A few years back, I came across a passage in which God instructs the Israelites to set apart six cities as "cities of refuge," places where people may flee if they unintentionally kill another person. (See Deuteronomy 19 for a fuller explanation.) And it struck me then that I also need cities of refuge, places where I can flee when I have unintentionally gotten off track, made mistakes, hurt others. I also need to flee towards God's mercy and grace.
This concept of "cities of refuge" comes up again and again in the Old Testament. God wanted to make sure that people who had made a mistake, even the grievous mistake of killing another person, would know protection and grace. God also wanted to make sure that one unintentional death would not lead to a string of vengeance killings. The cities of refuge protected the individual, but they also protected the community.
Our family just got back from vacation with friends, and as I look back on the week I realize that our time together was more than a vacation. It was more like entering a city of refuge, a protected space. Protection and grace came to us in the form of trips to the beach, the aquarium, the playground, Chick Fil A... It came in the form of singing songs and blowing bubbles and reading stories. Of running down a shaded trail. Of eating brownies. Somehow, sidewalk chalk and sandy faces and thunderstorms and conversations late into the evening challenged me to look back on the past year and recognize the ways I have failed myself, my family, my God. And challenged me to receive God's grace and friendship all over again.