One month ago I found out some pretty major news that rocked my world. I was emotionally reeling, Ryan was at work, and three real estate agents were lined up to come to our home that morning to talk about listing our home on the market. It was the first day of Lent and I was endeavoring to live with open eyes and an open heart. A man pulled into my driveway in an old beat-up white truck and came to my front door one hour before the first real estate agent was to arrive.
I always keep the front door open because I love to see the sunlight pouring in through the storm door. Also, we live at the end of a quiet, private cul-de-sac so it never feels intrusive or dangerous. The down side to this is, sometimes people in old, beat-up white trucks pull up to the curb and feel the freedom to walk straight to the open door and knock. In these situations, there really isn’t proper time to close the door and pretend you aren’t home.
He told me his name and his wife’s name. She was in the truck. He was in the neighborhood laying mulch for neighbors and had a pretty big load he still needed to get rid of. He noticed we had nice big flower beds, but no fresh mulch and wondered if I might be interested in his. It was top of the line- it would last all season- and he would give me a great price. Ryan and I had actually just made a short list of things that needed to be updated around the house if we were going to put it on the market. Mulch in the flower beds was one of those things.
“How much?” I asked him.
“$6.85 a bag,” he said.
“And how many bags do you think you will use?”
“Well, each bag is 50 pounds and it won’t take too much, ma’am. I’ll give you a good rate.”
“Ok, well I have realtors coming to the house in an hour, do you think you can be done by then?”
“Yes ma’am! And could I please have some cold water for my wife and I?”
I brought him the water and chatted with he and his wife as they began to work outside. I didn’t have the best feeling about the whole situation but they clearly needed the income. They were in worn-out ratty clothes, driving an old beat up truck, looking for work. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that maybe she was in a situation she didn’t want to be in. So now that they were here, I figured I might as well try and pour some love into them and make sure she was safe. The whole situation was bizarre and I was kicking myself for not just having the wits to say, “NO THANK YOU.”
A million accusations flooded my mind.
Seriously Jenny? Why are you such a sucker? Why can’t you just say no? Why do you answer the door? You can shut it in someone’s face, you know. It’s your house. I’ve been letting in Mormon missionaries and encyclopedia salesmen my whole life. Don’t even get me started on that one time a man selling meat from the back of his truck almost sucked me in. How much does mulch cost anyways? He sure does seem to be using a lot.
The first real estate agent and his greasy protégé showed up thirty minutes early. I suppose they were going to sit in the car until the proper time. But you know- I’m the girl that keeps the front door open- so they got out and joined the party in the front yard. I was dripping in sweat form anxiety. Already riddled from an emotional 24 hours, I just wasn’t thinking clearly. I got the real estate agents settled inside and went to tell the man out front that we had enough mulch.
He handed me a sheet of paper, freshly torn from the spiral notebook in his hand, that said the total price. I almost passed out. I thought I would have a heart attack. His wife was already back in the truck and horror stories instantly played through my mind of what might happen if I fought back and said, “absolutely not.” He already looked like he could kill a person with a shovel at any moment. The mistake was made and it was mine. I just wanted them gone and I wanted to feel safe. In my emotionally frazzled state, the safest thing seemed like paying and getting them to leave.
I still can’t even type the number that I wrote that check for without waves of shame and embarrassment. But you can do the math. Somehow our flower beds required 40 bags of mulch.
Please. If you feel the need to point out how cheap a bag of mulch is at Home Depot, trust me, I am painfully aware.
The dread I felt in having to text Ryan and tell him what I had done was intense. We don’t have that kind of money laying around and I knew it would mean we would need to dip into savings to cover my monumental mistake. I was totally ashamed and embarrassed that I had made such a stupid mistake. I was angry at myself for always being a sucker. I’ve been a sucker my whole life. I texted him. “I made a huge mistake. I’m sorry. I know it was stupid. I can’t even talk about it right now because I might break out in hives. But you are going to need to move some money over from savings. I’m so so sorry.”
Ryan’s initial response was as expected. “You can’t be serious?” “No way Jen. There is no way he charged you that much and you paid.”
It wasn’t my finest moment.
I laid in bed that night crying my eyes out. But when I went to brush my teeth, the most amazing thing happened.
The man who laid the mulch promised me it would last all season!, and if it didn’t, I could just call him and he would come lay new mulch for free. He scrawled his name, Archie C., and his phone number on the corner edge of the notebook paper and the cost per bag. I showed Ryan earlier in the day. “Seriously? That’s his business card? This is all you got in return?” No. I got forty bags of mulch in return ;-). He laughed at the ridiculousness of it all and put the tiny piece of paper in his pocket.
As I went to pick up my toothbrush that night, I found Archie’s “business card” taped around the bristles of the brush. My dear husband, who always has a wicked sense of humor, left this gift for me. I died laughing. The next morning, I woke up and found his "business card" taped to the toilet seat. That night it was under my pillow. And the following morning, as I hurriedly got ready for meetings, I reached inside my underwear drawer, pull out of my favorite pair, and there ole’ Archie’s “business card” was. Taped inside my favorite pair of underwear. I have never laugh-cried harder in my life.
So I made a $270 mistake. It happens. Well, maybe that particular kind of mistake will never happen to you because you aren’t gullible. But maybe a different kind of mistake will. Or maybe you have a gullible person in your life too and they will make a stupid mistake. But here’s the thing----
In ten years, what I will remember about that day is not the mistake I made but the mercy I was given. Because after Ryan’s initial “YOU DID WHAT?” response, he quickly did what he does best. Offers grace. He didn’t make snide comments about the cost of mulch at Home Depot or my inability to just say no, he didn’t roll his eyes, comment on how much money I had just lost us or allow me to feel shame for a single minute longer than I needed to. He let it go and endeavored to help me do the same. He laughed. He brought joy and gave unmerited mercy.
Mercy doesn’t come with a side of judgmental arrogance.
Mercy doesn’t come with a smirk and a declaration in your heart that “you would never make that kind of mistake.”
Mercy comes free. Without merit. In the midst of the mistake. Mercy is for those of us who make stupid decisions. It shows up taped to your toothbrush and in your underwear drawer. It comes on visitation days at the prison and in living rooms after affairs are discovered. It comes as you confess what you’ve been racking up on the credit card and in the car when you’ve yelled at your babies and they forgive you before you can ask out loud. It comes on a cross when everyone has gone home, hidden their faces and run away from the One they once called their beloved teacher and Lord.
Mercy comes running. And it sets us free. No strings attached.
May we know God’s mercy this Lenten season.
May we be quick to give and receive grace.
Quicker still to release our shame.
And eager to be lavish givers of mercy.
(And yes, Dad. I know you will now go and listen to Mercy Came Running by Phillips, Craig and Dean for the rest of the day. Let me make it easy for you. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2otwzdgDRw )