Deep gratitude and bad diagnoses

I never thought I’d hear myself say, “thank you, God, for my bad catalytic converter!” And actually mean it. With my whole heart.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t groan when the “check engine” light comes on in their car. “Oh, no, baby, you’re fine,” we all croon, hoping it was just a fluke. Did I brake too fast? It must be an error. There’s nothing wrong. PLEASE. NOTHING WRONG.

I was starting to feel like if my mechanic had punch cards I’d be my way to a free repair. But that’s not really the way car repairs work.

No, even though my mechanic is honest and wonderful, whenever I go in for a repair I always leave trying to catch my breath. We had to do it. It’s good. That’s only like what I make in 20 hours of work this time. It could have been worse. Just breathe.

I was prepared to do that song and dance again today. He’d told me that the light was telling us something was up with the catalytic system (do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? I don’t), and if we were lucky, it’d be the oxygen sensor, maybe a couple hundred to replace. We hope it’s that because the catalytic converter would be way more buckeroos.

I decided to go with the best-case scenario. It would be the cheap thing that would be wrong, and it would not feel cheap but would be worth it to not have to replace the catalytic converter.

So I went in today on my afternoon off, ready to sit while they replaced my oxygen sensor. I lose a couple hours and a couple hundred dollars. Breathe. It could be worse.

But then he came out and said, “Ashley, I have bad news.”

I could see myself opening a window and pouring out my hard-earned dollars onto the streets below. “Here, who wants some? It’s just money. Have a handful. My car is making me go broke anyway.”

God works in mysterious ways. Oh wait, no, let’s rephrase that. God does freaking weird things that often look like a bad situation but totally flips them on their head so it’s the best. Says the same thing but sounds less dreamy. This is weird stuff.

“I’m not going to recommend we fix it now. You might have a year before it goes out completely, and you’ll know when that happens.”

Wait, so… no repairs?

“And I’m not going to charge you for a full hour. That was only twenty minutes.”

He basically told me that my car is worth more to me than anyone else, so I should drive it until it dies and not put big bucks into it at this point.

So, sort of harrowing news, but it means I have margin. I can save. I can plan! I can look forward to buying a car sort of on my own timetable instead of pouring money into this one… and still having to buy one in a year or two.

In the oddest circumstances, a reason for deep gratitude. I’ve had a few moments like that in the past month, where just a little bit got shaved off a total or ended up being right what I could spend. And there have been moments of extreme peace where I knew I didn’t need to buy that thing that really seemed like I might need it… or I didn’t need it right then.

Here’s the testimony: God takes care of me. Here’s just another example in a line-up of many. I have a bad catalytic converter. And an honest mechanic. That’s a reason for joy.

On overflowing cups.


Last year on this day, I wrote about Shakespeare’s sonnet 73, because every time I see a yellow leaf I think of it.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

upon those boughs which shake against the cold…

It’s so poignant. I wrote about how fall is a time of refining for me, how I find that often when I get to this time of year, I find God shaking away pretense and false security in my life til I have a few leaves left and am ready to settle into a winter of waiting to see what will grow from it, what the fruit of the lesson is.

And I think that’s still true, that I find my spiritual life reflected in the season.

It was about 34 degrees in Minneapolis this morning when I set out to go for a run. I ran down the street closest to the Mississippi, hoping to find a trail that gave me a view. The trail I found turned to dirt at one point, but it gave me the skyline and river view I was hoping for, so I stuck to it. I ran across a little footbridge to Nicollet Island, past the high school and inn there, and back to the mainland before routing back to the Farmers’ Market, where I bought rhubarb and peppers and zucchini and came home with a single dollar in my pocket. Later I will make bread and cake and eat dinner with friends.

I walked back to my little apartment. And I thought to myself, this is my life. How can it be?

I find myself living pieces of my dream life these days. And along with sonnet 73, Psalm 23 keeps coming into my mind.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

I have all that I need.

He make me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

Not that the yellow leaves aren’t still shaking in the cold, not that I don’t worry and feel scarcity creeping up on me and stealing my joy, but Psalm 23 has been the balm to my heart in those moments. This good Shepherd is mine, and his promises are peace and restoration.

Which reminds me that there will be moments of breaking and cracking — because otherwise, there is no need to restore. It’s not about a charmed life but about having a refuge.

Even though I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil.

Up until this point, I find myself nodding along, feeling the comfort in the promise of the presence of a good Shepherd. There’s guidance, no fear with God. He is my safety. 

And then we get to this part, and something pipes up in my heart that says this is as true as it gets.

My cup overflows.

Runs over. Spills out. The cup cannot contain what is being poured into it. And I find that when I look back, the cup has always been overflowing – even in dark valleys I’ve had the light of the presence of God, often shown in the faithful friendship of his people.

The cup overflowing isn’t the prosperity gospel, a hefty paycheck, a well-stocked kitchen, a bump-free ride, every desire satisfied. It’s the certainty that

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

It’s the promise of the presence of a good God, which means more than the presence of any single person or thing.

And I will dwell in the house of God forever.

*If you want the best musical rendition of Psalm 23, here it is.