I was browsing the art exhibit when I saw him on my right just a few feet away, and I knew I couldn't avoid him. After all, we had some unfinished business.
I turned to say hello. He looked up and gave a courteous nod. He didn't recognize me under my sparse beard and shorter hair, so I gave him my name.
"Oh. Hello, Don." He smiled politely. He still wore the same beige trench coat, looking more at home in the city than our lumbermill town.
"So, Lyle, you're still the juvenile officer here."
"Oh," I said. "Congratulations on the new job." I looked down, searching for my next words.
"I'm going to college now. It's my second year. I'm studying counseling and Bible." I watched for a sign of approval in his solemn face.
"I'm thinking of doing social work – maybe with teenagers." I shuffled my feet. "Or working as a counselor in a church."
"Oh, really." He raised his eyebrows and nodded.
I didn't want to bring up the past, but I had to. My palms got sweaty. I cleared my throat. "About what I did in high school, Lyle." I looked about cautiously. "You said there'd be some community service. Maybe a fine."
"Yes," he said, ignoring my nervousness.
"Well, it's been three years and nothing's happened. It's just that," I took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes, "for whatever reason you decided not to do anything to me, I just wanted to say thanks. Thank you very much."
Hands still in his pockets, he nodded and said, "Sounds like we made the right decision." He smiled. I wished him well in his new job, clumsily shook his hand, then went to find my parents.
I don't know how much Lyle struggled over his decision to waive the penalty for my teenage crime, but I am grateful he did, especially considering he had no guarantee that I would straighten out my life.
I didn't know Lyle to be a religious man, so it surprises me how much his actions remind me of someone else.
Christ had no guarantee I would take his mercy to heart. Even so, he made the risky and generous decision that canceled my penalty by paying it himself. Believe me, it had nothing to do with worthiness. If spiritual merit were a bank account, my balance would be zero. The apostle Paul said it best:
"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8; NIV).
Since Jesus offers us such generous mercy, we would do well to accept it, repenting of our blunders and placing our lives in his hands. Then we can spend the rest of our lives giving humble thank-yous to the one who gave it all.
As a grateful receiver of Christ's mercy I want to live in such a way that, when I finally see him, he'll smile, nod his head, and say, "Well done, Don. I knew I made the right decision."