In Vanishing Grace I describe people I call grace-dispensers.  You don’t have to be a professional, or educated, or especially skilled, to be a good grace-dispenser.  A new book by John Ortberg, the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, tells of an ordinary woman in San Francisco who makes an extraordinary dispenser of grace.  I’ll let John tell this story as a guest columnist:

Transit operator Linda Wilson-Allen chats with a passenger while driving the 45-Union Muni bus in San Francisco. (Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle)

… There was a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a metro-transit operator named Linda Wilson-Allen.  She loves the people who ride her bus.  She knows the regulars.  She learns their names.  She will wait for them if they’re late and then make up the time later on her route.

A woman in her eighties named Ivy had some heavy grocery bags and was struggling with them.  So Linda got out of her bus driver’s seat to carry Ivy’s grocery bags onto the bus.  Now Ivy lets other buses pass her stop so she can ride on Linda’s bus.

Linda saw a woman named Tanya in a bus shelter.  She could tell Tanya was new to the area.  She could tell she was lost.  It was almost Thanksgiving, so Linda said to Tanya, “You’re out here all by yourself.  You don’t know anybody.  Come on over for Thanksgiving and kick it with me and the kids.”  Now they’re friends.

The reporter who wrote the article rides Linda’s bus every day.  He said Linda has built such a little community of blessing on that bus that passengers offer Linda the use of their vacation homes.  They bring her potted plants and floral bouquets.  When people found out she likes to wear scarves to accessorize her uniforms, they started giving them as presents to Linda. …

Think about what a thankless task driving a bus can look like in our world: cranky passengers, engine breakdowns, traffic jams, gum on the seats.  You ask yourself, How does she have this attitude?  “Her mood is set at 2:30 a.m. when she gets down on her knees to pray for 30 minutes,” the Chronicle states.  “‘There is a lot to talk about with the Lord,’ says Wilson-Allen, a member of Glad Tidings Church in Hayward.”

When she gets to the end of her line, she always says, “That’s all.  I love you.  Take care.”  Have you ever had a bus driver tell you, “I love you”?  People wonder, Where can I find the Kingdom of God?  I will tell you where.  You can find it on the #45 bus riding through San Francisco.  People wonder, Where can I find the church?  I will tell you.  Behind the wheel of a metro transit vehicle.

We invited Linda to speak at our church.  People with all kinds of Silicon Valley dreams were inspired to standing ovations by a woman who drives a bus.  They stood in line by the dozens afterward to talk with her.  For the door on the #45 bus opens into the Kingdom of God.


John Ortberg, All the Places to Go (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015), pp. 70-72.



Share this

15 responses to “A Dispenser of Grace”

  1. D says:

    This story of the bus driver who is nice to everyone is the type of story I like the best. She is the type of healthy I want to be. I honestly feel peace whenever I read stories like this and feel angst when I try to follow a complicated or judgmental logic of how to live.

    Mr. Yancey, I have been coming to your blog every day and you are such a blessing. This time period has helped me.

    I realize more clearly that the churches that I was in were doing processes of thought that were making things so much harder for me. I wish this woman had a church. I would stand at the door and give hugs, which was one of my ministry jobs at my old church. (The shyest person in the room, but I liked giving hugs.)

    I am going to move out of your blog and let you work on your memoirs now. Your mind has helped my mind to understand things better, but I already knew that might happen. That is why I came here.

  2. Lauryn says:

    Linda is the Mom of a dear friend of mine. In fact her entire is family to us, even though we moved out of state. She is the epitome of disciple. She raised her children the same way. Each and everyone of them have hearts for God, not to mention are absolutely amazing people. The apples truly came from this beautiful woman’s tree!

