MY CHRISTMAS HOPE
I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong. There’s something to be said for SUVs. I’m the first to toss off-colored banter around whenever a Junior rolls by in a new Hummer. When one of my favorite senior students proclaimed the arrival of his brand new Escalade (he even jingled his keys at me, like announcing the arrival of Santa Clause or something), sure, I scoffed. But, during my long drive to Michigan from the great state of Nevada…I learned to respect the SUV.
We rented a Ford Explorer. We didn’t really have much of a choice, but then again I don’t necessarily research exotic fruits before venturing into Albertson’s and test drive a Kiwi either. It was roomey, had a new car smell and a big back area for the dogs. I was surprised and happy. So, we loaded up the front-wheel drive sleigh and took off early Friday morning.
My wife and I drove in shifts. She’d take 6 hours…I’d sleep in the back. I’d drive 6 hours…she’d sleep. I haven’t told her yet…but those books on tape DID in fact keep me up a bit. (But in a good way.) You see, you can drive a bulldozer through the bedroom and NOT wake me up I’m such a heavy sleeper…but getting there….that’s another thing. We stopped twice at Rest Areas and tucked some blankets up into the windows and hunkered down for a few hours before raiding the coffee machines and heading off again. (Indiana has the best coffee machines.)
I can’t say that I was looking forward to the drive. Okay…I totally didn’t want to drive. (I feel better now that I’ve come clean.) But looking back…it wasn’t such a bad drive. I expected to be annoyed by the hulking SUV. It wasn’t so hulking. I expected to tire of the lengthy road trip. It was very engaging and not so tiring. I expected the trip to take FOREVER! We pulled into Jackson, MI after 2 1/2 days of driving. Not bad!
Here are a few things I found interesting during our little trip:
- Stephen King tends to favor certain names in his short stories. Names like Gage, Vince and Garaby.
- Never stop at anything called FIESTA MART. Isn’t a fiesta a party? We need to work on redefining some of these gas stations, I’m thinking.
- Kentucky is brutally honest with their landmark names. Let’s just say the DIRTY RIVER….yeah. Pretty dirty.
- I found that you cannot truly appreciate cuisines from foreign lands until you’ve actually consumed the stuff. Foods like “CAKESTERS”….(I think they’re French)….yeah, not so good. “BETTER CHEDDARS”….not so bad. “MOONPIES”…..pretty stinkin’ disgusting. And the McRIB SANDWICH. Yeah….that was interesting. First and foremost, I’m STILL finding bar-b-que sauce in the car. (How it got on the ceiling, I’ll never know.) Second…I didn’t know meat could be bouncy. I suppose I should just keep quiet. This is all being brought to you from the guy who has heightened the CHICK-O-STICK to its own food group. Still, all things considered, I’m adding “Colon Flush” on next year’s Santa list.
- I’ve noticed that public restrooms and restroom etiquette varies greatly from state to state. New Mexico has a LOW cleanliness standard. I suppose the Land of Enchantment wants to keeps things adventerous and mysterious. Arizona is fine. Texas is fine, if you’re wearing a cowboy hat, otherwise you get “looks.” Oklahoma is the “Sooner State” which I didn’t understand right away…but after 7 hours crossing that state….PHEW! I was wishing I had reached that rest area sooner rather than later. My wife felt the brunt of Tennessee when she had to hold the stall door shut for an elderly lady so that she may use the facilities…and then the elderly lady did the same for her. You make fast friends that way…and that’s why Tennessee is the Volunteer State. (This is totally true. I can’t MAKE stuff up like this.)
- There is a HUGE chain of waffle houses across the southern states. That’s no big deal, I suppose…but what’s funny is that they’re all just called “WAFFLE HOUSE.” That’s like naming a store that sold furniture “FURNITURE STORE.” In hindsight, I suppose this was funnier at 1:00am when I first thought about it!
So, as Emily and I took turns snuggling down, fully extended in the back of the SUV with our Great Pyrenees, Pug and Chihuahua / Terrier mix, we were able to enjoy many things let alone each others company, which in this VERY busy world, seems to be something we take for granted often. I forgot how much I enjoyed my wife’s company and I’m ashamed I am to have to admit that.
I suppose you could say that we were lucky during the trip. The occasional cluster of dirtied snow on the side of the road outside of the car certainly didn’t compare to the flurry of white dog hair inside the car. My pug served as a surrogate hot-water-bottle sprawling across my lap. Her snoring provided much needed accompaniment to the late night silence. Sometimes I would wander over onto the shoulder’s rumble-stripes to try and fall into sync with her cadence.When we got to Michigan it started to snow hard, and we wound up with three more inches later that night. We just missed the next wave of weather. (That blustery offering turned into the most amazing packing snow in the history of the world. I don’t have my brother’s arm for pitching, but I’m still a dead-eye, it turns out!)
