In The Trunks of Our Cars

Zach and Dusty, 1994

Zach and Dusty, 1994

One day, about fifteen years ago, my mom realized that their beloved dog, Dusty, was missing. He was the sweet Springer Spaniel my parents had adopted as a puppy after my sister and I left home. He was smart and gentle–a great companion to my younger brother as a teenager, and a patient playmate for the grandkids that came in quick succession during the 1980’s.

I’ll never forget the panic I heard in my mom’s voice on that fateful day when she called to say that Dusty had disappeared.

“When did you see him last?” I asked.

“When we got home from the store. He ran out and greeted us as usual, but that was hours ago and we haven’t seen him since. He’s not in the yard, anywhere. I’ve called and called for him–even went into the woods, but there’s just no sign of him!”

Mom was really upset. Dusty was Mom’s constant companion during the day, and Dad’s walking partner in the evenings. He had eased their transition to empty-nesters by simply being his friendly self.

“Are you sure he’s not in the house, hiding somewhere?”

“I’ve searched every room, and besides that, he always comes when I call.”

“Do you think he’s run off, farther away?”

“We’ve already driven up and down the road for miles and called and called, but nothing. I’ve talked to all the neighbors and they haven’t seen him.” Her voice broke, making my heart hurt for her. “Oh, Willow–I hope he’s okay!”

I hung up the phone, feeling helpless from my distant location on the other end of Montana. All I could do was pray.

The next morning, I awoke thinking of Dusty.

The phone rang a little while later. “He’s back! Dusty’s here!” Mom’s tone was jubilant.

“Where was he? How did you find him?” I asked.old nissan

Mom giggled in a rather odd way and then hesitated. She cleared her throat before going on to tell me that prior to leaving for work that morning, Dad had opened the trunk of their little Nissan sedan to put something in and out jumped Dusty. It seems he had been in the trunk of the car all along. For something like a terrible eighteen hours.

Apparently, Dad had walked by the car after unloading it the day before and closed the trunk lid without looking inside it. Looking back, he figured Dusty must have jumped inside, but didn’t protest when the lid slammed down. Dad and Mom both felt horrible.

Especially considering that the whole evening before, while they were driving the back roads, searching the ditches and calling for him from the car windows, the dog was right there–right behind the back seat, in the trunk. Being a patient fellow, he hadn’t made a noise, at least nothing that could be heard above the hum of the engine.

My parents’ immense relief was mixed with immense guilt. They might as well have been Mafia bosses driving around with a silenced informant stuffed in their trunk.


The Pharisees, along with all the Jewish people, were watching and waiting for the arrival of the long-predicted Messiah. They were desperate for God to raise up a mighty leader who would deliver them from Roman oppression and re-establish the nation of Israel as a kingdom under a Messianic kingship. As a defeated people, the Jews were expecting a political reformer to lead them to national victory, not a humble carpenter’s son who, shunning politics, was there to lead them to spiritual freedom.

And so it was, when Jesus came and lived among them, most of the Jews (especially the Pharisees) refused to believe that he was the one they were looking for. But Jesus stated his identity plainly from the beginning of his ministry:

“Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached…’The time promised by God has come at last!…’The Kingdom of God is near!'” Mark 1:14-15 (NLT)


“…the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’ Jesus replied, ‘The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you. “‘Luke 17:20-21 (NLT)

Of course, most of the Pharisees were blind and deaf to Jesus’ truth. Rather than humbly opening themselves up to the possibility that their presumptions regarding the Messiah’s return were too narrow, they dug in, refusing to see Jesus as anything but a threat to their authority.

In the end, their search for something they already had would result in Jesus’ agonizing death.

Dusty, too, would have eventually died if Mom and Dad hadn’t discovered that, all along, while they were diligently and frantically searching for him, he was right there with them…only a few feet away.


One of the more aggravating symptoms of my Pharisaism disease was a bout of unhealthy expectations. Most likely related to the larger problem of presumption, these expectations became chronic and damaging over time. They caused me to narrow my perspective on the purpose of church, and caused me to expect that the way I did church was the way that God had universally prescribed for all Christians.

martintown-churchI expected that every church should be housed in a clean, respectable facility, should conduct regular Sunday morning services, should have pleasing worship music, should insist on literal word-for-word bible studies, and be led by a qualified, professional pastor. Anything less could put its members in danger of heresy, or apostasy, or any number of other dangerous conditions ending in -sy.