  3. Betsy says:

    With all due respect and admiration (this seems to be the only way I could find to contact you), the study materials for What is So Amazing About Grace is so confusing. Our Bible Study decided to do the DVD and the book and the “study guide.” Everyone except the member who ordered the DVD and “study guide” set on Amazon got the correct materials. Now 15 or so of us have had the annoyance and inconvenience of returning and repurchasing the correct “study book” that goes with the DVD. There are two “study guides” that have the same look on the cover; one is a called Study Guide and one is called Participants Guide. It was a fiasco for us to discover that most had ordered the incorrect book without knowing. I take responsibility for not seeing this prior to everyone ordering, but I feel that there needs to be better clarification and in the future avoid having different materials look so similar. We are off to a rocky start but hope that grace will fill our hearts and lead us into a worthwhile study of God’s Word.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      You’re right–it’s confusing! We produced the Study Guide mainly for individual or group study shortly after the book came out. Then the publisher decided to do a video series, and produced new guides, as you’ve frustratingly discovered. I’m sorry about the hassle. I’m passing along your suggestion to the publisher. I’ll send you a private email separately.

  4. Kathryn Kibirige says:

    Hi Philip, this is not a comment but I’ve been searching for a way to get in touch with you in vain so I thought I’d post here. While I was going through some books owned by a friend at university, I came across Disappointment with God.It was a very old copy that he hadn’t read and wasn’t even interested in so I took it, I was disappointed. I have been a Christian my whole life (almost), had done everything right (almost) according to the Bible and had a good relationship with God but life hadn’t turned out the way I thought and dreamt it would. It’s hard to put in words what that book did for me, I got to understand God in a totally different way and it equipped me for the troubles that were to come in the following years. I have read four other books,would have read all of them by now but they are not readily available in Uganda (It borders Kenya on the West-You should come here sometime and add Mount Rwenzori to your list of conquered summits ) and it is very expensive to have them delivered here so I make the most of what I get. Thank you for writing, you are one of the thirteen in my soul survivor story. And yes Life is hard, painful and seems to be getting worse with everyday that goes by but I have hope that it doesn’t end here. God is still good, when I’m pushed to the limit, I vent it all out to him. After all,you wrote that he can handle anything I have to say, except treating him like he doesn’t exist. God bless you.

  5. Bernadette Hartsough says:

    An uplifting story in a world dominated by violent images. A good reminder that we all have the opportunity to dispense grace even those of us with menial jobs.
    I am an inner city teacher and I pray every day that I can be like Linda. Some days it’s very hard and we get worn down but we keep trying.
    Our Church is doing a Bible study on “Vanishing Grace” to help us learn how to be better at dispensing grace. In addition to the videos, book and study guide, I needed more discussion so I have created a blog devoted to exploring and discussing some of the issues in “Vanishing Grace.” (, “Anchoring and Unlocking Faith.”) Thank you Mr. Yancey for your thought provoking book.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      I’ve checked out your blog, and wish that a thousand people were writing blogs like this, exploring how to be better grace dispensers. –Philip

      • Kay says:

        Dear Mr Yancey -I appreciate your book and the attempt to look at why people have developed a negative perspective of Christianity. I regret that happening, but I can’t totally agree that it is because believers are becoming more secular as some Christians perceive. I see it happening also because of what they see lacking (love) and what they hear expressed out of the church (hate) and you did address that in your writing. I can tell you what I am told and what I have experienced myself that moved me away (not away from Christianity, but away from a theology/ideology that was doing harm to me and others I know). I find people aren’t against Jesus, but against how his religion is being lived out. The church I left after 35 years had turned more fundamentalist than it was in the beginning under new leadership. Of all the sermons I heard in several months, all but three had digs and jokes made against homosexuals (and the congregation chimed in with snickers and their own blows). I can’t be on board with them because I personally have the understanding that sexual orientation is biologically not a choice, and not something a person converts from, and that the verses used to condemn come from a different hermeneutic lens for the culture of the time written than what families are experiencing in their reality now. I also believe the choices given — to wear a mask faking heterosexuality (so we will be comfortable with them) or stay celibate aren’t edicts that we even put on heterosexuals (e.g., how many weddings have you been to that have engaged in premarital sex, or how many remarried divorcees are welcomed?). But a fundamentalist said giving them grace (as you suggest) is cheap grace.

