alone and stopped going.”
“You have raised your son in a godless home and now you wonder why he is rebelling after the death of his mother? You don’t need to hear the answers from me. You know them. The answers are in your heart. This is not your son’s problem. You have gone against what you know is right, and then saddled him with heartbreak and no support. What else did you expect to happen? You made the decision to abandon your faith. Don’t blame this boy for the consequences.”
“This is a court of law. You don’t have any right to talk to me about my faith.” Richard raised his voice in both pitch and volume making his frustration clear to everyone in the courtroom.
“Bailiff, please escort Mr. Johnson to my chambers.”
Richard followed the bailiff, wondering what was about to happen. He knew he had been out of line in the courtroom. He wouldn’t have spoken to any other judge like that.
As soon as he entered the judge’s chambers, he regretted his outburst. “I’m sorry Vanessa. I mean Judge Hart. You know how my temper gets me in trouble.”
“You would be correct about my right to question your faith, if you were anyone else. But I know what you once stood for. I knew your convictions and beliefs. I am shocked that you abandoned your beliefs.”
“I didn’t abandon my beliefs. I just stopped practicing them.”
“God is a jealous God. He will not be ignored by his children. He has chosen to get your attention through your son. Do you want help with this child?”
“Yes. I will do just about anything to save my boy.”
“Then get back in church. Find a fundamental, Bible believing church with a counseling pastor. Go in for some family counseling. Daniel 10:12 says, ‘Humble yourself before God.’ You not only need to humble yourself before God, but before your son. You need to apologize for raising him in a manner not pleasing to God. Then start repairing the damage. I hope it is not too late, but only God knows that.”
“Thank you, Vanessa.” Richard said as the tears rolled down his cheeks. “I needed to hear that.”
“Let me know how you are doing. I would like to see you again, but not in my courtroom.” They both laughed as Richard stood facing one he had wronged and gathered his courage to face the two he had wronged the most—his son and his God.