Second Chances

Second Chances

The first time I was busted as a juvenile delinquent, I wasn’t actually arrested—apparently I was too young. I was eleven years old in a small town in rural Montana, and the way it was explained to me at the time, the laws in my state did not allow for juveniles to be charged with a crime before the age of thirteen.

My non-crime was burning down an abandoned house. I’d love to say it’s a long story, but it’s actually pretty short. I used to hang out in this abandoned house for fun, it had a lot of old mattresses lying around, and one day I decided to see what would happen if I lit one of the mattresses on fire.

Surprise! When you light a mattress on fire and walk away, the whole house burns down. Homeschoolers, take note of this potential object lesson.

Perhaps inevitably, I was caught and received the usual lectures. A burning house in a small town was a big event, but no one was hurt and the authorities had to get to the bar before closing time.

Therefore I agreed to “think long and hard” about what I had done, and I was sentenced to a certain number of hours of community service. Two decades have gone by since then, so I don’t remember the number of hours I was sentenced to—but I do remember that I never served them.

My supervisor for this punishment was a guy about twenty years old, which is a very impressive age to an eleven-year-old. He came to pick me up at my house, and I rode with him to the fire station with Metallica’s Ride the Lightning blasting on the stereo.

“Why’d you burn down the house?” he asked me along the way.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“OK,” he said.

We made it to the tiny fire station and he gave me my first task: “Go and sweep up over there.” This task took me at least thirty minutes, since I made sure to sweep very slowly. A key lesson of menial labor is to be afraid of the unknown; if you’re assigned a mindless sweeping job, never complete it ahead of schedule.

I eventually finished sweeping and reported back for duty. The older brother I never had seemed surprised to see me, and was at a loss for my next assignment.

“You can take a break if you want,” he said.

“OK,” I said.

I was probably the only 11-year-old to be given smoke breaks at the fire station. But then again, I was the only one assigned to community service, and there wasn’t much service to perform. I spent the rest of the evening pretending to polish the fire engine and trying to sneak a peek at the pin-up calendar hanging in my new role model’s office.

After another smoke break and more weak attempts at labor, my mentor drove me home (“Time marches on … for whom the bell tolls” was rocking out in the car) and dropped me off. I was slightly disappointed when I was never summoned for another session.


The thing about second chances is that no one deserves them, but we all receive them—usually more than once.

When I wrote about my extensive qualifications, a few people didn’t believe me. “Trust me,” I told them when they wrote in to complain. “My biggest challenge for that post was what to leave out.”

The same holds true with second chances. Later, I’d be given more second chances … and third chances, and forth chances, and more.

Your story may not be as extreme as mine (no fire department community service) or it may be more extreme than mine. Who’s to say? It probably doesn’t matter.

But since we’ve all been given chances we don’t deserve, I think we should be grateful for all those times when it could have gone another way but didn’t. Simply put, this is called grace.

I also think we should consider how we can offer second chances to others. The best second chances are not required or expected, which is why they’re so nice. Maybe you should make the choice to forgive someone, even if they don’t deserve it, or maybe you should start over and try again.

You never know how things could turn out.

Question: when did you receive a second chance?


Image: Tim

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  • Neil Lloyd says:

    I’m not sure how many second (or third, fourth, fifth…) chances I’ve been given throughout my life but I suspect the figure is extremely high. And I’m grateful for them all!

  • Scott McMurren says:

    SHADDUP. This is great, Chris. I’m a slow learner, so I’ve had third and fourth chances as well. I’ve got lumps on my head from having to learn the same lesson over and over. But it’s those really expensive lessons that stick with you.

  • Jennifer Bennett says:

    It is quite ironic that I am exactly one hour away from performing my first employee evaluation, and I received this email from you. It has helped me realize how much I genuinely do appreciate my (first-ever) employee, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye very often. Your words have put me in a much better place to go through with this evaluation, so thank you. And my employee thanks you too, even though she’ll never know it.

  • Conni says:

    I can remember several second chances and quite a few third and fourth chances, as I have always been a bit of a rebel.
    Some of them are too embarrassing to talk about here actually 😉 But hey, I turned out fine!

    I believe everyone deserves second chances. We all make mistakes, some out of ignorance, some out of stupidity, and some for the rebellious cause. But we learn. Something. Each time. And, yes, we need to appreciate the second chances we are given…

  • Janet says:

    Every morning I wake up.
    every. single. morning.

