Last Monday evening around 9:00 p.m., after a good and full day of pastoral ministry in Brownwood, I was stopped by an officer of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
I had just finished delivering the greeting and invocation for the 300 or so folks gathered at our church for the annual Brownwood High School Football Banquet, and was making my way home to our ranch in Desdemona.
It had been a good day of numerous meaningful visits, conversations, and prayers with the people in our fellowship. On such days, pastors sometimes slip into a reverie of reflection and thanksgiving about the goodness of our lives together in Christ, the friendship that connects us in Christian community, and the high purpose that is ours in building the Kingdom of God.
Such a trance of gratitude must have made the foot heavier on the accelerator. On Highway 16 north of Comanche, as I approached the Sabanna River, a southbound DPS officer stopped me. He clocked me exceeding the speed limit, flashed his lights, and turned around to ticket me.
My sweet hour of prayer became a frantic plea.
It was pitch dark, and the officer approached my car carefully on the passenger side, asked for my license, insurance, and registration, and sternly inquired as to where I had been and what I had been up to.
Shamelessly pulling the “pastor card,” I stammered something about Brownwood, First Baptist Church, and ministry.
Immediately, his entire demeanor softened. His face brightened. He began talking casually about the fine folks he knew in Brownwood, his own faith, and the spiritual importance of church in his life.
He handed my license back to me and started asking me about mutual friends and acquaintances. Far fewer than the theoretical “six degrees” separate folks in our part of Texas, so we had numerous relationships in common. Finally, he tipped his hat, admonished me to slow down and be careful on the way home. Then a theology: “Reverend, the Lord needs you.”
He extended his hand through the window to me, and introduced himself.
“I’m Officer Grace.”
My roadside conversations with law enforcement officers have not always ended so happily. Nor do I think ministers are entitled to any special consideration when it comes to traffic infractions. My friends have given me endless grief about my absurdly good fortune. One took a little exegetical liberty with Hebrews 4.16: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of speed.”
But, on a dark night, on a lonely stretch of highway, in the face of my own violation, I encountered Grace. And I made it home.