There she was. After all these years, there she was in MY house, eating MY food, talking to MY family. I took deep breaths, said a prayer, and pasted on a smile as I thanked her for coming. I looked deep into her eyes, searching for any hint of recognition. Did she remember? Had she truly forgotten our paths had crossed years ago, or was she just avoiding the issue?
I knew this day would eventually come. I remember the day my husband's family brought up her name in conversation. My ears became red, and my blood pressure sky rocketed as I bellowed out.....
"How do YOU know HER?!!"
"She's my aunt," my husband calmly replied..."but I don't see her often.."
I felt some relief that our paths might not cross as often as I dreaded. But destiny could not be delayed forever. We were meant to once again meet-and today was the day. A family fish fry at our home was the appointed time, the appointed place.
I made small talk with her, and actually found her to be pleasant, and humorous. She hugged me after seeing the farm and house, telling me how proud she was of us. As her arms held me in a genuine hug, I realized- she had no idea who I was, or the history we shared. I relived the moment briefly as she gave me what would probably be her last hug with me.
It was a foggy, December morning as I headed to work at JC Penney's. I was an 18 year old with her whole life ahead of her, and a day without conflict laying before me. But conflict was quickly positioning itself in my path, as it had a habit of doing. I commandeered my mode of transportation-a Plymouth Horizon, adjusted the broken side view mirror (the entire mirror and casing hung from a wire, long story-big tree), where at least for a few moments, it would hang so I could view vehicles at the rear of my car. I then did my preflight checklist. CD player velcroed to dash-check. Headlight on-(yes, that is supposed to be a singular light)check. Purse resting on paint stained carpet (Note-always make sure paint transported in your vehicle is tightly sealed) check. Windshield wiper secured (after losing the other one, I was faithfully monitoring this one) check. Rock in floorboard for beating car battery when it doesn't start-check. This is not a list you will find in a driver's training manual, but to each his own. A fellow employee at Penney's once told me when I got married I needed to register at Advance Auto Parts. I told him my goal was to marry a car dealership owner.
I pulled out from our driveway and waved to my neighbor as she threw herself in front of her car in the driveway, (I backed into her car once pulling out of my driveway, and she was still paranoid, but at 95 years old she would soon have to let it go- she couldn't take it with her.)
On my way to work I decided to stop at Arby's for breakfast. Some people have a hard and fast rule about not eating in their cars- I decided to focus more on rules like, "Don't hit trees, or old ladies' cars." When you have to leave a sign on your car in the parking lot at work that says, " 'Persecuted but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.' Don't tow, it's my ride home,' " ketchup stains on the interior are the least of your problems. I stopped at the marquee displaying all the Arby greats in bright lights, and placed my order. After the voice in the box declared my total and asked me to pull up, I eased up behind the white car in front of me. I pulled out my money organizer and opened the cash compartment where my bills were organized from the smallest denomination to the greatest, ...
OK I can't even type that with a straight face. If you know me at all, I am not organized. To organize denominations to me means to put all the Baptists together, all the Pentecostals, together, and separate the "loose change", leftovers from who knows what denomination.
No, the truth is I began to dig in my purse, pulling out handfuls of receipts, wadded Kleenex (remnants of good church services), highlighters, pens, makeup, travel size hairspray, Tylenol,........BAMMMMM! My body lurched forward ramming the steering wheel into my stomach! I had been hit! I flung the contents of my purse on the passenger seat, and jerked my head around to see the culprit. He was gone! Hit and run that fast?!!! Then as I turned back around and looked through the windshield, I saw that the white car had backed up to get a better look at the accident....no she was still at the window....... how did I get so close to her car? We were so close I could read her odometer and hear her radio. Her angry face staring back at me said it all. I had hit her. My foot had eased off the brake just enough to roll into the back of her car.
I sprung into action. I put my car into reverse, backed up, saw no damage on her car, gave her the thumbs up sign that all was well, and ordered another biscuit, ready to put the whole incident behind me. Some people really can't move on as quickly as I would like.
I saw her motioning frantically to the cashier, and I hoped it was because she needed extra napkins or more honey mustard sauce. When the cashier reached for the phone, I hoped she was calling to check on the next delivery of Roast Beef. When I saw the flashing lights, I hoped I was already dead and that it was County Coroner. When I saw the badge, I wondered how in world I was going to find my license in all the confetti of papers that had been sent airborne after the BIG BANG.
I cried and cried never leaving the car. The officer told me he saw no damage, and not to worry. I tried to tell him I was a careful driver, but my car wasn't the best witness to call to the stand. The Arby's manager brought my "Breakfast of Champions" to me in the car, free of charge. Apparently, gawkers and nosy people get really hungry while on the job and I had attracted quite a bit of business. The officer, again, told me forget about it, it wasn't even a fender bender, it was just a bump with no damage. That all sounded good, but the paper he kept writing on, made me worry. I parted ways with the other driver, with neither of us ever exiting our vehicles to meet face to face.
