Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Following Directions

When I was 16 years old, I tried to ignore the sleek black antique Mustang my best friend drove to school. I looked over the roof of my other friend's brand new Mustang convertible, gleaming brightly from its parking spot. I pretended I was completely okay sauntering up to my nice Reliant K automobile with its faded blue interior and cracker box shape. I pretended I didn't mind the fact an 80-year old woman had driven this same car maybe two miles a week for the past fifteen years. But the truth is, I did mind. I thought I deserved better.

Never mind the fact that my father labored for hours in a too hot, dimly lit, loud factory for more hours a day than I worked total in a month in order to get me that car. Never mind that my daddy searched for the safest car he could get me for the money we didn't have. Never mind that there were four of us kids crammed within 5 years of each other, which meant cars every year and overtime every chance it was offered. No, I thought I deserved better. Just because I existed, I suppose. It wasn't like I had a good reason.

My dad gave me that car proudly. He showed me how to turn the lights on, the wipers. He stood back proudly and ran his hand along the side, "not a single scratch on it! Can you believe that? Not a single scratch!" I didn't know why he was telling me that. I just knew it wasn't a Mustang.

He told me to keep the gas filled and to remember to change the oil regularly. That was important. Without proper care, this car wouldn't last.

If you dug down deep inside me - and the sad truth is, you wouldn't have to go that deep at all - I didn't want this car to last. It was an old lady car.

I tossed McDonald's wrappers in the back seat. I spilled soda and didn't bother to wipe it up. The car was embarrassing. Well, it wasn't. I mean, it was a reliable car. It was in good shape. And it was mine. But why did I have to get the used, out of style, old lady car? Why couldn't I get the cool car? No one else had even heard of a Reliant before. I know I hadn't.

I backed into a guardrail in an alley parking lot. I scratched the mirror in the drive thru at the bank. I rarely put more than $5 gas in it at a time, keeping it steady right between 7-miles-to-go and dead-any-second. And those oil changes? Well, I had better things to spend my money on.

I was 16 years old and about as bull headed and idiotic as a kid can be who thinks they know everything about the world when the truth is they haven't been off the block. I spent my money from working at the local Subway sandwich shop on expensive Marithé François Girbaud blue jeans, even though I had no idea how to actually pronounce the name brand I so desperately coveted. I bought Coca-Cola rugby shirts and Guess sweatshirts to make up for the years of ill fitting hand-me-downs and stretched out pastel striped sweaters. And that car my daddy so proudly handed me the keys to? Well, I couldn't be bothered with taking care of it.

It didn't take long for that car to start acting up. Shaking when it shouldn't. A strange noise here and there. It started to smell funky in the hot sun. It was my fault, of course, but that didn't stop me from marching up to my father with a long list of complaints to air.

He just shrugged his shoulders. Told me I'd better start saving up for the much needed maintenance and repairs. Told me how there wasn't anything he could do. Or would do.

The thing is, he gave me a gift. A gift that had worked beautifully. A gift that fit my needs and fit my pocketbook. A gift that would suit my needs and keep me safe. A gift with no strings attached; no balance due, no favors owed. All he asked was that I take care of it. That's all. Simple as that. Take care of it.

He even told me how to do it. Respect it. How hard was it really to do the right thing and throw out the trash and change the oil every 3,000 miles?

But I didn't think that car was good enough for me. I thought I deserved better so I didn't give much thought to taking care of what had been given to me. And I never gave much thought to the simple fact that not taking care of a gift someone gave me was an incredibly rude and selfish thing to do.

I wonder how often God gets frustrated and angry with my selfishness? My never ending list of complaints: Why does this happen to me? Where is my miracle? I deserve better! I list my frustrations of the world around me, buttered up and seasoned as if to look like constructive advice: Think of the good that would come if you just did this... I stomp my feet and pout because it isn't fair! It shouldn't be this hard. I'm a good person and I deserve a good home. Enough money in the bank account so as not to worry. A house that's safe and not about to fall apart.

I wonder how many times God shakes His head and reminds me: "I gave you a gift and told you exactly how to take care of it. Have you? Have you done just that?"

He gave me my life. He placed my soul in this earthly body and whispered, "Love."

Because that's really all there is to figuring out the secret of this life. Love. If I love you I cannot say a hateful word toward you. If I love you I cannot purposefully go out of my way to say things that hurt and cut into a soul. If I love you I cannot spread lies about you and gossip behind your back knowing these untruths will pain you and cause others to doubt you. And if I love God, which is who brought me into being and gave me this gift of life in the first place, how can I take a breath with clear conscience knowing I am taking His gift and scratching it, spitting on it and tossing garbage all over it?

There was so much anger this holiday season. So many frustrated people waiting in lines that were too long, cursing each other over parking places. Families seething because schedules didn't work out and all that was left was bitter rage instead of understanding. We all think we deserve better, but have we changed the oil in our own cars?

I miss that old Reliant K. I really, really do. It's long gone now. I got rid of it the second I was able. Tossed aside the reliable and traded it in for a string of bad choices that looked better on the outside. My daddy knew exactly what car would suit me best; it was right as rain. But like most things in life, you don't realize how good it is until it's gone.

I believe my Father God knows exactly what I need and where I'm supposed to be, skimpy bank account, dilapidated house and all. And it is the right place for me, even if I look over and see the outside of someone else's life glinting in the sun. Yes, that includes Avery's death, too. It's hard for me some days, but it's like that faded blue interior of the Reliant: not my choice, just part of the gift I was given.

The thing that keeps me going? Love. I know that's all God calls me to do. "Just wake up this morning, Bridget, and love on that baby boy of yours. Love your friends. Love that lady with the harsh words - she's forgotten what love feels like. Just love. It's as simple as that. I'll take care of the rest."



And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13 -