Service. It’s that marvelous principle of losing yourself in the Lord’s work and doing something that takes your focus off of your own problems and redirects it outside of yourself. It’s critical for me, because I do much better with my GID when I am faithfully serving others. No doubt you’ve heard of the infamous Hurrican Ike that leveled much of the gulf coast. It created lots of opportunities for service. And this past week, I got an e-mail informing me that our stake had been asked to provide manpower in the disaster recovery effort. This is great! I thought. Here is a fine opportunity for good, solid service among people who very desperately need it. I know that when I serve, I always feel better. And no doubt, I’ll have some marvelous experience that will make for a great blog post.
Well, sort of. Have you ever read the really cute children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?
We were planning to meet at 4:50 and be on the road at 5:00 because it’s several hours to the gulf coast from here. I knew that we would be getting back really late—possibly as late as midnight. This created a small dilemma. I can’t skip a day of scripture study. At least, I’d hate to try. I don’t want to know what would happen. So I dutifully prepared everything the night before and set my alarm for 4:00. This would give me time to study scriptures for 30 minutes and still get to the rendezvous on time. But I forgot that the alarm on my cell phone has a setting for “Disable on Weekends.” So at 4:50, the baby woke up wanting a bottle. I stumbled into the kitchen, saw the time, had an “Oh Crud!” moment, filled the bottle, tossed it to my wife, threw on my shoes, and rushed out the door, forgetting to take my Claritin. Did I mention we were going to the swamped gulf coast, that would be a veritable cess pool of allergens? So before 5:00 a.m., I was 20 minutes late, had forgotten to take my allergy medicine, and 30 minutes behind on my scripture study.
We started on our way to Houston, and about 30 minutes into the trip, the car started lurching. We pulled into a gas station, where I was thankfully able to buy some Claritin—at $3/pill. And I knew I would need two (I can buy 150 of the generic at Cosco for like $10). So $6 for Claritin. Fortunately, one of the brethren with us knew a little about cars. We started trying to diagnose the problem, and another crew headed the same way happened to stop. One of them was a member of the Stake Presidency who was sure it was the inline fuel filter. We got the car started again and limped it over to the auto parts store, which didn’t open for another 45 minutes. So we got the fuel filter (almost) off and waited for the store to open. We bought the part, along with a tool required to finish pulling off the fuel filter. The part didn’t work. Finally, I got some needle-nosed pliers (fortunately, I had thought to bring my tool box). That pulled it off nicely. We tried to return the special, useless tool, but the power had gone out and the computers were down. We were more than two hours behind schedule. So the guy who bought it decided to just eat the cost, and we took off.
The car ran beautifully. For about 20 more minutes. Then it started lurching again. We stopped at a rest stop and let it cool down for a bit. Then we started on the road again to see what it would do. It kept lurching. We really wanted to get out and do this service, so we pressed forward. The car’s behavior got more and more bizarre. It would stall on the freeway, then we would drop it into neutral, rev the engine, pop it back into drive, and push forward. WE WERE GOING TO SERVE, DANGIT!!!
Finally, we made it into the Houston area. We were on the last leg. We were even starting to see the damage from the hurricane. We were two and a half hours behind schedule, but we had a full day of service ahead of us. The car lurched and died completely. We coasted to the narrow shoulder on one of the busiest freeways in Houston. We were about 20 minutes from our destination, and the car was dead. Absolutely, completely dead. We tried to crank it again, but it was not just pinin’ for the fjords. It was dead.
We let it rest for about 15 minutes to see if it would work again after whatever sensor had a problem (we assumed) cooled off. So about 15 minutes later we cranked it again. The battery was dead. Fortunately, a good Samaritan saw us pushing it onto the exit ramp, and pushed us with his truck.
Now we were stranded with a dead car in front of a donut shop (side note—Shipley’s apple fritters = WOW!). Undaunted, we were still determined to get the car started, limp to where we were going, and then see if during a break we could get to an AutoZone and get them to run it on the comptuer. What luck! A Red Cross relief truck pulled into the same parking lot to turn around. They were probably going the same place we were! We’d get a jump and be on our way. But they didn’t have jumper cables.
After brain storming for a while, we found a number for one of the local members organizing the relief effort. He said he’d be happy to come give us a jump. But it would be a while, since we were actually a good 45 minutes to an hour from our destination. Our day was dwindling fast.
One and a half fritters later, this good brother showed up to deliver us. He fired up the engine, we got ‘er charged, turned the crank, and turned the crank, and turned the crank, and turned the crank, and quit. We considered trying to get it to an AutoZone still, but ultimately decided that if we were going to get it towed, we may as well get it towed to a shop where they could fix it for sure. We didn’t want to get to AutoZone and find out there was nothing we could do there. Local Brother was a member of AAA. So at least he could get a good recommendation on a nearby shop.
