It was my husband’s birthday and I wanted to surprise him with something special, something that would make his heart race when he saw it like a boy seeing a new bike on Christmas morning. I did some research and found that certain car rental places had luxury sports cars available for rent. I could arrange to have one nice ride in the driveway for 48 hours of birthday bliss! We didn’t really have the money, but a splurge for a special occasion like this made it okay, I reasoned with myself.
Excited with my secret plan, I began calling around town trying get one reserved. With each location I dialed, I quickly discovered these popular cars were booked solid, several months in advance. There was none to be found anywhere local. Set on this idea, I resorted to calling rental car locations more than two hours away. Finally, I had success!
A major international airport a few hours away had a brand new corvette – and only one – available for rent! Due to the distance and the pick up location, I was a bit hesitant to go ahead and reserve it, but the thoughts of his face lighting up pushed me to whip out my debit card and rattle off the numbers before I could say traffic jam. It was booked under my name and a done deal. I was pleased with myself.
The birthday morning arrived. The blue sky and warm weather was made to order perfect. I gave the first hint by asking my man to pack light for an overnight adventure weekend. He incredulously smiled and was packed in a flash. Still grinning as we jumped in our car, he mused, “…mind telling me where I’m driving us?”
“Just get on the freeway and head west.” I quipped back with a wink.
Two long hours later, we were near our destination. It dawned on me as I was motioning him towards the airport exit signs that he would wrongly deduct that we were flying somewhere. I needed to clue him in — though it meant no surprising him with keys like I’d planned. I felt it was either tell him now or risk his disappointment if he thought air flight was in his future. I quickly explained where were headed and why.
He found renewed enthusiasm, of course, but frustration with the lanes, the signs that seemed to be pointing every direction and the menacing traffic that comes with such a popular airport, the excitement dissipated minute by minute as we were having difficulty finding any directions for our rental car location.
After touring the airport for almost a half hour, we finally spotted our destination, a huge gray multi-storied building. Now, at last the weekend will begin! I thought to myself. We excitedly drove in and attempted to park, only to find that space after space was reserved with the words “rental car only. “ As we neared the office area, we realized that in this rental building, there were absolutely NO parking spaces, whatsoever, designated for outside personal vehicles. Somehow upon entering the structure, we hadn’t noticed the sign stating “Outside Vehicles Not Permitted Inside Building.” Awesome.
Sensing my husband was about to go into mental overload, I suggested to ditch the parking for now and to just drop him off in front of the rental office. He could get the rental while I drove back outside and parked our car somewhere in a regular lot. I assured him we would meet up after and be on our way soon.
Being a good sport, he hopped out with the reservation notes and his cell phone in hand. Promising to be back in 5 minutes, I slid behind the wheel and sped off, nodding to the security guard who was waving furiously at our drop zone maneuver. As I pulled away, I heard my husband yell, “Call me when you find a parking place out there.” I waved my cell phone into the air and was gone.
What I didn’t count on was that this several story building had absolutely no immediate exits. It was a one-way spiral for rental cars only. Round and round, floor by floor, I wound my way through the maze of rental cars spaces and pedestrians. I could feel my temperature rising with every floor I was forced into in this one-way maze-craze. I wanted to call my husband to tell him about the issue, but there was literally no place to pull over. Just about the time I wondered if I would ever see the light of day again, I finally spotted an exit and was free! Quickly pulling over the first change I got, I dialed my husband’s cell…no answer.
With no time to waste, I took off again in pursuit of the closest parking lot I could find. But the signs mocked, lot after lot – “Full.” Full. Full. Full. More than 40 minutes later, with the car finally parked in a legitimate spot, I briskly walked past the chain link fences toward a shuttle van pick-up point. According to the signs, this shuttle ride was supposed to take me to the air tram monorail, which I needed to catch to return to the rental car building. While I waited for the shuttle, I tried my husband’s cell again. No success. My husband, by now, was surely busy exploring every feature of his weekend fun mobile and hopefully hadn’t noticed how long I’d been gone. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t answering my calls, I thought. He’s was just so distracted, enjoying his wonderful birthday surprise ride!
It was several minutes before the light blue shuttle bus whooshed up, and flung its doors open in front of me. Barely stepping on board, they snapped shut. Just as I hit the seat, zoom! We were off. While I appreciated the speed that helped me make up for lost time, I didn’t want to die on the ride there. Weaving in and out of lanes, hitting the brakes then punching the gas pedal, my knuckles were white as I hung on for my life. There was only two passengers on this wild ride, a blank-staring somber man whose only luggage piece was a body-bag-sized duffle and me. My heart stopped for a couple of beats when I noticed our shuttle following the airport exit signs. I quickly hit redial on my cell. Third time, still no answer. It was now over an hour since I left him at the rental office. I fought back the tears as the racing blue shuttle took the freeway on ramp. What was happening? We were now on the freeway heading away from the airport! About the time my mind was racing through not-so-good scenarios, the van darted to the right and snapped on the blinker. I sighed a huge breath of relief and thanked God profusely as we got off the freeway at the next exit, went across the overpass, and jumped on the freeway heading back towards the airport. I gathered, this racecar-driver-turned chauffer used this maneuver to cut through the dense airport traffic. I only wished he’d given us a heads up about his short cut plan and saved me a heart attack. (I must confess, I was never so happy to see that airport traffic again!) A few minutes later, the doors snapped again, but this time I was thankfully on the other side of them and on my way to the air-tram pick up spot.
