Pace Car

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to do something fun with my daughter. She will be turning 16 in one month, and will be needing something to drive both to and from school. Since she was a little girl, she has always said she wanted a blue car. That’s always been her favorite car color. After some months of talking and searching, we found her “dream” car! It is a 2010 VW Bug Convertible (final edition). It’s a cute car, and looks exactly like what she would drive. Ava is a good child. She’s respectful and obedient. She studies hard, has always made good grades, and is in Beta Club. She loves her friends and family. She is a Christian and loves Jesus. I’m proud of her, and I was happy to be able to get her the car she wanted. We discussed that had she been some rebellious teen, she would most likely have been given the privilege of driving something much less desirable and cheaper. She’s earned this.

Her dream car, however, came with a catch- it was located at a dealership in Ohio. That’s about four and a half hours away from us. Not too far, but definitely an all-day commitment to get to once you factor in stops. We drove up last weekend to see it in person, and to test drive it. It runs like a dream. She knew that was the car she wanted. So, this weekend, my mother and I took her to Ohio to pick up the car. Everything went smoothly. Ava had her car, and then it was time to drive home. I doubted she would want to drive the full four and a half hours back, but I wanted this day to be special for her, so whatever she wanted to do, that would be the plan. We decided that my mom would ride with Ava in the new car, and I would lead us back home, since I’ve already made the drive (3 times by that point). We take off.

As we were pulling out of the parking lot at the dealership, it began to rain (of course). I was a little nervous for her to drive in it, since we were in a completely new place with pretty heavy traffic, so we stopped at a store and for gas. By the time we were ready to hit the road, the rain had subsided. As we headed out on our journey, my child in my rear view mirror- looking so grown up driving her new car- I had so many thoughts. The first emotion, if I’m being honest, was a little tinge of sadness. How are we already here? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was popping that paci in and out of her little baby mouth, and cracking up each time she did it? Didn’t she just learn how to ride a bicycle in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church? Hadn’t we just started our first day of school? Actually, the last one is accurate. We had. Except this time we had just started our first day of tenth grade. How are we here already?

The second emotion, though, was such pride. I’m so proud of who she is and what she’s done so far. It’s not been an easy journey to get here, but she’s so strong and incredibly resilient. She has met with some very grown up adversity in her almost 16 years, and has stared it right in the face. She’s a fighter. A fighter with purpose. I love her so much I think my heart could burst most days.

So, we’re now driving. As I pull out, I’m very conscientious about every move I’m making. I purposely stay in the very center of the lane as much as I can. I keep my speed at the speed limit, or maybe just a mile or two over, but never going so fast that I would risk losing her. I preplan every move I’m about to make. I avoided the right lane when traffic was merging, because I didn’t want her to have to deal with too much too soon. When we came upon construction, I put her in the lane that I felt would give her the most room and make her feel the least constricted. I became her pace car. For those of you not living in Eastern Tennessee, or who may not have any NASCAR racing reference point, a “pace car” is the car in front that leads the race cars to limit the speed before the start of green flag racing. Pace cars can serve also other purposes, such as serving as a place holder when a race car pulls in to pit or if there is a caution on the track. The pace car steps in to help the other cars. That was my job today. I was her pace car.

It made me think about her life, interestingly. Hasn’t that really been my job her whole life? Isn’t that our entire purpose as parents? We are pace cars for our children. We teach them to navigate the track of life. We are there to set the speed for clear paths, and to slow them down when there are situations to approach with caution. We can step in for them during those times we need to, but mostly we are making a smooth route for them, leading them to safety. It’s our very reason for being here at this stage of life. So, as Ava and I continued down the highway, me as her pace car, and her gaining confidence with every passing mile, my heart was both a little happy and a little sad. It’s hard to watch them become increasingly independent, but in reality, that’s what we are training them to do.

I had one a final realization- the pace car doesn’t travel with them through the entirety of the race. It doesn’t cross the finish line with them, and it doesn’t take part in the victory lap. Those are their moments to shine. The pace car fades into the background, but will be ready to step in when necessary for the next race.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to be her pace car.

Nobody’s Best Friend

I’m entering into a very interesting season of my life. One which, frankly, I never expected to find myself in, and yet- here we are. I’ve contemplated writing this blog before, but didn’t out of fear that people would view this as a plea for something… sympathy, I guess? But that’s not it. I don’t want sympathy. I’m just being introspective about a surprising phase of life. I figure if I’m experiencing it, perhaps others have too. Hear me out-

My first true and only best friend would have to be Tiffany Burkert in the 4th-6th grade. Don’t get me wrong, I had other friends before Tiffany, but she was the first I could claim as MY best friend. She was the first friend I didn’t have to equally share with another girl or even a group of other girls. She was my person. Looking back, there was a lot of comfort in that. Having that one, go-to person for every part of life comes with an incredible sense of peace. There was no competition, no struggle. We were best friends and it was simple.