Days later, I found out the name of the driver and tried to repeatedly call her to tell her I would pay for any damage personally, not to run it through her insurance. I called and called, left message after message, drove by her house, and left notes at her house. I made it my personal mission to stop her from contacting my insurance. Why? Because that was my third accident in 6 months. Three accidents that all listed me as the at fault driver. The insurance company had me on probation, under surveillance, and made me attend mandatory AAA meetings. "Hi, my name is Jennifer, and I couldn't drive any worse if I were an alcoholic."
After weeks with no response, my dad said, "Let it go. If she was going to turn it in, she would have done it by now."
Right....Eight weeks later, my dad received a call from the insurance company, about a claim filed on me. One week later my dad received the new quote on our family insurance in the mail. Before the mailman had pulled out of our driveway, my dad had me standing in the Department of Motor Vehicles, watching my license be shredded before my eyes. Apparently, if I wasn't a licensed driver, my dad's insurance couldn't increase.
How odd it was to see my life ending in the very room it all began. I had spent many a Friday morning there registering for my driver's tests. Unfortunately, that is meant to be plural. After my parents used up their vacation days taking off work to run me to the courthouse for me to try "one more time" to pass, they recruited a lady from church that I babysat for ,to take over driving the shuttle bus. Every time I failed, she and her 3 year old son, Daniel, would take me to Shoney's for the breakfast buffet. I remember the morning I finally passed. Daniel didn't look so happy. She asked what was wrong. Daniel replied, "Do we still get to go to Shoney's?" Oh yes, that morning we shared the "Breakfast of Champions".
As I watched my license fall into the garbage can, I promised myself, I would be back.
For a year I walked to college, work, the bank, and.....Arby's. Eventually, the wrecks faded into oblivion on my driving record, and my insurance premiums no longer rivaled the national debt. I was once again a licensed driver. Aren't y'all thrilled to know I'm back on the road?
And now, sixteen years later, this woman, who had to have an entire bumper replaced 2 months after the accident was standing in my living room. Not only was she there, she was now related to me.
I can't help but wonder, if God wasn't giggling that fateful morning in Arby's. Looking into the future as only He can do, He connected two lives by what I thought was yellow police tape, but He saw as a tender thread that He would weave stronger throughout the years, as He wove into my life my husband and his family. But I don't think the thread was intended to join two lives as much as it was intended to join a past failure with present day grace. So many times relationships are the catalysts God uses to mold us, change us, teach us, grow us, bless us, guide us, and yes, break us. It was the experience that He wanted that thread to keep me connected with.
If I have learned anything in my life, I have learned this-God doesn't waste a single experience. Every moment of your life bears His fingerprint if we will look for it. The truth was, I was blaming her for my own irresponsibility. My wreck with her may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but I had been sowing the seed that straw was harvested from for a long time. I wanted to blame others for my own mistakes. I was the one who drove too fast in the rain and hit the tree. I was the one who backed out of my driveway angrily, and hit the neighbor. I was the one who was careless and allowed my car to "embrace" the other in a morning hug. Yet, God was not upset with the accidents, he was concerned with my inability to accept responsibility, my resistance to heeding warnings about my driving, and my blindness to my own need to ask forgiveness, accept His grace, and move on.
I can think of someone else in the Bible who had three incidents God wanted to address. I am reminded of Peter fishing once again for fish, instead of men after his ministry took a nose dive from his three "accidents" or denials of Christ. After Christ's death, and the agonizing pain of his failures, Peter abandoned the call on his life, and once again chose his pre-ministry career- fishing. After an unsuccessful first day at his old job, a stranger from the shore gave some advice that yielded quite a catch. The stranger then invited Peter to the shore for a breakfast of fish. When Peter saw the stranger was Jesus, he dove into the water, unwilling to wait for the boat ride, and hauled the net of fish to shore himself.
Jesus could have seen Peter's desire to please, and let the past failures slide, but Jesus will never sweep anything under the rug. He will either cast it into the sea of forgetfulness or it will set before His eyes. He has no lost files, no unsolved cases. He wants to deal with it and remove it.
Peter is confronted by the Master. Not for what he did, but for how he handled it.
Peter had a choice. He could have blamed the three people who accused him of following Jesus...but they were right! He could have blamed the owner of the rooster, for not keeping him quiet when people were trying to sleep. He could have made excuses. He could have spent the rest of his life on a boat, fishing, his aged and weathered hands repairing nets, simply because he was too stubborn to admit he needed repairing, and that without it he would be useless to the Kingdom.
But Christ's love for Peter, you, and me will not allow us to remain crippled by unconfessed sin, when a moment of brokenness and conviction can repair and heal so quickly and efficiently. Three times Christ asks Peter questions dealing with his love for Christ, and re-iterating the call that Christ had placed on Peter's life.
Christ was asking Him, are you going to be made better by this, or crippled by this. It's not about what happened but where are we going from here. For 16 years I had a deep buried resentment towards this woman-so deep I had forgotten. But Christ saw it, and dealt with it, calling me to join Him at a fish fry, where I prepared the fish and He brought a surprise guest.
So as I said goodbye to her tonight, I let it all go. Like Peter, I chose the relationship over the crippling shackles of wounded pride and self-defeating bitterness. But just in case there were any grudges on her part, I whispered to my husband..."You better move my car."
My advice to you, check the Spiritual menu. If fish is on it....be prepared.