We’ve talked a lot about ‘character’ in our home: doing the right thing; sticking to your responsibilities; contributing to your community; putting others first, second, and sometimes third. As Christians, we should do this because of what Christ did for us. If you want to step into the secular, we should do this because that’s what good citizens do.
It’s really not that hard as we are usually not put in the place of actual sacrifice; we do the right thing and we continue to go along our merry way. Real character involves stepping away from the almighty “I” and expending the energy to the other.
The peril in the pursuit is that you can grow complacent, assuming you will do the right thing. Then, when you don’t, you have to look straight in the mirror and say, “You dog.”
Several years ago, on a cold, snowy school day, I needed to rush out during my 30-minute lunch hour to run some errands. With a traffic plan, you can get a lot done. My route would take me by the post office so as I ran through the main office and spied some metered mail, I asked the main desk lady if I could help her by posting the letters.
“Well, yes. That would be great. Thank you.” She looked surprised and pleased, and that was all at me.
I hope that somewhere in my suggestion was something other than making myself look like this great servant in her eyes. I hope that I actually wanted to help her.
I grabbed the stack and headed for my car. Zoom, zoom, zoom around town I went and with 10 minutes to spare, I turned into the drive-through at the post office. I touched the automatic control of my window and stopped at the box.
Feeding the mail into the shute, I got almost all of it in. Three letters fell to the ground, crunching on piled up snow. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Now here, I’d like to describe how I turned off my car, opened the door and retrieved that mail.
I did not.
I rolled up my window and drove off.
50 feet down the road there’s a simple place to turn back in. I passed it and then a most interesting exercise began.
You know how in cartoons, when a character has to make a moral decision, an angel pops up on one shoulder and a devil pops up across on the other? They argue between themselves, trying to influence the head in the middle. Lynne’s devil cleared his voice as the angel, knowing that I know better, checked her fingernails. My mind began to tick off all sorts of reasons why I did what I did and did NOT do what I should have.
“I got most of them in.”
“I was doing a favor anyway. It's not my job.”
“I’ve got to get back to school.”
“The road is slick and if I don’t keep driving, I’ll be late.”
“Maybe those three letters were discipline notices for some parents that would get three kids in trouble.”
“Someone else will see those three letters and pick them up.”
“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I didn’t drop those three letters. Maybe they got in the box anyway.”
In the midst of this monologue, it was like I stepped away from myself and stood (metaphoric...I WAS driving) amazed that I am, after all, so carnal. My little angel shook his head.
I got almost all the way back to school, about 2 miles, when the Lynne I hope I am most times seized control. Shamed, I turned back to the post office. As I approached the drive through, there were those three (Huh. I guess there WERE three) letters. I scooped them up and shot them into the shute. Back to school.
So much for character. Mine needs more work.
So I was face with another chance, about a week before Mike entered the hospital for the liver resection. I pulled into a local grocery store, parked and opened my door. It was a great, glorious, and very breezy spring day. A gust of wind caught my door and tore it from my hand. My door scraped across the side of a very nice, shiny SUV parked next to me. Its owner had left his car about 30 seconds before the accident. He was already entering the store.
It was a perfect hit. My door managed to scrape the door and the metal on the rear seat wall. It was not a ding. It was a scrape.
And this character-challenged pilgrim did what?
I started my car and pulled away, parking several aisles away from the SUV.
At this point, it does not matter than I stop for ducks and dogs who cross my path. It does not matter that I don’t read a magazine and then put it back. It does not matter what most people think of me. It matters only that I tried to run away and hide.
However, this time the little devil fell off his perch.
Now, I don’t believe in karma or good luck, but it did pinch at me that we were heading into the hospital to see if Mike’s cancer was contained. At any rate, I got out of the car and walked into the store, intent on finding the owner.
Big store. All I saw of my victim was that he was a he and he was taller than I am. I trotted from aisle to aisle until I found him.
I identified myself and told him that I had dinged his car.
“Maybe it’s not so bad,” he offered.
“No. It’s bad. Here, let me give you my phone number.”
I had no paper on me. I had no pen in my purse. I grabbed an old receipt and a pink lip liner pencil (never use it, what was THAT doing in there?) and wrote down my information.
“Look. If you lose this (or can’t read it?) my husband is…..and then I identified us as best as I could. “Please get an estimate and let me pay for this.”
He said he would.
Did I get his name? Well, no. After all, HE was not a guilty party.
It was Friday; Mike’s surgery was the following Monday. Then, in the next few weeks, our lives became very complicated. Among other things, we were busy trying to close the office. By the end of May, the office was closed and then I had time to realize that my victim had not called us.
This debt ate at me. Whenever I was in that grocery store lot, I would drive around to try to find the SUV. Never did.
It was late August when the SUV’s wife called us. She said, as I knew she would, that she felt bad dumping this on us, what with all our problems.
I assured her that I wanted to pay her for the repair. She indicated that it was more than I might think.
“Really.You need to bring us the bill,” I said, and I gave her our home address.
She promised she would and mentioned that her church,like so many, are praying for us.
Now, here it’s October and I don’t have the bill yet. But I know the SUV’s owners follow our blog and I hope they’ll follow through.
And I’m thankful that I’m loved by God who loves me in spite of what a stinker I am.