The minutes ticked by as I waited. After final attempt at calling my man, I hung up. I had no patience left. With frazzled nerves, I leaned my head toward my sleeve to catch a tiny stream of leaking tears as I prayed to regain my calm. The tram finally pulled up. The worst was now behind me. Hanging to the pole and striving to keep balance as it slowed from one stop to the next, I bent slightly forward and peered out through the long horizontal windows. Where was that big multi-story rental car building? As the tram sailed from stop to stop, I scanned intently and asked myself, Is this my stop? …Nope, not it…Next? …No…Not this one either.” Then my heart dropped, Wait a minute, didn’t I see this stop before? Oh no! How did I miss it? When was I supposed to get off? I realized I had just gone in a complete circle and was right back where I started.
I had reached the end of my rope. I was praying. I was trying to be positive. I was tired, and this was getting ridiculous. How could I have missed the sign? I began to silently scold myself for this whole stupid mess. Then, at the very next stop a sweet young family got on and chose a standing spot near mine. We exchanged polite smiles when our eyes met. I then mustered the courage to ask the wife, “Do you happen to know where the rental car garage is located?” I think she could detect my overwhelmed demeanor and graciously replied, “No, I don’t. This place is pretty confusing…” then she motioned to her husband standing next to her and continued, “…but he does. He travels through here all the time.” I asked if they minded if I followed their exit. They both smiled, “Of course!”
When I finally reached my husband, he was sitting on the curb outside the rental office looking back and forth for my return. No sports car, no smile on his face, only concern as he jumped up when he saw me. “Where have you been?!” he half-scolded, as we hugged. He relayed that his phone had no reception in the parking building and his concern had been building the longer I was gone. He didn’t want to leave the area and walk outside to call for fear he would miss me, thinking I would return at any moment. To add to the mess, the rental company wouldn’t give him the car because it was reserved under my name and credit card. But now, by the time I had returned, there was a humungous line out the door and across the front of the office.
We stood looking at each other, our heads spinning from the whirlwind of events that had happened that day… his birthday. He reached for my hand, then gently confessed that although he appreciated all that I had been trying to do, maybe it was time to quit the “perfect” plan while we still had some birthday hours left. I nodded in agreement, realizing in that moment, how intensely focused on my agenda I had been. I couldn’t see what was really happening. I was missing the REAL signs all along.
We decided right then to go back to our own car and take a drive to the beach. Leaving this bad experience behind, we chose to celebrate what was right in front of us the whole time — the gift of each other.
We finally got off the ride!
Just as I was so focused on giving my husband the perfect birthday gift, have you ever been so focused on an idea or goal, that you wound up spending much more time and energy than you originally intended, trying to make it happen? Think about those times for a moment. Was the outcome worth the trade of time invested? Jot down a little about your experience and how it left you feeling when it was over.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I wanted this birthday to be perfect and went about making it happen, no matter what. Looking back in your life, can you identify any tendencies toward a desire for things to be perfect, or at least to go according to your plans? Would you say that you can become frustrated, impatient or irritated when things don’t go according to your plan? What about when others or your own actions don’t meet your ideals?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”
Situation after situation came my way as I tried intensely to reach my goal of the perfect birthday gift. How do you handle the obstacles that rise between you and your goals? Do you see obstacles as negatives, positives or both (depending on the situation?) Can you think of a time when you may have ignored a “sign” in your pursuit of getting what you wanted or realizing your perfect ideal?
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.
Each time I got over an obstacle, a new one would pop up in my way. There were also many “signs” that were meant to guide me, but I missed them in the intense pursuit of my goal.
Have you ever found yourself saying, “If only I can get to such-and-such place, everything will be okay” or “When I finally get this-or-that thing, then I will be happy.” Or perhaps, you’re driven by the thoughts that once you obtain a certain place in life, then you can finally relax and enjoy yourself?
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
My husband and I finally realized that while the goal of the perfect gift seemed ideal, the pursuit of it was actually eating up the very day the trip was about. We chose to celebrate the day and what we already in our hands.
What if you decided to actually enjoy what was right in front of you today? Maybe things in your life aren’t great, or they aren’t perfect, but what is in your life right now that you can be grateful for?
Things in your life may not currently be the way you planned for them to be, but is there something today that you CAN celebrate and find gratitude for?
Sometimes we can miss the precious moments of today when our minds are so full of plans for the future or regrets from the past.
Maybe it’s time in your life to look around and celebrate the one good thing that’s right in front of you.
Learning from the past is how we grow and future goals are a must for continuing in that growth but, we let’s not miss the precious gift of today, by being driven by either.
Maybe it’s time to get off the ride?
Philippians 4: 12
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.