For some men, it would seem, life is really all about their toys. And high on the list of toys is their muscle car. Or their motorbike. Or their truck.
Of course, not all men feel this way about cars. I know guys who couldn’t care less about cars except as a practical conveyance, but who are in love with musicians’ gear – or Apple iProducts – or cameras – or other gadgets.
But lots of guys are nuts about things that go VRRROOOOM, can go really fast and leave everyone else in the dust. It helps if the car (or bike or truck) is bright and shiny with lots of chrome, because then other men (and maybe some women) will notice them and be impressed – and of course that’s what it’s all about, right?
That’s never been my style. I’ve always seen a vehicle as primarily a means of transportation. When it came to buying cars, practicality, affordability and efficiency were – pardon the pun – the driving values. Marion and I have always agreed completely on this. When our Taurus met an untimely end in 1998, and we needed a vehicle that would transport a family of six, what did we do? No SUV or minivan for us, even though that was what everybody was crazy about back then. Due to life circumstances (living in the country, three drivers in the household) we needed two vehicles, and a van was beyond our budget unless it was our only vehicle, so we leased a Hyundai Accent and bought a used Ford Escort. A little counter-intuitive for a family of six, no? But it worked for us.
So when Marion and I began looking for an SUV recently – after three of our four had left the nest, and long after the SUV craze of the 90’s had levelled out – we got a bit of gentle ribbing from our kids (well, a couple of of them at least). Our motivation for this purchase, however, had nothing to do with style or image, and everything to do with real value. Having decided to order a camping trailer in honour of our upcoming 35th anniversary (read the story here) – a decision that was prompted largely by the value we place on facilitating special family times with our children and grandchildren – we needed something with a bit more towing power than our 2005 Toyota Matrix, and we needed luggage room more than seating space. A mid-size SUV seemed like the solution – and the Lord (yes, I do believe it was His amazingly gracious provision) led us to an excellent deal on a beautifully-maintained 2002 Toyota Highlander. A shout-out here to the folks at our wonderful neighbourhood garage, who provided us with much valuable help in this process. Thanks, Russ and Bruce !
The really cool thing for me, though, was what we were able to do with our Matrix, a vehicle that we had inherited from my Dad when he died in 2007. For the past 3½ years the Matrix has been a reliable, trouble-free, economical and practical vehicle for us – the best car we’ve ever owned, hands-down. Simeon and Heather, meanwhile, have lived with a succession of used vehicles of uncertain history and dubious quality. Simeon had told me that Heather really liked driving our Matrix when they were visiting last summer, so when I started looking for something with a little more towing capacity for our trailer, with Marion’s agreement I decided to look into the process for exporting a vehicle to the U.S.A. My thinking was that if possible, rather than trading in the Matrix, I’d like to be able to give it to Simeon and Heather as a gift.
The export/import process proved to be much less complicated than I had anticipated. There were some details to work through, but it was all doable. We received a final settlement on my mother’s estate at just the right time, allowing us to buy the Highlander without the trade-in value of the Matrix. The details came together quite quickly in the end, leading to a flurry of fairly intense activity – the upshot being that we now have our Highlander and later this week, we will be bringing the Matrix through U.S. customs and then delivering it to its new owners in Minnesota.
I suppose in a sense you could call this our Toyota story. After several embarrassing recalls the past couple of years, Toyota has been trying to rebuild its former image of reliability with an advertising campaign in which long-time Toyota owners tell their Toyota stories. Marion and I have only been Toyota owners for a few years, but our experience with Toyota products has been nothing but positive. We LOVED our Matrix, and are looking forward to many years of reliable service from our new (to us) Highlander.
In a truer sense, though, this is a God story, and my real goal with this post is not to promote Toyota but to testify to God’s amazing grace. I have been overwhelmed with gratitude – and deeply humbled – at God’s undeserved kindness to us throughout this process.
Have cars suddenly become important to me? No, not really – not in themselves. They are only a means to an end. But this particular series of events has brought me great satisfaction because, by God’s surprising and wonderful provision, Marion and I have been able to give one of our children a gift that was ideally suited to his needs, desires and circumstances. This will be an excellent car for a young family – practical, reliable, economical – and to be able to give it to Simeon and Heather no strings attached is a great blessing. What is even more of a delight is that they realize they are being blessed – they recognize the value of the gift.
This has prompted some reflection on the giving of gifts to our children. Like all parents, Marion and I have had numerous opportunities to do things for our children over the years. Years ago, when we were young parents on a very limited budget, we tried to be as equitable as possible in the gifts we gave to our children. In this and other ways, we wanted them to see that we were treating them fairly. Our goal was that all of our children would know themselves to be equally favoured by their parents (and, we hoped, by God).
As the years have gone by, we have not totally given up this goal, but we have also come to see that completely equal treatment is impossible to achieve, and would probably not even be a good thing. We have continued to do our best to be good to each of our children, and to be as good to each one as we have been to the others – but I can’t truthfully say that we have treated them all exactly the same way. Partly, no doubt, this is because we are very imperfect parents. But even if we were perfect parents, we would not and could not treat our children in exactly the same way. Although we love them all equally, the specific ways in which we deal with each child are different, because each one has a distinctive makeup and needs, carries a particular calling, and is walking through unique circumstances and life experiences.
Isn’t that just how God deals with His children, too? Legal justice would mean that everyone gets treated identically. God, however, goes beyond legal justice by showing us mercy, and then goes beyond showing mercy to pouring out grace – undeserved favour and kindness. By design, and not by mistake, His grace takes different forms in different circumstances and for different people. The Enemy of our souls tries hard to blind our eyes to God’s kindness, and presents to our minds multiple reasons to complain and find fault with God. He works hard to convince us – as he did first with Eve – that God does not really have our best interests at heart, but is withholding something from us.
Satan, of course, is the original orphan, and continues to rage at God’s supposedly unjust treatment of him. As long as we believe His assessment of God’s character, we will always be able to find reasons to feel that we were unfairly treated in some circumstance or other. It’s true enough that in a fallen world, we can be deeply hurt by the actions of others, and can be the victims of terrible injustices. Yet in the midst of all this, God is ready to redeem and restore every wrong, turn us from bitterness to blessing, and make us abundantly fruitful. He has already made a way for our forgiveness and restoration through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and He has special and unique forms of grace stored up for every one of us – but His best blessings are available to us only after our eyes are opened, and we turn away from our self-preoccupation, yield control of our lives to His sovereign purposes, and begin to live like sons and daughters rather than orphans. Then, and only then, can we truly taste and see that He is good.
So what’s all this got to do with our Toyota story? Marion and I have always sought to teach our children that if they trusted the Lord with their lives and sought to serve Him faithfully, He would provide for them and bless them. Simeon and Heather took a step of faith in moving to Minnesota almost three years ago without any promise of employment, believing that God had called them there. Since then, they have sought to walk before God in faith and obedience in a community of believers on the Bethany campus. The Lord has been faithful to them and has blessed them in many ways, but so far they have had trouble with cars. Now the Lord has made a way for us to supply this need, and I am overwhelmed with His kindness in enabling us to give them this special gift to encourage them. I may never give a car to any of my other children, but I am equally motivated to show them God’s kindness in ways that will encourage them to trust Him and move forward towards His vision and purpose for their lives. My goal for each of my children is that their lives will be so strongly imprinted by God’s grace that they, too will be givers – people of faith who are full of confidence in God’s kindness, and who live their lives with open hands, testifying by their lives that God is worthy to be praised, served and worshipped, and that He is infinitely good to those who trust Him.