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How do You Plead?

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Story by Randy Grathen

In the small town of Camdenton MO where we lived, there is an intersection known as “The Square.” The square is the junction of two county highways that run through the center of our town.

Morning rush hour at The Square during the school year would rival any large city. Most everyone coming from the south, west or north turned east towards Osage Beach 20 miles away, or to the Camdenton school campus which is also just east of the square. The campus is comprised of 5 separate buildings, encompassing everything from K through 12, a Vocational-Tech training center and a Football Stadium. People avoided The Square like the plague unless they had no other choice. Traffic routinely backed up for a mile in every direction between light changes. When I was stationed in Sacramento CA our rush-hour traffic was never that bad.

So, I never go to the Square at rush hour – well, except this one time.

I had to pick up some parts for a project I was working on, on my way to work. I was not thinking about having to deal with the Camdenton 500 Morning-Traffic-Jam and there’s no turning back once you’re stuck in it.

I was on the south side of the traffic lights. From the store parking lot I had to make it across 4 lanes of traffic in less than 25 yards to get into the far right lane to turn east.

The two lanes of north bound traffic were stopped and a woman kindly held back to open a gap so I could get across the first lane of traffic. I nosed past the front of her vehicle and the right lane appeared to be empty. I pulled into the right turn lane and immediately got broadsided in the passenger door by a guy in a pickup truck. He was going way too fast for traffic conditions and he admitted to me that he was speeding because he was late for work. My right-side door was caved into the passenger compartment and the bench seat was buckled in the middle. The insurance company totaled the vehicle because the frame was bent.

So now I have to go to court.

On the appointed day, I’m sitting in the back of the court room watching as the Bailiff calls people up to face the Judge. I was dressed for the occasion. Nice pants, polo shirt, even combed my hair.

I was dressed for church, not a World Wrestling Federation arena match. However, most of the people there looked like that was where they were headed right after court.

Most were dressed like thugs and hookers and WWF fans. I didn’t belong here with this bunch of losers.

So, I’m sitting in the gallery watching and judging all these other people in the room, wondering what they had done wrong when two guards appeared at the back of the room marching a group of people in from the lockup downstairs. All of them are wearing orange jump suits. I remember two people in particular. One was an older woman who looked like she had had a hard life. Very thin, missing some teeth and looked like she combed her hair with an egg beater. She looked like a druggie. I was not surprised to see someone like her in an orange jumpsuit. Behind her was this beautiful, 20-something blond-haired girl. She looked like a model. I wondered what she could have possibly done to end up here. She didn’t 'look' like a criminal.

One after another, people were called to stand before the judge. I couldn’t hear what was said but in short order they were dismissed, and the next person was called. While I waited my turn, I rehearsed my story. “I couldn’t see past the front of the lady’s vehicle. The guy was speeding, he admitted it. He T-boned me, it was his fault.” Finally, my name was called. “Mr. Grathen, please approach the bench.”

Standing before the judge, she said. “How do you plead to the charge of failure-to-yield, thus causing an accident?”

WHAT?!? Wait a minute! What happened to “Tell me what happened?” My day in court consists of “How do you plead?” The judge didn’t care to hear my well-rehearsed explanation of what happened!

Well, there was only one answer I could give to the question worded as it was. “Guilty your Honor.” She told me what the fine was and to pay at the window in the lobby on my way out. That was it. No excuses, no explanation, just, “How do you plead? – Guilty. – Pay the fine!

I paid my fine and walked out to my new/used truck and climbed in. It was then, like so many other times, that I had one of those “Aha!” God moments. God taught me a priceless lesson that day.

When we stand before Him on the day of our judgement, He will not ask us to tell Him our story. He isn’t interested in our excuses. He already knows the truth. He knows what’s in our heart. It won’t matter what we're wearing or what we look like on the outside, He’s judging us on the inside. All the excuses for all the things we’ve done will not matter. The question is “How do you plead?” The answer will be the same for each of us. “GUILTY.” But when we get to the part about paying the fine – here’s the difference. Our fine, our penalty, has already been paid. Jesus paid it forward over 2000 years ago. We are guilty but we are not condemned. Our fine has been paid in full.

1“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. Matthew 7:1-2

(my apologies to the WWF fans, everyone in the gallery and from Lockup. Who am I to judge?)

Ponder that for a while. . .

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