A little over ten years ago, I met my wife in Culpeper, VA. It’s a little town located on 29 between Charlottesville and Washington DC that celebrates an eclectic downtown, drawing shoppers from all over Northern VA. At the corner of Main St. and W. Cameron St., is Culpeper Music, a hole in the wall music store with more store historical mementos hanging on the walls than musical instruments. Walking into that store, you will probably see several folks sitting around playing music rather than shopping. I used to go in there for things I didn’t need to drive to a bigger store to find. One day, I was in there looking at the guitars hanging in the row when a man came up and stood next to me. By next to me, I mean I could hear his breath exiting his nose, and felt it on my face. I could sense that he was staring at me, and was immediately put off by the situation. I shuffled to my left a few feet, and continued looking. He followed me.
I looked up hoping to meet his eyes with mine and let him know gently, but without question, that I was uncomfortable with whatever was going on, but the large grin on his face made it pretty clear that our dance of social awkwardness had just begun. With an audible sigh, I resigned to the fact that I was going to have to be a little clearer that I did not appreciate his lack of proximal awareness. I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me off by shoving his right hand into mine, widening his grin even bigger than it was, and saying loudly, “Gene.”
“Umm. Hi, I’m Rob.” I shook his rough hand, and nodded a fake smile back to him hoping I could just turn and walk away. As I started to turn I noticed he was offering me a small card in his left hand. The card was laminated but peeling in the corners, and on one side was the unremarkable business card of a local pastor. On the opposite side was a short paragraph that I assume was written by the pastor. I read the card and I was immediately devastated. It literally changed my life forever. The short note offered an apology for any awkward interaction that might have occurred, and shared the story of Gene’s accident.
Gene was a professional dynamiter, and on the morning December 5, 1985, after setting 7 charges to clear some woods for a road, Gene was walking through the middle of those charges to make sure all of his crew had cleared the area. Suddenly, all 7 charges went off at the same time with Gene in the middle. When his crew pulled him out from under the rocks and fallen trees, he was dead. Paramedics were able to bring him back to life, and would have to do so 5 more times before arriving at the hospital. The doctors were so sure he would not survive, that they didn’t bother to set either of his broken legs, collar bone, or pelvis. After several surgeries, and a 5 week coma, Gene woke up.
The accident has left Gene with severe brain damage, so he offers this card to everyone he interacts with. With this card, he is acknowledging that he knows he is not easy to communicate with, and that being around him is difficult. He wants to meet new people, but feels the need to apologize for his condition because he knows it makes others not want to know him. I spent some time with Gene looking at guitars and banjos before I left. When I left, I left wishing I had a card to give to Gene apologizing for the sinful condition that caused my prideful selfishness, and complete lack of compassion. I wish I had a card that begged forgiveness for the way my sinful heart ensures that I will get it wrong quite often. Honestly, I wish we all had those cards to give to each other, reminding each other that we are all in desperate need of a savior. What if our default mode of interacting with others began with acknowledging how desperately we rely on God’s forgiveness, and was propelled by the fact that he has most completely forgiven us? What offense could we hold against a brother or sister knowing full well that we’ve been forgiven of our own wickedness?
“By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”
Romans 5:1-8, The Message