About a month ago, I bought my first car. Yay! I have wheels!
It is a 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis, quite the old lady car, so I named her Matilda.
Getting this car proved to hold an interesting lesson.
I had been wanting to buy a car for over a year, and I had been needing one for longer than that. I worked three jobs and scrimped and saved for over a year just to get $3000 together so that I could buy a cheap car. (Before that, the car I was driving was my dad's 1984 Mercedes with 380,000 miles on it. It finally gave up the ghost, and I was left borrowing other people's cars and walking or biking to work. Fortunately my job was only 3.5 miles away!)
God had assured me during this process, "I am your Father. I will provide a car for you. Don't worry about it. I will bring it to pass." And I had trusted in this assurance as well as I could.
I also felt very insecure about getting a car and didn't want to get ripped off, so I did a lot of research over the course of the year. My dad gave me some used car appraisal sheets that I could use to compare notes on different cars, and I started frequenting craigslist, autotrader, and edmunds.com. Every time I would go to look at a car, I would meticulously fill out one of my little sheets, go look up the VIN number online, and read reviews on it.
What I really wanted was an orange car. (What can I say? Orange is my favorite color.) I didn't really think it was asking that much. Say an orange, 4-door sedan, under 100,000 miles, good gas mileage, manual transmission. I would look on autotrader for those specifications, and NEVER would anything come up in my price range. Never. Not in the whole country. You can put in your zip code and then search within a certain radius of your home--well, I would say "any distance" from my zip code and still wouldn't get any results. Weird. Why are orange cars so uncommon, when they're the best color ever?
Then, one day in March, I saw a little Ford Escort station wagon in a used car lot along the highway. I pulled in and asked the lady the price. She initially said $3999, but if I paid cash, she said she could give it to me for $3200. That was a little higher than what I could pay, but hey, I thought, you can always barter these places down. I went home and looked it up online, came back with my little evaluation sheet, and wrote down all the specifications. It looked like it might have had a little fender bender once. There was dog hair all over all the seats. There was no power anything and no cruise control, but hey... that's what you get when you get a cheap car. I test drove the car and drove it to the bank, where I withdrew $3000 cash.
"I am getting this car," I said to myself with a stubborn thrust of my chin. "I don't care what's wrong with it. I'm just sick and tired of not having a car. I'm going to surprise my family and drive home in my own car today. Yeah. That's what I'm going to do."
I walked in to the office and started talking price with her. "Oh! Did I say $3200? Hmmmm. That was a mistake. The lowest I was really supposed to go is $3400," she said. "But--since I told you $3200, I guess I can give it to you for that." I couldn't talk her down. She didn't even care about selling the car to me. Before I was even done talking to her, she got on the phone and the conversation was over. I walked away with my cash still safe in its envelope.
That evening, however, I was on my way to a class I attend, and I happened to be a few minutes early. "I'm just going to pull into this other dealership," I thought. I drove around and looked at the cars and then a salesman walked up to me, so I got out of my car and walked around with him. He took me over near the Mercury when I told him my price range, and I barely even glanced at it. "No, that's an old lady car." I wasn't even willing to consider it. So he showed me some other cars, all the while treating me like a princess. We were back to my car and I was just about to leave when the boss stuck his head out the door of the building. "Did you say your price range was $3000?" he said. I said yes. "How about that Mercury?" he said. "We could give you the Mercury for $3000, taxes and fees included." I had forgotten which car the Mercury was by this point, because I really hadn't even given it a thought. We walked back over to it and when we got close, I realized, "Oh, it's this one." But the salesman was talking all about how nice it was, how it only had 85,000 miles on it, how it was owned by an old lady and garage kept all its life, how it was worth $6000 and they were going to let it go for $3 (hahahaha... worth $6000... riiiiiiight).
I was at a very dangerous moment. I was already taken over with that little chin-thrust attitude, "I am getting a car today." I was dazzled by the great paint job on the car. (It's blue, by the way.) Somehow, in a flash, I was sold on the car. I hadn't driven it, I hadn't filled out my little sheet, I hadn't even seen it from any angle other than from the driver's side back corner. The only problem was, I hadn't brought my money with me.
No problem, the dealer assured me. Come back tomorrow. We'll even pick you up.
They picked me up from work the next day and I handed over the money. I didn't end up getting it with the taxes and fees included, because the way they were going to do that was by lying on the title and putting down that I bought it for like $30, so that the taxes wouldn't be high, and I refused to go along with that, so I ended up having to pay the taxes too. But I didn't care. I was getting a car. (Now I think I could have negotiated that: Lower the price of the car or I'm walking out. But I didn't, and it's too late now. Live and learn.)
I drove the car home.
Parked it in the driveway.
Wow, this thing is a beast.
And I wonder how much gas this V8 engine is going use up?
I looked up the gas mileage. According to the cool little digital thingie in the dashboard of the car, the average MPG was 9.0. I calculated the cost of going to work and going to church at the current gas price (which was then $3.50).
Ahhhhhh! Aaaaaaaaaa! Ack! It was going to cost me $17 just to go to church!
It would cost me $3 just to go to work, a distance that I could walk. I'll be throwing a quarter and a dime out the window every single mile!
Suddenly I was wishing that life had an undo button. Oops! Ctrl + Z! Let's do that one over!
But other than selling the car for the price I paid for it (which I now doubted I could even do), there was no way to get out of this one.
Great. Now I was stuck with a gas hog, and I was never going to be able to afford to drive anywhere.
That night I wrote in my journal about my thoughts regarding it.
I thought I wanted a car, I reflected, but what I really wanted was freedom. Freedom to go on road trips. Freedom to be my own person, to go places without asking if someone needs the car, to do things I want to do without being hindered by lack of transportation to get there. I thought I was buying freedom for myself. Apparently, I wasn't. At least, it's going to cost me a lot more than I bargained for. Forget about road trips--I won't even be able to afford to go to church!
I didn't get the freedom I thought I was getting. But then I heard the sweet whisper of God's voice in my ear, and suddenly I knew why He had allowed me to get myself into this situation--just to teach me this one lesson.
True freedom is not found in roaming around geographically.
True freedom is found in Christ alone.
True freedom is not freedom from external restraints in my life (like lack of money or transportation).
True freedom is freedom from sin.
If I find my freedom in how many trips I get to take a year, I do not know the meaning of freedom.
If I find my freedom in being able to do things without asking anyone, I do not know the meaning of freedom.
I must find my freedom in Christ alone.
In Christ, I could be in a prison cell and still be free.
Apart from Christ, I could be a millionaire, driving the nicest hot rod in the country, and still be in bondage.
I am free--not because I have car keys, but because I have the living Christ reigning within my heart.
And this is more valuable than all the nice, efficient, orange cars in the world.