  • Pam says:

    The best second chance I ever got was life. I survived an accident that I shouldn’t have. An officer witnessed it, called it in as “probable fatality.” For all intents and purposes, it should have been, and anyone who saw the vehicle wouldn’t have believed I survived. For the next year of my life, there were moments I wished I hadn’t. I suffered a brain injury that resulted in some severe cognitive deficits as well as a lifelong seizure disorder. Today, no one would know, but I still have residual cognitive effects that will never completely resolve. That was 8 years ago, and I am very thankful now that I survived! Recovery was slow and painstaking but worthwhile. The best lesson I took from it was a deep appreciation for every moment that I breathe, for the people I love, and for every pleasure I encounter.
    My wish for you is that my story will help you realize that each moment is as special as the last.

  • Maari Casey says:

    This is a great article. I’ve been giving second chances many times. My husband and I were hit by a car a month before our wedding as pedestrians but both of us walked away with minor scratches. Truely a second chance. Work-wise I felt completely depressed and burned out with work when I decided to freelance, now I’ve had many second chances at a job that I thought I couldn’t do. Turns out I just needed to do it on my own.

  • David Delp says:

    My second marriage.

  • Jennifer Elizabeth says:

    this issue of forgiveness has been popping up a lot lately. recently i read a tweet from Paulo Coelho re: forgiveness that read, “i forgive but please go away…” ha, ha, that’s how i feel sometimes. i’m glad i’m able to forgive people, situations, etc. and the same is done for me. BUT that doesn’t mean i want those people or situations in my life anymore!

    the thing about second, third, fourth chances is that we may be presented with a situation that is similar to one we’ve faced in the past – are we going to act as we did in the past or take a different road this time around?

  • Dave Fox says:

    I’ll resist the urge to get all creepy and blather on about how perfect your timing was with this post, as far as my own personal drama goes. I’ll just say this… it was pretty freaking profound before I got to the end. Then, it got even more profound when I got to this part:

    “Maybe you should make the choice to forgive someone, even if they don’t deserve it, or maybe you should start over and try again.”

    I’m not sure if this was the message you intended, but what I took from the second part of that sentence was what I really needed to hear right now: Getting second chances is great. Giving second chances is empowering. But what is most profound is giving ourselves a second chance.

  • IyagiDad says:

    I’ve been thinking alot about grace and worked the theme into my book — although I think it will take more than one.

    It’s hard, but I think your story is right: when I receive grace (and realize the depths to which I have), I am more able (in theory at least) to give grace. It’s the only way for imperfect people to survive.

  • Jeff Goins says:

    Wow. Beautiful and compelling. I, too, am a recipient of grace and second chances. I’m trying to not screw it up.

  • Patrenia says:

    Each day I rise! Chris, you are an awesome writer! 🙂

  • Molly Fulton says:

    GRACE is when you receive what you don’t deserve (unmerited favor, a second chance), MERCY is when you don’t receive what you do deserve. I thank God every day for receiving more than my share of both. We receive so we can extend the same to others. Imagine what this world would be like if more of us practiced this.

  • Leonard says:

    Thanks Chris this really helped me when I needed it the most.Thanks again.

  • Steven says:

    Um…my story is nearly EXACTLY the same as yours. Except for mattresses in an abandoned house, my story is playground equipment (huge tractor tires) at the elementary school in my hometown. Weird that we have this in common. I, too, was “sentenced” to community service of washing windows at the school. I think I spent one or two afternoons doing it. It’s refreshing to know I wasn’t the only one out there causing mayhem at such a young age!

  • Maurika says:

    I am a small town Montana girl myself, and am grateful the oddities that surrounded my life in a community with no traffic lights. Literally and figuratively. With full run of the town we used to play hide and seek in the dark on summer nights. We would be hiding in shadows and trespassing into neighbors garages, sheds, cars to find cover – sure, we had a back-of-the-mind idea that this wasn’t super savvy but didn’t really give it a lot of thought. I do remember my parents and our elderly neighbor “finding” me in the rafters of her garage one evening and getting a lecture about trespassing. More in a “you nearly gave so-and-so a heart attack, respect peoples property” way than anything. One of millions of chances I have been given in my life, and I am very grateful for them all.

