The Jesus Safari

cropped-img_3836.jpgThe story I posted last week about our jeep brought back fond memories of another vehicle…

When my three children were young, we spent a lot of time traveling out of state to see family. Once we added a Labrador retriever into the picture, seating in our small minivan became cramped and chaotic.

“I’m tired of the kids fighting every time we go anywhere,” I told my husband. “We need a larger vehicle.”

“I’m on it,” he told me.

A few months later, he brought home a GMC Safari. The kids loved it, because it was roomy and had captain’s chairs in the middle row. My husband loved it, because he could tow a trailer.

And I loved it, because the kids had enough space between them, so they didn’t have to touch each other.

I’m not a huge fan of paper bumper stickers, but I always like putting an Ichthus on our vehicles. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a fish, an early symbol of Christianity.) Inside the fish was the word “Jesus.” Not only does a fish on my bumper let other fish decalpeople know I’m a Christian, but it holds me accountable when I’m on the road and reminds me that I’m representing Jesus—which means no speeding, yelling snide comments out the window at other drivers, or giving an impatient, prolonged blast of my horn to someone who does not move the exact second the light turns green.

When we traveled to New York or Pittsburgh, my sons each took a captain’s chair in the middle, my daughter sprawled across the entire back seat, and the dog slept on the floor in the middle aisle. Bliss. When I carpooled for soccer, football, or baseball practices, I could pile six stinky kids, balls, and sports bags inside with ease. The Safari took members of our church to Tennessee for a mission trip and rowdy teenagers to youth group. It was the perfect vehicle, and my kids loved it.

Until they got their driver’s licenses.

Suddenly, the van wasn’t such a great ride anymore. When they wanted to go out with their friends or drive to school, they often had to take the van, since my husband used the car for work.

“Can’t we get a cool car or truck?” my son asked. “It’s embarrassing, driving this ugly thing everywhere.”

“Get a job, save your money, and buy your own cool car,” was my practical reply. “Until then, you’re stuck with the van.”

When my daughter started driving, she was even more vocal. “Mom, I’m so humiliated when I have to drive that van around. Please, I beg you, can we get something else?”

“C’mon,” I said. “Is it really that bad?”

My daughter stared at me. “Do you know what all my friends call it?”

“The van?” I said sweetly.

My daughter rolled her eyes. “They call it ‘The Jesus Safari.’ ”

“Hah! That’s a great name!” I told her. “I love it.”

Spurred on by their mortification, my kids got jobs and helped pay for cars of their own. And, once again, “The Jesus Safari” was all mine.

But, alas, vans don’t last forever. In 2011, the rear door stopped opening. In 2012, the heating system went kaput and the driver’s side door occasionally stopped closing. But I drove “The Jesus Safari” around Michigan, freezing my bottom off through the winter and using a bungee cord to hold the door closed when it wouldn’t shut. But when the engine started making funny noises and warning lights began flooding the dashboard, I knew it was giving up the ghost. It was time to say good-bye.

In 2013, we traded “The Jesus Safari” in for $1,000 and bought a Ram pickup. My youngest son, who had just passed his driver’s test, was ecstatic. No more slumping at the wheel hoping no one would recognize him. No siree. Now, he proudly drove to football practice and showed off his new wheels.

“The Jesus Safari” may not have been pretty, but our big God used that van to bless us in so many ways. We traveled all over the country—with no one touching each other—while we sang and laughed and talked together. I always knew what my kids were doing and thinking, because when you lug your child and a load of friends to sports practices or youth group, they forget Mom is driving and talk about everything. And we never got into an accident—no one could miss “The Jesus Safari” coming their way.

But I have to admit—the Ram drives like a dream. I hardly feel the potholes on our dirt road, and it’s a lovely cherry red that sparkles in the sunlight. The heater warms me in less than five minutes even on the coldest of days, and my door always closes. Oh, and the  Ichthus sticker looks great on the shiny silver bumper. It’s a wonderful vehicle.

But I miss “The Jesus Safari.”

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