When I was a girl, my parents drove the precursor to my own swagger van: the gargantuan station wagon.
The first station wagon Dad and Mom owned was white, and they drove it until a drunk driver plowed into the side of it as we were traveling through an intersection, spinning it around and shattering all of its windows. The white wagon, the one I remember putting my Little People farm into the day my dad drove it off the lot, was replaced by a dark blue one, complete with wood grain paneling. So, I grew up in station wagons. I even learned to parallel park and got my drivers’ license in a station wagon. In fact, I can still hear my dad saying, “If you can learn to drive this, you can drive anything.” It’s true. I can probably drive anything.
I had high school boyfriends who would snicker about the wagon when they saw me pull in for basketball practice, but I’ll tell you: my mom could pack half the basketball team in that wagon to drive to an away game, and she did it more than once. But the best thing of all about those station wagons was the back seat. It faced backward. I have so many memories of bouncing down the road grinning at the people driving behind us. Once, our muffler fell almost all the way off as we drove away from Karate practice, and Dad just kept right on driving. Sparks flew up into the night behind us, but Dad figured there wasn’t much he could do about the muffler until we got home, so he just let the show go on. My brother and I laughed until our sides hurt watching people react to the sparks as we passed or they drove up behind us. They tried everything to let my dad know that muffler was falling off, and Dad just kept smiling and nodding at them, way, way back there behind us in the front seat.
On trips, the back seat was usually my territory, since I was the youngest. I loved it. Since I traveled with my back to my family and my face toward the open road (an introvert’s dream, even at that age), I always felt like the back seat was my own special little place. I often remember those days, driving down the road in the swagger van, hearing Zoe back there chattering to a thousand different imaginary people with whom she is doing imaginary things in imaginary places. I used to pretend that the storage compartment in the floor of the back seat of our station wagon was really a trap door, leading to my own underground home. I imagined the flicker of a fire, a warm room, hot chocolate, cozy places to sit and sleep, and a thousand different hidden treasures and wonderful adventures. Funny, the first time I saw Lord of the Rings I was struck by how much Bilbo’s home looked like the imagined escape of my childhood, which must have actually been inspired, at least in part, by C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of Mr. Tumnus’ cave dwelling in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Anyway, I can’t tell you how many long trips I spent imagining adventures on the other side of my “trap door” while my brothers recorded news broadcasts, commercials, and episodes of “V” on their tape recorder in the seat right behind me.
And these days, I still find myself imagining that somewhere close by there’s a trap door…a place where I can escape to another world.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. But sometimes I just wish I could get away for a while and rest, and by the grace of God and thanks to some amazing, rock star grandparents, those times do come eventually.
I’m always so touched by the situation in Mark 6, when John the Baptist has just been beheaded in prison and “then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat,” Jesus says to his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6: 31).” Oh, I know how they all must have felt. In my most exhausted moments, I live for Christ to say that to me.
We’ve been involved with Upward basketball and cheerleading since the middle of January, and honestly, I just have to say that I don’t know how some of you do it when your kids are involved in not just one but multiple extracurricular activities. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how my parents did it back in those days when they worked full time and then spent the entire evening with us at the gym for basketball games, slogging in homemade chili and jars of fat dill pickles to run the concession stand. Well, I say that, but I do know. As parents, we do what we have to do for the love of our children. And I love that my children are involved with Upward. I have watched them grow so much in these last weeks, and I’ve seen them blessed by the influence of so many wonderful people. Riley has come so far from the days when she used to run off the basketball court, crying, and bury her head in Kevin’s shoulder. Now she’s actually a pretty good shot, and her teammates cheer her on and help her when she gets confused on the court. They embrace her as a teammate, and lately I think they’ve even come to realize that if they can get the ball in her hands, she can score some points. For Riley, Upward builds confidence. It’s a huge blessing. And for Zoe, it’s an equal opportunity for fun, more friends, encouragement. We love Upward. But it wipes me out.
