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  • Writer's pictureMarnie Hammar

An Awkward Lesson in Love from Junior High Pickup

She drove into the junior high parking lot the wrong way, in her sassy red sports car, mere minutes before school let out. Pickup procedures at the junior high can be dicey, but in an attempt to control the anarchy, the gravel parking lot situated next to our junior high school follows an unspoken one-way in, one-way out system. Every school day, at least fifty of us pull into the second driveway, the assigned “Enter” driveway, and then steer our cars so that they face toward the agreed-upon “Exit” as we wait for our beloveds to emerge. Most of the time, it works.

Except the lady in the red sports car didn’t follow those rules. As she pulled into the exit, she drove toward my (admittedly oversized) vehicle. I glanced at her, interested in how she was going to attempt to drive by me, as it would be a tight squeeze. My absentminded glance accidentally converted into full eye contact. She stopped and mouthed at me, “Back up!” with her eyebrows scowling.

I looked around and saw there was nowhere for me to go. I was blocked by cars all around me, all of which, I might note, were facing the same (agreed-upon) direction I was facing. So I shrugged, possessing no clear remedy.

“Back up!” she repeated, mouth-yelling at me this time. Again, I looked behind me to confirm that I wasn’t missing some obvious solution. And then I got frustrated. Mad, even. Why was she choosing me as the Main Offender in this situation? I was surrounded by solidarity — couldn’t she see that? Part of me wished we had a gravel lot gang sign to easily signal our agreement regarding directional procedures. Maybe I’ll propose that for next year.

She pulled forward, and rolled her window down. “Why won’t you back up?” she asked. Out of my mouth came a factual explanation of the One-Way-In and One-Way-Out Protocol, with helpful gestures that pointed to the appropriate entrance, just over there.

In other words, she asked me to back up and I answered her with the reason she was wrong to ask me to do that.

Then a whisper in my heart: Why do I care so much?

At issue wasn’t so much her entry into the exit driveway, but her irritation with me. She singled me out, deciding I was wrong. If she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oops, look what I did, can you help me by moving?” I would have happily obliged.

That whisper again: Is it really that big a deal?

It’s not lost on me that this happened in the most awkward of places. Here I am, in the junior high parking lot, engaging with someone as if I am still in junior high, failing to see the big picture of this one small thing.

This pickup – which was supposed to be a quick errand, not an event – became more when I chose to dig in my heels. It became a conflict that this driver will now remember every time she sees my unmissable vehicle. It became an exposure of my need to be right. Most of all, it became a missed opportunity to love a person connected to my child’s school community.

Really, it doesn’t matter whether she was right or wrong. What matters is who I was in response.

This random Thursday in the junior high gravel lot revealed that, when I am accused of being wrong, sometimes I like to come out with my rules blaring. On this day, I chose to be more like a rule-loving Pharisee than my grace-giving Jesus.

Now she believes that I’m the kind of person who, instead of making room, chooses to point fingers. If she told her side of the story, she might say, “I pulled into the parking lot and this lady wouldn’t let me in! Can you believe it? I asked if she could back up and she told me I came in the wrong way!”

No, that’s not who I am. But in that moment, that’s who I chose. I didn’t love well in the parking lot.

Tomorrow at pickup, or at the grocery store, or on the soccer sidelines, or in the break room at work, or wherever I am when I’m invited into another debate between rules and love, what will I choose? Will I choose to stand by myself, waving my rulebook, or will I invite Jesus to stand with me?

On my best days, when I walk closely with Jesus, I don’t need to recite procedures to strangers at pickup. On those days, when I listen for His whispers, my own desires recede. Without the need to be right, I discover His greater capacity to love.

Then I will see this woman as God sees her, and I will find a way to make room.

“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law,” (Romans 13:8, NLT).

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