Sunday, October 17, 2010

Daily Bread

My mother never worries. She's concerned about things, sure, but she has an uncanny ability to trust in God with far more simplicity and sincerity than I can ever manage. "He provides," she always says. And he does. He gives us our daily bread. Not a feast, not an endless supply. What we need for today. If we trust him.

My car has been in my possession since high school. It's a 1995, older than some of my students. She has 167,000 miles on the odometer (85,000 of which were put on solely by me since mid-way through college), no longer has functioning air conditioning and the heat is iffy. The check engine light is always on. She shakes when I take her over 65 mph. It's loud enough when running that my friends can always tell if I'm calling them while driving vs. in the quiet of my home. Last month when I had my breaks checked the mechanic flat-out told me my engine was in horrible shape and I should consider getting a replacement or a new car. But my engine has been in horrible shape for years. I'm used to my car's little quirks. And she's lasted me since I first sat behind the wheel; she wouldn't fail me now, I thought. Not now. I can't afford a replacement. Just hang in there, baby, just a few more months.

And finally she died.

At the worst possible moment (naturally).

My sister's college choir just ordered new dresses for this season's concert series. Of course, they all needed to be altered, so I offered to do the alterations and hemming for a far cheaper rate than a professional seamstress. It's a win-win: poor college students save a little money, poor Church employee earns a little extra. I took measurements two weeks ago and then brought them home to sew. Their first concert was this past Friday at 7 pm. Dress rehearsal/sound check at 6. I planned to meet my sister for dinner at 5:15 and then come along to rehearsal to distribute the dresses.

I left work a little later than I meant to, because Fridays are busy. I figured I could make up time on the highway by keeping up with the left lane 75 mph-ish traffic flow instead of the right lane where I usually drive.

48 miles into my 63 mile trek things were looking good. I was on schedule to meet my sister for dinner. The dresses were all nicely hung in the back seat. There had been a good streak of music on the radio. I zoomed along in the left lane of rush hour traffic, cruise control on, everything dandy.

Then the engine died.

The cruise indicator light disappeared. The accelerator no longer responded. I was surrounded by other cars going 75+ and was losing speed alarmingly fast.

I have no idea how I managed to pull over all the way to the right shoulder. My guardian angel gets full bragging rights for that one, because by all logic I should be dead. I do not remember the actual pulling over, only that I was in the left lane, and then I was on the right shoulder. I let the car roll to a stop, turned it off, and put on the flashers.

Then I thought, "Oh dear God, the dresses."

By now it was 5:10. I was only 20 or so miles north of the college, but how would I get them there in time for the concert without a working car? I grabbed my phone and scrolled through my hundreds of contacts, looking for anyone I knew in Appleton who might be home on a Friday afternoon and willing to be a miracle worker. The first five people I called didn't answer. My friend Jen did answer, but she was out of town and couldn't do anything. "Pray," I told her. "Please just pray." "I will," she promised. And guess what? The next person I called was home and able to help!

Brigitte had company over for a dinner party. She left her guests to come find me on the side of the road, pick up the formal black silk performance gowns, rush them to Lawrence, navigate the campus parking, and deliver them to my sister, whom she'd never met, while I sat and waited for the tow truck.

She is a true angel. One of the most selfless people I know.

Once the immediate crisis of the dresses was solved, I sat waiting for the tow truck and the reality of the situation began to hit. I could have died, or at least been in an accident and seriously injured. I still can't believe it. I do not know how I managed to pull over. It defies logic. This relief and fear combined with the soul-crushing panic of "oh dear GOD, how am I going to afford to get the car running again? Or buy a new one, if she's beyond repair?" I cannot function without a car. I live only two miles from work, and on nice days I often walk to the office, but I have meetings at the diocese usually once or twice a week, plus numerous family and social obligations all over the Midwest. This month alone I've put 850 miles on the car running to Milwaukee to help a friend with wedding plans, going to book festivals, visiting my sister in Appleton, visiting friends in Green Bay, running errands everywhere else. My life doesn't work without four wheels and a (working) engine.

