I’m sure I’m not the only person on earth who is happy to see my children open their Christmas presents. It brings them unbridled joy and it makes me feel like I’m a good parent…at least for a few minutes. Sometimes, I’m also interested in their presents for my own enjoyment. Why should kids get to have all the fun, anyway? Such was the case with one of Alister’s presents this year: a drone. (Don’t worry, it carries no bombs and the camera is such low resolution I can barely make out what it records.) Anyway, I was looking forward to playing with – er – teaching Alister how to use it.
It was pretty obvious that our backyard was a dangerous place for this toy. Being lightweight, it quickly could get stuck in a tree and was easily manipulated by the wind. So I knew we would need a large, open space that would give us time to correct a faulty flight pattern. The church’s front yard came to mind as one such place. So on Christmas evening, with much excitement and a fully-charged battery, we set off for the church to see what this drone could really do.
Naturally, I went first. You know, to show Alister how the controls worked. And naturally, now that I had the space, I gave it 100% power and watched it soar. Up, up, up it went until it was higher than the flagpole, then higher than the roof of the nave, and then…uh oh, it seems the wind has caught it and it isn’t responding to my commands. Uh oh, it’s crossing Caroline Street and its 60 feet above the ground. Uh oh – as I race towards Caroline Street, remote control in hand, hoping to bring it back down to earth – it did finally come down. But I can’t find it.
And then my heart sinks as I realize I just crash-landed Alister’s Christmas present on the top of HCC’s Bookstore. Of course I tried to reconnect the remote control to it and take it off from the roof. But it was either upside down or the battery had detached.
We walked around the perimeter of the building hoping for a miracle, that the drone managed to find some crevice or opening that allowed it to fall to the ground. No luck. We also looked for any access to the roof I could brave, a ladder that just happened to go all the way to the top, for example. Nothing doing. I went to the HCC Police office, but of course, no officers were on duty on Christmas night. So I had to tell Alister that his father had done something really dumb, that I had lost control of his toy and landed it somewhere that I couldn’t get. On top of that, it would be several days before I could even think of getting it down. His response was as elegant as it was simple: “It’s okay, Dad.”
He never shed a tear, he never yelled in anger. He accepted the situation and he remained a loyal son. He had every right to be upset or angry. After all, he didn’t even get to fly his own toy! And yet, he could tell that I was mad at myself and he didn’t want that for me. He wanted me to know that if I was upset about the situation, I didn’t have to be for his sake.
Now, all of that was gracious enough. But what really struck me was the shame I felt when I considered how I would have treated him if he had done what I had done. If he had managed to get his toy into the jet stream and crash it in a place we couldn’t get, I know I would have let him have it. He would have lost drone privileges for a week. He would never be allowed to operate it without my help. And I know I would not have been nearly as forgiving as he had been.
This is when grace really kicked in, when my own hypocrisy was put on full display, when my double standards were revealed, when the difference between my law and his gospel were acted out in real time. Then I was reminded of just how unforgiving and legalistic I could be.
I was reminded of my own confirmation verse, wherein Paul writes in Romans 12: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” This strange-to-our-ears verse essentially says that in showing kindness to others, their sin will become self-evident. Alister’s kindness, as perhaps only a child can embody, revealed my sin and reminded me of my need for sheer, unmerited grace.
But the grace doesn’t end there. I still had to get that drone off the roof! So I plotted with the Bonhoeffer House guys to see if we could get our 50-foot ladder next door. But then I realized I didn’t want to be on a ladder 25 feet off the ground. The drone was not worth certain death. And that was probably against the law. So I called a friend at HCC who I’ve gotten to know while handing out flyers over the years. He happens to be in oversee HCC’s property. He informed me that the roof was accessible from inside the building.
And sure enough, an HCC employee got to the roof, found the drone, and brought it down. It even still worked after enduring a few days of rain! I was so very thankful for the help, and Alister was glad to be reunited with his gift. Suffice to say, we only fly it in even more open areas and when there is virtually no wind. I have only had to trespass one time to retrieve it since then.