Yesterday the kids and I were talking about choices and consequences, and our conversation brought to mind a choice I made at the age of sixteen, the consequences of that choice, and the merciful blessing of grace that my parents bestowed on me.
My dad fixed up a 1977 Ford Mustang for me when I was sixteen. It was red with gold and black detailing-- really fancy on the outside. Inside, it lacked power steering and air conditioning, but still, it was my own CAR, and the heady freedom I felt was amazing.
Things move so quickly when you are fifteen, sixteen, seventeen... one minute you are being shepherded about by your parents, the next they have given you your own car and are letting you go far away to college. At least, that is how it was for me. A little overwhelming, but exhilarating nonetheless.
But going to college happened later. At sixteen I was allowed to drive to and from school, to friends' homes, to the store, to my summer job at the drug store, and out to movies and mini golf, etc.
By Christmas of that year, I had had my car well over six months. I also had a good friend named Tina who had moved to town at the beginning of the last school year. We hit it off immediately. She was fun, lighthearted, and well grounded in her Christian beliefs and her purpose. I was quirky and hard to know at that time (sort of like now), but she was willing to put up with my weirdness and even glad to hang out with me, though we were opposites: she was laid back, joyful, while I tended to be intense and moody.
We had great discussions.
Anyway, Tina was a child of divorce, and we found out right before Christmas that right after Christmas she and her mother would be moving so her mom could get a better job. I wasn't the only one who loved Tina, and some of us planned a going-away party for the first night of Christmas break. Tina and I decided we were going to spend as much time together as we could for the entire two weeks.
I arrived at the party that Saturday night and, to my surprise, really enjoyed it.
I was so absorbed in visiting with everyone, and so wrapped up in the poignancy of my friend leaving, that I lost track of time. I didn't get home until after 2 AM.
My curfew was midnight.
Needless to say, I arrived home to my parents searching my room for friends' phone numbers. (This was 1986-- well before cell phones became common. We thought the KITT Car was amazing because, among other things, it had a *phone* in it.)
I'll never forget the worry, relief, and then controlled anger on their faces as they walked out of my bedroom. I had been in my own little angst-ridden world, but I popped back to reality pretty quick and realized I had hurt my parents with my thoughtlessness.
Conversation was short. They asked where I had been and what I had been doing that kept me out so late? All I could do was describe the unusual camaraderie of the party, the sadness I felt about Tina leaving, and how incredibly sorry I was that I hadn't paid attention to the time. We went to bed and left consequences until the morning.
The next day, my parents, who were being remarkably calm about the situation, informed me that I was grounded for the duration of Christmas break.
I turned in my car keys and made my one phone call to Tina to let her know how I had blown it and that we wouldn't probably see each other at all over Christmas. Dad took the license plates off my car so that if somehow I did get the keys and go out, I would be stopped pretty quickly.
I felt like a complete idiot. Why hadn't I called my parents? Why hadn't I left the party on time? I regretted that I could not have the time with Tina before she moved, but, to my surprise, I regretted more the pain and worry I had caused my parents. All the beautiful things they had ever done for me marched before my eyes that long two weeks (remember, I was sixteen and prone to morose musings), and I quietly stayed home and did housework and played the piano and read. I was so submissive. I felt like they hadn't punished me enough.
(Actually, as I look back on my parents' decisions in raising me, I realize that they were a lot more forbearing than I used to give them credit for. It is humbling to realize I may be more exacting with my kids than my parents were with me. I had a lot of hot sports opinions as a teenager and young adult that are mellowing as I get older.)
A couple of days before the end of Christmas break, my dad and mom sat me down and told me how pleased they were with my response to the grounding. Dad handed me keys, license plates and a screwdriver and told me to go put the plates back on my car.
I walked out to the driveway, and there it was: a 1986 Mustang LX coupe with air conditioning, power steering, radio and cassette player, more room in the back seat and everything shiny new inside and out. I was totally floored.
The first thing I did was drive over to Tina's house.
Each time I drove my sweet little car throughout my teen and college years, I remembered that my parents had presented it to me based on their great love, and not as a reward for merit. Grace definitely trumps justice.
Updated to add: When my dad read this story, he said all he remembers is how scared he was when I didn't come home that night, and how relieved and then angry he was when he found out that I had, uncharacteristically, forgotten the time. He said I gave him and Mom too much credit in this telling of the story. (In my defense, I thought the hand of God was implied throughout my telling.) My folks were parenting on a wing and a prayer, just like we do-- it was the Lord that worked out these details and made such an impression on me. He can likewise redeem our efforts as parents!