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Even in the Breakdown Lane

Filed under: — jen d @ 10:38 am

It was one just of those weekends. We’ve all had them. Some more than others, and some to greater extents. At any rate, we can all relate to those days, weeks, months, in which it seems nothing will jive, when life has cosmically alligned the great bulk of the month’s responsabilities with a series curve balls and minor, but time-consuming inconveniences to converge on one important weekend. And even though you volunteered yourself for most of those responsabilities, you didn’t see it coming. It hits you hard, several times, sqaure in the nose, until it runs out of destructible tissue and decides to attack your ears, eyes, jaw bone… When it decides you’re almost beyond suffering, it comes in for a final blow to the temple, but by then you’re not really feeling it anymore.

My temple blow came last night on my way home from our Sunday evening Bible studies, in the form of a red battery light on my dashboard, a rather unorthodox “clunk” under my hood, and an overheated engine. We were in Allston, at that point. The tow cost 150 smackers.

It really was the perfect end to an utterly imperfect weekend. Friday ought to have been pretty routine, but it wasn’t, because I needed it to be. I needed it to be another slow office day so that I could finish writing and printing up the scripts for our Christmas program, not to mention that week’s church bulletins, which I ALWAYS put off until the last possible minute… I needed to finish those on time, because I also needed to get to the grocery store and track down ingredients for baklava, which was, along with my house-cleaning/party services, due at my friend’s parents’ house the next morning for her mom’s 50th birthday surprise party. I also needed to get to the store and buy the woman a gift, and since my friend (THE Tomania) was bringing Christmas presents early to save on shipping, I wanted to finish her Christmas gifts, as well, which would take several hours. I also wanted to make it to Bible study by 7pm that evening. If all was to be accomplished, all had to go according to plan. The fact that I’d be at the birthday party all day Saturday left no room for leftover tasks, and since I was also supposed to bake or cook something for the Sunday morning fellowship time, my schedule was incredibly tight.

Writing it now, it doesn’t seem like much, and maybe it wasn’t; but the problems didn’t come with the tasks themselves, but all of the inexplicable inconveniences that rose up to thwart their completion. They utterly hobbled me. The irritating and irrational customers; the bus driver who forgot to bring my brother to the right place after school (AGAIN), which cut a very necessary 1-2 hours out of my office time; the supermarket that didn’t keep all of their nut products in one place, and my resulting wild-goose chase for ground walnuts for the baklava; the unbelievable woman in line ahead of me, who picked up the wrong bag of dog food (the right one was on sale), and left the rest of in line for an extra 20 minutes while she sauntered off to find it… you know, little insignificant things that confound the best-laid plans and all of your good intentions. I had to skip Bible study. I didn’t get out of the office until 7:30, and I still hadn’t printed out all of the script copies; I was still gift-less. I ended up getting up at 6am the next morning to make that baklava…

Three hours, 786 layers of phyllo dough, and a pound of butter later, I was out the door and off to Tomania’s parents’ house (after a quick stop at the Godiva gift box section of the local Barnes and Nobles). I was so proud of myself for being on time. Oh, I forgot the little paper cupcake wrappers that you’re supposed to serve baklava in (or thought I did; I later found them in the back seat of my car, after I used up all of Tomania’s mom’s), but it was okay, because I had time to vacuum, and that made me a Good Friend. After I finished vaccuuming the basement, I checked in on my pretty baklava platters. One dinner plate was completely empty, the other half-gone; a sticky trail of pink and blue muffin wrappers lined Mrs. Ellis’ precious hardwood floors. The dog–big, brown-eyed Rondelle–was sitting there giving me a very sorry look. No doubt she was very sorry; a plate and a half of baklava doesn’t do anybody any good, least of all a golden retriever. What killed me was that she managed to eat the best pieces. My question is, how did she know???

Somehow, I wasn’t upset. I just looked at her. I cleaned up the wrappers. I said. “What did you do?” I laughed about it later with my friend.

