My family is in the midst of one of those every-once-in-a-while series of unfortunate events that can drive you nuts. A couple months ago, our washing machine died, so we bought a new one. Then our furnace needed repairs, two times. Following that, someone in China hacked my debit card information and bought a bunch of crap, so we had to figure out all that stuff. Then the dishwasher irreparably broke, followed by the van needing brakes and rotors, then the vacuum died. I’m pretty sure our microwave is on the fritz. And someone stole our cat just before Christmas; that cat was one of my daughter’s closest friends.
Stay with me, I know I’m pretty personally negative right now and you’ve got your own set of problems. I’m also aware that the greater majority of people in this world would kill to be dealing with this stuff, since their series of unfortunate events consists of finding enough food for their family to eat that day, avoiding malaria or hoping to find a temporary way to make a very small amount of money. The fact I own a dishwasher, microwave or computer means I’m wealthier than 95% of people in the world. I get it.
Still, I am where I am and “ordinary” life circumstances can sometimes get really heavy, and for me, it increases when those circumstances affect people for whom I am responsible. If you can’t identify with that statement, go ahead and stop reading now, cause the rest of this article will be a waste of your time.
Two weeks ago, I noticed that one of the tires on my car was low on air. I stopped at a Turkey Hill convenience store, filled the tire with air and drove off forgetting to replace my valve stem cap, or — as my wife would say — the tire-air-thingy. I didn’t realize this had happened till a couple days later when walking out to my car. You might think this is not a big deal — and in the long run, it’s not — but in the middle of winter with snow, ice, slush and whatnot, it’s somewhat important to keep that valve stem protected and clear of debris.
I was pretty angry at myself, cause quite frankly, getting another valve stem cap was just another freaking thing to have to deal with and I didn’t want to waste the time. Also, you can’t buy just one valve stem cap, they come in packs of four and I didn’t need four valve stem caps. I only needed one and things were already tight, so that sucked too. I was pissed enough about this to basically say, “Screw it, I’m not getting a new valve stem cap.”
Interestingly, another side effect of not having a stem valve cap is a slow loss of air. It may be that I just have a slow leak in that tire or something, but the valve stem cap does seal things up nicely and according to Google, not having a valve stem cap will result in a flat tire. And Google is never wrong.
Anyway, yesterday morning I approached my car to again find my tire far short of its appropriate pounds-per-square-inch. Needing to fill up with gas anyway, I went to a station close to my house to fill up and get air. Plugging four quarters into the air machine, it powered up and I was able to get to work filling the tire immediately since there was no need to remove said valve stem cap. Pushing the nozzle on to the valve stem revealed a sad and frustrating quandary: this stupid air machine had a massive leak, and my freezing cold hands held on to that freezing cold air tube pressing it against the valve stem with air blowing everywhere but into my tire. My dollar’s worth of change bought me three minutes of air and at the end of the allotted time, the tire still wasn’t fully inflated. Much like the air machine, I blew a gasket. It was good you were not there to hear what I had to say to the air machine; your purity remains intact.
Enough air had made it into the tire for me to not be worried about driving on it, but still needing to fill it properly. Knowing there was a Turkey Hill on my way a bit further down the road, I figured to go there, finish filling the tire, then head a little further down the road to the auto parts store to buy four stupid valve stem caps.
I pulled up next to the air machine at Turkey Hill, fed four more quarters into that machine, and started filling the tire. As I crouched there, I looked to my right and spied on the ground next to me the most amazing thing: a valve stem cap. I was blown away. Taking stock of my location, and retracing my steps over the last two weeks, something profound came to me: I was at the same Turkey Hill where I had originally lost my valve stem cap two weeks earlier. The valve stem cap I was now pondering just inches from me was my valve stem cap!
It had not been run over or displaced by another car tire, it was right there in easy reach right next to the very tire to which it belonged. Emotion welled up in me — not just from this seemingly insignificant valve stem situation — but from this whole series of unfortunate events. I started to cry, so much so that I had a hard time reading the pressure gauge. I whispered, “Thank you”, picked up my valve stem cap and put it back on the tire. It fit perfectly and snugged down nicely.
Returning the hose to its place, I walked around the car in dumbstruck amazement at the transpired events. Settling into my seat and wiping the tears from my eyes, I heard God say in His still, small voice, “Son, don’t forget that I care for the sparrow. I’ve got you.” It was a transcendent moment with Dad.
As a pastor, people often tell me their problems. I’m glad to listen, but always disheartened when people begin devaluing their experience saying things like: “Listen to me complain about my stuff, at least I don’t have cancer!” or, “I shouldn’t even feel like this about something so small.” This gets even more personally difficult, when people say they shouldn’t be sharing their problems with me because my kids have CF and their stuff is nothing compared to what my kids carry. That’s the worst — very, very uncomfortable for me and dehumanizing for them — and all of these responses miss God’s heart in a big way.
When you and I devalue or dismiss our experiences, or compare them to others’ or our own previous experiences to see how they “measure up” or to what degree they “matter”, we de-humanize our selves. We run from our humanity, our vulnerability, our frailty, expecting of ourselves some self-manufactured form of superhuman-ness to which no person can attain. I’m not advocating for complaining or being a big whiny-baby; those things are destructive and narcissistic. I am advocating for true and honest humanity that allows itself to be touched and affected by the things God causes and allows to come into each person’s experience, apart from untrue and shame-filled notions of pseudo-strength or false religious notions of pseudo-faith.
God’s heart is to care. His primary posture toward humanity is compassion. He is ever-present in every detail, listening, understanding, and providing. He knows what we need, not just what we want, and there is no end to His generosity. He prefers mercy, and His grace is limitless. Even in discipline, God’s love is what is most present. As a perfect Father, God never minimizes or dismisses His children. What kind of a Father would that be? If we minimize our selves, and our cares, then we can never receive His heart and provision for us, because we lose His identity as Father. Thus, we will always be in poverty even when we are rich. God tells us to cast all our cares on Him, because He cares for us. He is so big, so strong, so loving, so involved, so compassionate, so present, so intimate, that nothing is too small. Devaluing what you care about — especially through comparison with another person’s experience or story — shrinks the provision and power of God in your life.
The psalmist says it best, “The Lord is my shepherd, I will never be in want.”
Thank you, Dad, for my valve stem cap.