Since mid-January, there’s only been one night during the week that we don’t have to be somewhere by a certain time, and sometimes we’ve had to use that night to schedule other things that couldn’t happen on practice or game nights. For a while, my goal has been to minimize stress during the latter part of the day, when homework time is more than enough to put me in a straight jacket. I’m not kidding. One night last week, Riley’s last assignment (after writing a rhyming poem with 8 spelling words…she just couldn’t seem to remember what it meant to rhyme that night) was to write her name in Morse Code. I showed her the symbol key her teacher had provided and explained, “See, you just find the letters of your name and write it using the code. Let’s see, R…it’s “ . ..“. I turned around to help Adam with something, turned back around, and Riley had written the words (as opposed to the symbols) “dot space dot dot” on her paper. I wanted to lay in the floor and surrender. I was just stuck deciding between laughing like a hyena or crying while I was down there.
Sometimes I really want a trap door. I want to get away, and if I had to guess, you do too. What do you say we go together?
These days, I don’t imagine opening that door to any sort of enclosed space. I imagine descending the plank stairs and planting my feet in sand, warm and white, and burying my toes in it. Feel it? The salty breeze is warm and gentle, moving our hair in a slow dance. The sun, still new, throws halos of soft amber and gold all over the water. The ocean looks like glass except right at our feet, where it softly crashes and spreads out, washing away every trace of our footprints as it rolls backward. It is enough just to walk. I don’t really need to say anything, but if we choose to do so, the words will just fall away, hanging effortlessly between us. Our conversation will be as free and easy as our spirits, as boundless and unfettered as the sand and the sea.
Mom told me that yesterday she found an unbroken starfish so tiny if fit on the tips of a few fingers. I might look for one of those or notice a sharks’ tooth winking at me from the shore as we walk along. I’ll put these, and perhaps a few salt-glazed chunks of sea glass in my pocket as we wander, but there will be no hurry, no need to be anywhere by any time, no list of things to do competing for time or space in our minds. For now, there will be just the sound of the waves and the feel of the sand beneath our feet, but more than that, there will be the Presence of God, stronger than we can bear and more gentle than any other we know, walking with us.
Do you know where Jesus took his disciples, after he urged them to withdraw with Him? Across the sea. They traveled by boat “to a solitary place (Mark 6: 32). Lately, since I have no trap door through which to disappear, I cling to my own moments alone with my Lord in a solitary place. I hear Him, saying to me, “Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest.” I have a comfy chair in a remote corner of the house, where I can hear no phone or doorbell. I disappear there with a cup of coffee and my Bible. And as I was reading the other day, about all the people “who saw them leaving and recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them (Mark 6: 33)”—the scripture says it was 5000 men, not counting women and children (v.44)—I thought, “Oh, Lord, I know how they felt because I need you that much.”
I couldn’t help but be challenged by Jesus’ reaction to the crowd. He felt immediate compassion for them, feeling their need, loving them enough to set His own aside for a little longer (v. 34). The disciples, feeling much the way that I so often do when the needs of others interrupt the satisfaction of my own, were ready to send these people away as soon as possible. In fact, that’s exactly what they said. It was late in the day, so they looked at Jesus, probably sighing inside, aching for rest, and said, “This is a remote place and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat (v. 35,36).” When I read that, sitting in my own ache for rest, even as I feel the need those people felt to be with Christ, I feel myself echoing the disciples, understanding them too. “Yes, Lord. Send them away. Just this time. Just for now.”
But He won’t. He never does. He tells His disciples to feed them, and then He shows them that even when they have almost nothing to give, if they’ll just give what they have, He’ll use it to meet needs that feel overwhelming to them in their exhaustion. When they feel their lack, in fact, they even see it tangibly, Christ points out that He is always enough if every little bit they have is placed in His hands. And when the disciples—when I—have embraced this lesson, He sends them on ahead and dismisses the crowd himself. After all this, Jesus finally fills His own need, withdrawing to a mountain alone to pray (v. 46).
And you know, when the alarm on my phone sounds, announcing that the crowd is about to descend upon my solitary place, it’s the lesson of Christ that pulls my body off the chair and moves me to the door, my car keys, car pool. Because as little as I feel that I have, having been with Him alone, I know that if I’ll just place it in His hands, it will be enough to meet their needs.