Denise Dye had turned into a Highway 58-area subdivision when she saw the blue lights. What, she wondered, had she done wrong? Made an illegal turn? Had a taillight burn out? Eaten her drive-through meal too quickly?
The policeman, it turned out, wanted to thank her for paying it backward.
Dye is a member of St. John United Methodist Church, which adopted a project during the Christian season of Lent that encouraged its members to make sacrifices in their lives to help them remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross.
The idea of Pay It Backward is that church members might pay for a drive-through meal of the person in line behind them or do another deed in which they share their time, talents and resources with someone else.
Even though the project officially ends Sunday with Easter, many St. John members want it to go on, said Dale Dye, director of family ministries.
His wife, Denise, said she had been at a McDonald’s drive-through when she decided to pay for the meal of the person in the car behind her. Ultimately, she saw it was a police car, but she didn’t linger and pulled out after she got her meal.
When she was pulled over by the police car, she didn’t know it was the same officer whose meal she had just paid for.
“He just stopped to thank me,” Dye said.
The project, she said, should help those who participate be thankful for what they have and remind them of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus.
Rosie Martin said she tried to make some kind of similar sacrifice each week of Lent, which began with Ash Wednesday in March.
One week, while on a cruise with some of her family to Cozumel, Mexico, she extended her sacrifice to the taxi driver who had taken her and a friend around the island and talked about how much he enjoyed getting home to his children.
After Martin paid for the fare and tipped the driver, she gave him a card explaining the project and some additional money to “buy something special for ‘the babies,’ ” ages 5 and 2.
The gesture, she said, brought tears to his eyes.
On another occasion, Martin planned a special day for two girls in the church’s confirmation class, one her 12-year-old granddaughter and the other the 12-year-old daughter of Dale and Denise Dye.
Among other things, she took them to the trauma-unit waiting room of Erlanger hospital and the Ronald McDonald House Family Room in Children’s Hospital and encouraged both of them to give out $5 gift certificates for Chick-fil-A.
Tiffany Johnson, meanwhile, found another way to participate. While clients of the Interfaith Homeless Network of Greater Chattanooga stayed at St. John UMC recently, she provided hair services for some of the women and children.
“Ordinarily,” she said, “it would cost them a good piece of money. But this might help with their self-esteem, their outlook.”
Johnson, who attends the church, said an act by a participant of the Pay It Backward project might be just the thing to lift even someone simply having a bad day.
“It spreads the spirit of Christ to other people,” she said.
“Christ gave his life to you. You should be able to give something to someone else.”
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...