When I grew up, my mom had a special job. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now as an adult and as a mom myself, I do. She ran a daycare out of our home. She was licensed to have 6 children in the home. She did this so that she could make money (of course), while still providing the benefits of being a stay-at-home mom for me and my sisters. And for that, I am very grateful. But many times, in the middle of it all, I was not so grateful.
My summer breaks were probably where I was the most ungrateful. Instead of hanging out with friends, or even just playing with my sister (‘sisters’ once Deb came along), I was hanging out with babies and toddlers. Every once in a while we would have a child that happened to be close to my age, so that was fun, but mainly, it was little ones. I couldn’t sleep late, because people started dropping their children off at 7:00. Then I was basically mom’s helper the rest of the day. Lunch was probably the worst part. I’m still not sure how my mom even did it when me and Bekah were in school! But we’d have all those kids in booster seats around the kitchen table, plus 3 in highchairs, if not more. And then mom would assign us kiddos to feed. It was a slow, messy, sometimes gross process, and I did not enjoy it AT ALL.
I did like naptime though. We could go downstairs and play Barbies or dress-up or make up dance routines, as long as we were quiet. Or we could watch Pinwheel or Today’s Special (our favorite show!) on Nickelodeon. But nap time was never long enough. Kids woke up, and we had to help clean up all the nap mats and then entertain kiddos until their parents came to pick them up. Needless to say, I was excited when school started back 🙂
But I think the worst part about the whole ‘home daycare’ thing was the van. The giant blue Ford Clubwagon that we had to purchase to carry all those kids in. So when mom had to drop us off at school or either pick us up, I was sooooooo EMBARASSED. All my friends’ parents had somewhat cool cars, like a Pontiac Grand Am or a Toyota Cressida, while we basically had a church van as our family vehicle. Not cool… not cool. We actually had this van while I was learning to drive. Yes, I learned how to drive by driving that big blue beast. Little did I know at the time how handy that would be…
Speed up the clock to September 1999. I marry Scott Smyth, a youth minister. Anyone who has any interaction with a youth group at all knows that you use church vans A LOT. So the fact that I could drive a giant van was truly a blessing in disguise. At age 15, I didn’t realize it, but 23 years later, I do.
This past summer, I was the interim youth minister, and I took our students on a mission trip with TeamEffort to Blue Ridge, GA. We have an awesome green church van, which I have lovingly named ‘Bertha’. Well, Scott likes a clean vehicle, so before I took the van on the trip, we took it to the local car wash, and he washed the van for me. The girls were with us when we picked it up at the church, and as we rode to the car wash, I could not help but notice the sheer joy and excitement that exuded from them. They were fired up just to get on the van, and even more fired up as we took it to the car wash.
I’d seen this excitement before. We’ve taken the van on other trips over the past year, and whenever they get a chance to ride in it, they LOVE it. So as I’m watching Scott wash the van, I’m listening to the giggles and squeals from the girls as they enjoy Big Bertha. I then began to think of that big old blue van from my teenage years. Why didn’t I feel the same way about it that my girls do for this one? Maybe it’s because the girl’s experiences with the van are just every once in a while, while mine was a daily part of life that I couldn’t get away from. Their perspective was adventure. My perspective was agony. They ‘got to’ ride in the van; I ‘had to’ ride in the van. See the difference?
One of the most awesome and humbling things about youth ministry is when you see those students you loved and mentored and took care of, grow up and become ministers of the gospel. I don’t necessarily mean ‘pastor’ or ‘worship leader’, but I mean any role where they are sharing the gospel, which can be in a classroom, the workplace, or the church. Scott and I have been overwhelmingly blessed to have phenomenal students cross our paths on our youth ministry journey. One such student is Summer Scott Walden (still Summer Scott to me!) She loved the Lord with all her heart as a teenager, and that love has only grown stronger and sweeter with age. She is on staff at Church of the Highlands, and with the blessed technology that is Facebook, I am able to keep track of not only her, but many of the students of our past.
Summer often makes posts on Facebook with profound spiritual meanings, and one time this summer, one of these changed how I thought about life completely. It may not have been her original quote, but she was the one I heard it from, so I give her credit 🙂 Back in June she posted this:
“Let’s change every ‘have to’ of our lives to ‘get to’. We don’t have to pay our bills, we get to. We don’t have to go to work, we get to. We don’t have to forgive, we get to. We don’t have to exceed expectations, we get to… You get it.”
Well that pretty much wrecked me for a few days as I thought about all the things I complain about or wish I didn’t have to do. I try not to verbalize it too much, but I know God is definitely tired of hearing me! But just like my girls… they saw the van as “we get to ride in the van!” I saw the van as “I have to ride in the van.” Wow, what a difference one word can make!
The way God works with me when a blog idea starts rolling around in my head, He begins to send little bits of confirmation here and there. I received 2 confirmations in the form of social media (Yes, I love Facebook and Instagram. When they are used for good and wholesome purposes!)
First was a picture my sweet Huntsville friend, Pam Dempsey, posted. It was a picture of laundry hanging on a clothesline outside. It said, “93 and sunny. Best day of the year for the dryer to break. Perspective 🙂 “ See how good that feels? Taking what can be considered terrible and seeing it with the filter of delightful?
Next was from my new Gardendale friend, Liz Harrison. She posted a picture of her hand holding her sweet baby girl’s hands. It said, “I was frustrated that she wouldn’t stay in bed until I remembered those hands won’t stay this small for long.” Again, just a small shift in thought changes frustration to gratitude. We could all use a bit more gratitude and a lot less frustration. A bit more delight and a lot less terrible.
I’ve wasted a lot of time and words saying ‘have to’. If I could go back in time, I would apologize to my mom for not being more grateful for the sacrifices she made for our family. I would change my attitude to gratitude, my ‘have to’ to ‘get to’. Especially now, as a mom myself, I understand the importance of a steady home life as well as how expensive child care is. She provided such a blessing to many families who didn’t feel comfortable having their children in a normal daycare facility. She provided a more economical solution to childcare for families who couldn’t afford something that was so costly. Plus, by being at home, she was always there for me and my sisters. Such a blessing.
But it’s not too late! I can change my ‘have to’ to ‘get to’ from this point on until eternity. I can teach that valuable lesson to my girls, in hopes that we can leave behind a legacy of gratitude. A ‘get to’ attitude births gratitude.
So whatever your ‘big blue van’ is, maybe it’s time to change it to green, and see it the way my girls see it. Maybe it’s time for a little church van hype.