Dad’s car was mustard brown. Its color made the rust spots less noticeable. It seemed like a tank left over from a war. The name on the car’s grill was Plymouth. Actually it wasn’t a Plymouth at all. It was half Plymouth and half Dodge, a spare-parts mobile made up of two wrecks, always lacking something and always showing us a new frailty in its character.
But Dad’s car was his pet. He would never consider giving it up for anything. He tried convincing us that it was really a sports car in disguise. He would tell us that it had a floor stick shift just like a Porsche. I soon realized, however, that a floor gear was the only thing the old wagon and a Porsche 920 had in common.
“Anyone can have a nice new car,” Dad would say. “But how many people do you know that actually own a 1976, stick-shift, mustard-brown station wagon? We want to be unique.”
Unique was an understatement in my book. You see, I was in ninth grade, my first year in high school. I wanted to impress my peers. But how could I when everyone knew that the mustard-brown tank belonged to my family? It was bad enough that I was a freshman and couldn’t drive. But to imagine being seen by upperclassmen in that junk heap was more than I could bear. When my dad would drive me and my brother to school after seminary, I would duck down as he pulled in to the drop-off spot. I desperately hoped that no one would see me. I would then slink out of the car, bury my head in my books, and run as fast as I could for the safety of the school building.
During my junior year in high school, however, my feelings for the “tank” changed. It took a frustrating experience—my illustrious career as a cross-country runner—to finally show me the light.
During the cross-country season, I came to see a great likeness between myself and the tank. I was not, to say the least, the star of the team. I was slow (my engine only a weak V-6), ungraceful (my rusting joints needed oiling), and my body type was not the one best suited for running (I had the wrong engine with the wrong carburetor). Yet I was constant. I ran every day, sometimes even twice a day, always trying to improve, trying to be the magnificent runner I dreamed of becoming. But I was nowhere close. I tried everything I could think of to improve my time. I ate the right pastas, I tried exotic stretches, I even slept in my shoes (I had read in a magazine it made one more in tune with running). But nothing worked! I was extremely frustrated. I felt like last year’s track shoes headed for the trash. I wanted to be the foremost runner on the team, but it took all my energy to keep from coming in last.
Finally I asked my dad for a blessing. I desperately needed some outside help. But what my dad said as he laid his hands on my head was not at all what I had expected. He told me flat out—“You are not a runner.” He said, “Your purpose is not in being the best runner. You have another purpose for being on the team.” And that was it. I felt let down and not particularly proud of myself. I did feel, however, that what my dad had said was what the Lord wanted me to hear. So I continued with the racing, straining and struggling my hardest not to come in last. At times I felt I had a few screws loose or that I could use a better set of spark plugs, but I never changed—at least not physically.
By the end of the season, however, I had changed. Spiritually I had grown. My vision had been expanded. On the night of our final athletic banquet, my coach came up to me and told me the secret I found in our old station wagon. He said:
“I know running hasn’t been easy for you, and you know something, you’ll never be a great runner.” No joke, I thought to myself. I’ve heard that one before. Then he continued. “But you are one of the most important members of our team. You have had such a positive influence on the team; they all look up to you. Thanks for being such a good example.”
And that was the secret. That’s what made the car special—it had a function, a worthwhile purpose. It was the car we knew we could depend on during winter in subzero temperatures. We knew it would be the only one to start. It was the only car that could pull our trailer and the only car with a rack on top for hauling luggage or Christmas trees. Despite its many frailties, it was needed, wanted, and yes, even loved.
Our station wagon would never be the sleekest car on the block. It would never win any prizes for the smoothest performance or most comfortable ride. Though it was old, rusted, and to some people even worthless, it was vital to our family. Its dependability was more important than its outward value.
The lesson I learned from the old station wagon was this: Although it may not be easy to see, our Heavenly Father has given everyone an important purpose. Despite our frailties, we are needed, wanted, and loved. We are each unique and priceless.