The party went well enough. I had a wonderful visit with my friend and her family; I got to hold one of the cutest baby boys I’ve ever seen. I got dishpan hands, but also some lovely gifts from Tomania (including a gorgeous ceramic rice bowl/chopsticks set from Pier1). I couldn’t complain. But sometime after 10:30pm I remembered that Sunday was fast approaching, and made my way to Kinko’s. The man behind the counter was generally less than helpful and bad at math and they didn’t have any normal staplers, but I got the stuff printed and managed to make it back to Boston by a little after midnight. Then I drove around for another hour looking for a parking spot, but I did eventually find one, so life went on. I still didn’t have food for church the next morning, but that would have to be tackled later. I might have done it the next morning, if I hadn’t felt so horribly ill. It was painful day. I was running late, of course. I missed cantata rehearsal because I was slipping and sliding my way down to the local CVS to buy some overpriced, poor-quality cookies to pawn off to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as “sustenance.” I’m still ashamed about that one. Somewhere on the street, Pastor Bill passed me in his van and hooted a musical “Good morning to you,” which I found very Pastor-Bill-ish and hilariously ironic. I was in severe pain and woozy from medication. My body had that wonderful hypersensativity that made my pantyhose feel like they were rubbing my skin raw and bisecting me at my midsection. The air hurt. But otherwise, it was beautiful day.

I did last the service (I was seriously planing on leaving by Sunday School), and I did feel better by its end. Once my responsabilities and failures were complete, I was able to relax and enjoy myself. Baklava behind me, and Bible study in front of me, I decided to offer my friend Allie from Wellesley College a ride to and from Pastor’s house that evening, since she doesn’t usually get to attend. Someday, she’ll learn to decline any invitation s that include me or my honda ’88.

We drove a new attendee home. Amy is very nice, and from Omaha, and just moved to Boston. She needed to be initiated into my world of car fiascos, so I offered her a ride back to Allston after the study. Of course, we got lost, but only slightly, and this time I don’t think it was even my fault. The whole time, I was sure were about to run out of gas, since I’d been driving around far below empty for the better part of the evening. I remarked at one point that that wierd grinding, whirring noise coming from the car sounded unusual. Amy thought the Honda was just hungry. Since at no point in my life with the Honda has she EVER taken that much gas into her tank upon a fill-up, I thought, “Hmmm, Amy was right.”

But the whirring continued as we made our way from the station to Amy’s apartment, and I was concerned. At the top of a hill, it just kind of “clunked.” Oh, the whirring stopped. But the battery light popped on. Since I had just paid a large sum of money to have the alternator fixed (AGAIN), I was not a happy camper. I didn’t get mad. Oddly. No, I was more like a little worried. I mean, I had passengers, and we were still far from Wellesley College.

It was in front of Amy’s building that I noticed the temperature gauge. The car was on the verge of overheating. Lovely. I did the drill with the heater and the open windows, but it didn’t get that needle moving in the right direction. It was stuck on “H.” When I finally got the hood open, there a funny glugging/gushing sound of water emptying out of a reserve, accompanied by a very vile-odored chemical steam rising up from the morass of wires, engines and tubes that is my sad little car. I confess I didn’t know what was happening. I assumed the radiator had broken in half, or something, shorted the battery, and that the whole thing was about to explode. Anhd there I was without a parking spot.

We left Amy on the sidewalk. I’d meant to go back to her, but in search of a spot, I stumbled upon a Hess service station and decided to camp there. It had a lovely, wide parking area, but lots of ‘no parking’ signs. I asked the attendant if I could park it there until the morning, when I could get in touch with someone who would tow it for free. “No, no, no,” he said, indicating that he didn’t understand most of what I was saying, but understood enough to forbid my request. A young man behind me in line warned me, “Oh, they’ll tow it if they see it here overnight; don’t park here.”

