Red Light Run

I learn so much when I tell the truth.

I’m definitely not a NASCAR-caliber driver, and I probably drive too cautiously for being a guy.  So when our caravan headed home from the concert, I got too far behind the lead car and was caught by a long, yellow traffic light. Life sometimes leaves you with a choice to press forward or to hold back. I made the wrong choice.

I sped up, but just before I entered the intersection, the traffic light turned red. And, just to my left, I saw a white car in the opposite lane, facing me. And, just on top of that white car, was something I really didn’t want to see: a light bar.

I hadn’t been back to my undergraduate campus for more than twenty-five years. North Texas State University has since become the University of North Texas (UNT). Apparently, the name upgrade brought an affiliated upgrade in the quality of academic buildings, student housing, and formerly pot-holed roads. Somebody had actually responded to those thousands of snail-mailed pleas for funds from the grateful alumni. I know it wasn’t me.

My younger daughter Scout’s (17) choir picked a field trip to hear the UNT Jazz Singers in concert. I was invited along—as long as I helped drive the group to the event. I agreed, as it was finally time to go back and recall my five years at UNT (four wasn’t quite enough to graduate me).

After twenty-five years of progress, I didn’t recognize I-35 at all; the roads had changed, and the buildings had changed. I began to wonder if I had changed so much in twenty-five years but then decided I didn’t want that answer.

We found the beautiful new concert hall amongst haunting old rehearsal halls where I recalled many hours of boring practice. Thankfully, the Jazz Singers were stunning, and their sound reminded me of why I had pursued jazz so long ago.

After the concert we drove to the town square to visit a famed ice cream parlor. The parlor was cool, and the square was beautifully lit at night. Nothing like I remembered.

Now, the fun part of the trip faded as my left-side mirror reflected the white car standing still at the light. For a moment, I was free! Then that light bar turned into the Fourth of July plus Christmas, as the white police car made a U-turn and rolled up behind me.

I turned my car into a nearby parking lot and remembered reading how to be the perfect citizen. I turned on the cabin lights, rolled the window down exactly three inches, and put my hands on the steering wheel. The girls in the back seat didn’t say anything, and I sure didn’t know what to say to them except, “Hold on, let’s see what the officer has to say.” I sensed the girls’ anticipation as they watched how I would handle the moment.

The officer ambled up to the car window and asked me to roll it down fully. “You know why I stopped you?” he questioned.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” wrote the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:10. Such an intriguing conclusion to his explanation of why our salvation is based on Christ’s work, not our work.

When I think of “good works” my mind imagines flying to Haiti with Franklin Graham. Adopting five disabled children. Raising the dead. You know, GOOD works.

But could those “good works” also be the little things in life? Could it be comforting a daughter after she falls down and scrapes her knee? Could it be finding $100 somewhere in the monthly budget for a son’s long-desired laser tag birthday party? Could it be honesty to a police officer, as your daughter and her friend intensely observe?

“Do you know why I stopped you?”

“Well . . . could it be that red light I ran, Officer?” I sheepishly responded.

He replied, “Where were you coming from?”

“The Jazz Singers concert, Sir,” hoping the “sir” part might just earn a little forgiveness.

“You know, you’re the fourth person I pulled over from that concert,” he chuckled.

I supposed all that toe-tapping jazz got drivers tapping the accelerator, too, though I kept my clever comment to myself.

“Wait here please, and I’ll be right back,” the officer instructed.

As I obediently sat in the car, flashbacks, déjà vu, and, “You gotta be kidding me” washed all over me. I’d pulled into the same parking lot where, thirty years ago, I received a ticket for turning the wrong way on a one-way street. The “One Way” sign had fallen off its post, and I hadn’t seen it. With a few photographs and the determination of a young freshman collegian, I took my case to the city municipal court and won my freedom. Now I wondered if the campus police had long, vindictive memories.

The officer strolled back and handed my license to me. “I’m gonna let you off since you were honest. Besides, there’s nothing worse I could do to you than the grief you’re going to get from those ladies in the back seat!” he quipped. With nervous laughter, I thanked the officer and rolled up the car window.

Forgiven! For a moment I soaked in the amazing moment of mercy for one so undeserving. Then the Lord gently reminded me of another man who one day forgave an undeserving me when I got honest about my sins that were much more grievous than a red-light run.

“So,” I hesitantly asked Scout, “are you going to give me any grief?”

“No sir,” Scout responded.  “You drove us to the concert, and you bought us ice cream.”

The officer gave me mercy. My daughter gave me grace. The Lord gave everybody a lesson in redemption through honesty. I learn so much when I tell the truth.

If you have a moment of honesty you’d like to share, please send an email . I’d love to read stories of the good works the Lord prepared in advance for you to do.