May 19, 2010


2010 1514 page31 capE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE,” THE WOMAN ON THE PHONE REPLIED. ?I asked if she knew a different number at which I could reach him. She hesitated, then asked me to hold for a moment. After some shuffling and muffled conversation, she came back on the line, gave me a doubtful phone number, and wished me success.
His account was more than 120 days past due. His balance was high. His neglect was unusual. His absence was concerning. I dialed the new number, and what played out during the next 24 hours left me deeply affected.
With a broken voice the man told me, “I just got out of jail; my family left me; I lost my job; and I’m living at a shelter right now. I’m waiting for my unemployment check, and as soon as I get it, I will pay my bill. I’m so sorry. My life fell apart.”
I listened, half with guilt for placing the call and half with shock. I heard desperation. I heard a man deep in darkness, and honesty was his only offer. I whispered a desperate plea to God for the right words to say.
2010 1514 page31During the next few minutes I thanked the man for telling me of his circumstances and assured him I would pray for him. I told him his account would not be turned over to a collections agency. I was the business manager of the dental practice and the wife of the owner, so I assured him we would still take care of his dental needs.
The day went on and the usual work was done, but that man was never far from my thoughts. I wondered how everything had come crashing down for him. Had he been thrown into jail for sleeping on a park bench, or had he been caught stealing food or money? Did he have family or friends who were concerned about him? Was there anyone who even cared whether he had a clean shirt? I didn’t have answers to these questions, but I prayed for him that night and then went to bed.
It was 2:00 a.m. when I awoke. I was impressed to get up and handwrite (not type) this patient a letter and forgive his entire $900 debt. Writing off $900 in the midst of a falling economy didn’t seem like a sane thing to do. This was a lot of money! Yet I knew there was something deeper and much more important happening. I felt impressed to write how Jesus compassionately loves him and cares about his problems—to let him know that we all have rough times and struggle through life together. I placed the letter inside a spiritually uplifting book I had decided to give to him as well, then went back to bed and fell sound asleep.
The next morning I left the letter and the book at the front desk of the office. I asked the receptionist to call the patient and request that he come by to pick up something that had nothing to do with payments. The receptionist later said the man thanked her sincerely in apparent shock, and left the office quickly when he became emotional.
I may never see or hear from this man again, but I know that the blessing I received that night was far beyond the zero balance he received. I was just a person deleting dollars from a man’s debt. But what I heard that night was the intimate message that our Father offers the kind of grace that releases every burden and restores every life. He forgives sins and saves souls. And He didn’t leave just a letter of forgiveness for us—He left His life.
That is true grace. 
Heather Vanden Hoven, a freelance writer, writes from Grass Valley, California. This article was published May 20, 2010.