I learned one of life’s simplest, but most important lessons in the most ordinary of places. It was wrapped up in a potato skin and left to harden under the floor mat in the backseat of our car.
Never underestimate the parable that can be found in a petrified piece of complex carbohydrate.
Our minivan was full of them: pieces of stale potato chips, half-eaten chicken nuggets, deflated Cheetos, and icing-covered lions missing the occasional front paw. I was never really sure how all that junk food ended up wedged between the seats, tucked under the floor mats, and crushed into the cup holders. Whenever I asked who left the smashed banana on the floor or who had stuffed the half-eaten granola bar into the pocket behind the seat, the answer was always the same.
That unsavory character and his friends No One, Not Me, and I Don’t Know left behind a path of crumbs and destruction all across the backseat of our vehicle. It was uncanny. The more I’d clean up the mess, the more the mess would grow. I was winning the battle and losing the snack food war.
One Sunday, we pulled into the worship center parking lot after a hectic pre-church morning. I glanced into the backseat and scanned the small humans one last time before we opened the car door. My heart sank. My daughter’s bow was hanging on by a thread, my son had a wrinkled shirt with a missed button, and his younger brother was using his shoes as puppets to entertain his siblings.
I fixed and fluffed and buttoned and tied shoes until I felt we were ready to face the public. At last, I opened the side door of the van. All four children piled out in a rush, running through the church doors and leaving behind a spray of cookie crumbs, crackers, and petrified French fries. Those fries, hardened into a substance stronger than Superman’s arms of steel, escaped the confines of the car and bounced along the pavement in rapid succession.
They were taunting me.
I could practically hear them giggling, laughing in glee as they made their maniacal journey across the sidewalk.
Embarrassed, I looked around to see if anyone was watching. Then I scooped up the fries and dumped them into the trashcan before anyone noticed. I felt inadequate and unorganized and discouraged over my inability to control a single one of the four food groups.
After I brushed off the crumbs and picked up a few stray juice box containers, I closed the door to the van. Pausing to gather my thoughts, I straightened my skirt, checked my red lipstick in the passenger side mirror, twirled an unruly curl back into place, and turned to go inside. Then, out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention.
As I glanced into the front seat of the car next to me, I couldn’t believe it. It was perfect—not a crumb or a piece of paper or a petrified piece of anything anywhere. Every sparkle was sparkling. Every piece of lint had been banished from the car’s presence. Every floor mat was clean, with the tiny vacuum lines still in place. The freshly oiled leather glinted in the morning sun, and there, in the pocket behind the seat, where I’d just noticed the remnants of a forty-eight-pack of crayons in my own car, was a perfectly perfect umbrella.
Simply waiting for a rainy day.
I think it was the umbrella that sent me over the edge. I longed with my heart and several other organs for the perfection of that car with its all-weather gear. I wanted a car with shiny seats and clean floor mats and sparkling windows without fingerprints. A car where petrified French fries would never, ever dare to show their faces.
With one last wistful look at perfection, I headed into the building. Sighing to myself, I headed to my Sunday school room with visions of sparkly cars still dancing in my head.
And then I saw her. The owner of the umbrella-pocket car.
There she sat, patiently waiting for her class to start. She was an older woman, poised and beautiful and dressed to perfection. Not a hair was out of place.
I glanced down at my wrinkled dress with crumbs still clinging to the hem and tentatively reached up to straighten my sweater. She was everything I hoped to be, everything I aspired to. I couldn’t help it. I had to say something.
“I love your car,” I blurted out. “I was sitting in my car full of crayons and crushed juice boxes and dried-up pieces of fast food.” My words tumbled out in a rush. “And then I saw your car and I almost cried. It’s perfect and wonderful and clean and sparkling and . . . and . . . and . . you have an umbrella,” I finished.
She didn’t say a word. She just smiled a little sadly.
In the silence that ensued after my outburst, I stood there, smiling awkwardly and not knowing what to say next. Finally, I waved and started making my way to class.
On my way down the hall, one of her friends pulled me aside and whispered to me in a small voice that pierced to the center of my heart. “She would trade with you in a minute.”
The truth of that simple whisper almost sent me to my knees.
She was right.
So wisely, perfectly, wonderfully, incredible-reminder-at-the-exact-moment-you-need-it, take-your-breath-away right. Time passes so quickly, and the days of crayons and crumbs and French fries soon fade away.
One moment they are there. Then you blink.
And they’re gone.
As I walked away, I counted every blessing and then sent up a silent prayer of gratitude. Gratitude for little hands that reached for mine and joyful voices that chattered and giggled and told knock-knock jokes while carrying around handfuls of chicken nuggets and cookie crumbs.
And I was grateful for what I’d learned that day. This is the life lesson I want to print on my heart: there is such joy in the journey.
I have learned to find joy in my imperfections and to embrace the dings and scratches of life. Even though I am cracked and imperfect and nicked and worn and weary, the Potter has a plan. He is molding me into something perfectly imperfect. He delights in taking a broken vessel and using me for his design.
I have learned that worry and doubt are overrated and that it’s foolish to waste a moment on things that are out of my control. God, in his infinite mercy, has determined the direction and the steps on this journey. He knows. He understands. All that is required of us is to place our faith in him.
You’ve been reading from So Close to Amazing by KariAnne Wood. Read more about her book HERE.
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