Goofy 51

  • Steve Hatter

The famous visionary and entrepreneur Walt Disney opened the doors of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in October of 1971. I was living in a small town called Maitland at that time with my mom and dad and two brothers. Maitland was a new little suburb that stood at the northernmost edge of Central Florida civilization back then. Beyond my neighborhood lay only swamps, pine forests, orange groves, and farmland all the way to Gainesville, which was a hundred and fifty miles or so to the north.

My dad was in the aerospace industry as an employee of Martin Marietta, and we had moved from Denver, Colorado to Maitland in 1969. Of course, the Orlando population and economy exploded with the arrival of Mr. Disney carrying his vision to build the “happiest place on earth,” and the young Hatter family was surely along for that wild ride of growth and change over those next many years until my parents moved to Europe with the Martin company during my college years.

As you might imagine, the opportunity to be among the first Americans to enter through the gates of the newly minted Magic Kingdom, was something many locals were lining up to do. Thus, my mom and dad committed to a full family Disney experience, much of which I still remember to this day. The one thing that I absolutely remember—as if it were burned into my just barely 14 year old brain—was our tiny parking location amidst the vast sea of cars neatly arranged on top of acres and acres of sticky hot (it’s still pretty hot in Orlando in October!) asphalt. Our spot was Goofy 51, which means it was in the “Goofy” section, one of dozens Disney character-named sections stretching as far as the eye could see.

My dad, rightly assessing and understanding the magnitude of the risk Disney customers assume when voluntarily parking within the seemingly endless lots, looked at me and my two brothers and commanded: “DO NOT FORGET WE’RE IN GOOFY 51!” This is because the idea of looking for a “lost” vehicle, absent proper coordinates, within those massive Disney lots, could have ended up being a life and death matter. My teenage brain was envisioning a wandering half-staved family of five, ragged refugees trapped in an asphalt wilderness, lest we return successfully to the safe haven of our station wagon found in Goofy 51. My dad had put fear of my very survival in me.

Obviously, I remembered Goofy 51, and yes, we found the car after a full day of “Disneying.” Interestingly, I so much remembered Goofy 51 such that even today, at age 66, if I am ever in a huge parking lot, whether mall, or stadium, or anywhere near the Russian River, I hear myself saying under my breath “Goofy 51.”

So why does this rather silly story matter? Well, I believe that I heard my dad’s powerful command and obeyed him some 52 years ago because he was a strong authority figure in my life. I was a late bloomer growing up, with a squeaky high voice, and a short stature such that I still looked up to 5 foot four mom at age 14. Thus, my dad at six feet was both awesome and fearful. He was my provider and protector, and I trusted his word. I obeyed his commands. I respected his authority, and I found safety and security there.

As Christians, this is how we should view our relationship with the triune God of the Universe. God has all authority over us. He is awesome and fearful. He is our provider and protector, and we’re called to trust His every word. We must respect Him completely as we hold a high view of Him and a correspondingly low view of ourselves. He promises we will find spiritual safety and security there, even as our physical safety and security may be threatened in the fallen creation which we’re subjected to during our days on the earth.

What I have learned and continue to learn in my nearly 35 years of walking in faith as a true Christ follower, is that the inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and wholly authoritative word of God is what I must “burn into my brain,’ and keep dear in my heart. Such commitment is key to my sanctification and my eventual coming home to eternal safety forever.

Psalm 119 exhorts that true happiness comes to those whose whole heart, or even better, whose whole mind is completely dedicated to understanding God’s word. Deuteronomy 6:1-8 opens with this incredible command from God to His chosen Israel:

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

It is by grace alone that I have been saved through the gift of faith that God gave to me some thirty-four years ago in a foxhole of sorts in the desert of Saudi Arabia. I am so grateful to have learned His word in obedience to the LORD my God! I hope to obey God’s command to learn all the more and keep His perfect words on my heart until such time as He takes me home. I don’t know if Goofy 51 is even there anymore at Disney Orlando, but I do know that that little parking space is not my salvation. Christ alone is!