Chase grabbed the solvent and rags and walked the short distance from his car to the sign. He hadn’t done it. It was a graduation ritual he didn’t approve of, an excuse for vandalism.
Throughout high school Chase had attempted to live what he believed without compromise. Consequently, he wasn’t included in much. Usually he was fine with it, but sometimes he felt the sharp pain of isolation and aloneness.
It was in those times that Chase experienced the greatest sense of God’s presence. After he stopped grumbling, that is. It seemed like the Lord would patiently wait until he’d finished his complaining and sulking, and then step in with the comfort and friendship of Christ.
He’d heard his mom proudly tell a friend that she didn’t know too many seventeen-year-olds that had such a close relationship with the Lord. Chase knew the closeness was a result of his desperate need for strength to walk the school halls without being intimidated.
His stand was not easy. His car was often egged or sticky with pop when he came out of school at the end of the day. He’d clench his fists, sometimes releasing frustration as he punched his driver’s seat but, in the end, would always drive away without searching the crowds for the culprit.
Out of the seniors, Alex Davis, seemed the most determined to grind him down and force him to retaliate. He seemed vehemently opposed to everything Chase stood for. Words from the Bible like, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay,” says the Lord”*, helped Chase to not strike back.
Chase had suspected Alex’s involvement in the recent spree of grad “markings”. His suspicions were confirmed when he overheard a conversation in the washroom at school. He hadn’t told anyone; knew it would look like revenge if he went to the authorities.
He wanted to please God, which was why he now stood before the beloved “Welcome to Tri-Lake” sign on the outskirts of town. A local artist had portrayed the four-season flavor of their community and the entire town was very proud of her talents. The recent markings, “GRAD 2007” and random symbols, spray painted in red, had enraged the public.
Nobody had asked for volunteers to clean up the graffiti, but for some reason Chase felt like he should do it. It didn’t matter that Alex would get away with it, or that Chase’s actions might be misunderstood. He decided to trust God and leave the results to Him.
Sure enough, as he began to apply the solvent to the paint, a horn blared. He cringed as he looked over his shoulder in time to see the passenger of the car gesturing rudely.
He wondered if he would be able to endure the honking and name-calling when he remembered his MP3 player. With the music cranked, he could ignore the highway noise and continue with a little less embarrassment.
In the next moment, Chase’s destiny was fulfilled. Oblivious to his surroundings as he worked to the music of a favorite band, he didn’t notice the camera of a local reporter flash to his left. He never saw the elderly driver of a pickup rear-end another due to the slowed traffic, and he had no sense of the impacted car careening, out of control, towards him.
The car’s horn blared. Air bags hissed. Solvent trickled out of the tipped can and was absorbed into the ground where the partially cleaned welcome sign lay in pieces.
What began as a regular Saturday in Tri-Lake became forever noted for its tragedy.
Chase looked into the eyes of the One he loved and heard the words he’d dreamed of one day hearing: “Well done, my faithful servant. Come into your reward.”
Alex poured orange juice into a glass. His head pounded, his stomach rolled, but what he could remember of his Saturday night made the discomfort worthwhile.
His parents, already gone to church, had left the local paper on the counter. As he scanned the front-page headlines, his heart stopped. His mind frantically struggled to absorb the picture of Chase Taylor below the bold print: “Vandal Killed By Motorist as He Cleans Up His Act.” Alex raced to the bathroom, his stomach’s contents now in his throat, his mind screaming: That should’ve been me!
*Romans 12:19 (RSV)
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