All these panicked thoughts led to quite a few tears. I sniffled, hiccuped, and gasped my way through the rosary that always hangs from my rearview. This is how the State Patrol officer found me when he pulled up. He was incredibly kind despite my blubbering and I explained I was waiting for a tow. He offered to wait in his car behind me, because while I was pulled over safely, I was still very close to the next exit ramp, certainly not an ideally safe place.

Soon after the tow driver arrived. I've used the company several times before, because 1) my father knows the owner and trusts him 2) their rates are very reasonable and 3) all the drivers are very nice and personable. It was nearly an hour drive home, but thankfully I was able to afford the tow (and I learned AAA's "free towing" only goes up to 5 miles, and I was almost 50 from home). He even detoured to my office so I could grab my computer and some paperwork I'd planned to do over the weekend, then dropped off the car at the mechanic, and drove me home. Very kind.

But things were looking grim. A new engine would be close to $1,500, absolutely not worth it in a fifteen year-old car, but a new car was certainly not in the cards, at all. Panic attacks began to set in. I spent a lot of time on the phone with my mother, as I always do when something goes wrong, and she put her entire Bible study and prayer group to work praying for me.

Saturday was rough. The few weekends I'm not hip-hopping all over the state I like to stay at home. But yesterday my house arrest was mandated by circumstances beyond my control, and it grated. I couldn't do any of the errands I wanted. I needed groceries, but while I could walk to the store, how would I get them home without a car to load them into? I'd planned to meet friends for lunch in Fond du Lac and visit Holy Hill. Nope. I needed to run to the Joann's in Milwaukee to buy some fabric for one of the Halloween costumes I'm making; fabric I'd specifically put on hold because they didn't have enough at any of the closer stores. And I was stuck. I was stewing with frustration all day. I accomplished nothing.

This morning I woke up late and felt a powerful desire to roll over, go back to sleep, skip Mass, and stay in my pajamas until the afternoon indulging my misery in Ben & Jerry's. But I couldn't. It was my week to lead Children's Liturgy of the Word. I had to be there. Had I not had that responsibility, I probably (certainly) would have broken the third commandment and skipped Mass out of pure spite at God. Hopelessness. Anger. "Why are you doing this to me, Lord!?" But I had an obligation, so I grudgingly rolled out of bed, found my practical flats, and left for church an hour early, knowing the walk would take at least 35 minutes.

It was beautiful out; a perfect fall morning. En route I pulled out my phone and listened to my favorite Liturgy of the Hours podcast. The moment I arrived my melancholia began to lift. There was a baptism at Mass, which always makes the environment more celebratory. Today our Children's Liturgy group had four new preschoolers who'd always been too timid to come forward before. They all behaved themselves, for the most part. After Mass I mentioned to one of my youth ministry volunteers that I would need a ride to church tonight for our youth gathering and I gave him the short, less-dramatic version of the story.

"You know, Maggie," he said, "we have an extra car just sitting in the driveway now that Eric's gone at school. I was going to sell it anyway. Why don't you borrow it until you figure out what you're going to do?"

And just like that, I have a car again. It's a 2001 Taurus, with a little minor body damage and rusting, but in far, far, far better shape than my ancient Nissan. It runs smoothly (and quietly!). It is perfect.

Daily bread. I didn't need a million dollar miracle, or a brand-new shiny Lexus. I needed a safe, working vehicle to get to around. Going to the grocery store never felt so good.

Tomorrow I'm going to figure out options for selling/salvaging my old car and, most likely, using the money to officially buy the Taurus.

But tonight, I am singing a song of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to my guardian angel for his constant protection. Thanksgiving for my friend Jen for her prayers. Thanksgiving for Brigitte and her servant's heart. Thanksgiving for my parents and their rock-solid confidence that God will always provide. Thanksgiving for Todd, whose generosity will, quite literally, keep my life running on an even keel in the coming days and weeks. Thanksgiving for the parish community, who unknowingly helped lift me out of a very foul mood of bitterness.

...And holy is your name, throughout all generations. Everlasting is your mercy to the people you have chosen, and holy is your name...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


They are coming home today.

69 days, 33 men, a world holding its breath.