On Parking Tickets and Spiritual Parenting

by Kirsten Patterson

April 4, 2018

Parking Sign

I took my kids to the beach on a blustery February morning and we had the best time. They played together in the sand without fighting, I drank my coffee and read my book, and when it was time to clean up, they laughed and splashed in the shower and there were no tears.

As we walked back to our car, I saw a small white envelope tucked under the windshield wiper. I knew what it must be and was at once indignant, embarrassed . . . and truth be told, not exactly surprised. When I parked that morning I had squeezed between a red curb and another car and figured that I was enough out of the red that I could only be ticketed on a technicality. Not wanting to spoil the morning, I shoved the ticket in my pocket before the kids noticed, took a couple quick pictures on my phone from an advantageous angle, and silently plotted my case on the way home.

When I looked at the ticket later, I saw that the violation noted was “12.44.110 MC – Payment time expired.” And I thought, “Hah! I’m off the hook now—they wrote my ticket wrong! Those aren’t even metered spots!” But then I did a quick search of the City’s website and lo and behold, my ticket had nothing to do with the red curb and everything to do with the sign I failed to read designating metered parking. Now I was really irritated, but determined not to ruin a fun memory at the beach. I paid the ticket and condescendingly resolved to view it as a $61 donation to the impoverished community of Newport Beach.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning when my kids were no longer playing amicably and my daughter was quick to blame her brother for something I was pretty sure she had done herself. Over and over she insisted on her lie and his culpability. And over and over I told her that I just didn’t think she was telling the truth. I sent her to her room and stormed over her refusal to accept responsibility and her dogged determination to pin guilt anywhere but on herself.

I recalled the Spiritual Parenting series we’d been going through with our community group and the exhortation to take all of our parenting challenges to First in Charge. I called out in exasperation, “Lord, what in the world am I supposed to do with this child?” And immediately I was reminded of the parking citation lying on my desk. I stopped my ranting and just started laughing because it was such a surprise and a delight to realize that God was actually listening to me. He had obviously been paying attention over the weekend, and in His infinite grace and generosity He offered me purpose and redemption in my failure.

I fished my parking ticket out of my desk and as a true penitent, I took it in to show my daughter. I told her how I don’t like to be wrong either, and that a lot of times the first thing I want to do is hide and blame someone else, just like Adam and Eve. It’s that nasty sin part of me. But God shows us a better way. God wants us not only to take responsibility for the wrong things we do, but to confess them, to tell Him about them so that He can forgive us and begin fixing what is broken inside.

My daughter went off to apologize to her brother (who forgave her very sweetly) and then circled back to question me closely about whether or not the ticket had been given by a real police officer and if jail time or bad guys were involved. And then I was left in wonderment to contemplate the seemingly preposterous idea that the God of the universe is watching me park my car and struggle to parent my kids.  

The parking ticket is now posted prominently on the refrigerator—as a reminder in my house that we need to take responsibility, even for things we didn’t know were wrong at the time. But it also reminds me that God is near, and when I call out to Him He hears me and sometimes He even speaks.

Kirsten is wife to Chris and mom to Ava (6) and Ellis (4). She works part time in real estate appraisal, serves in Women's and Children's ministries at Fullerton Free and in her free time she loves to read and drink coffee.

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