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..: stories

..: Another Day in the Upside-Down Kingdom

A few months ago, Epic organized a free car wash at a local gas station in our community. The plan as usual was to provide a quality, free car wash for the people in our city. While their cars were getting washed, the drivers were encouraged to sit on one of our chairs, have some chips and soda, and relax under our portable tent. There are three basic teams in the car wash: talker, washer and dryer. Talkers sit and chat with the drivers, answering their questions and shooting the breeze. Washers wash the cars and rinse them off. Dryers dry off the cars. That day, I was doing my favorite role: Dryer.

We had a slow start that morning. The intersection the gas station watched over was a very busy one, right next to the freeway. As with many endeavors, the first few people are the hardest to attract. In order to announce to the world that we had officially started, we washed a few cars of our own. The second car we washed was mine. At the time that I suggested we wash my car, I thought that it was pretty dirty. By the time I walked across the street to fetch it, I realized the car wasn't that dirty after all. Ugh, I thought. I drove it over anyway, and to my amazement, the car wash crew washed the car. I overheard one of the washers jokingly say "what a waste."

One of our first bonafide customers was a hearing-impaired woman with a white Ford. It was an older model, probably about 12 years old. We washed it, and dryed it. I applied tire foam to the tires. She stopped me as I did so, and asked what I was doing. I showed her the pictures on the back of the can, explained that it was tire cleaner. She gave her nod of approval and allowed me to continue.

We finished drying her car. Most of our drivers simply just drive away when we're done. Some shake hands and say "is this really free? Great!" Not the Ford driver. She pulled me close to her car's hood, and pointed out a myriad of microscopic brownish dots on the white paint. "These were not here when I came for the car wash" she told me. To demonstrate, she wet her finger and worked hard to wipe one of the dots off her car. Uh oh, here we go, I thought. My sole purpose at my desk job is to deal with clients who pay $10 for 10 widgets, and then demand 25 widgets once the contract is signed, claiming that their definition of widget is different and more correct than ours. That part of me rose to the surface in an instant, and I knew I was closing myself off to her, instinctively protecting my team. I fought the urge, and listened to her long enough to hear that she wanted the Epic crew to wash her car a second time.

About that time, I did what every good leader should do in that situation. I asked the pastor's wife to talk to her. I dutifully went on to the next car that was waiting to be dried.

Kevin's wife is a gracious, patient woman. She agreed to put her car back through for a second wash. I saw her explain the situation to a few more washers, and watched the driver's demonstration a second, third and fourth time. The dots must come off the car today, she insisted. We tried to explain that those dots were probably there yesterday. After all, this is an old car. But that did not register, nor was it an acceptable answer for the driver. And so, Epic washed the car a second time. This time, the driver provider her own white new rags from her trunk. The washers used plastic bottle caps and wooden sticks, wrapped in the rags, to gently and firmly rub off each dot. One by one. This went on for quite some time. At one point, there were up to four people rubbing dots off her car. Pouring concentrated car wash on the hood, roof and trunk, rubbing and rubbing laboriously at dots you couldn't see if your nose was more than seven inches away from the car.

Epic rubbed dots off her car for more than an hour. In fact, hers was one of the last cars we dryed off that day. When she left, she was satisfied. Her Ford's paint looked showroom new.

The events of that day, specifically the tedious cleaning of her car's paint, have troubled me ever since. Taking over an hour to wash one car with our strongest washers made horrible business sense. In the world's systems, her car wash would have been deemed a Failure. Yet, looking back, it reeked of the kind of Success that only God orchestrates. You know, the kind that you don't like. I have mulled it over many times in my head, and came to a few conclusions.

1) We did it for the onlookers. There were other "customers" who saw the way we were gracious in response to her unreasonable criticism of our free car wash. Hopefully we made a good impact on them.

2) We did it for the Ford lady. She wasn't the best communicator, but I believe she received a tangible manifestation of God's compassion for her. Surely she knew that she was only one to receive such special treatment.

3) We did it to build character. It was humiliating to have to wash that car, and it was offensive to be accused of actually adding the oxidation spots as a result of our car wash. It had never happened before, and was so outrageous a situation, it had to be from God. What did it teach us? I had no idea. And that may have been the lesson. God will do what he wants with his resources. Sometimes we don't get to ask his purposes. There is a reason that this woman was hearing impaired. Because of her phsyical attributes, she also was a poor communicator. We couldn't have asked her for validation of God's purpose. We weren't supposed to.

Yet, those reasons did not seem to satisfy my mulling over the event. Today, in a morning meeting with the Epic leaders, I heard the right phrase. Jessica said it: "It gives us a glimpse into the heart of God."

4) We did it to get a glimpse into the heart of God. The Bible says that the sun shines on the righteous and wicked alike, and that the Sower scatters seeds on all kinds of soil. God gives his gifts freely, regardless of how deserving or needy we are--the greatest gift being the true salvation. For us to be used as a messenger, a deliverer of that gift--as undeserved or as awkward as it may have seemed--was a unique chance to give as God gives. And in doing so, we caught a glimpse of God's perspective.

And God's perspective doesn't always make sense, does it? Well, I'm learning to be okay with that. After all, I somehow got my car washed too.

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