I expected that the kingdom of God was populated with committed, sober, upright people whose good behavior was the vehicle that allowed them to bring Jesus to their community. That it was every Christian’s duty to whip our culture back into shape–to get people to all live respectably, as I defined respectability, that is.

I fully expected that the American Christian Church model was the only true representation of God’s kingdom to society and I needed to do everything right in order to keep God’s displeasure with America at bay, and then be first in line to receive my reward for doing so.

The problem was, though, that I wasted a ton of time preparing for something that had already arrived.

I was driving around in my religious institutional vehicle, calling out for Jesus, searching for him, longing for him to come and show himself to the pagan culture, not realizing that he was already with me and everyone else.

I didn’t realize I had locked him up inside my sick presumptions.


Concerning the whole Dusty ordeal, Mom later said the worst part was hoping the neighbors wouldn’t press for specifics when they asked if the dog had been found. Dad said the worst part for him was when the the poor dog leapt out of the trunk and started running around on three legs so he could pee while still running. Practically flooded the yard, Dad reported.

But everything turned out okay in the end. Dusty survived just fine.running-dog

And, as a diseased church person, so did I…

…but only after I opened my mind.

73 comments on “In The Trunks of Our Cars

  1. Rachel LM says:

    Miss old Dusty. What a great analogy, Willow! Really puts it in perspective.

    • Willow says:

      Dusty’s demise was felt by the family for a long, long. He was so calm for a Springer. Mom took this picture because she said Zach was having a long, cute conversation with the patient dog. Thanks for stopping by, Rachel!

  2. Very cool story! Nice connection!

  3. jacqjameson says:

    Thanks for sharing a great message! ~Jacq

  4. Adam Drake says:

    This is amazing. I fight the “Pharisee” side of myself too. I loved this and need to hear this more often! God bless, truly.

    • Willow says:

      I’m finding that the more I can laugh at myself and see the funny side of life, the more the Pharisee inside me pulls back. He’s been quieter lately. Appreciate your feedback!

  5. Britt says:

    A heartwarming example of finding God in small, a-ha moments… and a fantastic story.

  6. Wow! :) What a great analogy (I dare say I had a nice laugh regarding Dusty). :) Sorry (still laughing), as I’m sure that was a scarey experience for both pet and owners. Glad Dusty is fine. :) Thank you for posting. Such a great lesson we all need to learn.

    • Willow says:

      So glad you got a kick out of this. My poor family, though–this whole blogging thing has prompted me to maliciously reveal all our dark secrets. Nothing’s safe with me anymore. Sorry guys…

      • We all have experiences that seem shameful or embarrassing. This one was just an honest mistake that lead to a very fortunate, happy ending, and a great analogy for a very much needed bit of spiritual truth (and for me — laugh). :) Be blessed, and I hope my laughter wasn’t hurtful. :)

  7. nuggets4u says:

    Loved this post :) I had two springers from pups to old age…not a boring moment ever in the house lol… I also long for a difference in Church…away from traditions of men …more of what God’s Word says it is… at the same time found this link by another blogger


    Pastor Gail

    • Willow says:

      Interesting link–thanks! I am learning that more I want the church to be different, the more I have to look first for the things that need changing in my own heart.

  8. eric wignes says:

    i used to have the view that the ‘kingdom’ is similar to the kind with castles, that jesus was a burden, faith in him contradicted all other beliefs, and faith contradicted using my brain.

    but year after year i heard him say, ”he who has ears let him hear”, and all these other things that made me think he was instead describing a way of life- a truth to be discovered. i no longer equate having ‘faith’ in jesus with believing he came to die for my sins. i instead think he had a truth worth dying for and the church slaughtered him, made use of his death, and established a tradition of worshiping his blood.

    and i can’t help but feel i know jesus better than ever now.

  9. CheriSpeak says:

    Psst…they forgot to let me out too! :p great story!

  10. aswingle says:

    Thanks for the great story and a much needed reminder that God is in places we forget to look, and in places where we tend not to pay any mind to.

    Great work!

  11. The Waiting says:

    Willow! Congrats on Freshly Pressed! Such a great post deserving of such an honor! Sorry I haven’t been around in awhile. Something must have happened and my subscription to your blog was dropped for some reason. But I’ve been in your trunk the whole time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a potty break ;)

    • Willow says:

      I thought I heard something rattling around in there. I should have checked sooner! Thank you, Emily–I get the biggest kick out of your blog and really appreciate your excellent writing.

  12. pezcita says:

    Poor Dusty! This is a profound analogy. I remember doing the whole search for a perfect church with my parents and hating it. My own personal Bible studies led to beliefs that are much different from most people’s, so I no longer attend church. Would be wonderful if I could find more of my own kind to meet with though, even if they weren’t perfect.