  • Lynie says:

    The timing of this article is perfect…I will forgive today. Thanks Chris.

  • Jacob S. says:

    Giving additional chances opens the door of opportunity, and if you can bare the outcome regardless of it’s favorability, there might always be something to gain. I usually halt on more chances after I’ve been exposed to a consistent outcome that isn’t beneficial. No one puts their hand on the stove element a second time with the belief it will be cold or not give them 3rd degree burns. If you are confident (derived from consistency of outcome) there is little to gain from a second chance, therefore more to lose, don’t burden yourself.

  • Markus says:

    Thanks for sharing Chris.

    Right now, I have to learn, to grant MYSELF a metaphorical ‘second chance’ and to accept it.

    Forgiving myself, for which I have disappointed myself and MOVING ON!
    Life IS too short, gratefulness should be our daily ‘vitamin’.

  • Keith says:

    It’s because of post like these that I follow just about anything you write. Appreciate the reminder that we have all received grace and more than likely we all have someone in our lives that we can grant it too in return. Have a great Thanksgiving Chris!

  • Gladys says:

    My best 2nd chance – when my ex left 10 years ago next month – I got a 2nd chance on my life. Took me awhile to figure out what I really wanted, but am moving toward it every single day. And am very grateful for it.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Maria says:

    Wow, some people here write about surviving accidents which is a pretty intense “second chance”.

    Sometimes the second chances that you receive are really unbelievable. I have caught myself thinking: “how did I manage to save this situation?” and just ponder in wonder 🙂

  • Sonja says:

    My second chance came when my 3 year old accidently fell off the side of a mountain while we were hiking, only to be saved by a tree that had grown out on the side of that mountain. We don’t let a day go by without being thankful for that tree – I call it divine intervention.

  • Al Smith says:

    Thanks Chris. Wow. Second chances. I know I got a lot of them. Never going to jail with a DUI, never getting a DUI, never even being arrested. I always partied, drank and then drove. Stupid I know.

    Well, to make a long story longer, I got clean and sober in February, 1999. That was my true 2nd chance at life. What a gift and a blessing. I have been searching for my passion and purpose ever since. Recently started The CARE Movement and things are continuing to look up.

    New Mantra; Influence and Inspire Positive Change.

    Thanks again for this Chris. Appreciate all you do to help and inspire others.


  • Kim Swearingen says:

    Thanks for this one, Chris. It really resonates for me. I’ve thought about grace a lot as I’ve been the recipient so many times. I’m a firm believer in the second, third, fourth, etc. chances and continually strive to pay forward all the ones I’ve been given. Forgiveness is divine. (And I once set the shrubbery on fire between our house and the neighbor’s when I was eleven. Glad I got a second chance after that one, I did quit playing with matches.)

  • Françoise Graciet says:

    This post is simply wow, thanks so much for having written it, Chris!

  • Brandy says:

    SO many! I don’t know where to start. I guess, the heart of it, is that I was the ultimate screw-up: a self-absorbed love and drug addict. And now, I’m clean, sober, married to a good-for-me guy, and dreaming of planting a church. I’ve messed up with money so much I wonder that I’m allowed to have any. That my nine year old is alive and thriving is a wild testament to the grace I’ve been given. That’s hard to write, but it’s beautifully true.

  • k.g. says:

    A new (healthier) relationship with my mother. As a young girl I resented how little time and effort she put into raising me and how quickly she would loose her temper. I became a young mother (of a daughter) at the age of 18 and vowed to ensure she would feel important and valued. I spent time reading and reflecting on how I would want my daughter to grow and what was truly important in life. Relationships (healthy relationships) were at the top of the list. I knew I had to bring myself to forgive my mother for her “mistakes” in raising me and myself for my reaction (resentment and ill feelings) towards her actions of the past. It took a few years of intentionally looking at how and why she raised me the way she did, but now that I have a clearer picture of who my mom is as a whole person I can appreciate her much more and love what she does have to offer.

    I’m 31 now and married my high school sweetheart when our daughter was 9 months old (on the condition that it was me as a person he wanted to spend his life with and not to make things “right”, because I was absolutely willing to raise our daughter as friends rather than commit to a marriage out of duty). My husband and I have three daughters now and been married for 12 years and together for 15. I feel incredibly lucky to have a life partner who values relationships as much as I do and is happy to spend time together as a couple and as a family (whether it’s traveling or hanging out at home).

