“Are you selling stuff in my parking lot?”
The little girl’s instinct to close the mini-van’s door as I approached was the right one. I was angry.
I own the building from which our little mom-and-pop store operates. It’s not much of a structure—a concrete foundation with a frame building topped by a metal roof, but the Lovely Lady and I have spent the last seventeen years working to pay off the loan the bank was kind enough to advance.
Earlier, the Lovely Lady had come back in after watering her flowers to let me know there was a vehicle sitting in the middle of the parking lot next door, but I shrugged it off.
They’d leave soon enough. Why make a big deal about it?
Two hours later, they were still there. I watched a couple of cars pull up beside the mini-van and exchange bundles of something with the occupants. Then each of them drove away. The van remained.
I was conflicted. Perhaps it was just folks stopping by to check on them. Maybe they were just helping out.
Or, maybe they were selling something and had chosen my lot as a place to set up business! The nerve!
My lot! The one I’m paying for. The one for which I fork out my own dollars each year to seal and re-coat.
When the third car pulled up, I was done waiting. Storming out the front door, I headed straight for the dingy mini-van. Seeing me coming, a young girl in the back seat quickly reached for the sliding door and slammed it shut.
Asking the question on my mind in an accusatory tone, I didn’t expect the answer I got.
I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. I should have thought about it.
I should have asked.
“No sir! We’ve got a flat tire. Those people just took our spare, which was also flat, to get it repaired.”
I mentioned seeing the other cars and the lady in the driver’s seat, her face tired, almost to the point of exhaustion, explained. She delivers newspapers at night to augment her husband’s too-small paychecks.
They had been out since 11:00 PM last night trying to get the papers to their destinations.
It was the second flat they had had during that time. The second one, and the reason they were waiting for someone to get their spare repaired. The spare was actually the tire on the car, now flat.
The extra cars? The packages exchanged?
Friends who were helping get her papers delivered.
Friends. Who wanted to help.
Apologizing for misunderstanding, I offered to help if there was anything else to be done.
Too little. Too late.
I trudged back through the lot—My lot—and into the store. My head was not held high, nor was I in good spirits.
Two hours. Two hours, and not once did the thought cross my mind that I should see if they needed help. Not once.
It was almost another hour before the repaired tire was brought back and installed. There was some consolation in that the folks availed themselves of the bathroom facilities in the music store, but it was not enough to disperse the clouds of guilt in my heart.
Their cheerful and heartfelt thanks for my help was merely enough to heap coals on my head. What help? What had I done, save to be suspicious of them and remain ignorant of their need for assistance?
The Lord said, “I was hungry and you didn’t offer me food; I was thirsty and there was nothing for me to drink. I was a stranger and you left me standing outside your door.”
The words are not lost on me. Not today.
Another test. There is no curve on which to be graded. I failed.
It would be easy to hold on to the guilt—a simple thing to wallow in the shame and believe that failure is permanent. It would be wrong.
Better men than I have stood right where I am. Beaten. Worn out with tests and failures. I look back and see the long string of the failures in my life.
But, in my mind I see another man, standing beaten. A friend is there also, his long accusing forefinger poking him in the chest.
You. You are the one!
And, King David, broken and beaten, does the only thing he knows to do, indeed, the only thing there is to do. Turning his back on the prophet Nathan, he falls on his knees before his God and pours out his heart.
Create in me a clean heart, oh God! I am broken and grief-stricken for what I have done. I implore You to accept the sacrifice of my broken and stained heart.
I haven’t committed adultery or killed anyone to cover up my sin. It makes me no less guilty.
It makes Him no less able to restore a right spirit in me. And, no less willing.
And Jesus said to the lady caught in the act, “Neither do I condemn you. Go. sin no more.”
Tomorrow is another day.
There will be more tests.
And a few passing grades, I trust.
Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.
(from King Henry VI ~ William Shakespeare ~ English playwright/poet ~ 1564-1616)
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom.
(Psalm 51:6 ~ ASV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.