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Season Finale: Orange is the new blessing

I have embraced the color orange like nobody's business. I like the color. It's a good color on me, and I'm saying this even after I have had to wear orange in jail for a Feb. 28, 2017 DUI arrest.

It was surreal that my three-mile round-trip, road trip to the McDonald's drive-thru landed me in jail. I was sitting in my driveway with the vehicle running, eating a Big Mac in my pajamas when the officer knocked on my window. What followed was a breathalyzer test that landed me in jail for a three-hour wake-up call and one that would allow me to enter into an eight-month season now known to me and others as, "Orange is the New blessing."

God is wherever you are. He has never left me, and I have experienced His grace and love in my life like nobody's business, especially at a time where I had no business getting behind the wheel after drinking a homemade cocktail. And even after all these years of following, knowing, and sharing the love of Jesus, I am still often surprised that He is never surprised by our mistakes or failings. He shows up with redemption and hope in every way possible, especially in times when we don't deserve it.

My attorney at law, Dan Griffith, also happens to be my husband and his grace now and then is an example of what "for better or worse" looks like. Because I am somewhat of a prankster, with shenanigans up her sleeve, my cute husband thought perhaps I had found a way to prank call him from the jail, but unfortunately it was all too real.

After the initial shock wore off, and the admission of guilt and sorrow brought forth not only healing and support, we were advised that we could challenge the charge with a legal argument to have the case dismissed on constitutional grounds. But had I known that it would be eight months of canceled court dates and rescheduling, I don't know if I would have "fought" the fight.

I remember the time in June where we had to reschedule the court date, based on the fact that my husband could no longer be my attorney and a witness at the same time, and I felt the hope in me slowly exit. A new date was set in August so that all parties (my new attorney, the city attorney, two police officers, the judge and the Department of Transportation (DOT) attorney from Minneapolis) could attend. As the meeting was adjourning, I silently left the chambers and biked to the nearest church because I was so angry and sad.

St. Thomas Catholic Church is conveniently next door to the courthouse "for such times as this," I thought. My memory is that I crawled into the sanctuary, even though my legs worked, and I knelt and cried in the pew while a student was practicing "How Great Thou Art" on the piano. God was there because He is wherever we are.

So I continued biking and praying, and even when the court date was moved, again, from August 24 to Oct. 16, I had God's peace to hope and wait. But then...with only four days remaining before the final hearing, I made the decision to plead guilty and no longer contest the matter.

What? Who does that? Why? Yep. After eight months of biking and asking people for rides, I made this decision. I made it with a peace that only God can give. And I came to understand that it was not about winning, it was about waiting.

So I paid the fines, took a 20-question, written test at the DOT, went to the license bureau and within 24 hours I could drive again. Now, granted, 30 days after the Feb. 28 arrest I could have done the same thing, but at that time it was not the plan or God's best for me.

I can name specific and clear blessings that came from the eight-month season run of "Orange is the New Blessing," which ended up being a nonfiction story I wrote and entered in a writing contest and...won. But the real victories were all the lessons and love received from God and others that are yet still flowing.

One clear blessing was that our 18-year-old son, Joey, was my chauffeur who drove me every place I needed to be if I was unable to bike. He brought me to ladies retreats where I was booked to speak and we indeed made some special and fun memories. But probably most significantly was that he was not only my driver, but my company when I needed to be with my dad, who was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the hospital 250 miles away. Joey's steadfast companionship, with no complaining, comfort, and humor, was medicine only God knew I would need in the month of Sept.

A blessing came, too, in my decision to work at the local Mexican restaurant. Without the DUI, I would have chosen another summer employment option. Previously, I had worked as a managing artistic director each summer in Fargo where I lived in a rented home, but a year prior I had let go of that position. My substitute teaching earnings, along with the majority of speaking events, ended in summer, so the three-block-biking trek to Barajas Mexican Bar and Grill to work, proved to be the perfect fit. The experience was far more about people than chips and salsa. I love people.

Many people made an impact in the way I journeyed through the season of orange, and I am amazed at how much I learned about others and myself. It was big news for a small town and the initial embarrassment in being known as a teacher, speaker, and radio gal with my ministry, Everyday Matters, makes for good gossip, especially when your name and photo on the jail roster can be sent as a screenshot throughout the community quickly and efficiently.

Yet, the amount of private messages and calls allowed others to share their own stories, knowing they were not alone. Three days after the incident, I entered the high school to substitute teach and I was met with incredible support by both students and staff. On one chalkboard was the message from a student who wrote, "Plz be nice to the sub today."

