Martin Luther King Jr. said: ” We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles rather than the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.”
And this morning, as I read this gem of a quote from the black, cloth-covered book of MLK writings that David stuffed carefully into my Christmas stocking this year . . . I had to smile.
You see, on Saturday we finally purchased a second car. And as I thought back on where our journey has led, I realized that it’s been nine years since we had two cars. Nine years since we were that kind of “normal” American. And I will admit I grieved a little. Because normal has never been something I’ve sought after.
Nine years ago we sold our almost- new silver Honda Odyssey minivan and gave away our small commuter car, and moved to Bundibugyo Uganda to live and work among people living in what anyone in the world would deem true poverty; less than a dollar a day. To gain access into and out of this mountainous region, we bought a used Japanese van which had been beefed up to survive in Africa. A few months later, our undercarriage nearly gone from the rough roads, we traded that van in for a beefed up old Toyota Landcruiser (also from Japan, low miles, low wear and tear) that arrived in our yard on Christmas Eve. This provoked no small celebration when you realize our yard was eight to ten hours from the city that car had come from, including three perilous hours over mountain passes. We named him “Kisembo” which means “gift” in Lubwisi, our local language. That gift went on to bless us for three more years and to bless another family after ours.
After returning home to America we were unsure where we would live and what we would do. During this time we bought Strega Nona, an ailing and warty old station wagon with little beauty to commend her. She lasted us about a year. She was cheap and a bit miserable to live with. She signified the bumpy painful path of transition we were going through as we learned to live, once again, in this home-country of ours.
A white Mazda 5 replaced Strega Nona just in time, as she was soon to fail her inspections in our tough new state of California. The Mazda 5 was compact and quick, with a surprisingly large number of seats and sliding doors like those you’d see in a van. The night before she came I had a dream about her. We named her Serendipity, a word symbolizing the new stage of life we found ourselves in. A time of happy coincidences when new adventures and connections were found around every corner.
For the last three years Serendipity (or 5RNDPTY) as her vanity plates read, has ferried us to schools, sports and regular trips into the city of San Francisco. She has carried untold children to unnumbered events, camps and adventures. She is reliable and a simple beauty. About a year ago, David’s schedule changed enough that we badly needed a second commuter car. But the incredible $1000 bike I had won him in a local essay contest stood in proudly. David has been seen all over the city in that bike as he regularly rides it from one part time job to another, even carrying home groceries in it’s panniers at the end of the day. “See”, he would tell me “we’re not quite normal Americans yet.” That bike has symbolized that we still carry Africa and the poor with us. That we know that this way of life we call American is not all there is, not even the best the world has to offer.
But times are changing for our family, once again. We’ve entered a new season with new jobs, new schools and new complexities. New family members have joined us and perhaps more are still to come. Our one car had become, not a way to step lightly on the earth, but a workhorse doing far more than her share of local commuting in the endless effort to keep all five of us at task. And I, as her primary driver, had been spending two plus hours on afternoon commutes just to bring everyone home from work and school in time for the next event.
It was time. Time to become more “normal” Americans. Time for another minivan these nine years later, not because it’s my dream but because some of my other dreams mean there must be space for little bodies and lake toys and friends, friends, friends. It’s a new season with new accoutrements. Even a new minivan.
So there’s been a bit of grieving the passing of seasons. A bit of mourning the “old me”. And a whole lot of rejoicing for the provision and abundance God has blessed us with. We’re so thankful, because though the automobiles we have do not signify our success, they do help us live well the lives we are called to. And our lives are full to the brim and good with the living our dreams and boosting the dreams of others.
So here’s to our new minivan, whose name will be a derivative of matrix, perhaps “matris” – referring not to the movie but to a womb of sorts,” a place or medium from which something is developed.” And referring to the mathematical order of a maxtrix. Because this is a development season, a womb season, for our family of five. And because we’re stepping into new order, new routines that lead to greater possibilities of adventure and spontaneity. Here’s to “Matris”.