I really, really like my minivan. She is almost ten years old and has 131,000+ miles to her credit. She is a more reliable friend than most of the people in my life. Always right where I need her to be. Never complains when I use her for my sole benefit. Quiet. Accepting of all whomever and whatever comes her way. Carries my burdens. Takes me where I need to go and brings me back without reservation or hesitation. She doesn't ask for much: just a full tank every week, air in her tires, and for her various fluid levels to be topped off regularly.
If I don't take proper care of her, however, she lets me know.
One time last fall, she took an unexpected break. I had gone out to dinner with a friend before heading off to a Bible study. When I emerged from the restaurant and bid farewell to my friend, I got into my van and turned on the engine. Then I pulled out my phone to see if I'd missed any messages. After that, I looked up and realized that the engine wasn't running.
So I started my baby up again. She turned over, but wouldn't stay on.
My dinner companion was now gone. I was alone in the parking lot with a non-starting minivan.
Thanks be to God - I was parked next to a Firestone repair shop. They couldn't do anything that day because it was closing time, but they promised to check her out the next day. My sweet and understanding friend came back to the restaurant and took me where I needed to go. (Gracias, Ale.)
The dreaded call came early the next morning. I braced myself against the kitchen counter and asked for the diagnosis: "Ma'am, we checked everything we could think of but we couldn't find anything. So we cleaned the throttle body ("whatever that is," I thought) and replaced three rear lights that were out. You can come get the van at anytime. The total is $58." Well, maybe it wasn't exactly $58, but it was certainly less than $60.
And once, back in 2004, my dear minivan began to have problems keeping the air in her front right tire. I am enormously grateful that there is an indicator light in the dashboard that tells me when the tire pressure gets low. I got into the habit of stopping for air every few days to refill it. On a trip up to Vermont with the kids, I dreaded the possibility of the tire going flat on some destitute stretch along the highway. Fortunately, that didn't happen.
What did happen was this: the children and I emerged one morning from a lovely bed and breakfast in Northampton, Massachusetts to find the tire completely flat. We loaded our bags and ourselves into the van and drove next door (thanks be to God!) to a service station. The friendly gentleman who worked there asked me if I wanted him to fill the tire or fix it. I braced myself against the front counter (something I do often when I have to ask the price of something!) of his shop and asked how much it would cost to fix it. He said, "$5." I said, "You can go ahead and fix it, thank you."
A few weeks ago, I began to notice that the BRAKE light on the dashboard was lighting up while I was driving. I knew that the emergency brake wasn't on, so I wondered what that meant but did nothing about it. (I am beginning to see a pattern here: I don't like to deal with the tough stuff in my life until the warning lights come on with great frequency.) This past Saturday night as I drove home from dinner at my mom's place, that red light flashed on and off for nearly the entire trip.
I asked my daughter to pull out the car manual and tell me what that light meant. The warning was dire: "If the BRAKE light comes on, stop driving immediately and contact a Toyota dealer." What? And I've been ignoring this for weeks now? These brakes could give out any moment and I could go careening into a neighbor's brick mailbox or worse.
But wait a minute, I thought. My brakes work fine. So it can't be the entire system that is in trouble. When I got home, I pulled the book out again and read about the type of brake fluid the minivan needs. I opened the hood, scanned the engine's pipes and tubes and boxes and screws until I saw the reservoir for the brake fluid. It was empty. Not even a single drop of brake fluid was visible - and I was peering in there with a flashlight.
Off Steve and I went to the auto supply section of a local big box store. We spent $2.37 on a small bottle of brake fluid, only half of which was needed to fill that empty vessel. I topped it off, replaced the cover, dropped the hood, and I haven't seen that BRAKE light flash since then. I was as proud of myself as if I'd replaced the entire brake system myself. The truth is that I probably saved us from having to replace that system if I had continued to ignore that warning signal.
Which of course got me to thinking: how many times do warning lights go off in my head and heart and body that I promptly ignore?
* the aching shoulder the morning after a vigorous weight-lifting workout
* the growl of an empty stomach or the rumbling of an upset stomach
* the smell of something burning when I preheat the oven before cooking dinner
* the repeated non-response from a friend who is usually very responsive to my emails or text messages
* a sarcastic response to a simple question
* an increased level of discomfort in the presence of certain people or in certain places
* being ignored, avoided, insulted, belittled by the same person repeatedly
* flatness or dryness in relationships that matter deeply to me
* the allure of codependent behavior in unhealthy relationships
* a lack of enthusiasm for people and gatherings and activities that used to bring me great joy
I've gotta take some time in the near future to brace myself against the counter of my life and ask how much it's gonna cost to fix what can be fixed or make the tough decision to scrap the whole thing (whatever "the whole thing" is) and commit to a new way of living and moving through my life.
I really, really like my minivan - with all her miles and scratches and worn out rugs and most of all, her many warning lights on the dashboard. She is a faithful companion on this, my life's journey. And she teaches me so many lessons about myself, my life, and the importance of regular maintenance.
To the seafoam green 2001 Toyota Sienna sitting patiently and quietly in my garage for our next outing and adventure, I say, "After all these years, you're still the One."
PS. Is it weird that I take so many photos of my minivan?
PSS. The repair work on the minivan - and in my life - never costs as much as I think it will. And, no matter what the cost, knowing that all is well is soooooo worth whatever the financial or emotional or relational or spiritual outlay is.