I wrote this almost a year ago to the day. Last winter, for the first time in my life, whatever cold and flu bugs were going around ended up finding temporary duty in my bod. That is, I was sick a lot. I was discouraged – I was sick, but I thought back to a time when things were a whole lot worse and how I got a nudge from God. “You’ll be ok”
And so here’s the note I wrote:
Ugh, I used to be able to have my brain issue orders to my body, “You are not sick anymore, you are not sleepy, get up and get going” and my bod would at least attempt to comply. But this stupid body don’t take orders as well anymore. I’m sick and sleepy, I’m very sure that this story didn’t happen exactly as described, although parts of it did. My theology back then was dodgy, my motives were (and still are) suspect when thanking God, my focus was self centered and sad. That is to say, not a whole lot has changed. So here’s a story, a story about a perfect gift given to an imperfect, petulant child, told by an older, imperfect, petulant child.
Away in Buick – A Christmas Present Story
My wife, my sister, and my mom came back from candle light service, it must have been around 11:30. Me and the girls had been holding down the fort at mom and dad’s. My brothers and probably – usually- a couple of their friends were home from various places were out there too, and as the girls played and watched TV and did little kid stuff, we spent the evening talking. I listened a bunch – I had nothing on the story telling abilities of these guys. My brothers and their friends seemed to always be around or work with interesting people. For instance, I never worked with a guy from Kentucky who’d been both stabbed and shot in the course of his misspent youth and who’d tell you up front that he prefers being shot to being stabbed. A guy like that brings a certain pizazz to a work crew. You get mixed up with guys like that and the stories pretty much tell themselves!
We loaded up the girls to leave: One inna carseat, one inna booster, one next to the door no booster, no nothing, just a seat belt. It was snowing like crazy and had been for about an hour. The flakes were huge, the size of a quarter, and fell in a back and forth rocking motion from a nearly windless sky. We backed out of the folk’s drive, and started up the road. Except for the ones leading in, there wasn’t a single set of tracks in the fresh snow on the way back to the main highway.
The sky was pink from the street lights reflecting on the low clouds. Even at low speed and with a back-lit sky, the snowflakes were mesmerizing in that way that makes you feel like you were moving through a star field. My wife – who was going on like 98 hours without rest – dozed, the youngest in the car seat was zonked, the middle daught was repeatedly leaning forward and then banging herself off the seat back about once every couple seconds, and the oldest, her eyes wide open, looked out the window at the passing Christmas lights of our little town.
Cars approaching from the other direction were almost silent, the snow soaked up the sound of the car’s motor until just as it passed. Our big Buick was already a pretty quiet car, and the thick layer of fluffed up snow on the road made it more so, and also amplified the car’s interior sounds. The tires made a scrunchy sound in the snow over the sound of defroster fan, and I could hear the steady breathing of my youngest from her car seat just behind me. We turned up Park Avenue from Washington at the Stop and Go service station.
The Stop and Go had a few cars there gassing up, but other than that the streets were deserted. I switched the radio on. It was tuned to WGLE Lima public radio and as luck would have it, was playing the Nutcracker Suite recorded live from somewhere, probably Toledo.
We made our way up the Park Avenue hill, huge snow flakes falling, car nice and warm, the streets outside lined with Christmas lights. I drove along glancing in the mirror at the kids.
Those that were awake were still taking it all in. For a split second and not much more, I remembered being that little, that secure, that full of wonder. The outside lights and music, the snow, the lateness of the hour combined; for about a minute there, it was love. Love and beauty and light, that drive back to the apartment.
I told myself, “Remember this. Things might not ever be this sweet again”. And I did – or I tried. I tried to mentally record that night, like some small town hick on his last day in a big city, trying to take it all in, make memories and stuff.
I experienced for the first time in a long time, an “everything is OK for now” moment. It was so beautiful. So beautiful it broke my heart. It’d been an awful first few years back home from the military. Some of the girls needed blood transfusions and visits to Children’s Medical Center, cars that I really really needed to be dependable were breaking down right and left, I had serious doubts that pursuing an engineering degree was a good idea (in fact, I had a math instructor address me on the first day of class, in front of everybody, ” I was surprised to see your name on the roster – I thought you’d have given up by now”) . In those years I swear I coulda feasted a month on a single compliment or word of encouragement from anybody. Yep, that was a couple years when I didn’t know if I was coming or going or making progress or what, but tonight was different.
God patiently showed me that I was doing OK: I’d passed all my classes for fall quarter – a huge relief – , the car was running (for how much longer was always a question), I’d been in tighter spots and when I finally turned to God – He always worked things out. Yeah – things were OK. I was incredibly blessed if I’d just open my eyes and look around. Hmmmm – the Lord “is” good to me, what am I doing in return? I sort of made a halfhearted prayer of thanks………… And then we were home, and then we put the girls to bed. And that’s another story of the ongoing gifts from God to me.
You may know the battle is won, you may know that as good (or bad) as it gets here, isn’t close to as good as it is where you’re headed, but honestly, if you’re a dumb young guy like I was, that knowledge sounds trite and crazy – not comforting – when you are in the ER pinning down your baby so they can start a large bore IV. But listen: God knows – he knows what it’s like to be a human in this sin-sick, fallen world – and He sends you encouragement. Sometimes it’s a night so beautiful that it grabs your attention, sometimes it’s a cup of coffee in peace and quiet, after you’ve written checks for the monthly bills, sometimes it’s at the bedside of a passing family member who you know you’ll see again. Life is a beautiful, awful, complicated, simple thing. A gift from the God who called you into existence and made a way for you through the cross to be with Him when it’s all done, that’s what it is.