Free Gift

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A couple of weeks ago, I baked a batch of sugar cookies from scratch, lovingly decorating them for my bible study group.

I should have known to cut the recipe in half, what with the warm front we’re having and everyone trying to get ready for swimsuit season, because at the end of the evening, I still had about two dozen cookies left. These folks could learn a thing or two from me about how to put away some cookies!

Knowing that I would eat ALL of them if I took the sugar cookies home with me, I decided to text Hovik, the attractive Armenian car mechanic who lives in my apartment complex. As expected, he was all too happy to take the cookies off my hands, so I stopped by his unit on my way back to my own apartment.

He welcomed me inside – I’d never been inside his apartment before – and gave me the grand tour, starting with his self-built LED lit bar bottle display and ending with the rows and rows of hundreds of model cars lining his closet shelves. The man knows a thing or two about interior decorating. His place was beautiful, right down to the wall-to-wall backlit painting hanging over his king-sized bed.

Having dropped off the cookies and received the grand tour, I started to excuse myself. It was late and, although I trusted Hovik, I didn’t know him very well. It was time to leave. But he wasn’t ready for me to go yet. “What did you do tonight?” he asked me. “What did you bake these cookies for?”

“I was at bible study,” I said simply.

“Bible study?” he asked incredulously. “You study the bible?”

“Yeah, I do,” I told him with a shrug. “What about you? I don’t know much about Armenian religion. What is your spiritual background?”

“I’m a Christian, too,” he told me. “I’m Orthodox.”

“Okay,” I replied, nodding my head. “So, what does that mean – Orthodox? Where do you go to church in the area?”

Hovik laughed. “It means that I go to an Armenian church on Christmas and on Easter.”

“Ah, so you’re a CEO.”

Hovik looked confused, so I explained. “Christmas and Easter Only.”

He smiled slightly. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“So, Hovik… what do you believe happens when you die? Do you believe in an afterlife?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I’ll go to heaven.”

“Why?”

Hovik looked uncomfortable. “I mean, it’s what I was raised to believe, you know. My mom always taught me to be a good person. I’m a good guy, so I’ll go to heaven.”

He had a works-based view of salvation. My heart sank. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but we were already mid-conversation, and Hovik’s salvation was more important to me than his comfort level, so I plunged ahead.

“Hovik,” I started gently, “You know that’s not a biblical view of salvation, right?” I quoted Ephesians 2, “We are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good works so that no one can boast. Being brought into a right relationship with God is purely a gift from God when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf as payment for our sinfulness. There’s nothing you or I could do to be ‘good enough’ to earn God’s favor.”

Now Hovik looked really uncomfortable. “Well that’s not what I was raised to believe.”

“I understand that.” I paused. “Hovik, do you live up to your own standards for yourself? Do you always live according to the standards you have set for yourself?”

He squirmed. “Well, not always. But most of the time. I’m a good guy.”

“If you don’t live up to your own standards 100% of the time, what makes you think you live up to God’s standards? All of us fall short of God’s standard for holiness, and because God is perfectly just, there has to be a punishment for sin.”

Hovik looked angry now. He raised his voice a bit as he bit back, “That’s not the God I grew up learning about. God is loving. God loves everyone. He wouldn’t be vengeful just because I can’t be perfect!”

I nodded, smiling. He had led me right into my next point. “God is perfectly just, but scripture tells us that He is also perfectly loving, so He didn’t want to leave that rift between Himself and His children that was caused by sin. That’s why Jesus came to earth and died – willingly, lovingly – then rose from the dead, taking upon himself the punishment that we all deserve for our sin. So yes, there is punishment for sin because of God’s justice, but because of His love, He created a way for us to be brought back into a right relationship with Him when we believe and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.”

Hovik’s posture was no longer warm and welcoming, so I excused myself, telling him to enjoy the cookies. When I got back to my apartment, I had a text from him:

“Soooooo. Was that a little awkward for you?”

“Nope. But I could tell it was for you. ;)”

“Well a little. I was more interested in hearing how you are instead of what pleases Jesus. But I do love the fact that you’re very passionate about it.”

