That Time I (Literally) Blew It

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It sounded like our SUV had been hit, sequentially, by two cannons.

After a few choice mental exasperations, I voiced nervously, “No worries guys, everything’s okay. We’ve just blown out the tires on the right side of the car.”

We’d set out so cheerily only moments before, two enormous vehicles stuffed to the gills with students, sleeping bags, and excitement. We were on our way to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA for a weekend retreat.

Two generous families had lent their cars to us for the journey, essentially entrusting both their kids and their property to me, the youth minister, for the next two and a half days.

As I turned onto Park street – literally only blocks from the church – my mind was whizzing with checklists and details, the talk I was to give, and the requests coming from the backseat.

“Can we get the jams going, here?” came the entreaty from the back row.

And so, I reflexively reached down to excavate the mix CD I’d so lovingly prepared for the trip. Just as the convenient “traffic calmers” emerged – those gloriously inconvenient islands of curb that jut into the road to keep traffic slow – I placed the CD into the slot, causing the half-second loss of focus it took to incur hundreds of dollars of damage. And potentially the need to cancel the trip.

As the kids sat on the side of the road while I called the owner of the vehicle, I experienced the expected barrage of emotions that accompany mistakes: shame, guilt, worry, and exasperation. Had this really just happened? Could I have truly been this irresponsible?

My mind raced with plans, ideas for other vehicles to get us to the retreat, the numbers in my bank account to pay for replacement tires. Would these parents ever let their kids come on another trip with me?

And then, it happened.

Grace.

Undeserved blessing, the game-changer and re-orienter toward the Giver of Life, the One in whom we have real hope. The counter-cultural, nonsensical, lavish extra we have in Jesus manifested itself through one generous mom.

She picked up the phone on the fifth ring, so my anxiety had risen significantly as I wondered what I’d do if I couldn’t get a hold of her. I explained what had happened, full of apology and dread. And then she said something I will never forget.

“Liz, this happens to all of us. We know you’re a safe driver, and we’re so grateful for all you do for our kids.” What kindness, I thought. I was stunned. This was mercy. I was not receiving the rightful condemnation I deserved.

But then, she heaped on the grace.

“I’m on the way. I want you to take the van. We’ll have the SUV towed and take care of the tires while you guys are in Williamsburg. And there’s no way we’ll let you pay for them.”

I couldn’t believe it. She was giving me her other vehicle. Not only was she not yelling at me accusatorily and not telling me I was an irresponsible adult, she was taking the burden of my tire debt off my shoulders and paying it for me. And, even more bewildering, she continued to trust me with her children.

I have sometimes heard the difference between mercy and grace described using an analogy of a fisherman catching a fish.

Mercy happens when the fish is caught and the fisherman lets him off the hook, deciding to pardon him and send him back on his merry way in the water.

Grace happens when the fish is caught, and the fisherman takes him off the hook and then feeds him a worm before sending him back on his way. It’s extra. It’s undeserved. It’s a game changer.

This humbling story sticks with me as one of the more beautiful pictures of the grace of Jesus I’ve experienced with a group of students. It changed the trajectory of our trip, which would have been cancelled. And it changed the trajectory of my heart, which would have been cycling in shame and guilt. It reoriented us to the bigger story at work, of our God who especially uses mistakes, weakness, and broken things to reveal His grand love to us. It isn’t the way of the world, but it sure is a beautiful way. He sure is a Beautiful Way.

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