On Flat Tires & Grace

Sometime in the warm fall months of 2013, I had a little incident. Everyone’s done it at some point, it just happened to be my turn. While driving out of our neighborhood, I took a turn a little too sharply, right at the place where the massive sewage drains in the curb lay in wait for unsuspecting tires. My poor rear passenger side tire had no chance. It was a vicious attack, but all of us inside the car survived–the tire did not. My then 3 year old daughter was horrified, and immediately began to lambast me for daring to do something so appalling, as if I had plotted and planned the whole thing as a direct offense to her. I pulled into the nearest parking lot and got out to assess the damage, while my girls looked curiously out the windows.

You really would have thought we were precariously suspended off a cliff instead of sitting in a Walmart parking lot the way my daughter was carrying on. “Oh NOOOOOO!!!! What are we going to DOOOOO??!!!!! Dad’s not even HERE!!! And WHY did you DO that??!!!! Dad’s gonna be so MAD!!!!” Seeing this drama unfold was enough to send me to crazy town and throw some drama right back at her, but thankfully I suppressed my inner toddler and responded like the calm, quiet adult I’m always pretending to be. I assured her this was a totally normal occurrence, just a little mistake, and we would be just fine. Contrary to what her little psycho panicky mind was telling her, Dad would not be angry in the slightest, and there was no need to have a tearful-and-totally-freaking-out phone conversation with him at the moment. I would just take off the busted tire, put on the spare (it blew her mind that everyone just always drove around with a spare tire) and go into the Walmart tire center to get a new one. I would let Dad know when we got into Walmart and he would be just as calm and collected as I was in that moment. (I have no idea why she thinks everyone else will match her level of crazy in these types of situations.)

While I was clearing out the trunk to get the spare and the jack, (and thinking to myself what a good dad I had because he had prepared me for exactly this moment), a kind man approached and offered to help. He explained that he was a dad, too, and would hope that if his wife was in this situation someone would stop to help. I instantly cycled through all my pride and independence: How COULD he?! He’s robbing me of my moment to shine!! What is the POINT of knowing how to change a darn tire if these darn men won’t ever LET ME DO IT?! And how am I ever going to convince my diva-damsel-in-distress daughter that I am not TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY INCOMPETENT when these men are always stepping in to seemingly save the day?!!!! The nerve. And with that little inner hissy fit over with, I gracefully accepted the kind offer of a stranger who was just trying to be helpful and love his neighbor. It was a good lesson that all of life is not about me, and my “capabilities”. Sometimes it’s about being the strong shoulder to lean on, but sometimes it’s about putting your pride to death and leaning on the shoulder that’s offered.

Although I did not get to teach my daughter about self-sufficiency, we did have a long talk about grace. In fact, that conversation is STILL happening. Apparently it made NO impression when I said “everyone makes mistakes sometimes, we deal with it and move on,” and “this mistake had nothing to do with my heart, and those kinds of mistakes are just absolutely no big deal”, and “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD STOP TRYING TO MAKE ME FEEL LIKE A TERRIBLE HUMAN BEING ABOUT THIS!” Just the other day, my now 5 year old daughter, almost TWO years later, said, “Hey mom! Remember that time you hit the curb and ruined our tire? That was really bad.” *Huge sigh of defeat.* Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Even though her punitive memory borders on the ridiculous, I have to admit that she came by this honestly. I’ve struggled with grace all my life. I have carried the weight of trying to perform the perfect life with no mistakes, and I’ve momentarily felt the ugly pride of pulling it off for a couple seconds. But then what happens when those 2 seconds are over? What happens when I have to face the reality of my imperfections? I punish myself. Because clearly that’s the only way to absolve the guilt in my self-made prison. The problem with that is obvious–not only is it completely self-destructive, it takes God out of the picture.

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and rich in love.”

When I operate in the 2-year-old mentality of “I do it myself!” I remove the beauty and wonder of God’s radical grace from my life. I am standing in the way of God working in me and shining through me. There is no freedom apart from God’s grace. I can only dance the dance of God’s joy and life if I both accept and offer grace. I have to accept it, offer it to myself, and then to others. I can’t keep staring at that mistake I made yesterday, or five or ten years ago. I have to keep my eyes forward and upward, on the grace-giver. That’s the only way I can keep dancing.

So let’s close the door on yesterday, it’s covered in grace. Let’s open the door on today and walk out bathed in the sunlight of grace. Life is not a performance, it’s a dance we dance together, sometimes tripping and sometimes stepping on each other’s toes, sometimes falling flat on our face. But the music never stops and we never run out of grace. So chin up, darlin’. I fall. You fall. But if we’re dancing together one of us will be able to steady the falling one. That’s why God, in his marvelous grace, gave us one another. 

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