Last weekend, my husband and I moved our son into an off-campus apartment in Isla Vista, the college town of UCSB where he’s a second-year student.Turned out, every hotel in the city was booked due to our usual poor planning, so I felt blessed when we scored the last room at the Goleta Motel 6 for a mere jacked-up rate of $230 per night.
We unloaded the last of the prized college boy furnishings from the U-Haul trailer including the jewel in the crown – the leather couch from our den, worn and badly stained with dog drool – a macho piece of seatery proudly bearing brass rivets and scratched wood casters. I loathed the thing until now, watching my son’s roommates settle into it which stirred an irrational longing for it to be back in my house, where 8th graders once sat on it playing video games and my world was simpler.
We bid our goodbyes after stuffing our son’s refrigerator and pantry with $300 worth of groceries and leaving enough paper towels and toilet paper to soak up the Pacific.And with that, we headed off to the Motel 6.
As a frequent traveler, I’ll admit to being a hotel snob made rhapsodic by Kiehl’s soaps and shampoos, huge fluffy towels and fifteen layers of mattress toppers that levitate my bed to Mars. The Goleta Motel 6 is not such a place. The humble bar of soap and thin, slightly worn washcloth ain’t the W Hotel. But the room was clean, the bed was comfortable and the front desk clerk couldn’t have been any nicer, giving us directions to a restaurant down the street where two exhausted parents could find a good meal at 10:30 PM.
In the few days that have followed, the familiar quiet empty house and the feelings with it returned, a memory from last year, when we’d dropped off our son the first time. I found myself texting obnoxious Mom advice to him as things occurred to me: “Make sure you lock your windows when you go for a run,” read one, followed by, “When you cook the microwave bacon, it stays in the package until it cooks.” Or, his personal favorite which caused him to finally draw a line, “The streets there look so hectic, please be careful when you’re riding your bike to campus or you could get hit by a car.”
Or, what if a meteor shower flattened the campus? A tsunami rose from an angry sea and washed out Isla Vista? The world is not safe; it never has been and never will be. Earthquakes shatter lives, terrorists blow up public spaces all over the world, kids bring guns to school and open fire, including an incident two years ago where an angry student shot and killed seven people blocks from where my son now lives. The world is a dangerous place.
The fragile contract which allows us to lease space on the planet for this great thing called life is both terrifying and breathtaking. And when it’s pondered deeply, we can fall into despair and a worry that causes us to exert control over the uncontrollable. I can’t control what happens to my son or anyone, actually. Just in the last week, my niece who is also a college student, was harassed by a horrible man who followed her in his car until she escaped into a store where the employees helped her, and my young cousin, a first-year college student barely at school a month, attended a fraternity party where she encountered a gunman who shot a security guard.And all of this since last Saturday! Good God!
Speaking of which, when I get to this spun out, oh shit place, I pray. Because the vast uncertainty of safety can only be solved by a faith in God’s purpose and hand in our lives. Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman imprisoned in a concentration camp for helping Jews escape in WWII, observed, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
I would love to ask God for a life of plush hotel robes, warm towels and safety and health for everyone I love. But He explicitly tells us that’s not an option and says instead, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 17:1
I think of the humble entry of Jesus coming to Earth to deliver on that promise, which brings me back to the Motel 6. Though scholars debate the true conditions Jesus was born into–“stables” in those days were often inside people’s homes, and the wise men came weeks or even months later, so our Nativity decor is a lovely mashup–one thing everyone agrees on is that Jesus wasn’t born in a luxury hotel. The king of the universe came to Earth under the simplest of circumstances. No Kiehl’s soaps, no memory foam and feather toppers.
But like the Motel 6, Jesus promises to leave the light on. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”–John 8:12 The inn that always has a vacancy for us is God’s.So in this state of the world–has it always been this crazy? Or is now especially so? I would argue we’re going through an especially crazy patch of truly weird shit, which is why it’s more comforting than ever to know that light is on.