When we take personal responsibility for our actions, rather than blame or play victim, we can help and identify with others on a new level because we all make mistakes. It's how we choose to get up or stay down, which determines character. "Jesus didn't take the wheel this time," was the most common joke I heard, but the winner goes to a student who said to my youngest of four sons, "I guess Everyday Beer Matters?!"

Probably the biggest challenge after the initial, "I own this story, it's not gonna own me" proclamation, was walking through and living my story humbly. So here I am, known and in the spotlight as an accomplished individual, married 26 years with four sons, and now I have a spotlight on one evening of a bad choice I made, which landed me in the role of DUI Debbie. I am a 50-year-old server girl and, I wear my orange work T-shirt proudly, but it's not like all my sunshine-orange enthusiasm hasn't been met with some cool tones.

Yes, I love people and my Christian "family," but people can be unlovely and Christians can be weird, even when they don't mean to be. "Why did you choose alcohol over Jesus," was a question asked? It was during a phone call the day after, and I couldn't answer because it seemed like such a weird question. I didn't choose vodka and orange juice over Jesus. I chose alcohol on that Tuesday evening as a way to stop the pain from a rod pinching a nerve in my back, along with the pain of some other unpleasant life events. My spirit knew what was best, but my flesh is weak and my flesh won.

I also had a loving and well-meaning friend write, "I'm praying as you go back 'into the world' that you would represent Jesus well. After all, you are certainly not the only person to let Jesus down...and still go on to be used greatly by God."

Yeah. It bugged me because I think, "But I don't represent Jesus well. He represents me well. His grace covers me. I fall down. I get back up and by Him in my life and me taking responsibility, for what I do, others will see Him and not me. His grace in my life represents me so well.

Of course, people were disappointed in me with what happened or maybe even embarrassed, but was Jesus disappointed in me? I think 10 years ago I might have thought He was, but I didn't understand His grace as I do now. Our sins grieve Him, but He knows us, so He's not surprised or shocked when we fall. He sees and knows us completely and loves us anyway. I disappointed people but, with Jesus, I was safe. I was good.

I repented, and I needed to. I changed direction, which is what Acts 3:19 talks about simply and brilliantly, "So repent, change your mind and purpose; turn around and return to God, that your sins may be erased, blotted out and wiped clean so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." Remember this, fellow sinner, "guilt" says you did something wrong and "shame," on the other hand, says that you are something wrong. I confessed I was guilty and then took a big scoop of His grace and walked forward...free. And there's no shame in that at all.

I also chose to do a six-week outpatient program to understand more clearly why, in the last five years, I was choosing alcohol as a "let go" release, more often than not. I had always gone to a christian counselor or professional psychiatrist for help, but having a counselor who freely used the F-Bomb to make a point, brought new insight into my life, too. I also remembered from my mentor, Barb, from years past that to walk humbly through life is the best route. Barb had even written a book where she shared her wisdom: "The truly humble person recognizes their strengths and weaknesses and, so, rather than a concentration on yourself, humility leads you to look around you for opportunities to encourage and help others."

I had some idea, but did not imagine how sharing my story would be such a blessing to me, while encouraging others, too. There was the ladies retreat where Joey drove me to speak, and a gal afterward handed him a note (unsigned), which read, "Thank you for being so open about your life. If cool Speaker Girl has this kind of 'stuff' in her life, maybe my battles aren't so shameful."

I am trying to live in sincere humility every day, and perhaps even more so because of this season that I entered into and am now coming out of. This earth experience is really hard, but it is not our home, our final destination. However, what happens here can wake us up and change us to really live while we're still here. I'm a better "me" because of what happened, but no matter what, I will always try to "Live, Love & Laugh" (which is something that seems to be embroidered on pillows and painted on plaques) through each challenge or adventure.

Laughter will always be one of the best medicines...ever. And I always get people grinning when I tell how I asked the female officer in jail if I could keep my orange socks.

Even that evening, I knew God would use my experience as a blessing—and a lesson—if I allowed Him to. His grace always does that.

Now, as we look for a new vehicle for me to drive, I insist it must be orange. We seriously need to embrace the good of who God is in all of our seasons and in the different directions we take. God is here, waiting to make creative, redemptive use of what has happened. He is always on the move. He isn't wasting time thinking about all the trouble He has with us, or how awful we feel about where we are with our troubles and ourselves.

Jesus gets us, knows us, and loves us unconditionally. I got to experience His grace and love in such a surprising and beautiful way with a matter that burst, bright orange, into my life eight months ago.

Orange is the New Blessing turned out to be a great season run. The finale was worth the wait. But stay tuned as I know there are others adventures I will be going on and sharing. God's not finished with me (or you) yet. God bless us as we journey together.

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