Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  

    The Thing Called Grace

     Grace: defn. - (gras) - love not deserved.
That's what the dictionary says. Love not deserved. Here's mine...

Grace: defn. - (gras) - love not deserved. Very strange thing. If bestowed on you, never to be forgotten. Life altering. Normally considered abstract principle, but is not. Attaches itself permanently to real and powerful events in one's life. Always accompanied by a big surprise.

     I sit on my porch these days in the late afternoon, and I think about things. Seems like we are in a difficult time. So much discord. So much unhappiness. Jesus said we were supposed to be good to each other. Has that been rescinded and I didn't get the word? Turmoil in the world - yes. But there is something else out there. I look out across the pasture all the way to the tree line in the distance and I know beyond what I can see, there is something else out there, too. The thing called "grace" is out there. I know it is.
     The year was 1974. About to graduate with my doctorate in psych; pressure was intense. Just after finishing my year-long internship/residency in a Dallas hospital, I needed to complete my final semester courses, pass oral and written comprehensives, finish the dissertation, and complete one more task perhaps more important than most...pass the state board exam for psychologists. The test was given rather infrequently in those days, and one had to make arrangements well in advance to be on the list of test-takers. Mine was scheduled on a Saturday at 8:00 A. M. if I remember correctly. No problem. I would leave the university on Friday afternoon, get a room, and enter the lion's den on Saturday morning to see if I could emerge unscathed. (Think Daniel passes the exam.) I set sail for Austin, Texas on that Friday afternoon almost 300 miles to the south. Things went just swimmingly until I reached the town of Waco some three hours later, and I noticed the temperature gauge on my old truck had some bad news. Reading very hot, my radiator decided to leave us approximately 100 miles short of that Austin destination. Hmmm.
     On the outskirts of town, I saw a small mechanic shop on the right.
The sign said "Closed." Not a surprise as the time was 5:30 on Friday afternoon. There was a small white house attached to that little shop, and since I couldn't think of anything else to do, I knocked on the door. A small, elderly man answered and he said, "We are closed."
     "I understand," I said. "But I just need to talk to you for a minute." After listening to my story, he said, "Well, all right. I'll take a look at it for you."
     After his inspection, the verdict came forth. "I can fix it," he said.
"Not anything major, but I need a part to do that - and the store that has that part is not the kind of place we can get to open on a late Friday afternoon. I can have your truck ready tomorrow."
     My heart sank. I explained to the old fellow that unfortunately this exam was not the sort of thing you could be late for. Further, when I applied for a mental health position somewhere in the next few weeks, telling potential employers I was "on the list" to take the state board exam wouldn't help. They would say, "Great. When you pass it and have your license in hand, come back and we can talk."
     So we just sat there for a time, and he said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "Well, if you don't mind, I would like to sit here a bit and try to figure that out." He said I was welcome to sit as long as I liked and went in the house. I have no idea how long I sat there lost in thought weighing my non-existent options, but I do remember clearly being startled when I realized that old fellow and his wife were standing in front of me.
     "I will have your truck ready tomorrow," he said. "You can pick it up on your way back through."
     "On my way back through from where?" I asked.
     "From taking your exam," he said - and his wife stepped forward and put the keys to their car in my hands.
     See? That is the thing called "grace." Powerful and everlasting.
Always accompanied by a big surprise.

     Stunned would be an understatement at that moment. "You’re going to let me take your car on a 200 mile round trip?" I asked.
     "Yes," the old fellow said. "We weren't planning on going out tonight. We do have two conditions however. One being we want you to be very careful with our car."
     "You have my word on that," I said. "What's the other thing?"
     "We want you to pass that test," he said.

     So now I sit on my porch and think about times when hope seemed lost...but it wasn't. It's not now. There is still hope. I also think about Blanche DuBois, the character in Tennessee William's play, A Streetcar Named Desire. At the play's end, Blanche says, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
     I know what she means.

Michael Johnson










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