Hindsight Series, Part 1: Booze

‘Dear God, if you get me out of this, I’ll get baptized. Not only that, I’ll become a real Christian – a soldier in your army. Just get me out of this and I’m yours. Amen.’

I prayed this prayer about 11 years ago, a couple of days after I’d been arrested and charged with drunk sleeping – being in the care and control of a motor vehicle while impaired.

I was most definitely drunk – comatose would be an equally apt description – and I was inside a motor vehicle to which I had the keys. This is a crime in Canada, and those guilty of it are punished in precisely the same way as drunk drivers. The fact I didn’t take the vehicle out of Park, and had no intention of doing so, is irrelevant. And maybe that’s just and fair, but it’s hard to see it that way when you’re the one in the jail cell.

Anyway, the day after I prayed to be delivered from my stupidity, I went to visit my lawyer. He told me he might be able to weasel a not-guilty verdict if we went to trial, but only if it’s revealed that the cops had made a procedural error. That happened often enough that it was worth a try – if I were willing to gamble a couple thousand bucks in legal fees.

But, he pointed out, I was without doubt guilty of the charge – if I won an acquittal, it would serve me, but not justice. If I don’t like the law, I should try to have it changed, not to circumvent it, he implied. Good advice from a good man.

I’d like to say I decided to plead guilty because I couldn’t live with the idea of getting off on a technicality. But really, I chose to take my lumps because I was afraid of gambling and losing – finding myself without a driver’s licence for a year, and $3,500 poorer instead of just $1,500 poorer. I was also afraid of the publicity a not-guilty plea might incite – as a reporter, columnist and critic for the Fort McMurray Today newspaper, I was a somewhat prominent person in the city, and my trial would likely have garnered some coverage that would have been unpleasant for me, my family and the paper.

So I put on my best suit, wrote my most eloquent apology, looked the judge straight in the eye and threw myself at the mercy of the court – in a last-ditch attempt to give God a chance to answer my prayer. The judge treated me like everyone else – I was fined $1,500 and lost my driver’s licence for a year.

Great. Not surprising, but great.

I left the courthouse deflated – I’d asked God to deliver me from my troubles and He said no.

Or so I thought at the time.

Aside from the significant inconvenience of not being able to drive, I was suddenly short $1,500. Small-city reporters in those days didn’t make much money; Karen and I had just bought a house and what’s worst, she was still on maternity leave so her income was smaller than usual. (Drunk sleeping charge aside, the stupidity of blowing a bunch of money in a bar when things were that tight was not lost on me at the time, but I did it anyway.)

I felt absolutely terrible about the choices I’d made and the position in which I’d put Karen and Katie, and I resolved to insulate them from the fine I had to pay, as much as possible. ‘OK, how can I get some money?’ I asked myself. ‘My guitar. I’ll sell my electric guitar and amplifier – my two favourite possessions in the entire world (after my wedding ring, that is). It’ll be perfect! I’ll get some cash to help pay my fine, and I’ll also get to punish myself a little bit!

I took out an ad in the paper, offering my $1,000 guitar and $400 amplifier for $500. The ad ran for two weeks, and I got one call. The guy came and tried it out, his friend advised that it’s a good guitar at a great price, and he said he’d let me know.

He never called back.

It was so absurd, it was a bit funny. How on Earth could nobody in Fort McMurray want to buy this equipment at this price? It defied logic and explanation.

Eventually, we found another way to pay the fine without much impact on our family, and we began our year of being a one-driver family. It was a tough twelvemonth – this was back in the days of six-month maternity leave, so Karen had to go back to work when Katie was five months old. She was one of those babies who refused to drink out of a bottle, so her liquid intake was a couple of tiny sips of water out of a sippy cup during the day, supplemented with marathonic breastfeeding sessions at night. Karen and I worked at the same newspaper, but on slightly different schedules, so getting everyone to and from daycare and work was a major hassle.

But it was possible, somehow.

At the start of 1999, Karen and I started going to church, and were planning to have Katie baptized in the fall of that year. I was not a religious guy, but Christianity was growing on me, and at the time of my boozey faceplant, I was pondering the notion of joining Katie and getting baptized myself. That was the context that led up to the prayer of desperation I mentioned at the start of this entry.

Even as I prayed it, I knew it was an entirely wrong-headed way to try to deal with God. Therefore, I didn’t hold Him to the quid-pro-quo implications of my prayer. Even though He didn’t deliver on His end of the bargain I’d proposed, I chose to be baptized. I didn’t enlist as a soldier in His army at the time, though. I was a pretty half-assed Christian for quite a few years – maybe I thought that was a pretty fair trade for His decision not to deliver what I asked for. I might have even deluded myself that I was being the bigger man by going through with the baptism.

