Grace: The Most Precious Gift I Gave and Received this Christmas

iStock_000022043493XSmallDavid and I attended an afternoon gathering at our church a few Sundays ago, a few weeks before Christmas.

After a couple of songs, the host pastor urged us to greet our neighbors.  We turned to a couple sitting a few rows behind us. “I’m Junko,” I said, as I extended my hand to shake the man’s.

“Junko! I’m ‘Corey’,” he said, in a hey-I-know-you sort of a way, and I took a second look at his vaguely familiar, smiling face.  Hmmm…who was he again? His wife was explaining to David that they were just visiting that day from Los Angeles.

After everyone took their seats and the place quieted down, the senior pastor came out and began speaking.  My mind, however, was flipping through my mental Rolodex.  Then I got it.

Oooooh, THAT Corey!

This guy still owes me money from 1994!  If you add interest, we’re talking about over a thousand dollars.  At that time, he was promoting a Christian music festival with some “Christians” he had met in prison while serving time for a white collar crime (that should have been my first red flag), and they signed me up as one of the acts.  I was just releasing my debut album, still naive and trusting of everyone. They promised me a generous appearance fee and I, in turn, hired a band.

The day of the festival arrived, and it turned out to be a complete mess.  It was the hottest, ugliest day in LA that year, and attendance was low.  None of the amenities that they had promised — food, ATM machines, green room — came to be, and the people were upset.  Some of the biggest acts in Christian music in the 90′s backed out at the last minute when they sensed that they would be stiffed.  I dutifully performed, even though I had gotten rear-ended on the freeway on my way there.  Then I discovered that my CD’s were stolen right off of my merch table!  It was a horrible day.

Corey and his friends promised to pay me, but I never heard from them again.

I had long ago erased this unpleasant experience from my mind, but it’s amazing how powerfully memories can come back.  As our pastor spoke, I was trying to keep anger from welling back up and kept searching for the quickest exit.

As soon as the meeting ended, Corey and his wife came dashing over to us.  They must have been doing some strategizing during the sermon.

“Hey, we know a bunch of things happened about 20 years ago, but we just want you to know that we are so, so sorry for what we did to you,” they said to me.  “We were foolish and dumb, and what we did was not fair to you.  Please forgive us.”

I was floored!  They’re trying to make amends!

I was then reminded of the conversation I had just had that morning at church with Howard, an 80-something widower.  He was telling me about the full life he’s lived, even as his hand shook with tremors.  “I have some friends who are now alone and bitter.  I don’t want to be bitter!  I want to keep enjoying life, so I’m not looking back,” he declared with a smile as his coffee dribbled out of the cup in his trembling hand.

“Of course I forgive you,” I exclaimed, as I hugged Corey and his wife.  They looked relieved, as if I had been that last person to cross off the list from their 12-step program.  They thanked me for my graciousness and wished us a Merry Christmas.

* * * *

As they left, I thought of the many foolish things I’ve done over the years and the people I have wronged and hurt.  The couple had more courage than I to make amends.  I should be the one thanking them for this chance meeting, for it was a huge lesson in grace.  Not the grace I extended to them but the grace given to me by God…in spite of myself.

Thank you, Corey, and thank you, Howard, for this most interesting and important gift I received for Christmas this year.