Car Trouble and Gratitude

It was a scorching hot afternoon and we were on our way to Atlanta for a Braves game, my son’s birthday request instead of a party and gifts. This was our long-awaited summer trip and we planned to spend one night in Atlanta and then head to Florida to visit family for a week. Everything was planned and the minivan was meticulously packed with everything from snacks, DVDs and toys, to our beach tent and wagon. I was certain that our preparation would cause everything to go smoothly. 

Just outside of Atlanta, we noticed something was wrong.

The engine light came on as the engine revved out of control and the van slowed. My heart sank and I was filled with panic, dread, and anger because the van couldn’t go faster than 30 miles per hour and there was no help or exit in sight.

The timing could not have been more unfortunate. 

Somehow, we managed to make it to the game, rolling into the parking garage as the car revved, jerked, and sputtered unreliably. I have never been so happy to be inside a sporting event as I was that day. I was determined to have a good time, and for my son to enjoy his birthday. 

We were so relieved to arrive to the Braves game in one piece!

After the game, we cautiously drove the two miles to the hotel. I was relieved that we decided to book a room so close to the ballpark. At this point, we were all ready to relax in the pool and try to get a good night’s sleep. 

I have a husband who can fix almost anything, but our car trouble could not be fixed with a tool kit. The next morning, we made the decision to turn around and drive home to Knoxville. If we stayed about 60 miles per hour, we could drive, but as soon as we slowed down or stopped, the engine revving returned. 

By God’s grace, we made it. We were all thankful to be home and not stranded on the side of the road. We dropped the van off at the dealership and hoped to get a loaner vehicle to continue our trip. Unfortunately, there were no loaner vehicles available for several days. 

To make things more complicated, my husband’s truck was also in the shop and his loaner was, as he put it, “of the last resort type — small, 20 years old, no AC, busted radio, and a pungent smell of mildew.” It wasn’t ideal, but we were thankful to have it that day. It got us to a car rental lot, where we were able to rent the last available vehicle — a very small compact car. We happily drove it home. With some amazing packing skills, my husband was able to get all our gear, including our beach tent, into a tiny trunk. Finally, we headed to Florida. 

We squeezed our family and all of our gear into a small rental car and headed to Florida.

Car trouble isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but in hindsight our situation was an inconvenience that helped us gain perspective and gratitude. In the process, I was reminded of three things:

  1. As the mom, my attitude affects everyone.

    I had to get my negativity under control. I had to decide that somehow, we would have a good time, even though the circumstances weren’t ideal. I really had to let go of my want for control and perfectionism and focus on what was most important. 

  2. We don’t need everything we think we need.

    I like comfort as much as anyone, but in that moment, it didn’t matter if we had leg room or a DVD player. We just wanted a car that would be safe and reliable. We wanted time as a family and we didn’t need the extras. We needed to appreciate the opportunity to go on a trip together — a luxury we were very fortunate to have.

  3. Sometimes, it can be better when things don’t go according to plan.

    Our change of plans gave us perspective and gratitude for the things we often take for granted. Car trouble made us thankful for not just one, but two (mostly) reliable vehicles and forced us to focus on the true purpose of our trip — visiting family. Persevering had a calming and relaxing effect that lasted the entire trip. And we were so happy to finally put our toes in the sand! 

Our car drama didn’t end with the trip, but eventually everything worked out. We had to get a new transmission, which was fortunately still under warranty. It took a while, but I was thankful when I got my van back. The children were thankful for the DVD player. And I know my husband was very thankful for his truck. He is 6’2″, so I’m sure he did eventually want some leg room. 

With holiday travel approaching, I don’t wish for anyone to have the car trouble we had. In fact, I hope everything goes according to plan. But this Thanksgiving, I will be thinking about our car trouble and how we learned to be a little more thankful. 

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