    • Willow says:

      Doesn’t necessarily have to be an organized church, but it’s good to find a few trusted people you can pray with. You’ll find that if you keep searching. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Sam McManus says:

    Very nice job. You remind me of my jeep.

  14. Wow! Great analogy. Thank you for being so authentic. I think there are many of us exploring our faith and the meaning of church. I spent many years overseas that helped me to see the simplicity of church and following Jesus that I am forever thankful for.

  15. andy1076 says:

    LOL running on one leg just to get it all out after being in the trunk, good on dusty for holding it in :D

  16. Storm says:

    I have to feel so bad for Dusty.

  17. Ayushman Khazanchi says:

    Really heartfelt. Enjoyed it a lot!

  18. just1city says:

    I left a cat in my racecar for a week once… Same thing happened. I had it open, cat crawled in… didn’t see it, shut the door… cat was missing. We looked everywhere, called and called for it, and nothing. Finally decided a dog or coyotes got her. A week later I’m walking out to my car, look over, and there she is in the back window of the Mustang very frantic and very excited to see me. I couldn’t believe she was still alive, healthy, hadn’t torn up anything… but man was she hungry and thirsty.

    • Willow says:

      It is certainly nice to know that my family isn’t the only one to make these kinds of mistakes. I bet Miss Kitty didn’t ever crawl inside a car again. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Karen Quiner says:

    I love this post. You make some really wonderful points. I do think, however, that it would be a mistake to think that because so many church goers are sinners and get it wrong most of the time (me), that we don’t need institutional church. I know that that isn’t what you are saying, but so many people use that as an excuse to not commit to a church community.

    Your point that God is not only to be found in the lily white, clean, sober, American Christian church is a good one. He is to be found under bridges, in homeless camps, at bus stops, in nature, in drug and alcohol recovery centers, … everywhere.

    But Jesus set the whole program up in community. Christians eventually need community for growth, support, and to know Him better. I say this knowing full well that the Christian churches are full of sinners.

    Someone much wiser than I said that the miracle of Christianity is that it has survived Christians.

    You have a wonderful blog. Congratulations on getting freshly pressed.

    God Bless you and all your readers.

    • Willow says:

      Karen—you are so, so right. I hope no one ever comes away from my posts thinking that I’m against church attendance. The core message that I hope to convey through all my writing is the IN ME part of my blog’s subtitle. The real problem inside any church I might attend is first and foremost inside my own dark heart. All those sanitized sins that I overlooked inside me (pride, selfishness, greed, gluttony, gossip, to name a few) in order to point out the external ones that I saw as much worse. Why, as a good church girl I would never cuss or smoke or get drunk or sleep around, etc. Grace has intervened, though, and a humbling epiphany showed me that those things were, at times, less dangerous than heart sins, because their consequences are usually painful enough to effect change quicker. I could easily have gone to the grave without ever, ever dealing with those putrid inside sins and harmed so many people in the process. For far too many years I, like the Pharisees, refused to jump into John’s river of repentance, thinking that because my works were good, I was good.

      Truly, the antidote to Pharisaism is community. You are totally right, Karen. We desperately need others. I find it really interesting that the title of Pharisee actually meant “separated one” because of their practice of staying separated from the outside world in order to stay “clean.”

      I hugely appreciate your comments today. You are thoughtful and articulate. Blessings to you!

  20. jimceastman says:

    It’s not necessary to go to church if we’re really seeking connection with God. You’re right. We don’t need to explore and search God to know who he really is. If we have faith, we can actually feel him. BTW. Great Post. I enjoyed stopping by your blog. So powerful and meaningful.

  21. You’re right, too. I believe that seeking connection with God is always the first step. That way, we’ll be open to being led by Him, whether or not that means going to an actual organized church. That being said, though, I do think that we’ll always, always be directed to stay in relationships and in community. That’s the only way we can carry out His command to love others. Also, I’m thinking that He’s just way too big to find in only one face. He’s revealing his fullness through a whole body of believers, right? Thank you so much for your feedback!

    • jimceastman says:

      You’re most welcome. It’s my pleasure to be here. I definitely agree that serving and loving the community with great compassion will lead us to greater connection to God. Good luck for upcoming write ups! Congrats for being in FP by the way. :-)

  22. Amen!! I have always told people that if it weren’t for people like me Jesus would have never come. ” I didn’t come to save the righteous.” One of my favorites. I finally was baptized at the age of 47…seven years ago.