For most of my life both before and after Tiffany, I always seem to find myself in female friend groups of three (or more). My childhood best friends- Dawn and Courtney- were friends with one another before I came into the picture. I was an innocent “intruder” into that relationship. They welcomed me, and always made me feel like I was loved and accepted, but subconsciously I always knew they were there first. I had to respect that dynamic of the friend bond. I don’t like the phrase “third wheel” but right now I can’t come up with another term that expresses that idea adequately. That was me. Third wheel.

In high school, for a brief moment, I found my next best friend. I won’t mention her name. We are friends on social media, and truthfully, I doubt she ever even realized that the experience I’m about to describe happened the way it did. In the 8th grade, things were moving along normally and I was having a perfectly enjoyable year at school. I am one of those odd people who LOVED school! I’d go back to high school in a heartbeat if ever given the chance! Most of my memories were extremely happy ones. This one, though, not so much. My grandmother died that year, and Jess and I were quickly pulled out of class, and hustled down to the office. We were told what had happened and were immediately swept up by our parents to head to TN for the funeral. By the time we returned back to AR, my best friend had taken up with another friend group. I, in essence, had been dumped. She now had a new best friend- a few of them. I was heartbroken. I lost my grandmother, and immediately thereafter, my best friend. It hurt. I don’t blame her, please understand, and I realize that in high school, my absence of a few days probably felt like much longer. I’m sure she needed to find a place to position herself. High school can be hard to maneuver when you feel like you’re alone. I get it. Still, it hurt.

In my AR college, I spent most of my time with three girls I adored. TracEy, Stacey, and Robbin were so much fun! Oddly though, these relationships didn’t necessarily overlap one another in the group. Some of us were closer than others of us, although we all knew each other. I’m not sure that at that time we claimed “best friend” status. It’s like we were all best friends in our own way. Three of us had know each other a longer, but so many fun memories were made, and still are on precious, rare occasions.

In my TN college, I would find the most amazing group of fun women. There were five of us, and we did everything together. We’ve been in each other’s weddings, attended funerals, been present for births, and losses… this situation has proven itself to be different from the rest. I think, now, that it’s because there were no claims staked when these relationships were formed. It wasn’t a pairing off of “these two are best friends” and “those two are best friends”, it was just all of us together. This friend group has endured from its inception, and only strengthens the older we get. Those girls know they are invaluable to me. Any one of us would stop dead in our tracks to help the other at any given moment. Again, there is so much peace that comes with that knowledge… with truly finding your tribe.

My female relationships in adulthood have become more complex. I’m 49 years old, and I don’t have a non-blood related best friend. If I had to categorize any of my friendships, Jessica would be my built-in best friend. She has been since her birth, and I thank God that He sent me her as a companion for life. We may be friends by default, but I think even if we hadn’t been related, we would still love each other and be friends. I know I would.

The women God has put in my adult life are wonderful, Christian wives and mothers. Each of them, I guess because of our move here in the early 90s, have come into my life with built-in best friends already in place. Enter Amanda, again, the innocent intruder. Truth is, up until recently I’ve been fine with this dynamic. I’m used to it. I have lots of friends. That should be enough, right? We will share our time together- spend time in this friendship- and then thanks to the miracle of modern technology and social media, I get to be inundated by pictures of them with their true best friends, posting lovely tributes to one another, and never failing to leave out the words “bestie” or “BFF” in their descriptions. I finally had to come to terms with something this week. Not every friendship is meant to last. Not every friendship runs as deeply as you think it does. Not everyone that you would run to in a moment of need would do the same for you. That’s just a fact.

If you’ve never been the “outskirt friend” you probably have no idea what I’m referring to. Be thankful. It’s the adult version of not being invited to someone’s birthday party in elementary school. I truly believe social media intensified these things. Without it, we wouldn’t see the pictures or read the constant comments that seem to be put out there daily.

By this time in my writing, even I am saying, “Feel sorry for yourself much?!” But, it’s truth. It’s how I feel and how I perceive this. It hurts. Maybe just remember, when you have friends, even if she isn’t categorized as your “bestie”, being excluded doesn’t feel good, regardless of your age. Maybe let’s say, hypothetically, you’ve been through a traumatic weekend and you wonder where your “friends” are during their radio silence. It’s definitely been an eye opener.

I’ve talked to God about this. Maybe in my past, I’ve not been a good friend to someone. Perhaps, I dropped the ball when I needed to do more for a friend. Maybe that hurt friend was YOU. If it was you that I let down, please forgive me. I’m so sorry if I disappointed, hurt, or ignored you. I can promise you it wasn’t intentional. Just thoughtlessness. That’s still no excuse. I apologize if I wasn’t a good friend to you.

Anyway, I’m learning that God is drastically shifting the landscape of my life. He likes to shake things up with me. Always has. He likes to keep me awake and on my toes. Whatever it is that He needs me to learn now, I’ll be quiet after this public confession, and pray that I learn it. He wants to be our best friend. I’ll gladly let Him have that role.

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