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Transmission Fear

September 13, 2013

laurentianI fear driving my car into a remote region and then breaking down. I fear being in remote regions. I’m not sure which one I fear more: The car breaking down or the remote region. But I know where it all started.

My dad, Jack Phillips, liked the whole world to think he was a brave man. He put on brave airs, did manly things, took risks, drank too much, smoked too much, swore way too much. His friends believed he was the epitome of courage and manliness. But his children knew differently.

My dad feared one thing recurrently. Whenever we would go on vacation, he would begin the mantra: “I hope the car is okay”. The moment we backed down the driveway on a trip he started worrying his way through the miles. Every time he heard the slightest noise, we were all hushed so he could identify which part on the car was about to explode. He favored two areas more than the rest: the transmission and the tires. He knew just about everything there was to know about the transmission, having dismantled ours and reassembled it several times. He had bought the Pontiac Laurentian because he had heard from a buddy it had an indestructible tranny. He heard it was indestructible, but my brother, mother, sister and I knew he didn’t believe it.

“I think it’s the transmission” he would say. When he made this announcement of doom, we all grew silent.

“Audrey, did you hear that? I told you it was the transmission. It’s about to go. We should turn back.” I hadn’t heard anything and neither did anyone but dad. He carried on this way for miles and miles, stopping occasionally to purge his soul of its excess fear, and then launch anew into another round of hearing disastrous noises.

One time, we drove out of Kamloops, British Columbia on what would eventually become the Yellowhead  highway (but was in those days only a narrow two-lane road), making our way up to Prince George, B.C. On the way, Dad wanted to stop at Bridge Lake and do some fishing. So we turned off at the town of Little Fort and headed west. It was 1968, and during those years, not every road was paved all the way to the next town. Often the towns would maintain a paved road for about 3-5 miles and then it would be dirt until 5 miles before the next town. We were on one dirt section 20 miles outside of Little Fort when we came around a sharp curve. Dad had been making dire predictions for an hour. On this trip, he was sure two of the tires were “out of round” and would soon pop.

Silly man. This was the only time in all the years we had gone on vacation he should have stayed with his Transmission theme.

At the far end of the curve, several five-inch rocks rolled off the embankment onto the road. Dad swerved to miss the biggest one and another one rolled under our car just as we passed. Every one of us heard the rock as it hit the undercarriage of the Pontiac. The impact sounded like a hammer striking a cooking pot. Dad immediately pulled over the car.

He got out and bent down looking under the car. When he stood up again after about a minute, he was pale. He took a cigarette out of his pocket and walked up the road about 100 feet, puffing anxiously. He picked up several rocks in succession and threw them at nothing in particular. I could make out some choice profanity as he stood a distance from us. Then, after venting, he walked calmly back to the car, opened the door and plopped into the front seat.

“It’s the transmission” was all he said.

The moment we had been waiting for all those years had arrived. It felt like we had been emotionally saving up for this disaster like people would squirrel away money for college. But nothing can prepare you for that moment when your deepest fears are realized. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Our car was incapacitated. The rock had come up under the car and drilled a hole right through the transmission casing. All the fluid had leaked out and was now forming a small river flowing past the back tires. In those days without cell phones, we had to wait for someone to drive by so we could flag them down for a ride.

An hour passed before someone came by; and they didn’t stop. The third car that came (about 20 minutes after the first two) did stop and offered to drive my dad into the next town, Bridge Lake, which was another 40 minutes down the road. As he went with the driver, mom made us a picnic lunch, sang songs, played road games, refereed two fights between my brother and I, took a nap, smoked a half pack of cigarettes and never once complained.

She was a saint and a wonderful alternative to my dad’s approach to fear.

Finally, dad arrived with the tow-truck and we were taken to Bridge Lake where we got a motel room and stayed for three days while our car got fixed. I caught the biggest fish I ever caught there and I enjoyed our time.

As I said, I fear my car breaking down in the middle of nowhere. I don’t blame my dad for that. He did jump-start my mind in that direction, but I am the one who accelerates the fear every time I go on a trip. At least, that’s how it was for years. It wasn’t my dad’s fault that I mirrored his fear, because I could have chosen a different path. Every person has freedom of choice and can copy anything or anyone they want. I could have been serene and composed like my mother. I could have lived in a world of optimism and joy like some people do. But I decided that fear of cars breaking was the family tradition I wanted to emulate.

One time, when my wife was several months pregnant with our second son, I drove her down to a doctor’s appointment. We lived in a very small town and the doctor was a two-hour drive. Within minutes of leaving town, I began listening to the noises I thought the car was making. My wife had learned to tune out my fearful descriptions of car sounds, choosing to live normally instead. I had appointed myself Chief Fear Predictor and my favorite subjects were the transmission and the carburetor.

A half hour from our goal, the car started to run rough. For several minutes I would step on the gas and the car would almost stall out. I looked at the landscape around us and confirmed we were essentially in the middle of nowhere. My anger and fear combined together to make an explosive combination. As the car went slower and slower, I started to make dire predictions about what would happen to us. I am too embarrassed to admit what I said, but you can ask my wife. She remembers every word.

Finally, the car took one final lunge, stalled and coasted to a complete stop. No matter how many times I turned the key, it would not re-start. We were stuck. Our oldest son John was in the back seat strapped into his car seat and he witnessed the worst outburst I had ever done. I got out the car and lifted the hood. All I could smell was a pervasive odor of gasoline. It filled the air. Just as my dad had willed the death of his transmission, I had somehow brought about the demise of my carburetor.

There I sat on the side of the road in misery, with no idea how I would get my wife, child and myself to the town we needed to be at. I was locked up in a straitjacket of fear and miserable that my black imagination had come true.

God took that moment to speak to my heart. I decided to go for a short walk down the highway to cool off (I now know why my dad had walked the hundred feet ahead of the car) and I decided to ask God what I should do. God didn’t want to talk about that. Into my mind, instead, came the following insight.

“Mike, you do realize that fear is destroying your life. You have lived with fear for so long you are causing others around you to be genuinely affected by it. Do you want fear to be the defining factor of who you will become?”

I admitted to God that everything He said to me was true. But I didn’t know how to fix it. So I asked God what I could do.

God asked if I truly believed he was speaking to me. I did believe. Did I believe God would ever leave me or stop speaking to me? I did not believe God could leave me. Two days before, I had underlined Hebrews 13:5 in my Bible: “”I will never leave you; I will never forsake you” says the Lord.”

“Then why are you afraid?”

That really was the question. I have since learned that fear is based on any number of different beliefs. But at the core of them all is the idea “I am not safe.” All fears are based on some variation of that belief. For most people who have life-altering fears, this belief started early in their years. It certainly had started at a young age for me.

“God, what can I do about it?”

“Mike, this would be a great place to surrender this fear and believe that I will never leave you in any circumstance.” So in that place, on Highway 93, 20 miles north of Cranbrook, B.C., I surrendered my fear that I would break down in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight. A great weight lifted off my soul and I was set free.

From that day forward, I have broken down six times in the middle of nowhere. You thought I was going to say I never broke down, didn’t you? Nope. I have broken down six times, and every time God brought along someone to help me in the midst of my problem. Two of those times, the supply was miraculous. But those are other tales.

If you live in fear today, let God show you the source. Then, if you like, surrender that fear and let God prove his love for you. The trade is worth it.

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One comment

  1. Great post, Mike. Thanks!



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