The moment I saw Ms. M purposefully marching up the stairs to the Open Hands legal aid desk at Father’s Heart, I knew I was in for an extraordinary encounter. There was nothing “typical” about Ms. M. While small in stature, her personality was larger than life. She had legal papers in hand. She knew what she wanted, and it wasn’t just orange juice and toast. Ms. M had come to Open Hands to get assistance with her application for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities (CRD) – a document that prevents employers from discriminating against that person based on their criminal record. In a thick New York accent, Ms. M gave us the outlines of her story in broad strokes. She had served her time for a felony drug conviction. But after finding Jesus (in jail of all places) and 10 years of good behavior, she was ready for a fresh start.

As I assisted Ms. M in applying for a CRD, she shared her collected wisdom with the confidence, joy and ease that come with having overcome hard times. She talked about her past, but focused on her future. She was almost 60, helping to raise her grandson, involved at her church, working, but looking for a better job. God told her “don’t settle!” and why should she? I loved listening to Ms. M because she was so excited, not just about life, but specifically about her life. I’ve met high school kids who weren’t half as enthusiastic about their dreams and days ahead.

I try to come to Open Hands full, confident, and ready to give because the clients often come empty, in a moment of crisis or great need. But after walking Ms. M through her paperwork and praying over her family and future, I realized how much she had encouraged and inspired me. As we hugged and parted ways, I cherished the gift I received that morning while volunteering with Open Hands.