During past seasons when our family has done a lot of traveling in the U.S., we often have stayed in the budget motel chain, Motel 6.  With rooms starting at $39.99 and 1,100 hotels that dot the U.S. map, you can almost always find an affordable room to stay for the night.

You also know what you can expect.  The rooms are generally clean.  The shower pressure is just enough to wash your body but not enough to invigorate the senses.  The rooms, the lobby, the whole place is very utilitarian and simple. But at 60 bucks or so I’m not complaining.  You stay at a Motel 6 because you can rest your weary traveler’s body for the night and because it’s cheap.


Contrast the Motel 6 experience with where my wife and I stayed this past weekend for a get-away. The Hotel Tugu Malang is a wonderful, soulful hotel which overlooks a giant lotus pond and monument that commemorates Indonesian’s struggle for independence and rests in an old Dutch, tree-shaded part of town.  The hotel was built by art lovers and there are vast caverns of art and antiques to explore throughout the property.  The lobby has plenty of places to sit comfortably and read, accompanied by the sounds of a gentle fountain.  Gardens galore.  An upstairs tea room offers free Indonesian refreshments every afternoon and you can sip your tea while overlooking the lotus pond from the veranda.  The rooms are cute and quaint, accented with teak wood, and the decorators very much paid attention to detail.   The staff wears traditional Indonesian batik clothing.  The hotel is connected to a delicious Italian restaurant and to get there you can stroll through a long “tunnel of love” which is draped with colorful tapestries.


After 24 hours at the Hotel Tugu Malang our spirits and bodies were refreshed for another season.  Usually after a night at the Motel 6, and a strong cup of coffee, we are ready to hit the road again.


While we were at the Tugu, and I was enjoying some soul reflecting time, I looked around the lush gardens and comfortable lobbies and thought how much my inner life does not reflect the spaciousness of this place but more the utilitarian-ness of a Motel 6.  Instead of gazing at beauty, like which can be found so richly in my Savior’s eyes, I opt for a quick quiet time out of the door and on to my day.


My soul feels most of the time as spacious as a Motel 6 lobby.  I want it to more resemble the gentle gardens of the Hotel Tugu lobby, vibrant yet restful, but to get there I have to down shift my soul.  Usually my to-do list sets the pace for my day and I don’t have time for silly things like nature walks.  What about worship just for the sake of worship?  A little poetry and not just e-mails all the time?  What do I need to do to renovate my Motel 6 lobby soul into the spaciousness of the Tugu?


Which would you enjoy more, the Motel 6 or the Tugu?  Me too.


Keep the Change!

I straddle my motorcycle and give the “parkir” a 1,000 Indonesia Rupiah bill, worth about a dime in U.S. currency.  A parkir’s job is to guard my motorcycle while I’m inside the store he stands in front of, and I have to pay him afterwards whether I requested his services or not.  When I leave the parking lot he will blow a whistle to help me merge into oncoming traffic.


The standing price for motorcycle guarding in Indonesian parking lots is 500 Rupiah, or about a nickel.  Usually when I give the 1,000 Rupiah bill, he will slowly walk to his bench with its large stack of coins, look over his shoulder to see if I am still there waiting for change.  If I am, he will feel disappointed and walk overt to me and hand over the nickel.


I am.  I am staring him down.   I’m not going to play his game.  The fair price is a nickel and I’m waiting for my change.  Ah ha…I won!  He hands it over and I sputter out of the parking lot, feeling vindicated.


But I don’t feel joy.  I feel like I haven’t been cheated today, but that’s not joy.  What I’m feeling is a petty form of justice.  Joy is something extra, something deeper than happiness, something that makes up one-third of the kingdom of God:  “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:7).


What did my exacting attitude for exact change get me?  A lot of plastic bags of Indonesian nickels.  What can you do with an Indonesian nickel?  You can buy a piece of candy.  You can buy a small plastic cup of water.  But as an adult I really don’t buy candy and I go for water bottles, not cups.


So all that loose change sat in my house, inside those plastic bags, mocking me.  What price did I pay for them?  Instead of the joy of blessing these people called parkirs, chatting with them, getting to know them, maybe even praying for them or sharing Jesus, I saw them as my enemies.  I got my nickels but those nickels got my joy.


Recently I was wondering why I wasn’t feeling joy more consistently.  You know, that state of being that the Bible calls normative for people walking in faith: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:8).


That definitely wasn’t me.  Nowhere near me.  Then God spoke.  One reason for my lack of joy was too much loose change in my pockets. There were many little things stealing my joy, just like the little foxes that ruined Solomon’s vineyards (Song of Solomon 2:15). Maybe it was some latent culture shock that was causing me to stare down those parkirs.  Whatever the case, I needed to let it go.  Release.


So I started something new.  Now when a parkir collects the 1,000 bill and slowly saunters to his bench, I wait for him to turn toward me, and then I do something radical, something revolutionary, something joy-inspiring.  “Keep the change,” I say with a smile.  He gets his extra nickel, he is happy.  I get some of my joy back, I am happy.


What loose change is stealing your joy today?  Do you have to keep keeping it?  Can you let it go?

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate