“Empty,” Lois thudded the gas tank gauge with her finger. “Looks like Daddy forgot to fill up after church last night.” The kids were abnormally quiet in the backseat. Lois glanced in the rear view mirror. They were droopy-eyed from a day of swimming at the neighbor’s pool. Rachel propped her head against the side of her car seat, and Jacob was staring straight ahead in a daze. Their blonde mops of hair sticking up in all directions.
“No wonder your dad wanted to walk to work this morning. Well, we’ll just have to get gas at the store’s ‘Gas n Go’.” Lois didn’t like taking the kids to the grocery store. They didn’t much care for it either, except when they got to drive one of the car buggies. This would be a quick trip in and out. She only had twenty-five dollars in the grocery envelope. That might cover some milk, bread and something for dinner tonight.
Lois turned the old Dodge Caravan onto the main street. Traffic crawled to a stop at the intersection. The stop light blinked yellow, and drivers were trying to figure out whose turn was next. She hadn’t anticipated sitting in traffic. Lois checked the gas gauge again hoping to see a change. The little orange pointer remained suspiciously below the capital “E”.
“Great, I’m not going to risk it,” she whispered to herself eyeing the gas stations coming up. The price of gas in this part of town stayed above the national average. Lois usually avoided stopping at these glitzy marts, but the little orange pointer wasn’t budging, so she quickly pulled into the first station. Running out of gas in the summer heat with two little ones was to be avoided at all costs.
“Okay, let’s see here,” she said reaching into the glove compartment for the gas envelop. Sometimes Lois hated the “envelop system”. It would be so much easier to pull out the plastic and fill ‘er up, but she stuck with the plan she and Roger had made. After attending one of those money management classes at church, they both decided to start living below their means. “Live like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later.” It wasn’t easy, and sometimes she hated it. How nice it would be to eat out for dinner tonight or have a more dependable vehicle! Sometimes it wasn’t so bad, like right after pay day, but today was the 25th of the month, and they still had six days to go until the refilling of the envelops.
“Five dollars. Okay, I guess it’ll have to do.” With the kids sleeping in the backseat, she locked the doors and quickly walked the ten steps to the attendant’s window. The man in front of her was struggling to understand how his gas pump worked and kept asking the same questions over and over again. Lois tried not to eaves drop, turning her attention to her dirty white Caravan with missing hubcaps.
“Lois!” A voice chimed from a Lexus at the next island of pumps. Lois looked up to see one of the preschool moms waving frantically at her. She jumped up and down, with one arm extended in the air and her hand flopping back and forth. Throw a pom pom in that thing, and she’d look like a Dallas cheerleader.
“Hi Amanda.” Lois responded. Amanda wore a brightly colored blouse tied at her waist, allowing a little bit of her tanned tummy to show above her designer jeans. A ruby clasp held her golden highlights perfectly on the top of her head. Suddenly, Lois felt keenly aware of the cut-off sweat pants and t-shirt she had thrown on to go to the store. Of course, baring her mid-drift wasn’t something she would do, but she had been trying to fix herself up a little bit before going out in public. Today had just gone by too quickly, and who looks good after spending the day at the pool? Amanda probably does.
“Lois, it’s so good to see you. How are the kids?” Amanda swiped her credit card into the machine and tugged the pump from its cradle. She waved it as she spoke oblivious to the little drops of gas flying from its nozzle. “I don’t think we ever got them together for a play date. We’re just too busy.”
“They’re fine.” Lois called over her shoulder as she gave $5 to the girl behind the window. She glanced back at her kids asleep in the hot minivan. Hurrying to her pump, she gave Amanda a smile, not intending to continue the conversation. But Amanda appeared intent on reconnecting.
“Well, we’ve got to get them together this summer. You’re little Jason starts kindergarten in the fall, doesn’t he?” Amanda finally managed to get the nozzle into her tank.
“Yes, Jacob will go to the little school in our neighborhood. He’s excited and ready. How’s Audrey doing? She’ll be going to kindergarten too, won’t she?” Lois pushed the start button on her pump and turned to face Amanda.
“We’re putting her in at St. Mark’s Academy. I’m not sure how ready she is for it though. We’ll probably hold her back a year. It’s so busy now. You know when they’re little the days just drag by, but now she’s taking horseback riding and ballet. We’re hoping to get her onto the junior swim team too. It’s hard to even work in a vacation with her schedule much less have a life of my own!” Amanda laughed, a high pitched giggle, and then reached for her purse.
“Yeh, kids take up a lot of time, but that’s okay,” Lois pulled the gas pump from the van and placed it back in its cradle. “They’re worth it,” she said smiling to herself. “It’s good to,” Lois stopped mid-sentence. Amanda was holding up her index finger toward Lois and had her other hand pressed to her ear. She was shaking her head up and down and smiling. Her white teeth seemed to glow against her tanned face beneath the black sunglasses perched on her nose.
“Okay, yes. No, we weren’t planning on attending the event. We’ll be at our house in Destin. Well, I’m sorry, but we’ve had these plans for weeks.” Amanda’s perky voice took a turn to a lower pitch. She was still smiling, but Lois could tell she wasn’t smiling on the inside.
Waiting nearly a minute, Lois finally decided to make a break for it. She waved good bye. Amanda flashed her bright whites and raised her Blackberry in the air, waving it back and forth before returning it to her ear.
The caravan rumbled to life, and Lois pulled away from the gas pump. Glancing into her mirror, she noticed Amanda leaning against the Lexus, shaking her head with her hand still up to her ear. What would it be like to drive a Lexus, get highlights, or even have your own cell phone? A wave of envy swept through her. Lois knew the feeling. It was warm and filled with the hope of having more and doing more. But it was empty too. Her eyes fell to the sleepy heads in the backseat. A feeling of gratefulness welled up inside of her. Lois knew she was already rich.
Pushing the envy away, she patted her old Caravan. “I’m good,” she said to herself. But an empty feeling still panged at her heart. Why was that? She really didn’t feel all wrapped up in having more stuff or money or position. She was happy. Two beautiful children, a loving husband, food to eat, and roof over their heads was plenty to bless her heart. So why was her heart still aching?
An old pickup truck crossed in front of the Caravan. Cars filled all three lanes. This trip to the grocery store was taking forever. The black truck cruised to a stop at the next light. Printed on the back of the cab in white lettering were the words, “The thief comes to kill and steal to destroy, but I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” Lois read the words to herself, and then again out loud. Her heart beat a little faster. A full life meant more than good kids, a loving husband, and having your physical needs met. In the end, it’s not about all of that. She had forgotten the most important thing in her life. Pausing within her gratefulness for her blessings, Lois asked for forgiveness.
“Father,” she whispered. “I am rich because of you, and you are all I need.” Her heart soared, and she drew in a deep breath releasing it with a smile. The truck pulled into a strip mall, but the words pasted to its cab still lingered. Lois pressed her horn twice hoping the driver would know his message had hit a target. And she made a mental note to give Amanda a call.