Crying over a Car


Listen, I know it’s absurd.  It’s just a car.  It’s just a car!!

But when I found out yesterday that my first car – a beautiful 1992 Toyota Camry with a moon roof – essentially needs a new engine (after having already had several thousand dollars’ worth of work done on it this year), I had a meltdown.   In fact, if you must know, I cried all day.  Which is why I didn’t get anything useful done.  I bought that car three years and 363 days ago, and it has been the best little car ever.  I loved that the original tape AND CD players still both work – as does the Dolby surround sound.  I loved that I could adjust the driver’s seat in 100 different directions simultaneously.  (Okay, maybe not quite that many…)  I LOVED the moon roof.  I never imagined God would give me a car with a moon roof. :-)  But He did, just because He’s good and He loves me.  I loved that the air conditioning and the heat worked (most of the time).  I loved how smooth it was to drive, how comfortable and (mostly) clean the inside was, and that it was my very own car.  My first taste of freedom, if you will.

I always assumed that because it was a Toyota, it wouldn’t give out til it got a little closer to 200,000 miles – maybe even more than that.  I assumed it would hold out long enough for me to give it to a sibling when I finally went overseas.  It’s a Toyota Camry – they don’t die, do they?!

Last week I hit a curb and ended up with a flat (which I changed myself, once my Dad arrived to make sure I was doing things correctly).  I took the car in to replace my spare tire and ended up getting a few other things done – alignment, oil change, brakes, and inspection and emissions testing.  When I picked the car up, the mechanic said, “Just keep an eye on your temperature gauge.  Your car almost overheated during the emissions test.”  So I logged that away in the back of my mind – thinking I’d have a fair stretch of time repair-free.

Fast-forward four days and 250 miles of problem-free driving (in 100-degree weather).  On Wednesday I was driving into Philly to meet with two wonderful women who will be a part of the mentoring process as I get ready to head overseas.  Going 70mph on the Schuylkill Expressway, I suddenly noticed a high-pitched whine.  I glanced at my temperature gauge for the fourth or fifth time in half an hour – and suddenly the needle was WAY over the “H” red zone.  I did not panic – I switched off the air, switched on the heat, rolled down the windows, and eased over onto the the shoulder.  After a few deep breaths, I called my Dad.  We decided I’d try to let the car cool off for 20 minutes and see what happened.  When I turned the car back on after allowing things to cool down, I felt a huge sense of relief – the temperature gauge was back to normal.  So I got back on the expressway – windows down, heat on, praying that I would still make the meeting.  Less than a mile later, the needle was back in the red zone and I was again pulling off the road – two miles from the nearest exit.

Well, it turns out that paying car insurance is not all bad – I discovered on Wednesday that my policy covers roadside assistance and 15 miles of towing. :-)  I only waited an hour for the tow truck (and the only thing I had along was my prayer journal, so I spent a nice bit of time praying!).  The tow truck itself came close to overheating, but my car made it back to my wonderful mechanic – and I thought it was a simple matter of a hot, hot day – and maybe needing a little more coolant in the system.

So when my mechanic called yesterday morning and said he’d re-filled the system and let it sit overnight – only to find it had leaked, he said something that made my heart sink.  “We’ll get you an estimate, but you’ll probably need to be making some decisions about this car.”  That’s like a doctor saying you need to review your end-of-life care decisions.  Full code or not?  Palliative care?  Hospice?  Half an hour later, his secretary daughter (we went to Sunday School together back in the day) called me back with the estimate.  I was okay on the phone and while I explained to my Dad what needed to be done after I hung up, but then I started to get a lump in my throat.  And then the tears started to splash.

“I can’t believe I’m getting this emotional over a car!!!”  I finally sobbed.

And so, all day yesterday, whenever I started to think or talk about my car, the lump would come – followed in short order by a lot of tears.

As the day progressed, there were a couple of things that came to mind that could help explain my emotional state.  First, that Camry was the first thing I ever owned of value that was mine.  Just mine.  It gave me a sense of freedom.  I had a very strong sense of ownership and responsibility – it was my car and I was going to take care of it.  Period.  The car also gave me the opportunity to give generously – especially to the needs of my family (I paid gas and insurance, but everyone drove it – though I did usually have first dibs).  If you take those statements apart, I think the argument could be made that I had taken God out the car equation completely – almost like I said, “Okay, Lord, now that I have the keys, I can take care of this thing.  Thanks for your help in getting it, though…”  So lesson number one from yesterday:  Keeping God at the center of my life may sound simple, but I’m discovering layer upon layer where it just isn’t true.  The car provided an excellent case-in-point.

Second, I’ve been experiencing loss and change in some significant ways lately.  Loss of several dear spiritual leaders at Tenth – our senior pastor becoming the president of Wheaton College, another wonderful pastor planting a church, and the director of adult education getting married and moving away.  Loss of the sweet fellowship experienced during SMI.  Loss of the role of SMI director, as SMI has finished up.  I’m anticipating change both at work and on the home front – a change in my job description at the hospital (now working a broader area) and in the next month or two, probably a change of address as I move out.  I believe I even had the gall to think, “Well, at least I’ll still have my car,” as I contemplated all these changes.  I don’t deal well with change until it’s behind me (not even then, sometimes).  (Does anybody deal well with change?)  So I think the car might have been the last straw – that which pushed me over the brink from being “in control” with all the changes going on to being totally at a loss (it actually feels a little bit like what I imagine free-fall would be).  And I’m not even bringing in all the stuff with going overseas next year…  But losing the car is making me deal with loss – making me cry about it (which can be very healing), making me think about it and process it – so that I can move on.  And today I was reminded of Jesus’ perspective on loss: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)  So there needs to be spiritual growth that comes out of this.

I’m a little better at the moment, but then again, I haven’t seen my car today.  I’ve also been rather busy (sitting down didn’t really happen at work…).  And time and space have given my heart a chance to adjust a little bit to the idea of losing my favorite car – very likely the best car I will ever own.

My car is not my savior.  Jesus is my Savior.  This loss is temporal.  Jesus is eternal.  This world is broken.  Jesus is making all things new.  Maybe, just maybe, there will be a 1992 silver Toyota Camry with a moon roof waiting for me when I see those streets of gold. :-)


One Response to “Crying over a Car”

  1. 1 Deborah

    Being stripped…
    But unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies…
    He who began a good work…
    He who loses his life for My sake…
    Cast your cares…
    I’ll let you finish the sentences :-)
    What a beautiful, difficult, wonderful process.
    I love you dear friend!!!

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