I called my dad for advice. He didn’t have any. I got the feeling he thought I’d rigged the car to break down on purpose, just so I could rouse him out of bed on a Sunday night and bug him. I know he didn’t mean it. He’s sick, too. But I felt pretty helpless and irritatingly female.

Then that man from the line pulled up next to us in car. “I’m a machanic,” he said. “Want me to take a look?”

Allie had been very quiet up until this point. She’s a very serene person. If she hadn’t been there, or had been someone else, I might have cracked and started yelling and throwing things, and knocking dents in my Honda. But then again, this was the temple blow that came at the end of a series of jabs to the nose, ears and eyes, and I wasn’t feeling much pain anymore. I had nothing left for the big blow.

Besides, the mechanic boy was nice. It did cross my mind that he was lying and had decided to take advantage of a helpless situation by impersonating a Knowledgable Person in order to prey on two innocent suburban church-going females.

But he turned out to be genuine, and more than that. He asked me if I had an alternator put in recently. I had. He shined my little cell-phone flashlight down into the depths of the hood and said in his mechanic vernacular that some “*&#^*&^!!*!@*(^#” had done a pretty bad job and not aligned it properly; the fan belt had thus slipped out of place (explaining the whirring/grinding from earlier) and finally fallen off entirely. That’s why the car overheated, and, yes, that’s why there was fluid pouring out of the reserve. The belt was still there, though, and, miraculously, in tact. It just needed to be put back in place, the alternator aligned (or something), and I’d be good to go.

Now, if only I could get it to a garage.

The good mechanic warned me not to go to the nearest one, for they would rip me off. And then, like the dusty angel he was when he appeared, he was gone again. I will always remember the good mechanic. He looked just like a younger version of Roberto Benigni–you know, the Italian actor from Life is Beautiful? Though he only lacked the enchanting accent… (Bonjourno, Principessa!)

And so we got it towed. It cost less than I thought it would, to be honest, and since we were able to hitch a ride back with a clean and friendly tow-truck-man, it wasn’t such an unpleasant evening. Expensive, to be sure, and horribly inconvenient. But funny and even fun, in its way, at least once I found that I probably wouldn’t have to pay for the necessary repairs on my car. We joked about it in the truck; Allie was still serene and as patient and generous as ever. Someday she will look back on all of these adventures with me and the Honda, and smile. I hope. In any case, we got to listen to the end of the Pats game. Although I’ve never been a huge fan of football, I’m trying. I want to be a thoroughly well-rounded Bostonian.

And so we got the car back to the garage in my old hometown. My mom picked us up there and we got Allie back before midnight. (I think.) We laughed about it on the ride home. My mom was very gracious and helpful. Everything was fine until I realized that I did not have my license anywhere on my person. Worse, I knew where it was: on the ground back at the Hess station in Allston, where it must have fallen out of my pocket when I bent over to tie my shoe.

If you’ve read this far, let me take a moment to congratulate you and salute your patience. There is a point to this, and it’s not to complain. You see, from the moment that battery light first lit up my dashboard, a small peace was planted somewhere behind my sternum and made to grow, watered by each additional problematic element, and nourished by the synthesis of grace in the light of God’s love and power over circumstance. Oh, I was frazzled, at points. I still felt the pull of my Self as it attempted to strangle the roots of whatever was pushing its way up through the rocky soil of my heart. The inherent weeds and pebbles of anger and frustration was there, but hadn’t taken over. I was surprised by this. Allie commented that I had been dulled by my previous weekend and all of its many more minor irritations. Perhaps. But more than that, and more than just recognizing God’s providence in the good mechanic, the gas station, the money in my account that would cover the tow truck, is God Himself, Who not only knew my weekend would end this way, but allowed it to happen, and wasn’t remotely surprised, or frustrated, or frazzled on my behalf. I imagine Him watching the events unfold, exactly as He’d planned them to; He’s interested, not in those things that seemed so large and out of control, but rather in my heart as those things chisel and pound away at it. What would come leaking out? Where were the weak spots? And would I allow Him to make the necessary repairs? Surely, He cared about my sorrows and helplessness, but had already arranged the details so that I would be taken care of. No actual harm would be done. The real issues went beyond circumstance. God had me in His workshop, pure and simple. The miracle came in that I recognized this fact, and little by little, unclenched my fists and opened my heart and let Him do His thing. That unclenching and opening is only ever possible by His grace, in the first place, and, yes, I truly might not have been as willing to let go, had I not been beaten down all weekend long by those other little grievances.

