Last week I reached a milestone. I paid off my car. It took me 5 years to do it, and I found, as I saw the last bill with $0.00 after the words “Balance Due,” that it was a bittersweet moment.
I’m not one of those people who has a relationship with my car. At least, I don’t think I am. However, I see a burgundy Subaru Station Wagon (now a rarity) and I am taken back to the first car I learned to drive with a manual transmission. I can still remember my mom teaching me how to drive it, telling me when I learned, then my sister and I could stay home alone while she and my step-father went away for a weekend. I learned quickly. I smile when I think of “Bob” the neon that my sister and I shared for a while, and the “tin can on wheels” Tercel that was basically a car body, 2 doors, a stick shift, and a steering wheel. My last year of college I got my first “grown up” car – a Nissan Altima. It was used, but I had graduated to a vehicle that had automatic door locks and windows. I was in heaven. That car took me from college graduation to my first job. It is what I parked at my first apartment, drove back and forth to my parent’s house, and is the car that took me to visit seminaries. I can still remember leaving one school and pulling out of the parking lot after visitation weekend knowing it was not the place for me, and 2 weeks later pulling out of my future alma-mater certain that this was it. That car carried me to seminary, across the country for an internship, on road trips with friends, to tiny rural churches to pulpit supply, and eventually 14 hours north to my first call. I remember when I signed the papers for the new car feeling sad about the passing of the old one. But, 125,000 miles is a lot and it was either throw good money after bad, or have a fresh start.
My blue CR-V is what replaced the Altima. When I signed the papers, I knew I was making a big commitment – the biggest I had made since my ordination. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, I sent in a check every month. The day the value of the car was finally more than what I owed, I did a happy dance. Yet in the back of my mind, I felt like there was a timer ticking. When I bought this car, I had considered things like room for potential children, safety ratings, and how it would hold a stroller. I was dating (though the relationship did not last beyond the second payment) and was hopeful that just as my last car had carried me through major life transitions, so would this one.
Well, the timer went off, and I have to say, it is bittersweet. The bitter being that while we have had great adventures in lots of places (including multiple trips down I-95) that last payment marked 5 years of waiting for what has not yet come. I have driven in snowstorms to get to the hospital to be with families as they say goodbye to loved ones, opened the moon-roof at night on the way back from Presbytery meetings just to get fresh air, and still remember the day I pulled up in front of my current church for the first time. I survived driving for 14 hours with 2 cats who do not like to travel, and have tested how much stuff you can put in the back and still see out the window. The bitter of still not being able to drive in the HOV lane, because I still do not have a spouse or children, is vastly overcome by the sweet of the adventure of the last 5 years – I have accomplished something that seemed almost impossible. I am a better pastor, and better person. 5 years was a lifetime ago. Looking back at where I was then and where I am now, I would not detour a single mile of the journey.
Rev. Julie Jensen is the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care and Mission at First Presbyterian Church in Cartersville, GA where she just watched the odometer in her car roll over to 75,000 miles. She is curious to see where the next 75,000 will take her. When she is not driving, she knits, cooks, and goes to the movies.
Photograph by Hannah Marie from www.hannahmarie-.tumblr.com.
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