    Another big second chance that I feel fortunate to have is to be able to pursue my passion for relationships by enrolling in psychology classes (now that my kids are in school full time). In high school my grades were extremely poor (50 & 60 percentile) because I never studied and I really didn’t care to be there. I graduated with the minimum requirement of 100 credits (and some were from extra credit I earned trough the travel club). Now I’m taking university courses that I’m thoroughly interested in my grades are much higher and I have have a new appreciation for learning in general.

    These are just a few of my second chances….

    Thank you for your thought provoking posts Chris!

  • Linda G. says:

    I’m ONLY here because of grace! near death experiences, the ‘”Big C”, and plenty of putting myself in stupid, precarious situations when I was younger.

    I must have someone(s) watching over me, and I vow to use my remaining time to spread Love wherever I go and with whomever I meet. Why else would I still be here?…

    THANK YOU for the beautiful reminder.

  • Stephenie Zamora says:

    Every day is a second chance. To be healthier, do better, make a difference, get outside, send love to those that deserve it, etc. Great post! xo

  • gwyn says:

    I’m another with too many to number. I was an accomplished screw up well into my twenties, and that I am alive is a blessing in itself. That I am married to a kind and forgiving man that has stayed with me for 25 years is another, and on it goes.

    I appreciate your honesty here Chris. It makes me proud to know you and encourages me to keep at it here.

    Thank You!

  • Evan says:

    Last summer i started selling drugs at the highschools in my town and others within driving distance for an asian gang. Although i did get arressted, some poor police work and some smooth talking and i was out of the station in an hour. I couldnt believe how lucky i was. I took my beating from the bad guys and have never even considered going back to that lifestyle

  • Angelwins says:

    Just found out that my child has been diagnosed with a (so far) incurable mental illness and God, I need grace and she needs a second chance, and grace, too.

  • The Traction Dr. says:

    One day I discovered that God gives me unlimited second chances. He knows what would be good for me. He sees each time I flop. In his infinite patience he allows me to struggle and fail time and again. When I’m finally smart or humble enough (I require both when I’m freakishly stubborn) then the lesson sinks in and I am no longer doomed to suffer in my own self-created hell. Thank you God and thank you everyone else who gave me a second chance when I didn’t seem to deserve it.

  • iktomi says:

    We have all had many chances at life beyond health and energy to survive daily. Just taking our first breath at birth is the first chance. Many babies don’t make it that far.

  • Rebecca Tracey says:

    I am SO grateful for second chances. God knows if no one had forgiven me for the shit I pulled in my 20s, I’d probably still be sailing around on a catamaran with that swiss polygamist I met in Fiji.

    I find the best way to get second chances where you could just close doors is being totally honest and admitting when you screw up, apologizing, and then finding out what you can do to make it right.

    It’s the best you can do, and it goes a long, long way.

  • Amy says:

    Another beautiful post, Chris.

    My life is all about making your own second chances. If we only got one, I’d be worse than screwed at this point.

    The best second chance I ever made was the one to turn my life around and start taking positive action after my 2nd severe bout of depression that culminated in a late night almost-suicide. After being admitted to a program, I made the decision to turn it around. I realized that this didn’t have to be the life I was forced to live.

    So I made my own second chance and now I’m a wellness coach/personal trainer, personal development blogger, and 30 lbs lighter to boot.

    Whoever says you don’t get second chances simply doesn’t choose to make them.

  • kazari says:

    I’m with Gladys,
    when my ex left, it gave me the chance to re-imagine my life as i wanted it.
    I’ve got a few limits I didn’t have before (I can’t move away from this city unless I chose to leave my son behind. And I guess parenting generally defines a whole lot of limits on your daily life – but it’s an easy pay off)
    And like a creative writing assignment, it can be much easier to be imaginative within a known set of boundaries, than with the whole field thrown open to you.

  • Marianne Hay says:

    I’ve been given many second chances but the one that touched me the most was the second chance given me by my best friend. I couldn’t believe she still wanted to be friends (even though what I had done was unintentional and due partly to a misunderstanding between myself and a third party). She taught me so much that day and I am forever grateful!