  23. Willow says:

    You make me smile. That verse you referred to is one of my favorites. I really like the way the New Living Translation says it: “For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Matt 9:13 (NLT) Thanks for chiming in!

  24. Meg says:

    Loved this! I just went to a church that has taken over an old high school, really different than anything I was used to and I was so glad I went!

  25. flramblings says:

    What a wonderful illustration. I’m thankful He taught me that Christianity is not synonymous with “church-ianity”, that it’s about relationship not requisites, intimacy not isolation, compassion not cruelty, grace not gratitude.

    • I really like the relationship vs. requisites phrase. Such a huge difference between serving someone because you have to or serving them because you long to. Thank you!

  26. lexiesnana says:

    I loved how you weaved both stories together.Blessings

  27. dairyairhead says:

    I love your three distinct parts of this story: Dusty, Pharissees, modern pharisaic behavior. As mentioned above, you tie them together wonderfully, and I love how you bring it back to Dusty at the end. This is a great way to get people thinking about their views on the church without making them look at it a certain way. You allow the readers to have their own thoughts. Thank you.

  28. iamzion says:

    I want to thank you for sharing your story describing the journey that led you to a new and more bold way of living in the Truth that God is not near as demanding for sacrificial obedience to one way of worship as unfortunately He is often understood to be maligned by our failure to grasp that Love is not able to be contained and cloistered away behind only One interpretation and I’m truly moved by your ability to share your new understanding of the Presence of Love , a fellow Friend that walks beside even those of us who don’t radiate with the shine of the more polished among the devout, the constant loyalty that keeps him ever present in the life of a sinner and still a man that knows the Love of which you just gave witness too in this beautiful prose. Peace and Love be with you.

    • Hmm…” the constant loyalty that keeps him ever present in the life of a sinner…” I like that line. I’ve never really pondered God’s loyalty to me before. I’ve always believed He will “never leave me nor forsake me” but still I’ve never attached that thought to God being loyal to people. Of course He is, but my former religious mindset always exclusively emphasized that I was to be loyal to Him. I’m warmed by the thought that even though I don’t deserve it, God remains loyal to me as His child forever. Wow. Thank you!

  29. ena says:

    sadly too often we stuff Jesus in the trunk and just leave him there. An unexamined faith, like an unexamined life is not worth living. May your examination of the faith you are building lead you to some startling discoveries.

    • So far, I’ve found that the most startling discoveries have often been hidden in the most ordinary moments. I spent way too much time thinking that my faith had to be grand, glorious, and public. How silly and how sad I was at those times. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  30. Jnana Hodson says:

    Too often, in reading the Biblical texts, we assume we’re not among the Pharisees and Sadducees, but reality argues otherwise.
    I’m so glad this story has a happy ending.

  31. “I fully expected that the American Christian Church model was the only true representation of God’s kingdom to society and I needed to do everything right in order to keep God’s displeasure with America at bay, and then be first in line to receive my reward for doing so.” Exactly right. Living 5 years in Portugal has changed our thinking about the American Christian Church. Thanks for the post. Looking forward to poking around a little more in the coming days.

    • I lived in Canada for almost ten years and even though it’s practically the same as living in America, it was still eye-opening to see things from the other side of the border. My perspective changed and it was good for me. I’m as patriotic as the next person, but I do think that even patriotism can be over-emphasized sometimes and we can end up alienating our Christian “siblings” in other countries. I find it interesting that the Pharisees during Jesus’ time were staunch nationalists. Thanks for visiting my blog. I checked yours out and am impressed with your message and expert writing skills. Keep it up!

      • Oftentimes I feel a sense of that alienation, even though I’m American, but because I’m serving in Portugal.
        I like thinking through how the modern day Pharisee would really look, too. I’ve followed your blog and am truly honored by the compliment. May you see Jesus in my writing.

  32. Don Stephens says:

    Great Post, Willow. I’ve been meaning to visit for awhile. Your blog title and tag line make me smile, and the application of this delightful story is brilliant. Looks like you need to get back to writing?

    • Hi Don–I’ve actually been struggling a bit to stay current with my blog while marketing my first novel and writing its sequel. I’m starting to get snippets of new blog material out, though, and will have something new next week. If I remember correctly, you’re familiar with the YWAM base in Montana, right? My husband and I used to go to functions there in the early 90’s. Actually, I just returned from a book signing today in Kalispell. I really value your feedback–your writing has made me see biblical concepts in a new way on several occasions. Thanks for stopping by!

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