We set out in my mom mini-van for our exactly 3.5 hour drive home that beautiful Friday morning, sun shining, clouds puffing pure white across the sky, kids worn out from a swim in the lake with their fun grandfather, bellies full and ready for the best possible case scenario for at least an hour nap out of each of my three little ones. We even remembered to drop off the bag of trash at the dump for my parents…something I have certainly regretfully forgotten in the past.
I popped the movie, Happy Feet, in the DVD player, took a deep breath and looked ahead to a long but prepared for drive that I planned to end with a trip to our swim club. About an hour and a half into the trip, Lindsay Jane reported she would close her eyes for a nap. I still can’t believe that she does this, and has since she was old enough to talk…she has been the easiest car napper ever. Love. Just before her proclamation, one of my wee ones piped up, “I really need to pee.” Thankfully, I applauded him with praise at this recognition of his body’s signals, those same signals that had frequently been ignored in the past, resulting in more than a “wee” accident.
We pulled off the highway to a clean looking mountain rest stop with a welcoming “Public Restroom” sign. Things were just really going my way.
I opened the van door, after carefully parking it where I could see it from the inside of the store so that my other two could stay contained. The wee one…he jumped out of the van with his crocks tied (knotted) together with the string he had taken out of his tennis shoes in the first leg of our trip. Guess he was bored? Or creative? Anyway, he leapt out of the van, with a mission to get to the restroom asap…you know the drill (wiggle wiggle, dance, jump, etc). He stretched the shoe string out to keep it taught as he hustled into the gas station looking like he was in straight up shackles. Shuffling all the way back to the restroom, I sure did get some looks from the locals…and I sure told him he needed to untie that mess.
The restroom was, in fact, clean. My boy went in and did his deed…and I peered at the van just outside the clear glass door with my other two waving and smiling. Boys pee quickly, I reasoned. I was nervous not having them all with me even though I could see them. After more than what I felt usual for a boy pee, I knocked on the bathroom door, very hopeful that his brief stop for “number 1” had not turned into the need for a “number 2.” “Son, are you finished, we need to get back to you sister and brother.” “Mom, I am untying my knot and I cannot get it undone.”
I sighed a little bit, I mean, I had asked him to do that and I guess I didn’t make it clear that he would have plenty of time on the remaining 2 hours of our trip. “Come on buddy, let’s go, you can do that in the car…and make sure to wash your hands.” He came out, waddled his way through the store as I got just as many interesting looks on the way out…me and my child in homemade shackles. Thank goodness he did not trip on the way to the car. He hopped in, I looked at the time, looked at Lindsay Jane, who was primed for a nap and I breathed, in and out. Almost home.
I turned out of the gas station, my daughter drifting to sleep, the boys settled in with soft music and I even passed an electronic device to the back seat. All was well. Until I heard that squeal from one boy to the other…the sibling high-pitched “you are annoying me” squeal that would surely keep my dear daughter from her slumber. I looked back with my mama look and one pointed finger, “Boys. Quiet. Your sister is trying to sleep.”
It was then time to turn onto 40 East, toward home.
I got on the highway, heading home, telling myself that I would soon be home with my little ones, we would all be free from the confines of the car. The boys proceeded to end up losing the device and I think I sort of lost my mind trying to keep them quiet amidst the every 15 minute askings of just when would we be home…
And then. I saw them in the distance. Mountains. Straight ahead. Not in my rear view mirror. NO. Oh but, Yes…I had gotten onto 40 West, back, oh an HOUR ago at that fateful child walking into the restroom in homemade shackles stop. That one. “OH NO!!” I cried out. “No! How could I have done this? How could I have not noticed I was going the wrong way for the past HOUR? How could I make such a big mistake?” And in their oh so helpful way, my boys sighed that most annoying sigh that sounds more like a dying truck horn…”MAAAOMMMMM!!!!”
