Defining Moments

16 04 2011

It’s not how we act, or react, in those spotlight moments – from dinner out with friends in a public place to presenting a project for work – that defines who we really are. We are masters at knowing what mask to wear in a given situation. It’s how we live in each present moment that adds to the sum of who we are…who we are becoming.

I met Dr. Griffin Henderson during the summer of 1987. I only wish our first meeting had not been so jarring…or maybe it was just the right way – my life would not be the same if I hadn’t.

This particular summer I worked at a conference center in the mountains of North Carolina as the Day Camp Unit Leader for first and second graders, provided for parents attending weekly conferences. Tuesday was our hiking day for our unit. The college students I supervised would leave with the children soon after Day Camp began – heading toward Kitzuma – a relatively small mountain not far outside the conference center’s gates. This particular Tuesday, I got word that two children would be arriving late. I sent the hikers ahead – knowing I could drive the latecomers to catch up.

With the children buckled in the back seat of my roomy VW bug, I started down the hill toward the main gate.  As I stopped to turn left onto the frontage road, I became very aware that this particular week’s conference was a popular one. There were cars parked outside the gate along the frontage road obstructing my site-line of oncoming traffic from both directions. As I strained to see any oncoming traffic, a person turning into the center motioned me to pull out. I appreciated their kindness but their non-verbal message did not include, “wait for the car coming from the other direction”. As I proceeded, I experienced that brief gut-sinking moment of seeing the other car, I heard the squall of tires on pavement, I heard the crunch of metal crushing metal, and I felt the jolt from a small car being pushed around by a much larger one.

I checked the children…they were fine – eyes wide open…but fine. Then I turned to the reality of what was next – I had to get out of the car and face the man whom I accidently, unintentionally wronged. I was ready to face his wrath. I do not remember him saying very much. He did not call the police…we just exchanged insurance cards then he asked me to come by his house that afternoon so we could work out the details about costs. Shaken, not too aware, and not familiar with car accident protocol, I agreed. We both drove away in our damaged cars. I took the children to catch up with the rest of the group.

I did what I needed to do – called my director and later talked with the parents. On the inside however, I was being eaten alive by worry, guilt and shame…I have always been a very conscientious person – taking my responsibilities seriously, never hurting anyone…never putting anyone in harms way; taking care of what has been entrusted to me. I worried about the conflict I would face in my later visit…that this man was storing up his rage…that I had made a huge mistake in not calling the police – I was going to get taken. I felt guilt and shame that I had done something wrong…I had endangered others (children!)…I had messed up. When the appointed time came, I looked at the card he had given me – Dr. Griffin Henderson (great a doctor!), got into my pitiful banged-up bug and headed for the address printed under his name. As I pulled into his drive, I felt a sinking feeling. My stomach churned as I lifted my finger to press the doorbell…ready to walk into the judgment chamber.

I was greeted by Mr. Henderson’s wife, a kind person, who asked if I would like some tea…“they’re setting me up”! I declined as she escorted me to Mr. Henderson’s office. In reality, I could not tell you the size of his office, but at that moment it felt like I was being swallowed whole. Mr. Henderson – sitting behind his desk – invited me in and asked me to sit down…here it comes – so I thought.

Then things seemed to change. Mr. Henderson stepped out from behind his desk, sat in the chair beside me and asked about me…my story. I told him a little of my history – about attending seminary and about my summer job. He told me to call him Dr. Griff as he told me a bit about himself – a retired pastor now living in the Ridgecrest area. In my wildest imagination, nothing could prepare me for what happened next. Dr. Griff began to talk about the accident – tears welled up in his eyes as he told me that he would pay for the deductible…on both cars. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – I was being forgiven…I was being baptized in grace and love. I did not know what to say…all I could do is cry. So two grown men sat crying, embracing and I became distinctly aware of one more present – of one that had been there all along…waiting for me – God.

I left Dr. Griff and his wife with a full heart. I had a new story to tell – life-giving. Dr. Griff had imparted the greatest Love…I suspected that’s the way he lived his everyday life.

Mr. Griff and I stayed in touch after I left Ridgecrest that summer. In my position after seminary, I ended up taking Woodbrook’s youth to camp at Ridgecrest for many summers…and I would always make time to walk over to visit Dr. Griff. We would have tea and talk. Over time, we lost touch but I still have a story to tell. On that day in the summer of ’87, I didn’t know anything about Dr. Griff. – his past…the wonderful things he had accomplished. I didn’t need to know those things. For me, what defined Dr. Griff was the man I met one particular moment in 1987…how he was open to God’s Spirit that day…how he related to me…how he did not hold over me the power he had, but used it for redemption’s sake. And because he was in that moment long ago, I now tell you and many others of God’s grace I experienced through one man in a closed office, in the mountains, in a small town, on a hot summer’s day.

It’s not about how we are “in front” of others – it’s not a performance. It’s not about making sure we have it all together – when we attend church…when we are at school…or in our social groups. It’s not about knowing everything or making sure we act the right way so others will like us or so we won’t be judged. It’s about being true who we have been created to be each moment. It’s about being open to and aware of the relationship the One who loves us best wants to have with us each moment of each day. It’s about living each moment like it’s a gift…because it is.

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