The final installment in our series of entries from Judgment & Love. Again, J&L is a collection of 35 true-life stories illustrating the powerful truth that when love is shown in the face of deserved judgment, lives are changed. To order your copy at the reduced price of $10, go here or click on the button at the bottom of the post.

“Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” by TLC was still blaring on the stereo as I watched the hydro pole—a cement telephone pole essentially—crack just above the imploded hood of the Ford Explorer and fall. I looked at my friend Amanda in the passenger’s seat next to me. We had both hit our heads on the windshield but weren’t bleeding. She began to swear in a stage whisper. We were in her mother’s truck. Earlier that day, Mrs. Anderson had handed me the keys: “This is my present to you since you’re only here for a few days.” She had gushed her respect and trust of me as if I were a surrogate parent. I was the first one of my friends in Toronto to get a driver’s license; they had to wait until they were eighteen.

Nicole’s head popped into my window, “I think it’s gonna blow!” She was wild-eyed and also screaming in a stage whisper. “I heard hissing—so I tried to fit my body out the window but I couldn’t so I used the door.” She was hysterical and instilled panic in all of us. All nine of us spilled out of the truck, some through windows and others through doors. We sprinted across a park and into the night shadows. At a safe distance from a potential SUV explosion we turned around and watched. The car was deathly still as it emitted its final pops and moans.

When we decided it wouldn’t actually blow up the boys were interested in one thing only: what lie to tell the cops. As we walked back to the sidewalk Amanda began to cry. She mostly made a foghorn noise, but I managed to hear that she was describing over and over how gruesomely her mother would kill her. I was ready for handcuffs.

I walked up to a neighboring house and explained what I had done and that I needed to use their phone. They had already called the police. All the boys had run off. As a united front, my girlfriends were denying they were there. Each of us had whiplash but nothing else major, mercifully. I called Amanda’s mother. “Mrs. Anderson, this is Kate. I am very sorry but we’ve had an accident. We are all okay, but I wrecked your Explorer—I drove into a pole. I am so sorry…No, no, we’re all sober.” Unfortunately.

I was ready to go to jail and I thought I might. When the police came they heard “the story” from my friends. Then the main officer took me and put me in the back of his police car. “You’re going to tell me the truth,” he said over his shoulder. I told him everything. I took full responsibility. I heard about “kids like me” and how much I had hurt and disappointed everyone’s parents, who had now congregated outside. I heard about how I could have killed everyone. And it was true. I was judged and found guilty.

I suppose I sat in the back of the cop car for forty-five minutes or so. Only Jessica’s dad came up to me during that time. I tried to open the window and then the door, but they were locked. I realized that made a lot of sense, to hold criminals. Jessica’s dad asked the policeman to open the door so he could say something to me. I was ready for the speech I deserved. “You know,” he said brightly, “I totaled a Porsche once when I took it for a test drive.” I began to cry.

I hadn’t even teared-up until that moment. “We’re all just so thankful no one’s hurt. Don’t worry, this happens to all of us.” It was the first time I felt any emotion except hate since the crash. I didn’t hate the policeman, the parents, or my passengers; I hated myself. Their judgment didn’t spur my remorse or regret; I generated it all on my own. Their judgment permitted me to feast on self- hatred and destruction. (As a full-blown anorexic, I was well-versed this practice.) The love Jessica’s dad poured out shot through the familiar numbness that crushed me. Warmth and caring flooded my veins. His compassion carried me through the night. The grace my parents gave me when I called them the next day not only carried me through nine phone calls of apology and insurance information, but allowed me to experience the acceptance—not resentment—of all the people involved that night.

The fruit of the judgment I felt was hatred and destruction—self-hatred and self-destruction. It could have turned into a huge Lawsuit. It could have estranged me from Amanda, her whole family, and all my friends in Toronto forever. Love interceded with those possibilities. Love broke that chain reaction. People I feared as condemning judges loved me, emphasizing the human characteristics we all share instead of demonizing on my particular flaws. The ones in the stronger position who loved me showed me that we’re all in the same boat. I felt real love in spite of being found guilty of unwise choices and behavior. When I wasn’t told about the wrongs I obviously knew (the car was a pretty strong image) I was much more able to accept them. Judgment killed me. Love built me up; it brought freedom from self-defense.

We are used to the transformation of public mistakes into examples of how not to be. I expect loud remarks, rebuking looks, and sighs of disappointment when I do wrong. I do not expect love—I don’t think anyone does. Loving someone who has hurt you is tremendously difficult. Jessica’s dad was a conduit of supernatural grace and love to me as a teenager, and I am forever grateful. For only with God’s help can we realize the suffering inherent in forgiveness, and the sacrifice that is love.

My favorite band, Waterdeep, sings about undeserved love:

Oh, God, it hurts so bad
to love anybody down here.
But oh, that’s right, you know so well
one thorny crown,
three nails and a spear.