While I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, I did recognize several glaringly obvious chinks (gaping, yawning holes) in my so-called spiritual armor. There was the simple aspect of not liking when things didn’t go my way. There was my propensity to impatience bordering on rudeness when others (gas station attendants, my father) couldn’t (even if they wanted to be) be more helpful to me than I’d wished. There was my forgetfulness concerning prayer and the charcter and power of my sovereign God. More surprising was the more sinister, subtler tight-fistedness that has been rearing its ugly head since I started paying large sums of money to a landlord I’ve never met and buying my own groceries and soap back in October. I was more disturbed by this warning light when it appeared on my siritual dashboard than I was by my battery light on my physical one, mostly because I hadn’t been aware it existed. I won’t claim to be the most genberous person in the world; lots of times, especially when it comes to buying myself things (even necessary things, like the aforementioned soap), I can be downright cheap. But I’ve seldom worried about money, and have seldom let that worry dictate how tightly I hold on to my pennies when it comes to things like offering plates and gift-giving. But when I went to the ATM to extract my $150 cash for the tow-truck, the light popped on, in big, neon-pink letters, letting me know that something was dreadfully wrong: NOT TRUSTING, NOT GIVING, NOT TRUSTING, NOT GIVING, it blinked over and over again. Oddly, by that point, I wasn’t too concerned about the $150. For one thing, I thought I could get a refund from the guy who’d screwed up my alternator in the first place. On the other hand, that peace of soul had been growing and blooming with grace: the blinders of false control had been ripped from my eyes, and I was finally able to see what was happening beyond the obvious break-down. There was sin and selfishness everywhere. The Lord was gracious enough to let me see it, and powerful enough and willing to start cleaning it up for me. The warning light had nothing to do with the $150; it had to do with the last month and a half. When God providentially supplied my apartment in a prime location for ministry, at a price I could afford, in my dream neighborhood, it wasn’t with the intent that it would turn me into a frazzled, frustrated miser. And here He was, graciously letting me see that I have been abusing good gifts and mistrusting the Hands that gave them. He have been more than justified in simply taking those gifts away from me for my own good, but He hasn’t. We serve a supremely patient God.

And so I was so overcome with the wonder of this grace, that I didn’t notice my license slip out of my pocket and onto the ice. That surprise was saved for later, once I was back at my parents’. My initial reaction was, “UUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” But that was it. I tried to call the Hess station, but they don’t list with the yellow pages. Not even the Allston police knew the number. Fine. I hung up the phone and went to bed. I kept waiting for the curses and damnation to well up, in, and out of me, but they didn’t. I just prayed about it. And then I smiled into the darkness. I thought about the night and laughed. I thanked my Lord for His protection and for His love, which will not let us get away with being what he doesn’t want us to be. I remembered the mechanic and wished I’d been able to thank him more profusely. Maybe I’ll run into him again, someday, and be able to tell him how the Lord used him to be a blessing to me. Maybe I can give him something in return for his help that evening: I’m thinking something along the lines of ‘a chance at Life as we know it.’ Because that’s why I wanted to move to Boston in the first place: to meet people and be, as my pastor calls it, a fountain in a dry and thirsty city.

Oh, that we all may be ripped out of ourselves. Daily. I did reclaim my license yesterday. The right person had found it, after all, and turned it in. As I said, there was no harm done, only good. It is truly a marvelous thing to know a God Whom we not only can trust, but Whom we may trust, Whom we have been called expressly to glorify…even in the breakdown lane.

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