In 1969, I was 16 years old, and I finally made it into the driving community. It took hard work, a driver’s education class at school, and my parents taking me out almost every day to practice driving. I learned to drive on small, narrow streets, as well as highway driving. Parking today is much easier than it was back at that time. Parallel parking was tricky for me, but I mastered it and was pretty good with just three efforts – backing into the space, moving forward to straighten, and moving back to make sure the car aligned with the curb.
We lived in a small town in Western Pennsylvania that had 2 street lights. Surrounding Leechburg were rural roads that connected us to other small towns. Leechburg was like the tag-line from Cheers ‘a place where everybody knew your name. It was a great small town to grow and build relationships with neighbors, schoolmates, and church families. Everywhere you’d go, you knew someone. We didn’t lock our doors at night because we trusted our neighborhood to look out for each other. When it was hot at night, I would wake up after sleeping on the front porch’s glider in the summertime. Other neighbors did the same thing. We had no air-conditioning.
My Dad had traded in a car and bought a new-to-him one at the local Ford dealership recently. I believe it was a Galaxy, but I didn’t pay much attention to that kind of stuff. At 16, all I cared about was it ran, had a rearview mirror, and a radio. It was good for me as a family car.
One ordinary Saturday afternoon in summer, after we finished the grocery shopping and chores, I asked Dad if I could take the new family car for a ride. “Sure,” my Dad said, following up with, “I expect you to return it in the same condition it was in when you took it, and don’t use all of the gas.” ‘OK, thanks, Dad!”
Off I went. I stopped off at a couple of friends houses to pick them up and saw a couple of friends hanging out downtown (we called it ‘dahntahn”, in the Pittsburgh dialect). I had four friends in the car, and we set off driving up and down the two streets in Leechburg. Everyone pitched in a quarter, and I got a dollar’s worth of gas. We were listening to the radio and playing a game about naming animals in alphabetical order, one at a time. Good times. We decided to leave Leechburg and take a backroad to another town and swing back through Leechburg, and it would soon be time to take the car home.
On a country road on the back way to the next town, the road looked different. It was very shiny and black and had a smell of oil or tar or something that the road crew had put down. I didn’t think anything of it, other than to believe that it looked nice. As we drove on the road for several miles, I kept hearing something fly up and hit the side of the car. Nothing was wrong with anything else, and we kept going. “Armadillo, Baboon, Crocodile” just innocent fun of teenagers being together on a Saturday afternoon cruising on a sunny day.
We got out of the car in the next town to go into the Islay’s for a cherry coke. Much to our surprise, in looking at my Dad’s new-to-him light beige car, it was dotted with tar everywhere! That’s what the noise was with things splashing onto the car! “Oh no!” The car looked like it had turned into a dalmatian, at worse! “I had to be home in 20 minutes”. I’m doomed, forever.
I dropped my friends off, threw away my cherry coke plastic glass in the garbage can in the garage, and stood and looked at the car in horror. It certainly wasn’t in the same condition that I set out about an hour and a half ago. Well, I have to go and face the music.
“Hi Honey, did you have fun?” “Yes, but I need to tell you something.” “Let’s go to the garage,” I said to my Marine Dad. I’m going to be grounded, court marshaled, or even worse. My stomach was up in my throat. I was going to be sick at any moment. Thoughts of potential outcome to this mess were swirling around in my head. I was sweating and shaking at the same time.
We walked into the garage, and I said, “Dad, something got all over the car.” “I see that,” he said. He walked around the car in silence with an index finger beside his lip as he assessed the situation. It was a mess! “OK, Candy, well, it looks like you have some work to do to clean this whole thing up.” I’ll get the turpentine and rags, and you can go to work, and I want every single spot taken off this car and cleaned to what it was when you took it.”
Oh, man! Thank you, Lord, that he didn’t explode all over me. I was, however, responsible for this tremendous job that would take more than just me! I could never get this done all by myself.
I backed the car out of the garage into the back alley. I called my friends who were with me, and they were all busy, except one that I couldn’t reach. It’s all up to me, and it’s my job and my responsibility. I set to work to get this black stained car back to its shiny beige color. As I was about an hour into my job with just about one square foot of tar removed, I heard a car come down the alley. It was one of my friends that I couldn’t reach! They came to help me clean up this mess. Rags in hand and turpentine at the ready, we scrubbed that car and removed every bit of tar stain. It took a lot of elbow grease and time. We washed it inside and out, and it was better than before. It was all due to that one friend who showed up at just the right time to help. One friend, and the car was ready to be on the right road again.
That was a little over 50 years ago. To this day, I still have one friend that I can call upon no matter what kind of mess I make of things. That one friend is God. It says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!”
I’m grateful for the grace that my dad showed me over 50 years ago as I was able to go to him and talk it over. I am also very grateful for that one friend that showed up when I needed help.
Jesus is the one friend who shows up every time we get ourselves into a pickle, make a wrong choice, and find ourselves covered with the stain of sin inside and out. All we have to do is call upon him, tell him what we did wrong, and we can depend on him to cleanse us and wash away our sins.
Thank you, Jesus, for being the one we can always go to with everything we do as we stray and get stained. You are the one we can depend on to pull us out of the pit, clean us up, set us on the right road. All we have to do is ask, answer the door when you knock and follow you. Amen.