I was up against the deadline last year, delivering groceries and “Stocking gifts” to Valley Churches United Missions. The donor parking spots were full as was the parking lot. Driving up the unfamiliar street all I saw was No parking. No room anywhere. I pulled into VCUM’s parking lot half blocked with orange cones and No Parking signs, hoping to ask one of the volunteers if they knew where I might park. I’m in luck, I thought, recognizing four of the five.
I rolled down my windows and before I could say, “Hi, Mrs. X,” she snapped, “You can’t park here.”
The man I didn’t know approached the passenger window. “You can’t park here,” he yelled.
Then Mr. X pushed his way forward yelling, “You can’t park here. We’re expecting a truck.”
Shocked by the yelling, surprised they didn’t recognize me, I said “I just need to turn around,” and shaking inched my minivan forward.
Then a woman I call Ma yelled to Mr. X, “She can’t park here.”
“I’m just turning around,” I said loudly at the same time he said, “She’s going to turn around.”
“No she’s not,” said Ma, “she’s going to hit the posts.”
My fight or flight response kicked in and said Fight and Flight! I put the car in reverse and in my nastiest most facetious voice, I shouted, “You know, your welcoming attitude really makes it easy for people to make donations!” I punched the gas pedal, flew backward into the street, then took off up the street, ironically named Love Creek Road.
I desperately wanted to go home, but I had to deliver the groceries and gifts. I parked several blocks away, clutched my bags and marched down the street, chest heaving, gulping between sobs. I was deeply ashamed of my outburst and walked past the parking lot fast as I could, staring straight ahead. I delivered my bags, filled out my donation form and left the building thankful the episode was almost over.
As I walked back on the far side of the street, Mrs. X called to me cheerfully as though greeting a long lost friend. I was shocked. How could she possibly, after what they’d just done?
“Hi,” I said, a mean bitter Hi with no trace of friendship or forgiveness.
Driving home I tried to figure out how decent people––the volunteers and me––out to do good deeds for strangers, failed to extend care and compassion to people not on our lists. I needed a little grace in that parking lot, a little understanding, a little room to maneuver, a little time to think. Who knows why I didn’t receive it, maybe I was the 50th car that’d disrupted their preparations. Maybe they were too cold and cranky.
I thought about complaining to VCUM or writing Mrs. X and telling her why my “Hi,” had been so malicious, but I wanted to get beyond my hurt without blaming others. I didn’t want to hold onto the wound and to the way it made me feel sick in the bones. I needed to extend a little grace, so I prayed and took my Relaxed Wanderer Chinese herbs, and calmed down eventually.
Later I called a friend, who, in her usual wisdom said, “God always reminds us that we’re human.”
When I think about Christ’s coming, I think of a line in Joy to the World, “Let every heart prepare him room.” If Christ was there in the parking lot, and I’m sure he was, I did a rotten job of preparing room. Thankfully God has more hands and feet in this world than mine, and thank God I’m not alone in my failings.
Our ancestors in the faith were just as human and imperfect. Folks back when Jesus arrived were expecting a different kind of Messiah and overburdened Innkeepers were turning away lodgers left and right. Mary and Joseph needed a little grace when they arrived in Bethlehem to pay taxes, tired and hugely pregnant. They got very little grace, a tiny bit of room, a cow stall out back. It was the best that Innkeeper could do, and because God can take our little and make it more, it turned out to be enough.
As we journey toward Christmas with all the busyness and stress it can bring, let every heart prepare some room, and may that some be enough.
©Cathy Warner 2005