In instances like this, I have to remind myself that I am only responsible for the input, not the outcome. Hovik and I are still friends – we’ve spoken since – but I feel like I have said all that I can about faith with him. I did my part. Now it’s up to the Holy Spirit… and Hovik. Like all of us, he has a decision to make – the most important decision of his life.

Authentically Aurora

Car Care

Car CareMuch of life is lived in the mundane, but the moments that hold the power to be impactful tend to also have the power to be intensely positive or intensely negative. And the way we (or others!) respond to situations can greatly impact the tone and outcome of those significant moments.

A few months ago, I had to take my BMW in for repair. The collision center I used did a great job providing me daily updates, offering multiple repair options complete with pricing details for each and even finishing the repair job early. They also coordinated with a nearby rental car company and shuttled me over to make my transition as easy as possible.

When I went to pick up my car, the owner – an attractive, young Armenian man named Hovik – came to personally shake my hand and wish me well. He looked a bit familiar, but I was shocked when he said, “Hey! We live in the same apartment complex. I see you in the gym there all the time.”

I had no recollection of noticing him in the gym (shame on me; he’s gorgeous), but sure enough, I’ve seen him there several times since he worked on my car. During one of our gym interactions, Hovik asked me to fill out a customer survey, which I did happily; his collision center provided the best customer service I’ve ever had. Apparently my positive feedback caused them to be awarded some kind of elite diamond-encrusted platinum status or something, because Hovik sent me a text a week later thanking me for completing the survey and telling me that I could bring my car in for a full detail any time, on the house, as a way of showing his appreciation.

I let months go by without cashing in on my free detail, but last Monday on my way to work, a dashboard light came on indicating that I had dangerously low tire pressure. We’d just experienced a cold front, so I assumed that, due to PV/T (yay physics), my tire pressure was lower because of the weather change.

I could have pumped up the tires myself, but I remembered my offer from Hovik, so I pulled over and called him. “Hey, Hovik. Does that free car detail include checking my tire pressure? Because if so, I’m on my way.” Hovik was delighted to hear from me and insisted that I stop by.

When I arrived, he was waiting for me in the lobby. As I handed him my keys, he asked, “Were you out late last night? I saw your car parked on the fifth floor of the parking garage instead of your usual spot on the second floor.”

Surprised, I nodded. “Yeah, I went swing dancing last night and got home around ten.” He noticed where I parked? He’d also sent me a text earlier in the day asking if I was alright because I’d made a pit stop on my way to the shop and took longer to arrive than he’d expected. This man is very attentive, I thought to myself.  

I set up my mobile office there in the lobby, dialing in to my company’s VPN and knocking out various email responses while Hovik and his team worked on my car. After several minutes, Hovik reappeared and gestured for me to follow him outside. I grabbed my purse, locked my laptop and trailed behind him. When we got to my bright blue Beemer, Hovik turned and gave me a lopsided grin. “The reason you had low tire pressure is right there.” He pointed to my front driver tire. “You have a nail in your tire.” Oh.

“Good thing you brought it in,” he continued. “I’m really glad you didn’t have a blow-out on the freeway. My shop doesn’t do tire plugs, but there’s a Discount Tire around the corner.”

“Okay,” I said, thinking about the logistics of my day. “I have another meeting coming up. I was going to dial in from your lobby… Do you mind if I stick around here for another hour before going to Discount Tire?”

Hovik studied me thoughtfully for a moment before speaking. “You know what?” he began, “Why don’t I have one of my guys take your car over to Discount Tire and handle it for you?”

I was stunned. “Really? You…. you’d do that?”

He shrugged and grinned, muscles bulging. How had I not noticed this guy at the gym? “Yeah, let me take care of you.”

So I returned to Hovik’s lobby, took care of my various business meetings, and an hour later, Hovik strode up to me with my keys in hand. “All set,” he told me with a smile.

“How much do I owe you for the plug?” I asked.

He waved away my question. “Don’t worry about it. It was my pleasure to take care of it for you.”

I was stunned by his generosity. Up to that point, I’d assumed the simple band on his right ring finger was a wedding band. But now I’m not so sure. Especially since his texts have continued into this week and are decidedly non-car-related.

And I’m also beginning to suspect that the lavishness of his shop’s customer service may – possibly, maybe, perhaps – be specific to the customer. Ha.

Authentically Aurora

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