I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Photo: Christian Lambert Photography on Flickr via Creative Commons
Neither my husband nor I speaks the language of gifts fluently. For each of us, there are other things that rank higher in importance, and that’s where we spend our energies. But my husband has a quality that simply amazes me: if you need something, he will drop just about anything in order to figure out a way to get that something done. I regularly see him do this for others, but this year he did something for me that was so impractical and so loving and so undeserved, I still get teary thinking about it.
The story actually begins, and not in a good way, on my birthday in February of 2013. We had gone out for a lovely birthday dinner and were on our way home when my car was rear-ended at a stoplight. It was a pretty big BUMP but we weren’t hurt and neither was the other driver, so the officer sent us all on our way, grateful, to home.
But then we learned that my beloved car, an 11-year-old previously-owned Mazda Tribute with a manual transmission, had been badly knocked awry and was declared totalled. Time to go car shopping.
That prospect might cause YOU joy and elation, but I wasn’t feelin’ it: we weren’t going to get much insurance money, so in addition to losing a car I was very fond of, we would be making a new financial investment, whether we bought new or used.
Now, in our 30-plus years of marriage, we have always bought used. (You are likely not surprised by that fact! This very blog is based on a fundamental recycling theme!) But this time we compared the options and, with a popular used car market driving up prices, my husband said (after countless hours of test drives with a disheartened wife), “Honey, I would just love to do this for you,” and we brought home a beautiful new white and shiny small SUV. I felt pretty stunned to be the recipient of this lovely gift.
Photo: Angelina Vukel on Flickr via Creative Commons
Oh, wait; that is not the end. Honestly, that car was a LOVELY gift, but it did not turn out to be the gift in this story.
I drove that car for over a year but somehow never felt attached to it. It was beautiful and comfortable…but not really my style. And I felt that most acutely when I, the check-writer for the two of us, paid its monthly car payment. It took me a long time to tell my kind husband this truth.
We talked about trading my car in, but I didn’t want to go through the hassle, I hated that we’d lose money on it, etc., etc., etc. But he wouldn’t give up that easily. We’d done so much car-shopping and test-driving that he knew what I liked and soon he had some great used cars picked out — relatively late models with low mileage and lower price tags than my shiny new vehicle had. His research brought to my attention a car I hadn’t taken notice of before — as Hyundai had stopped making them after 2012: the Elantra Touring. I fell in love with all the practical qualities of that car: its low profile, good fuel economy, and great cargo space.
And then that charming guy of mine showed me one with a manual transmission. My heart leapt within me. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the delight of driving a stick shift.
Photo: Monika & Manfred on Flickr via Creative Commons
You know how I said these cars were no longer made? And how I liked it a lot? Apparently many other car owners feel the same because this vehicle is not too common in the used market. Local ones were either weirdly bright colors (my apologies to the owners of those colors — I’m happy that variety can be the spice of your life!) or in wrecky shape. Did my husband try to talk me out of this car? No, his brain went into another dimension and — I’m telling the truth — this is what happened:
One Thursday afternoon, my husband calls me at work and casually says, “I have a verbal agreement with a dealer in Massachusetts for a beautiful black Touring with a manual transmission and just 18,000 miles on it. CarMax has offered a good price for your current car. So can I ask for your help when you get home from work? We’ll go to CarMax and trade in your car, and then you can drop me off at Chicago O’Hare to catch an evening flight to Boston Logan, and then I’ll take a 3-hour bus ride to Dartmouth…”
[To understand this picture fully, you need to know how much I would never do this, this thing so quixotic, so complicated, so uncalled-for and — honestly — so crazy. Me? I’m the one who efficiently lines up all my errands like a UPS driver, ticking my way through them with right-hand turns, wasting neither time nor money, and getting home to cook a sensible dinner. I attribute this to my German and Scottish ancestors. Why should anyone put everything on hold and go to all this outlandish trouble for a CAR??]
Well, he pulled it off with barely a hitch: from trade-in to flight to bus-ride to dealing with the car salesman to working out a legal way to drive home without proper plates in this out-of-state purchase to driving over 1000 miles back to northern Illinois. And I never caught a single note of stress in his voice when we talked by phone.
On Saturday evening, my tired husband pulled into our driveway with a smile on his face and one of the most thoughtful, fun gifts I have ever received.
I tell you this story because to me it is a tender glimpse of the way God gives gifts — beyond my imagination, always undeserved, with details only he could orchestrate, and with a care-free generosity I cannot wrap my care-full mind around. This in fact is the story of Christmas and the gospel, beginning with the unusual birth of the baby Jesus — who came that we might have life and have it abundantly.
The unanticipated joy God the Father throws in is a bonus.