But sometime last year – around the 10th anniversary of that fateful night – hindsight showed me the events in a different light.

The prayer I prayed, ‘Dear God, if you get me out of this, I’ll get baptized. Not only that, I’ll become a real Christian – a soldier in your army. Just get me out of this and I’m yours. Amen.’ has been fulfilled in its entirety.

  • I am out of this. (The year of my licence suspension was tough, but we got through it. The fine and insurance premiums were significant, but we never really suffered because of them. God subtly nudged us, and those around us, to create circumstances that allowed us to prosper in spite of my imbecilic actions.)
  • I am a soldier in God’s army. I am His. I pray a lot, I read my Bible and I’m involved in my church. More importantly, I regularly feel the love and presence of Christ in my life.

But it all happened according to God’s time line, not mine. And as always, His way is best. God took that tiny seed of faith I showed when I decided to be baptized and watered and fertilized and nurtured it, showing infinite patience, and watched it slowly grow into the fragile sapling it is today.

But if He’d waved his magic wand and made the charges simply ‘go away’ 11 years ago, a giant faith beanstalk would have appeared overnight in me, but knowing how fickle I can be, it would have withered within a year or two – or less.

God let me pay for my mistakes because I needed to grow. I needed to learn to put beer a couple of dozen notches lower on my personal priority list. I needed to learn how important my wife and daughter were for me. I needed to get knocked off my feet, so I could experience what it’s like to have God pick me back up – even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

God wows me with this story every time I think about it, but the biggest jaw-dropper in this tale isn’t related to the beer, the family or the driver’s licence – it’s about the guitar.

I did my very best to sacrifice my favourite possession – the tool I use to express myself artistically – the instrument I bought with my last $1,000 when I was 19 and about to embark on a journalism career – the surrogate friend that got me through years of frustration and loneliness, whose fretboard bears the scars of decades of repetitive blues licks in the key of A – manifestations of my joys, sorrows, angers, frustrations and often, just my simple love of making music. And I was eager to sacrifice it for a fraction of its value, by selling it to someone to whom it would become just a thing. What’s more, with the guitar, I was poised to sacrifice real musicianship in my life. I have other instruments, but in my mind, they’re fit for showing off, or for campfire singalongs, not for art.

And believe it or not, I realized all of this when I took out that ad, and I was at peace with it. It felt about right, considering the stupidity of the choice I’d made and its impact on Karen and Katie. I was all-too-happy to punish myself in this way.

And God said No.

Leave the punishing to Me. I have big plans for this guitar. You will be a soldier in my Army, and this guitar will be your rifle. You are NOT throwing this away.

The guitar I’m referring to is the one I’m goofing around with in my Facebook profile photo, by the way. It’s also the one I use almost every Sunday to lead worship music, and bring glory to God. And I really don’t know if I’d be doing this if I didn’t have this guitar.

In hindsight, I’m pretty glad God didn’t let me sell it.

Peace be with you.

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About robpetkau

Communications professional by day, amateur musician by night, worship leader (at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary) on weekends and aspiring Bible teacher in my dreams. Grateful husband to the woman who completes me. Doing-the-best-I-can dad to the son and daughter who keep me on my toes. Striving disciple of the GodMan who came, taught and died for me. Thanks for stopping by!
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11 Responses to Hindsight Series, Part 1: Booze

  1. Kim says:

    I enjoy reading your entries! A song came to mind while I was reading this, “Unanswered Prayers” Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs, That just because He doesn’t answer Doesn’t mean He don’t care…………. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.

  2. Jenny Hughes says:

    What a great blog post!

  3. Stephen Hambidge says:

    Great post, Rob! Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Karen Baird says:

    I remember that unfortunate incident. I remember the word I used when you wrote your apology to your co-workers and I’m crying now. Jerk. Which is a softer word than the word I used then. Oh, how life (my word), God (your word) pulls us into becoming. Thank you for these words this morning.

  5. Karen Petkau says:

    I also remember how much closer we became as new parents, and as a couple. I know you felt really bad each time I had to bring Katie with me to pick you up or drop you off, especially in the winter. But I also remember how bad I felt for you when you hopped on your old bike to trek to city hall for your nightly meetings, or take the bus to your interviews when I went back to work. We got to appreciate one another on a whole new level. Before then, we were two separate identities in a relationship. After it, we were so used to relying and supporting each other, it came naturally when times were better. God knows what he is doing, even if we don’t. I’m so proud of how you took this time in your life and actually changed who you were and your priorities. Love you, Karen

  6. Pingback: Getting Confirmated | Disciplehood

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