I found that gas prices went down as we got closer to Michigan, and I suppose I’ll trade the more expensive gasoline for three gained hours coming back. It’ll be a wash.
Another thing I found out was that when you are in close proximity with someone, be it your significant other, family or…well, Pug…you wind up complimenting them in some fashion. Not with an everyday verbal gesture, that’s not what I mean…I mean, in character. I think when we were all made, and came into this world…God purposely created us in a way to help others find Him better. Allow me to elaborate. My wife knew I wasn’t keen on the long trip…but she made sure certain aspects that were weighing heavy on my heart, were approached with care and consideration. Her burned CDs featured renditions from Harry Connick, Barry Manilow, Michael Buble and the Muppets. She indulged me to read chapters from “The Princess Bride,” our favorite book. She challenged me to think positively when the two giant Tupperware containers full of gifts in the back of our SUV, kept toppling over in back. Instead of worrying about tying them up we’ll just “not take right turns anymore,” she said. (She also said that the “change oil” light is merely formality.) I thought she was the crooner and I was the comic!
In the end, we coasted into the choppy Jackson side roads with a great sense of accomplishment. Our families greeted us and I currently sit across a fire sipping coffee having eaten a chuck of chocolate yule log after Christmas Eve dinner. It’s enough to finally excuse my family for not giving in to my curiosity in allowing me to make some traditional, British plum pudding. (Everyone says it’s nasty…but I HAVE to see for myself!)
You know…I find it super-duper easy sometimes to translate Bible stories and message to my life’s experiences. But occasionally I struggle with notion that we suffer the same types of burdens and feel the same emotions that those who lived long ago did. For example, I can’t imagine Mary and Joseph toiling over grungy breakfast food at a mom-n-pop diner like the HUDDLE HOUSE. I also can’t imagine it was a particularly warm welcome at the Inn that memorable night. I would have been very distraught if I got to my destination and found NO warm welcome. I have it too easy to relate it seems.
The pastor at the church we went to for the Christmas Eve service talked about Hope. As I sat there in the same church I was married in ten years ago…remembering that day like it was yesterday…looking at the large hand-carved wooden sculptures on the alter (still thinking they look kinda like giant Jesus Jenga pieces waiting to be stacked on top of each other)…I thought to myself as we embarked on our lengthy journey, that the hope my wife and I shared as we looked forward to rolling into Jackson, MI could not compare to the hope Mary and Joseph desired that night. The hope they shared after the baby Jesus was born. I wonder if they were scared about dust storms like I was worried about snow drifts. I wonder if they were worried about Mary arriving to the Inn safely like I was worried about black ice and semi trucks rushing by. They clung to that hope and it helped Mary sleep at night, I’m sure. I’m not sure however that DURING their journey, in such close proximity and against such adversity, Joseph and Mary complimented each other. I don’t know…but I hope.
How can I even think about that type of hope in Christ? I suppose attempting to connect in any way to the Holy Couple is not realistic. Instead, as I warmed myself in the glow of the candles during the rendition of “Silent Night” at the end of the service…as I look at the same alter that blessed my marriage….as I look at my two beautiful nieces, as I gaze into the bulging eyes of my hot-water-bottle Pug, and as I dote on my amazing wife… I can at least remember that with every mile I put on the SUVs ticker and every Moonpie I conquer …I’m getting closer in my personal journey across my own desert. Everyday…not just Christmas day…I’m growing in my love for the Lord. I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m a paranoid, anxious, ambitious dude who can’t help but hope for the best. It’s what helps me fall asleep in the back of our rented Ford Explorer at night. (It’s no donkey…but it’ll do.)
SUVs have there place in the world I suppose. I know they could use a few more Hummers saddled with snow plows in Jackson, MI! But I can tell you this, just like there is room in this world for the silliest, most impractical SUV you can find…I’m sure there is room in this world for a silly, impractical drama teacher with a hope in the salvation.
Jesus Christ cannot be found at the end of the lengthiest highway in the world…but I bet, that when it is all said and done, and the wrapping paper is out for the garbage and the egg nog has been slurped up….Jesus will still remain steadfast in my heart and I can rest assured that I may continue my journey with a star to lead me.
I don’t need a rest area to settle that into my little brain.