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Blessed by Breakdowns

A forced meditation on joy

I was about as far away from joy as a person can get. A steady stream of cars whizzed by, and I sat stuck on the side of the Arizona freeway, rattling sounds of death coming from under the hood of Ms. Taupe.

I left the engine running, not ready to believe that our brand new van would betray me so soon in its young life. Raising the hood, I watched the rhythmic flapping of a broken belt whipping against the hood at 900 rpm and beating in the hard realities: get to a mechanic, quick.

I should have been ready for this. We'd had plenty of practice this past year. This new taupe van replaced our old brown van when it had seemed destined to encamp permanently in the sixth service bay of our mechanic's shop. Ken had replaced the engine. He had replaced the replacement engine. And the battery, the battery again, the battery cables, the fuel pump regulator, the fuel pump, the starter, the alternator, and the transmission. Each repair in its turn had offered hope. We would pay our bill and drive away, glad to have Ol' Brown up and running, only to find ourselves broken down two days later, calling the tow truck from the cell phone.

We were on a first name basis with the tow truck driver. He was even thinking of creating a punch card in our honor, with the "twelfth tow free." Finally, with little hope on the horizon, we put Ol' Brown up for sale and bought pretty Ms. Taupe. She was the answer to our prayers: new, reliable, and problem-free.

Thus, inching along the emergency lane of the freeway, I was not in the mood for joy. I thought I'd handled today's breakdown surprisingly well when I made a firm decision not to cry.

I managed to guide Ms. Taupe slowly off the freeway and three miles back to the dealer. He nodded his head, "Yep. It's the timing belt. We're busy today, but we can have her done by five." My morning was shot. The day was lost. Hunching my shoulders, I pulled up my socks and slung my purse over my shoulders. I decided to walk home from Earnie's Ford. An hour of walking would give me plenty of time to revise the day. Two miles.

I started off, trudging and ruminating. Car repairs were only the tip of the iceberg for our family in the past year. With each step my mind reviewed some past difficulty: legal fights, court proceedings, home repairs, water leaks, termites, illness, death, computer crashes, work reassignments, family wars, financial stress—the list went on and on.

I always considered myself a cheerful survivor, but this year had almost buried me. Each and every time, just when I was sure life might be turning the corner, another major problem would pop up, and I lost hold of all control. Like a game of bobbing for apples, I felt I was kneeling at the edge of a tub, bobbing for solutions that sank out of sight and, if caught, never hung on for very long.

In ordinary times, the broken timing belt would have been a simple distraction, hardly worth noting. But today, it was the final puff to extinguish any small flicker of joy burning inside me.

Twenty steps down the sidewalk I had already gone through the list of problems. This promised to become the longest two miles in my life unless I came up with a new list. With grudging acknowledgement to Pollyana, I decided to think of joyful things all the way home.

My mind went blank. Joyful things? I couldn't come up with one purely joyful thought. Maybe I could start with little not-so-bad things. "Well, all right. I had something to eat for breakfast this morning." There, that was one sorta-all-right thing. At least I had come up with one. Seconds passed. Step after step, the ground was passing underfoot, and my mind searched for another better-than-bad thought: "I have a smooth sidewalk for walking instead of a muddy, broken dirt path. Birds are singing. I can see." Suddenly, little things came poring into my mind, step after step, thought after thought: "I breath without an inhaler, I have a car, I live in a house, with a fireplace, with a refrigerator, with a husband and two wonderful kids." And there, one mile into my walk, standing in front of Target department store, I thought of the past thirty years with my husband, Victor. How many days and hours of struggle in the past year had eclipsed the joy of living with a wonderful man?

Victor stood by me in the death of my parents, he played with the kids, he washed dishes and clothes without asking, he kept the cars clean and waxed, the yard watered and mowed. He worked to provide a home and life for us, and he supported my choices to work and to stay home as Mom. I was stopped in my tracks, for the second time that morning, hearing the passing cars to my side. But the horror that stopped me now was very different. How many years had I taken his love for granted? Suddenly, it seemed important to walk quickly. I needed to get home and call him. I needed to tell him how wonderful the past thirty years had been.

My step lightened. I looked up to imagine the smile I wanted to put on his face. Right there, up in the sky, I was blinded by the thought of who had given me Vic. The One who painted the sky bright blue, who sprinkled it with puffy clouds that pushed the wind through the yellow trees all along my way. I thought of the many moments of comfort he had given me in the past year as I read through his Word and spent time in prayer. How could I even begin to imagine a life without his healing grace and love? My steps slowed in quiet thought and celebration. What blessings I beheld as I approached my home!

And there, turning up the steps to the front door, I was struck with the very thing that had eluded me all these past long months. Only God in his wisdom would know how important it was to break Ms. Taupe's timing belt at 9:00 a.m. at the junction of Interstate 10. He alone knew the true measure of two miles. Only he could fill me—my legs, my eyes, my ears—with the glory of walking home today. The wind against my face, the clear blue sky giving a backdrop to the glorious golden autumn leaves high in the trees above—what joy filled my heart!

Up from my heart, tears of joy released such thankfulness for those short two miles. How could I ever thank God for this morning's trial? How could I ever let him know the joy of knowing joy once again?

Jane Tod Jimenez is a retired teacher. She and her husband, Victor, live in Tempe, Arizona.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Challenges; Joy; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2001
Posted September 30, 2008

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