She’s an old car. Our ‘88 Toyota Camry is 25 years old, with 156,000 miles on the odometer. The Kelly Blue Book says she’s worth $600, maybe. But she’s a faithful family friend and she’s never left us stranded.
So I felt much dismay one Saturday afternoon when I returned to the spot where I thought I had parked her and found it occupied by another vehicle. I checked all 150 cars in that lot. No sign of her. She was gone. Stolen, I figured.
The policeman wrote out a report but his helpless shrug conveyed the message: “Buddy, might as well say goodbye. You’ll never see her again.” I was pretty sure he was right.
It’s not easy, at moments like that, to be one of these “peculiar people” (I Peter 2: 9 KJV) the Bible says we disciples of the Master are, who love their enemies and look for ways to do good to those who persecute us. I wasn’t feeling one ounce of love at the moment. I was steamed, and ready the ring the neck of the hoodlum who ran off with my treasure.
I’ve walked alongside people who have been violated—many in much more serious ways than the mere theft of an old clunker. But I got a fresh feel for what it’s like to have something you treasure ripped away. It’s a personal desecration. I wonder if that’s how God feels when Satan gets his claws into us for a while. Desecration. The word fits.
Ever so slowly I began to think about the thief. I might say that I even began to feel for the thief...a little. What kind of life did they really have? What must it be like, living on the dark side of the law, always being on guard against getting caught? Was there some desperation behind the foul deed? I found my heart softening a bit. Praying for the thief was hard.
Nine days later, at 1:00 a.m. on a Monday morning my wife and I were awakened by a phone call. It was police department dispatch saying: “We have located your Toyota Camry. Please give us a call at….” Stunned, and barely awake, we could hardly believe it. Really? “Yes, really,” the kind lady on the phone said.
We drove the 50 miles to retrieve our treasure. There she sat in the small lot of the towing company, surrounded by old wrecked cars and trucks. But she was safe and sound. I saw no new dents or even scratches. I lifted the hood. The alternator, the battery—all there! We bailed her out at a cost of $300. That part of her redemption was easy, even though it stung a little.
But driving her home—now, what a tender journey that was. My heart went out to her, if such a thing is even possible. I felt for her. She had been so callously abused. The thief smoked and ashes were all over the front seats, the console and floor. The air inside reeked. The face plate of the Kenwood stereo system hung loose. All our service records, proof of insurance and registration documents, gone.
As I drove my despoiled old car, I was almost embarrassed at how much my heart went out to her. I almost said it aloud—“You’ve been so abused, my old friend, at the hands of a heartless stranger who didn’t care one lick for you. Look at you. You’re such a mess. But now you’re back with me, your true master. I will restore you. You belong to me, and I treasure you.” At that moment I got a fresh taste of just how dear that moment must be to our Creator and Father when he finds us, redeems us, and turns us homeward.
Upon arriving home, I wasted no time. I shook the grime out of her mats and scrubbed her insides. I vacuumed the floors and trunk. Then I washed her down and dried her off by hand. It was every bit a baptism. I even sprayed her grimy tires with Armor-all. I bought an air-freshener to hang on the rear view mirror, to overpower that last, lingering stench of her captivity. I even changed her oil and filter. I was determined to give her a totally fresh start, even down to her crankcase.
And now she’s back home, for home is where we are treasured.
Yes, she’s only a car, and an old one at that. But if the redemption of an old clunker can be so sweet, how much grander must ours be? No wonder those angels sing each time our prone-to-wander hearts find themselves turned back homeward. I know the melody.