Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ode to a Buick

Matthew 19:23-30 (NIV)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
If ever there was a good day for me to read this passage, it was today — because I do not feel like someone who is rich.

Don’t get me wrong — I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams with health and family and security and people I love. But I’m a little down right now because what I’d hoped was a routine oil change for my 1998 Buick Century turned into pretty much a death sentence. When you have a car with 174,000 miles on it and your wife tells you it sounds funny and the “check engine soon” light comes on you’re pretty foolish to expect anything but the worst. But that was me in a nutshell.

(For the record, here’s the account of what’s wrong with my car: Small evaporation leak in the gas line, this required a smoke test of the entire system to locate the leak, which is coming from the fuel filler neck, which needs to be replaced along with the gas cap. A sway bar and links are broken. The water pump is very loud and about to let loose. Control arm bushings are rotting away and causing additional banging. The good news is it just passed an emissions test a few weeks ago so I could pay $100 for new license plate stickers.)

Seriously the best picture of my car I could find.
I am by no means a car guy (if I know the make and model of a car on sight, it is because someone in my family has owned one or it is a Weinermobile), but I am very much a nostalgia guy. So when I look at this rusted out junker (the roof is almost devoid of its original paint) I don’t see a last-legs beater, I see the car we used for our honeymoon, the one I used to drive Kristie to the hospital in the middle of the night — twice — and the one that brought home Jack and Max as days-old babies. The experience of that long February drive from the NICU in Peoria to our house in Ottawa, Ill., just me and the baby with the no longer collapsed lung, me bringing our child to see his mother for the first time, is something that shaped me as dramatically as any two hours of my life.

I bought the Buick a few months before our wedding, and aside from some T-shirts I’ve been wearing since high school, it’s probably the one thing I’ve owned the longest that still affects my daily life. Even the bed I got for my first apartment took a two-year hiatus when we owned a house with a staircase too tight for a queen mattress. Only our cats had longevity on the car, and we had to find them a new home last July.

I have called seven places home while driving this car, and only at the most recent did I have a garage to keep it in at night. That is, until the boys discovered bikes and baseball bats and bubbles and sidewalk chalk and anything else they can use to make sure I park in the driveway. But even now the highlight of my day is turning the corner to our street, seeing Jack racing around the cul-de-sac on his bike, pulling into the driveway while Charlie waves at me (he waves at anything with wheels these days) and waiting for Max to come open my door.

I’m sure if we end up with a different car the boys will quickly learn what it looks like and still be happy to see me when I come home from work. After all, it’s me they’re excited for, not the car (although I have been instructed more than once to park the Buick in just the right place so it can serve as first base in our front-yard baseball games). But ten years is a long time to own anything — especially something you use almost daily. Anyone who’s owned a car that long understand — you get in the front seat and you just feel like you’re in the right place. It’s like a desk at work: you get used to the view, where the phone is, where your pens are, what the air conditioner sounds like. If you’re like me, you feed off this comfort and resist change with all your energy.

Each of our three boys came home to a different house. I lobbied for Charlie to come home in the Buick like his older brothers, though I knew that didn’t make any sense. The minivan was much easier for Kristie to get in and out of — before and after delivery — and logic trumped emotion. Charlie still hasn’t ridden in it because it doesn’t have enough room for three car seats. I’m pretty sure I won’t go to my grave regretting I never took my third son for a spin in my second car, but my mind works in a weird way some time, and this is the kind of thing that nibbles at my subconscious.

Finally get two-car garage, leave one outside. Brilliant!
When you buy a 1998 car in 2002 and have a baby in 2004 it’s unrealistic to assume you’ll be teaching that boy to drive that car in 2019. Given how the rules on car seats keep evolving, it’s no huge shocker Jack isn’t even big enough to ride in the front seat yet. And every time in the last few months when I’ve had Jack and Max in the car together I’ve regretted it because they’re simply too close to each other, not spaced out like in the van, and even our shortest van rides can’t always escape controversy.

By this point it’s fair to ask if there’s any plans to connect all this car talk to the Gospel reading from the beginning of the post. And while I do believe with God all things are possible, I’m not going to trouble God with a plea to salvage my trusty Buick. As many happy memories I have of this car, as much as it brings me fond recollections of my young family, it is just a thing, a physical thing that can pass away and have no bearing on my soul. I am pretty sure I am losing my car (even if we had the money to fix it without blinking, it probably would not be a sound investment) and when I think about all the other wonderful things I have in this life, losing a car I really like in spite of its many flaws does not warrant any legitimate sadness.

A new (to us) car is just a chance to make new memories. What is important is the people who will ride in it, the family I hope will stay safe on all its journeys and the home I will use it to return to every night. But fair warning to the boys: the next car goes in the garage.

A prayer for June 26:

Lord, you have blessed me beyond explanation. I have a wife and three sons who fill my life with meaning. Please help me continue to be able to leave behind the things of this world in order to follow you, and help me teach my children to do the same. We know where our hearts belong and the reward for faith in you. Your grace and love are gifts of immeasurable value, and we can never thank you enough. Amen.

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