  • Jeremy says:

    I don’t know how many second chances I have had most recently it was with having my professional license returned. I agree that we don’t deserve second chances but it is nice when they are given. I know I use my skills to help people get second chances

  • Christina Ciani says:

    When I escaped an abusive relationship – at 6 months pregnant.
    Me, my 1st born and unborn little one were given a second chance to be happy – thanks to the help of my brother. He quit his job and moved 1,200 miles (from Fl. to Ohio) to make sure we got out of there, and were free.
    That was 8 years ago, and I chose to write for single moms to help them believe in their 2nd chances. I support my children by selling books that help others, and Internet Address Books for everyone who is busy in the web. It feels wonderful to be happy again – but it feels even better to see my children smile : )

  • Christine McDougall says:

    I long for a society where we give people, particularly the young, a second chance. I got away with so many things when I was a teen, that I see teenagers being punished for so harshly today. Paradoxically, the reverse is also true. I am certainly an advocate for clear and strong opportunities to learn from our silly mistakes, but to have to pay for that one mistake for ever is harsh.

  • Karen says:

    I got my second chance when I was 24. I’d lived a pretty average, slightly unfulfilled life till then. One day I was chatting to some colleagues about our biggest dreams. Mine was to move to London and study for my masters in psychology. Someone asked me a simple question – so why don’t you do it? As I listed my ‘reasons’ I realized they were all excuses. There and then I decided I was going to do it. It was a huge risk to take but I took it. 10 years later as I write this on a 15 month long trip around the world, I know that that decision changed my life forever. It opened up so many new doors for exciting adventures, it allowed me to live the life I wanted, to do what I love to do. And for that I’m extremely grateful.

  • Randall Williams says:

    I got a second chance the summer I was sixteen. The voice in my head said “JUMP” and I did. I landed on the downed tree, but my friend was swept underneath and pinned.

    I pulled him up above water and saved his life. He died six months later in a car accident.

  • Ian says:

    I hit a wall in my car at 85 miles an hour and got away with a face-full of glass and a headache. I have felt like my whole life since has been “all gravy” or “icing on the cake”. To top it off, I got a ticket from a cop but he didn’t show up to court, so no fine. What I was most grateful for was that no one else was hurt in the accident.

    If you are driving and getting sleepy, just pull over right there and take a nap. It’s not worth dying or killing someone by being too stubborn to rest.

  • Patricia GW says:

    My biggest second chance came in the last few years – I’ve tried to write it in the comments field, but the leaden weight in my heart just can’t get it out. It feels too painful. I’m thankful for the grace I’ve been given in my life, even though its come with its price.

  • Nate says:

    I screw up all the time. If it weren’t for grace and 2nd chances I’d be in serious trouble.

    I’d love to hear more posts relating to grace. Thanks Chris!

  • Joel D Canfield says:

    Eight years ago I walked out of my first marriage, my whole life, to start over. Well, first, I planned how I could arrange an accident so I didn’t have to live with the pain anymore. I changed my mind and decided to abandon hope (“It’s not the despair I can’t stand, it’s the hope!”—John Cleese in “Clockwise.”)

    The result was the end of my first marriage and much of what I knew in life. But at least I had a new life, married to someone who really loved me.

    And three years later I rushed her to the emergency room and was told a few days later that she wouldn’t live. I had a 2-year-old little girl, my dying wife, and nothing else.

    Except, she decided not to die. More than 6 years later, she’s across the room from me right now, with no effects left from her near-death other than getting tired easily (and I’m old, so I know how that feels.)

    Every single day that I wake up and she’s beside me is another chance to get it right. Thousands of chances not to make the mess I spent the first 40 years of my life in.

    I make good use of them.

  • Marci says:

    Ah, Dave Fox, you made me cry.

  • Peggy says:

    I’ve been given several chances – I almost drowned and was ‘saved’ by two angels who said “it’s not your time yet.” and pushed me back to the fact that yes, I was trying to breathe water.

    Second time I almost died after my daughter was born by having a horrible fever that spiked to 105. Again saved by halucinating I saw William Shatner in my kitchen and he told me to dial 911.

    I keep this in mind when something bad happens or I’m under stress. Makes me smile at how creative my brain is and I can only hope to harness that creativity in my writing.

  • Dave says:

    Thanks for the post. I am in the middle of new beginnings or second chances and I appreciate the other posts. I believe in grace and mercy also.

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