Tuesday, April 19, 2016

remember that time I fell out of a VW van as a child?

When I was a toddler, I fell out the back of a VW van. All the cool kids were doing it back then, sitting up in the weird rear shelf thing, leaning on the back window, flopping out in the middle of Santa Ana Canyon Road under the Eucalyptus trees near the Sizzler steakhouse in Anaheim Hills, CA. It was very common and trendy, even. Or not. I don't really know.

My poor mom was oblivious. There were about twenty kids in the car, so she had no clue one had popped out the back. Seatbelts were considered optional in my childhood, and no one thought twice about shoving every cousin in one car/pickup bed/trailer and driving to the park. It was considered fun and convenient to cram every person alive into only one vehicle. Those were the days! Safety ignorance was a gift (except that it caused me to fall out the back here, so you could say it was to blame in this particular case).

This is basically the opposite of what happened to me.
(Also, our van was blue)

Of course, other people saw me fall out onto the asphalt street. The kids in the van started screaming and yelling, but that was pretty typical and in no way helpful. All the cars around my mom honked and honked, but my mom thought it was her own horn, which frequently got stuck when she turned the steering wheel. It wasn't until she glanced in her rear view mirror that she saw me sitting there, crying, mostly unharmed.

We were on our way to a barbecue so there were some steaks in the car. My mom slapped one on my head as a medicinal compress because this was the late 70s and life was still normal back then: gluten was just some word on the Shredded Wheat box diagram and anything in the cooler made a great ice pack. (Necessary Note: I live in Texas now, and so I realize I am misusing the term "barbecue" here, but in California a "barbecue" is any meal cooked outside on some kind of grill-like device. No barbecue sauce or side of cow/pig roasting necessary. I know what you're wondering, and yes, you can technically serve only vegetables at a California barbecue. Totally acceptable, although not always very tasty or popular.)

My mom could barely talk about this VW van story when I was a kid. She was so scarred. In fact, I may be telling it all wrong because I don't think I've ever really heard it properly told. I gathered bits and pieces over the years and sort of stuck them all together. Now that I think about it, my mom is going to be really mad if I botched this story. (Sorry, Mom. This is the downside of a memoir: no fact-checking required.)

When my older brother tells people this story he always ends it shaking his head and saying, "...and so that's pretty much how Carrie ended up the way she did..." He's probably just always been jealous of my sturdiness and ninja-like physicality that resulted in no hospital visit that day.

When I tell the story I think two things:

1. We should have kept that van and sold it on eBay for cool $150,000. 
2. Chin up, buttercup. It's always something.

Because really, it is always something. I mean, if your kid isn't falling out the back of the car, then he's failing math or mouthing off to his soccer coach. Or the living room has flooded the day you have out of town guests coming. Or your husband is being a real jerk and ate the best piece of chocolate cake and now you are forced to blame him for ruining the entire evening, which is really mean to do and very unlike you, but he left you no choice. Or your best friend has cancer. Or depression is pulling you down into the darkness. Or there's been another terrorist attack. Or you just found out you're pregnant (again) and you don't have insurance or a plan in place. Or everything you try to do to make things better only makes life itself worse and you are beginning to wonder if it's even worth trying any more.

Friends, life happens out here, in the middle of a battlefield. Even when there's no major "war" happening, every rabbit in the bushes or owl in the night can send us into a full-fledged panic attack. The small battles remind us that there are bigger ones coming some day, and that can be paralyzing. Then the seemingly big battles hit us, only to be eclipsed by some new horrendous fight we never dreamed we would have to take on.

Some days we can handle all of it all like champions. Other days we want to run away. Many days, we must stand up and fight for the good, the beauty, the honor, and the glory of Love. On those days, I pray you find an abundance of coffee and chocolate awaiting you at the beginning and end of the onslaught.

Today I am fighting battles that I cannot possibly win on my own. Mine mostly involve the horrendously strong wills of my children, the health of my family, a book I am determined to write, and the great needs of a thriving church. I am not strong enough. I am not smart enough. (After all, I did once fall out the back of a VW van.) I am not brave enough. I am not big enough.

Maybe you know what I mean?

Maybe, like me, your current battles require, demand, and cry out unashamedly for God's help. It has come to this, you guys, we are not going to make it without Him. The first thing a real battle does is heighten our awareness that too many times we have trusted in our own strength and leaned on our own abilities. The battles we can't win on our own make us desperate because they expose our weakness and prove how powerless we are without God. It's very disconcerting and bothersome to be human.

Our only available action is to worship on the battlefield. 

We become stronger and braver and bigger and wiser when we lift our hands and proclaim His goodness and unfailing love for us. It's like some kind of transformational miracle. Worship directs our hearts toward how faithful God is to us, and we somehow become more faithful too. Worship reminds us that He fights for us, through us, and in us. We let go of our need to be amazing on our own and we stand in awe of how amazing He really is.

I don't have any memory of falling out the back of that van, or of sitting on the ground, waiting for my mom to come get me. But when I imagine the scene, I always see myself sitting there with my hands held straight out, my eyes clenched shut, with loud cries coming from my mouth.

Interestingly, that's pretty much what I look like when I'm worshiping.

Chin up, buttercup. It's always something. You might as well stand in the middle of this current mess and worship the God who turns all the somethings into miraculous tales of His faithfulness and glory. Because tomorrow or next month or next year, it will probably be something else, and you're going to need the practice.

"Let them give glory to the Lord 
and proclaim his praise in the islands.
The Lord will march out like a champion,
 like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
 and will triumph over his enemies."
Isaiah 42:12-13

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