AKA: "Storm Home"
Once upon a time, I lived out on the prairie of South Dakota, in a little town with no gas station, no restaurants, and no grocery store. We did have a post office, though.
I thought I knew something about rural living because my mother grew up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota and I used to spend time with my grandparents there, especially in the summer. I also thought I knew how to behave in a snow-storm: after all, I'm from Minnesota. I know how to drive when it's slippery, and I know about keeping a shovel in my car, and I even used to keep an extra bag of cat litter in the car just in case I would get stuck (yes, cat litter).
So one Monday morning (my day off) in December, I made an appointment to get my car "winterized." Now I'm from Minnesota, so I know how important it is to get your car winterized. But that same morning I also heard that there was some weather coming in -- they thought at about noon.
And they said that it was going to be a pretty big storm.
So my two thoughts were: 1) It's even more important that I get my car winterized this morning, and 2) I'm sure I can get it done and be back home before the weather gets really bad.
So I went and fixed the car up in the nearest city to me (30 miles away) and then I headed for home. It was already starting to snow and to blow (that's the important part) but I thought, "This isn't too bad. I can do this. After all, it's not slippery or anything."
As soon as I got outside the city limits, I realized that I was wrong. I also learned what the word "white out" means. It means that everything is literally white. I couldn't see anything on the road ahead of me. All I could see (sometimes) was the white line marking the edge of the road. I wasn't thinking any more "I can do this". I was scared. I wasn't sure at all that I could do this and not end up in a ditch.
At one point my route passed through a very small town, and I was able to see a little better. At the same time, I suddenly remember that a retired couple from my church lived in this town, just off the main road. In desperation, I turned into their driveway.
Lucky for me -- they welcomed me. In fact, they were happy to have me stay -- for the next two days while the storm continued. They even found an extra toothbrush for me. (You see, they were prepared.) After that, I sometimes referred to them as my "storm home."
I got smart after that -- or at least I thought I was smart. I thought -- from now on I am going to be better prepared for emergencies. So I started always to keep a bag in my car from then on, with a change of clothes, my Bible, a toothbrush and a couple of other items. Of course, I never had to use the bag, because I never got stuck in a snowstorm again. I had learned my lesson, I suppose, about the dangers of snow and wind out on the prairie. I suppose you can say that I "repented" of my foolhardy ways, learned to be more cautious, and learned as well to be better prepared.
But is that what the word "repent" really means? It does mean change -- that's for sure. It also means "turn around", which gives me a whole different perspective on repentance, and when and why it occurs.
So, when do you think I "repented" in this story?
I believe that I repented when I entered that little town and remembered the home where some friendly people lived. I repented when I realized, "I can't do this any more," and turned in the driveway and knocked on the door. I repented when they opened the door and welcomed me in out of the cold and out of the storm.
Repentance is when you admit you are lost on a dangerous road, that you can't see your hand in front of your face -- and yet you are welcomed in from the cold. Repentance is when we realize we have gotten in over our heads, and cry out, "Lord save me!" Repentance is not just (or mainly) about what we turn away from, but what we turn TOWARD: life, love, grace, light.
Oh, and this as well: Most people believe that you repent in order to get forgiven. But I believe that it happens the other way. We repent because we have been forgiven.
We turn off the dangerous road because we know there is a house with a light in the window and a fire in the fireplace, and friendly people with open arms and soup simmering. And we keep turning toward God's promised life of grace and adventure, because we know that there are storm homes dotting the landscape, with open hearts and hearths, welcoming prodigals and pilgrims.
That's my repentance story.... and I'm sticking to it.