-Rita Langworthy, Winter 2005
“How can you laugh at a time like this?!” my daughter wailed. I had just managed to lock her keys in her car with the motor running while it was sitting in a lane of traffic on a busy New Jersey street. I was laughing until the tears rolled. Situations such as this are not uncommon for me because I have been blessed with the gift of klutziness. For much of my life I considered it a humiliating curse; my thorn in my brain that God would not take away. But lately I understand that it has been the catalyst for my close relationship with God an unexpected one in which we laugh a lot.
The examples of those messes which cause us to laugh are too numerous to even recall, much less relate. One of the most classic was a trip God and I made from New Jersey a couple of years ago. My daughter, Lin, was moving to her very small Manhattan apartment and wanted me to take the things that wouldn’t fit all her furniture plus her neurotic shepherd-mix dog.
Klutzes must plan carefully and allow extra time because, most likely, something will go wrong. So the day before the trip home, Easter Sunday, I began the preparations. I filled the U-Haul with gas and stopped at an ATM for travel money. As I drove under the overhang at the bank I felt three jolting bumps. Hmmm, I thought. That is an odd place for speed bumps. I returned to my daughter’s apartment and went out on her balcony to admire my parking feat. (For klutzes, parking properly is an Olympic event.) To my horror, the open closed signs from the bank drive-thru were stuck in the roof of the truck! And in front of the signs were two sets of holes ripped open by the signs before they were finally torn from the roof of the overhang. I had to admit to my daughter that this time I was having a little trouble staying calm. God, are you trying to tell me not to make this trip? Is this a warning? But as Lin and I taped pieces of plastic rug runners over the holes, giggles bubbled up from my soul. I felt God’s smile and knew this was just one more fine mess I had gotten myself into. Once again my gift had been stirred up.
The next morning I double-checked with God to see if this trip was really going to be safe. Hearing nothing, I loaded the dog into the truck and sat there for 10 minutes waiting for him to calm down. Finally I gripped the steering wheel and said, “This is not looking good, God. But here we go. Please don’t leave me alone with this dog.” Before we were out of the parking lot the dog had destroyed the cardboard barrier I had erected between us and was attacking the moving windshield wipers. Of course, it had started to rain. As we pulled up to the toll booth entering the New Jersey turnpike, I carefully checked the height restrictions (and added some inches for the lights that were still in the roof). Feeling confident that I had outsmarted my klutziness, I proceeded. As I reached for the toll ticket, the dog lunged. The ticket flew out of my hand and blew down the highway. I fought off the dog, jumped out of the truck and grabbed the ticket. I raced back to the truck to find the dog sitting in the driver’s seat daring me to open the door. I glanced at the growing line of New Jersey drivers behind me miraculously none of them were honking grabbed the door handle and yelled, “Get the dog, God. I’m coming in.” The dog froze, I squeezed in beside him, gripped the steering wheel and announced, “OK, God, this is it. There’s no turning back now.” What a sight we must have been. A klutzy lady with a crazy dog cruising down I-80 in a U-Haul with bank lights on the roof. The cab filled with laughter as I reflected on what had already happened on this trip. Who would ever believe my report? Within a few miles the dog laid down and put his head in my lap. And for the next 14 hours he was calm while God and I enjoyed each other. We admired His beautiful handiwork along the way and talked about my gift. I asked him where He was when I was tearing the lights off the drive-thru. He reminded me He was there making sure I didn’t destroy the whole bank. And we laughed. U-Haul, however, wasn’t amused. They didn’t accept my suggestion that with its new ventilation and natural lighting the truck could be used for hauling live plants. In fact, the manager said the insurance I purchased would not cover the damage because it was due to negligence. I guess she doesn’t understand klutziness. I could only respond, “Whatever. Send me the bill.” As we left the store I whispered, “Did you hear that, God? You’re going to have to come up with quite a bit of money.”
I never heard from U-Haul, so I add that to the list of travel miracles. Never before or since has the dog ridden in a car without being heavily sedated and crated. Never before or since, have I stayed awake and alert for 14 hours in a moving vehicle. But many times before and many times since, I have laughed with God.
Oh sure, I have had my share of tragedies and grief. The sudden death of my son-in-law and the agonizingly slow death of my husband were times when my faith was nearly shattered. During those seasons of night, God and I cried together and I felt His everlasting arms. Yet it is our laughter that strengthens my faith. Worry destroys trust, and worry has been a struggle for everyone in my family for several generations. But I find it impossible to laugh and worry in the same moment. Therefore my gift of klutziness has become my blessing. Each time God and I laugh, I cast my care. Each time I cast my care, my faith increases.
Perhaps I should apologize for sounding as though I am not taking God seriously. But I won’t. I spent my childhood and youth being terrified of Him and I can’t return to that level of relationship. Ponder the words of the old hymn Jesus Is All the World to Me. When I am sad, to Him I go. No other one can cheer me so. When I am sad, He makes me glad. He’s my friend!