The Party Barge

The Christmas season is in full swing and, as I do every year, I find myself struggling to balance all the activities going on around me.

I want to make time to focus on the extraordinary gift God sent us by way of His Son becoming the child born on Christmas Day. But I also want to use this opportunity to love my family in the more-traditional ways, the giving of gifts and time spent together doing special things. If I had to be honest, I would confess the balance remains “a bit off” in my life. I still spend far more time acquiring “stuff” to be wrapped and delivered Christmas morning than I do thinking about Christ’s arrival more than 2,000 years ago.

Materialism is such a pervasive issue in our American culture, and one I know I have to battle just like everyone else. But it’s interesting to see how God quietly works on us through the years to remove our idols.

The Party BargeIn late 2005, I learned I was pregnant with my fourth child, an addition that would bring our blended family child total up to six. (That’s a lot of kids under one roof.) Unexpected, unplanned and utterly surprising (and delighting), this child brought about significant changes in our lives. For one, my husband and I finally decided it was time to give up my nice car and acquire something that had eight seat belts. Eight seat belts. (That’s a lots of seat belts under one roof.)

And it’s really not an ideal time to add a car payment to your monthly finances when going from two incomes to one. As we looked at vehicles that still had some cool factor and eight seat belts, we discovered there were surprisingly few choices…and all of them ran $40,000 or more. We simply could not, in good conscience, make that kind of a financial decision with so many other unknowns swirling before us. Before I knew it, I was taking a used, plain-white Ford Econoline out for a test drive and thinking, “What has my life been reduced to?”

I felt like I was driving a bus. I kind of was. It had eight seats belts and room for another bench, should we feel the need to add another three backsides.

I’ll never forget the mixed reaction of our kids when we drove up in our “new” vehicle. The youngest ones were actually excited, as they liked the idea of driving around in a vehicle remarkably close to an 18-wheeler, while our then 16-year-old son had that “Do you really expect me to be seen in that monstrosity?” look on his face. Horrified, he realized we were serious. Yes, we really did expect him to climb in and self-identify as part of that family that needed a delivery van to transport all its members.

My response wasn’t all that much different. I was resigned to the reality and I acted the adult, but I didn’t like it much. Apparently, finding myself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 40 wasn’t humbling enough – I was also stripped of all pride with regard to my vehicle.

The Party BargeThat was ten years ago.

For a decade now, I’ve been driving around this same large van, which soon came to be referred to as “Shelly’s Party Barge.” We’ve taken countless road trips, filling up the back with bags and blankets and extra pillows, and have never run out of space for all those extra stuffed animals that “needed” to travel with us. We’ve offered to be the chauffeurs for any number of nights out on the town with other friends when we all wanted to be together, and while the wheels weren’t impressive, being all together in one vehicle made for a lot of laughter. We’ve moved furniture and transported all kinds of large items for other people whose cars couldn’t accommodate their needs.

Our son has grown up in this van, too. He has expressed such affection for my van that he has on multiple occasions made me promise I would never sell his beloved Party Barge. I keep thinking that maybe he’ll change his tune as he edges up on 16 and realizes this is the vehicle he would have to borrow to take a girl on a date.

This old van has also made it possible for me to provide childcare for the last nine years as a viable way for me to both stay home with our little boy and yet continue to help provide for our family. Most other vehicles would not have given me the ability to transport multiple car-seated toddlers around, but the Party Barge easily accommodated us. I’ve spent nine years taking little ones to play dates at friends’ houses, to the park, the library, to Bible study at church. This particular vehicle, acquired before I even knew I’d end up offering childcare, has been an amazing provision for a solid home-based business.

Later this week, I am switching vehicles with friends of ours. They are going on a Christmas trip with several family members, and want to take one car to the airport. For an entire week, I’ll get to drive a new SUV. I bet I’ll enjoy it.

The Party BargeBut I’ve come to realize that my ridiculous Ford Econoline has been a remarkable gift from God. It has taught me that my identity is not tied to my possessions. It has been a witness to the sustaining work of God, in that it has survived years of travel and hard use with very little maintenance. It reminds me a bit of the Israelites’ sandals during their 40-year stint in the desert (Deuteronomy 29:5). It has been as faithful a vehicle as I’ve ever owned, and all this despite my initial reluctantance to embrace ownership.

Isn’t that just like the kindness of God? To demonstrate His faithfulness through something we’d rather not have in our lives, up to the point when we realize what a blessing it is?

This is also my last week in the childcare business. It is finally time to transition to other work.

Additionally, all but one of our children are now grown and out of house. So I don’t really need to keep The Party Barge any longer. I could easily drive a much smaller, much-more-attractive vehicle now. As I look as this great white monstrosity in my driveway, I’m not sure I want to get rid of it. I’m finding that while I haven’t attached my identity to this vehicle, I have nonetheless become attached, and it reminds me how relentlessly we attach ourselves to the material things in life, to that which is seen, rather than what is unseen.

And I have to laugh. It seems that God is using the exact same vehicle to show me the same lesson He revealed nearly 10 years ago.

Lord, help me to attach myself only to You, to do my utmost to use the good gifts you provide to love others around me, but to joyfully watch them leave my life if and when you decide that’s the next right step. And thank you for your patience and sustaining grace in my life.

Romans 12:2 (ESV)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

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