And I, like many of you, have that one kiddo that knows exactly how to push my buttons. “How in the world, mom, now we are going to have 3 hours MORE in the car. This stinks! Man, how did you do that!” At first, I threatened to call his father and allow him to chime in, but instead, I took a deep breath and I said, “Son, even mommies make mistakes and I am just as frustrated by this mistake as you are, but there are a lot of much worse things that could have happened, so I would really appreciate you not making me suffer so.”
Every fifteen minutes I heard that grumble about what time was left now and what would have been had I not made a wrong turn. Each time he grumbled, I prayed about what this mistake could teach me and my three little ones. I also prayed for a lot of patience…I needed it.
In that space and time, my mini-van was a sacred space, holy ground…but also a battlefield. I was trapped in a space I did not want to be in, not because of who I was with, but because of how very little control I could assert from the driver’s seat to the unruly kids in the back. The boys were being loud, they were fighting. Lindsay Jane was trying desperately to sleep and trust me, she still needs her nap. I had no choice but to drive these three dependent children home, each with needs only I could fulfill and not best from the driver’s seat. The only way we could get to our destination was to keep pushing through, moving forward with the comfort of home as our ever so enticing carrot. I so wanted to snap my fingers and make that happen, but God had other plans…boy did He show me that day who was in the real driver’s seat that day.
Each of my kids’ needs are so important to me, so intense at times and often so consuming that I have to choose to focus hard on my present calling – right there in the bunker with all three of these impressionable beings, when I really just want my own way. I mean, I know how to win this. I’ve mastered pre-school and elementary school lessons and lived to tell about them all. I’m good in the driver’s seat. I am a first born! And, I know how to get to Durham from Asheville…or so I thought…
As much as I wanted out of that mini-van, I realized that it was right where I needed to be. I was forced to “aim small” and to realize the things I might miss along that way. The reality of “aiming small” means I just might miss the scenery on the outside for a time. I might not always recognize the changing foliage right away. I might be late for a meeting, miss a lunch date and rarely listen to my voicemail… I just might miss some things that I really want to see or do, some really good things.
But, when I really sit back and think about it, I would much rather go the wrong way on highway 40 for one hour than miss the opportunity to talk to my three kids about honoring one another and what exactly that looks like practically or about the fact that grown ups mistakes too and need just as much grace and forgiveness as kids do.
And the truth is, that there are days that I can pause and look up and see the sky bursting with purple, yellow, orange, pink and blue as the reddened sun sets on the horizon. There are days when I can pause to notice the glistening dew atop the morning blades of luscious green grass. There are even days when I notice that the sign says 40 West instead of 40 East. Those days are good days and I believe I am better able to appreciate them because I don’t see them every day.
More days, though, I am watching a baby girl sleep as I lay beside her for nap time after a princess fairy tale has been read. I am sending a ten-year-old to his room and doing so much self-talking-while-praying about my need to “ignore the behavior and get to the heart…” as I wait for the calming down to ensue and sit upon his baseball bed, embrace his little body and help him work through the hard. I am drying the tears of the sensitive seven-year-old as he tells me of someone making fun of his faith…and I pause in that mini-van, watching him understand persecution as a child and I teach him. I teach him in that same mini-van that went the wrong way on the outside for over an hour…
What matters is on the inside: our hearts, our motives, our convictions. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV). This verse touched my heart so much in trying to make sense of this seemingly really stupid mistake I made. The NIV commentary was so helpful too, “What we treasure most controls us, whether we admit it or not.” Jesus also says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34, The Message).
God always provides what we need when we need it. Sometimes being present enough to embrace this truth is hard for me. Sometimes I just might need to be trapped in a mini-van with three youngsters going the wrong way on 40 for God to get my attention – to make me realize that He is in the driver’s seat, not me. I also might need to be forced to make a decision about being on time for a meeting or prepping dinner for my family. Our attention must be is where God is calling us in the present. And, if we are able to do this, when we look in the rear view mirror of our life, we will be able to see the mountains God has carried us over, one little mini-van moment at a time.