There it was. I had seen it in the Montgomery Ward catalog. Now it was within three feet of me in the store. It was a red, single-seated go-kart. I stared at it like I was Ralphie and it was an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle BB gun.
But this wasn't a Christmas story. It was a birthday story. I was about to be ten years old. There I stood next to my dad as we kicked the tires of that beautiful, sleek go-kart. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I never imagined it could be mine.
Then it was. I don't know how. I don't know what magical act of childhood manipulation I used to get it. But somehow, my parents bought me the go-kart. (It may have had something to do with the mini-bike catching on fire while a friend of mine was riding it, but that's another story).
I rode the wheels off that go-kart. We lived just across the road from the church where my dad served as pastor. Between our road and the church was a large field. The church had an asphalt driveway that made a perfect circular race track all the way around it. My go-kart and I went 'round and 'round that church like it was Jericho.
With the go-kart came certain rules. One of the rules involved instructions on getting from the house to the church and back. I was not allowed to ride the go-kart on the street. I was to push the go-kart across the street from our driveway to the field. Then I could drive across the field to get to the church parking lot.
Like most preacher's kids, I was obedient...for a while. Then the influence of the deacon's kids permeated my good nature and I began to take to the streets.
I was not allowed to ride after dark, but I would milk every ounce of daylight I could out of my evening races around the church. As soon as it was "almost dark" (according to my interpretation), I would leave the church parking lot. But I wouldn't cut across the field. I took a right onto Sweetgum Road and the next right onto Moss Hill Drive and a quick left into our driveway.
I noticed something about those three turns. After a long, hot day in the southeast Texas sun, the oil on those oil-top roads would bubble up to the top and make the surface of the streets very slick. If I hit those two rights and that left at full blast, the back end of that go-kart would fish-tail slide just like Starsky's Gran Torino!
Have you noticed how many of my stories come to a "then one day"? Then one day, while I was running circles around the church in my go-kart, a road crew went down Moss Hill Drive resurfacing my road. They sprayed fresh oil on the top of my super-slick road. I saw them do that and I smiled. But what I DIDN'T see was the dump-truck load of small rocks that they laid down on top of the fresh oil!
Near-darkness fell. I sped out of the parking lot at full speed. I took a Starsky turn right and said "hello" to my left back tire as it was parallel to my left shoulder. I turned into the slide like a pro. I got to Moss Hill Drive and took another Starsky turn right. The gravel was loose and just made the slide so much better.
The left turn into my driveway didn't go so well. Those oil-soaked rocks were firmly embedded in their oil bath and they didn't want to move. I turned left at full blast and one or more of the rocks objected to my right rear tire's attempted slide. The go-kart flipped. And flipped. And bounced. And landed on top of me.
I was face down with multiple lacerations (which sounds cooler than "a few cuts"). The go-kart was sitting on top of me. The engine was still running at full speed. The accelerator was stuck and the back tires were still spinning. The left rear tire was peeling out all over my back. I couldn't reach the kill switch under the steering wheel.
So I stretched my left hand up and back and found the motor. As if I weren't already in enough pain, I kept groping until I grabbed the spark plug. The electrical jolt sent shocks of pain through my body. I felt like the coyote after he hit the canyon floor and the acme anchor landed on him when he tried to get up. Only this wasn't a cartoon.
This was a horrific crash. Surely, someone heard it. I just knew the ambulance was on its way. But once the sound of the tire spinning in my back stopped and the ringing in my ears quit, there was only silence.
I laid there on the rocky road with a go-kart sitting on top of me in the dark, waiting for an ambulance, a stretcher, a concerned parent or neighbor, or even a stray dog's whimper.
All I heard was a car turning from Sweetgum onto Moss Hill. I was about to get run over a second time. Fear became an instant energy boost. I pushed the go-kart off my back, got up, and cleared the road of both boy and machine.
I managed to push the go-kart into the garage and stumble into the house. Mom took one look at me and said, "Go wash up. Supper's ready."
I had just escaped death twice and no one noticed. But I was okay with that. My biggest fear was having to explain why I was on the street in my go-kart. Guilt softened my need for sympathy.
Whatever happened to that? When did sympathy jump in line ahead of guilt. In fact, where did guilt go? How far back in line have we bullied guilt?
Everywhere I turn these days I see people demanding sympathy and/or retribution for messes of their own making. Ignoring the laws of mom, man, and Maker, we go where we've been told "No" and we do what we've been told "Don't." Instead of a healthy dose of guilt, confession, repentance, and restoration, we bypass those and want to guest star on Springer or Oprah or Dr. Phil as the nation's number one victim.
What I am about to say may fly in the face of modern society, but doesn't something need to? Guilt is healthy! Guilt is meant to lead us to "man up" and own up to our mistakes. Guilt is the one who introduces us to cleansing, forgiveness, and healing. Guilt leads us to the mop and leans on us until we clean up our mess.
But we don't do that. We just put up little yellow signs in English and Spanish that let people know there's a mess there, and it never gets cleaned up because no one will own the mess.
Those yellow signs are EVERYWHERE. So, I feel the need to kick a few down by saying, "Guilt, remorse, confession, and repentance are good for you!"
At supper that night, my parents noticed more scratches and cuts than normal. They saw that I was moving slowly. They asked what happened. I scrambled for a lie, but guilt covered my face and called my bluff before I could bluff. I confessed.
My parents did something really strange and bizarre. They punished me. Yep. I know. Weird, huh? I wasn't allowed to ride my go-kart for a week because I had broken the rules by riding on the street. I had disobeyed. I made the mess.
My parents helped me clean it up the right way. I completed my week-long sentence and re-entered the driver's seat of my go-kart with a new respect for the road and the rules.
"The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork" (Romans 7:7, The Message).
"Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I've been; my sins are staring me down...You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair...Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean, scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life" (Psalm 51:2-7, The Message).
Never Grab a Spark Plug,