We left our campsite that morning, already getting a “low fuel” warning. The dashboard display of our Pontiac Montana tells us how many kms we have left on our tank, unless it thinks you have less than 100, in which case it simply says, “low fuel” and automatically turns the gas light on and drops the needle to the bottom. It makes that calculation based on how efficiently it thinks I will be driving and since my speed and road conditions change, the estimate changes. Of course, I usually base my decisions on the most convenient estimate it gives me.
There’s a town inside the national park, but I didn’t want to fill our large tank on that gas with the marked up price, so I put in $20 and headed for home. I knew that our van couldn’t get through the 200 km trip home with that $20 fuel purchase, but I was confident that there was a gas station slightly over half way home, so confident that I drove past numerous gas stations just outside the park and another attached to the building where we picked up some lunch. As the 100 km mark after leaving the camp approached, it became clear that the gas station I was anticipating was not as close as I thought. The GPS told there as a town 40km east or a town 65km north (the one that I thought was half way, it wasn’t). I turned east, only to find that the route was 90% on dirt roads. We passed through some remote places and I was grateful for every hill we climbed. Then, shortly after returning to paved roads and with buildings of the town in site, the engine died.
Clearly I deserved this. My wife and three children, who were my passengers at the time, did not deserve it. I was relatively fortunate though to coast right into a farmer’s driveway and after driving through a very remote area, we were lucky to end up in an area within range of a cell phone tower. Although there were these and other benefits that I didn’t deserve, there were a few demonstrations of grace that I was expecting.
I expected the farmer to give me a bit of gas. I even paid him for it. I expected him to let us stay on their yard until help arrived. This really didn’t interfere with his day and really it’s just common decency, so that kind of help was something we could rely on.
I expected my wife to not give me a hard time about it. Of course she is a loving and gracious woman, but in this particular case, there was more to it than that. For years we’ve been paying into an auto club and besides the occasional discounted oil change, we haven’t really gotten any benefits from the arrangement. This has given me various opportunities to tell my wife that it isn’t worth the money. I only agree to keep paying for it because a day may come when my poor wife might be stranded somewhere and not be able to take care of things herself. All of this provided fodder for her to explain to me the worthiness of this program. So any grief she might other wise want to give me was cancelled out by her eagerness to gloat about the decision she made a long time ago. Even so, she kept her gloating to herself and committed to making the interruption as pleasant as possible for the kids. And the kids, all three of them under five years old, played nicely and waited patiently for the situation to be resolved.
I expected to be able to call a friend and get a ride. The dispatcher with the auto club explained that the two truck driver would likely not be able to transport our entire family in the cab of his truck and it’s illegal to tow a vehicle with passengers still inside. We would need someone else to give the remaining passengers a ride. A few people came to mind. I hesitated to call them, not because I didn’t think they would help, but because I didn’t want to inconvenience them. Then, when I swallowed my pride enough to call, they exceeded my expectations and were prepared to drop everything to help us out. We really are blessed to be a part of such a caring and supportive community.
Where I didn’t expect grace was from the tow truck driver. I figured he would lecture me about how little I knew about our van and how poorly I maintained it. I feel the same about my dentist, and I’m sure many people feel that way about pastors. Instead, he was quite understanding and told stories of people who were far more neglectful of their vehicles. I imagined he would be unbending on the rules and force me to abandon my family as I went to look after the vehicle. He explained that he was an emergency vehicle and so for short trips, the police would make an exception. He also said that the police all knew him and they would leave him alone. We thought he would turn his nose up at us, we had just finished a four day camping trip and it seemed to us that evidence of that status was emanating from us. He assured us that he was worse in that regard than we were.
He suspected that the farmer hadn’t given us enough gas to get started and that once we had a little more in that we would be fine. He towed us to the gas station and was willing to tow us home if we needed it. He was right though, and the van started up with no problem. Besides a few hours out of our day, we hadn’t lost anything. We would have bought the gas anyway, and the auto club fully covered the cost of the tow truck. Instead, I had my expectations of charity met and exceeded. Where I was expecting condemnation I received grace. And by being one more guy that was helped, I gained a far greater appreciation for the ministry this burly, unkempt and foul-mouthed driver provides every day.