        I have lived and witnessed the harsh harm the church has done psychologically to them and the fruit has been suicides, divisions, and homelessness from rejecting them. (I also heard a lot of hate expressed against Muslims and President Obama and hateful rhetoric on Christians’ Facebook pages – but they think this is righteous behavior). I intentionally found a church that welcomes gay families and treats them like anyone else. I don’t fit the party line of “religious right” (although I used to vote Republican often) and I no longer fit after that became a majority in my former church. Also too often I heard it said openly that certain other Christians are “not real Christians” and any who differ in beliefs are “out,” not “in” (of course they think they are “in” because they think they believe the “right” things, but I think only Christ determines such judgments). And they said these people are going to hell with a bit too much joy in their heart. This type of religion quenched me instead of putting life into me. The message changed and no longer reflected Jesus in his offer of love and life, but turned to being an abrasive clanging symbol.

        I ask myself, “Would Love invite a gay family to come eat fish and bread and hear a sermon on the mount?” If we think they have to change before they can be adopted into the family, we should consider how the Jewish Christians wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and follow Jewish law before they would accept them. It is easy to cast blame on others and not ourselves, but it could help to hear what outsiders (and insiders) say about why people leave. I hope we get to a place of understanding and healing in our relationships. But I think we all agree and know Jesus deserves better out of all of us. And the greatest test is keeping our love for one another.

  6. jim filer says:

    Mr. Yancey,

    I just finished reading “Vanishing Grace” and want to express both agreement with your perspective on the state of American Christianity in its relationship to government, and gratitude for the spirit in which you address such subject. I believe in a “resurrected Reality” who is with me in this journey, a Holy Ghost who possesses me and not the other way around, a Presence who not only leads me via tugs on an inner “anchor-line”, but also manifests Himself unto others in as much as I decrease that He might increase. In whatever way we minister to this “world around us”, let it be through His anointing, not by my own stubborn, thick-headed reasoning. God bless you, sir, for that which you bring to my table. Never think that, in such vocation, you are positioned behind others who serve. Your words have always been “manna” to me, your humility and your own experience feeding my heart…… jim filer

  7. Hannah says:

    Dear Mr. Yancey,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. It is such an encouragement to hear of fellow believers “living Christ” on a daily basis. I also wanted to thank you for your lecture on Sunday, March 22, 2015 in Charlottesville, VA. I was blessed to be able to come from my hometown to hear you speak. I have read several of your books and God has truly used you to chance my life. The first book I read by you was “What’s So Amazing About Grace”. After reading the first few pages of that book I realized that I absolutely did not understand the concept of God’s Grace and I realized that I truly wanted to be the type of Christian that represented the love of God. So I have been embarking on a several year journey of being a Christian that “doesn’t miss an opportunity to share the grace of God”. Every day I am grateful that I feel like I am more loving and more at peace because of the things that God has taught me thru reading your books in addition to studying my Bible and praying and listening to God’s voice in my daily life. I can never repay all that you have done to strengthen my daily walk with God. I know I don’t have to–cause well that’s grace now isn’t it! But I just wanted to thank you. I wanted to say something during the questions period but I didn’t think I could finish without crying in gratitude and I was with my daughter so I didn’t want to embarrass her! But just thank you so much. I so appreciate all you do to help the body become true compassionate “Jesus-like” Christians. May God continue to bless your family and you.

  8. Miche says:

    Wow! Now how cool is that? Way to go, Linda!!

  9. Jen Farrant says:

    How absolutely beautiful to take such difficult job and to turn it into a place of blessing.

    I wish I could bring a little of that to everyone I interact with. I ask for help with it everyday, but it’s not something that comes naturally to me

  10. gen nitafan says:

    Very inspiring…been reading your book i love em all…hope to see you in flesh soon…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.