(A very transparent post on the eve of this blog’s second anniversary!)
I was arrested on a Tuesday night. In the worst rain our Midwestern metro had seen in decades, I plowed my cousin’s champagne-colored Ford Escort into a late model sedan. “Oh, shit!” seemed a futile and gross understatement but I uttered it anyway as we swerved to the deserted shoulder of a normally busy four-lane thoroughfare. When I stepped out into the dark deluge, a swollen current of angry water poured over my cheap leather boots nearly knocking me down. I turned and waded through the blacktop river toward the other car behind me. As I peered through spitting sheets of rain, I was startled to see a young girl huddled like a drenched kitten next to the door frame.
Though I was plastered as the wet hair across my face I knew two things: I would most definitely not sweep this latest indiscretion under the rug, and I needed to rescue this shivering girl from her cold misery. I looked around frantically and spotted a deserted gas station one block down the street. I gestured wildly and she nodded her agreement. Back in our cars, we slowly inched toward the refuge, a mini-caravan of young girls in over our heads, much like the flooded gutters breaching their iron grates.
“My dad is gonna kill me,” she said as we assessed the physical and emotional damage of our collision under the station’s metal awning, old gas pumps bearing witness to the amount of their last customers’ purchases and our predicament. No one else was there and I hoped it might stay that way, especially since the damage to our cars wasn’t extensive. With some fast talking, I might wiggle out of this situation and be home before sunrise with a little white lie to serve my mother at breakfast. I was midway through assuring the other driver that, in fact, her dad would not wring her neck when a police car pulled into the lot.
It didn’t take long for the officer to gather his intel. Within minutes, I was reciting the alphabet backwards and counting footsteps, taking care to remember how many steps and which direction to turn on my way back. It took several tries, but eventually I blew hard enough to register a .16 in his handheld breathalyzer. At that point, he took the younger girl’s contact information and sent her home, sticking his head in our car to note my cousin’s wide-eyed, scared-sober posture in the passenger seat. Then, he cuffed and placed me in the back of his cruiser, the metal bracelets painfully nonnegotiable against my wrists.
The ride seemed long and steamy and stifling. My stomach sloshed like the puddles splashing against the glass on which I rested my head, tears and snot running freely down my face without a hand to wipe them away. I stared at the steel gate in front of me and searched for anything to say in response to the dark ink of the car and what might happen next. Upon reaching the station, I was led down a brightly-lit hallway still drenched and snot-faced and drunk. I entered a small room and gave the arresting officer my statement, peppering each answer with sobs and sorries and requests for water which were denied. Each time he asked if I’d like to call a lawyer, I begged for my mother with a thick, parched tongue.
Eventually the officer seemed satisfied with my statement, took off the handcuffs and led me into another small room for my mug shot. I attempted a somber smile, certainly not wanting to show any enthusiasm for my circumstances lest the person watching behind the two-way glass decide to keep me there but not wanting to indicate any disrespect to the officer taking my picture lest he become angry and want to keep me there too. It turned out more like a morose grimace and, after being handed a court date, I was finally led to an outer door where my cousin and an old classmate whom she had called for help waited for me. He dropped us off at our home, my mother’s townhouse, and pulled away with a wave, the night’s events of no consequence to him.
It was then 4:00 in the morning. I was still trying to piece together what had happened and what it meant for the day that was just about to begin, wondering if there might be a profound burden to bear with the sunrise, the peeling back of that well-worn rug to expose to the new morning a closely-guarded collection of secret shame. I walked with something like dread and disbelief from the front door through a small hallway to my mother’s room and sat stiffly on the side of her bed. Gingerly, I poked her legs and loudly whispered, “Mom, MOM, I have something I need to tell you.”
She smelled us before she opened her eyes, gagging as she sat up. It took several rounds, but we finally managed to bring my mother up to speed with what had happened. It didn’t escape me then that it was not the first time she had been roused from sleep, my frantic voice dragging her from respite to reality more than once, my drinking an escalating vice that threatened to take her daughter out. It also wasn’t the first time my cousin and I had had car trouble while under the influence of captain-n-cokes. Rather, that night’s events were the culmination of many, many errors in judgment and risks taken, sorrows drowned and insecurities buried.
What shook me in those wee hours, as I crawled into bed damp and sick, was that my sin had grown too big to hide, its reach now greater than my own self-loathing form to become potentially lethal to other people. It was as if that teenage girl had exposed me, driving her daddy’s car home from a bowling alley when I smashed her front right quarter panel, her young age and fear of reprisal a blameless benchmark to which I fell well short and a measure of how far I had spiraled. At 21 years old, I was guilty of inviting death to tease another human being. It didn’t sit well with me, knowing that.
It was the crash that sobered me, piercing the dark of not only that night but the previous five years wasted by carelessness and wayward pleasure. The hangover would last for months as I lived in my mother’s basement without a driver’s license or my roomie once she relocated out of state to her boyfriend’s one-bedroom apartment, so relieved to have avoided incarceration that she wasn’t taking any more chances with me. She waved goodbye from a new Escort which was Kermit green. I would’ve ribbed her for it but wasn’t in a position to do so without any transportation of my own except my feet which I used along with cabs to get to and from Target for my weekly sundries.
I was miserable that summer as I began to take inventory of my life. I graduated from college just weeks before the crash and, although I had a degree, I had little else but an overwhelming sense of guilt and regret and stark loneliness. I had not been a good steward of those years. Admitting to myself some of the things I had done simply stole my breath; it would be years before I began to recover from the lingering grief of several particularly sin-blistered choices. With a shattered spirit, I dared whisper to the heavens one word: “please”.
Since then, for the last eleven years, these feet have stumbled and sprinted toward the promise found in Isaiah (54:1-10):
“Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy…
Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left…
Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For the Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name…
I hid my face from you for a moment but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you…
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord.”
I, too, was once barren. There was not a single fruit born of my life in those days. Yet, the Lord’s enduring intention in my life to sow deeply-rooted seed and harvest a tent-bursting bounty despite my sometimes sin is astonishing. Perhaps more incredulous still is what we must do to receive such an overwhelming blessing: ask. Again and again, as often as necessary, asking from a position of need yields receipt because we’ve been given a Provider who delights in filling our storehouses. Patiently and relentlessly, tenderly and generously, the Lord fiercely testifies to his namesake, I AM, by establishing for us the glorious riches of a secure, inherited boundary where once there were only wild, rampant weeds.
“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalms 16:5-6)
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know he hears us – whatever we ask – we know we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his immeasurably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18-19)
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)