So we called a tow truck and got towed to the service station. Fortunately, they had a spot so they could look at the car right away. Well, right away-ish. An hour and a half later, they identified a part that was shorting and would need to be replaced. It would cost only $600 for parts and labor. Fortunately, the brother who owned the car is a Dave Ramsey-ite and has a repair fund. So after a few hours, the car was repaired.
It was now after 4:30. Our gung-ho drive to get to the coast and stay as long as we could was long gone. At this point, we were just thankful that we wouldn’t be stuck in Houston for the night. And we were grateful that we didn’t break down in the middle of nowhere. Local Brother was a trooper. He had stayed with us to the end to make sure we were all right. He had even offered to put us up in his ward if we were stranded. We thanked him, and he saw us off.
Finally, the car was humming like magic, and we were headed home, tired, dirty, and exhausted (which is about what we expected to be). And then it lurched again. We had been on the road for about 30 minutes (sound familiar?). We decided to push through. We had limped there. We could limp home.
The car lurched a couple of more times and then died completely. Okay, don’t panic. The shop guaranteed their work with a nationwide, manufacturer-backed warranty. Except they were now closed. They’d be happy to look at it again on Monday. But it’s nationwide, right? Yeah, call the 800 number. But they were closed too. All their service stations were closed. But they’d be happy to take a look at it on Monday.
We decided to let it cool back down. Surely we could will it home. And the sun would go down eventually, which means it would be cooler. We were sure it was a sensor that was getting hot (obviously not the one they replaced, though it hopefully did correct the short that was draining the battery).
Finally, somebody recommended that we say a prayer. That was a pretty logical thing to do. We REALLY wanted to get home tonight. By this time, we just wanted to get home. The brother who owned the car was prepared to just leave it on the side of the road and let the county haul it off and sell it at auction if they pleased. He hadn’t payed much for it anyway. So we called our wives to try to figure out if somebody could come get us. My wife called my father, who called a member of his ward who had gone out to the coast. He was about 20 minutes past us at this point, but he had another friend who was 30 minutes behind him. They were in a pickup truck, and as far as I was concerned, I’d ride home in the bed with our gear.
They showed up shortly later. We’d been stranded (again) for about two hours now. And they told us one of them was a full-time mechanic! He popped the hood and poked around, then asked us to try to start the car. It turned over. He said they’d follow us until it died again.
We got 7 miles and it died completely again. He poked around some more. His equipment consisted of 1) a screwdriver and 2) a pocket knife. He determined that it wasn’t getting a good spark. He poked around some more, disconnected the computer to reboot it, cleaned up a pinched connection, put everything back together, and asked us to try to start it. It turned over! He said this time, he wanted to take the wheel so he could feel exactly what it was doing.
We stopped just outside of town to switch drivers after it ran beautifully all the way home. Total cost of his repairs: $0. Like I said, this man fixed it with a pocket knife and a screwdriver, when the repair shop spent $600 with a computer and exotic tools (I mean these guys had a $5,000 TOOL BOX!) to not fix it.
As of the end of Church today, the car has yet to so much as sputter since Brother Genius fixed it.
So I finally got home. It was around 9:30. Our total accomplishments for the day consisted of getting to Houston and getting home (that last one felt like we’d won an olympic medal, though). And downing three fritters and two bavarian creams between the four of us.
I still hadn’t studied scriptures. I was tired, but like I said, I don’t even want to find out what would happen if I missed a day. So at about 10:00, I sat down with my scriptures and my notebook and started studying. About 25 minutes in, I realized I had just written something along the lines of “Jacob was teaching them that their misplaced racial pride a round hole in the wall.” Deep, no? I was tired. But I stood up to get some blood flow, pushed through and finished a reasonable scripture study session. Finally, I crashed in bed, exhausted. And just to tie it in with the ostensible purpose of this blog, my GID was neither extraordinarily overwhelming nor extraordinarily calm this weekend.
Now, this may sound like just a zany story, perhaps stolen from the plot of a low-budget “road trip” movie, but there is actually a deep allegorical significance to all of it. If you figure out what that is, please clue me in. All I know is I was tired, and that night, I had a marvelous drem in which one of the living Apostles was visiting here and spent an inordinate amount of time personally instructing me. So obviously, he’s got something to say at Conference in a couple of weeks that I need to pay really close attention to.
Also, we just got back from a fireside with Michael Ballam. WOW! If you get the opportunity to hear him in person, do it. It was outstanding! And he hardly looks like he did 20 years ago, so it won’t seem weird that he is exhorting you to avoid music that invites the wrong spirit.