I see one set of brake lights in the dark distance. Recalling my husband’s correction of me in the past to not use my brakes on the Interstate, I cautiously keep my eye on what’s ahead.
The soothing podcast of MacKenzie Monroe plays in the background to keep my mind awake at the near midnight hour. My 5-year-old daughter is asleep in the back seat after the late night Toby Mac concert.
The brake lights that seemed so far ahead of me now alert me to a mass in my lane I can’t make out. Still driving over 70 mph, I quickly determine swerving abruptly could cause me to lose control, and I decide to go over the unidentified but flat tan substance in my lane.
What I thought would be a quick get-over-what’s-in-the-road turns out to be an endless smattering of 2×6″ lumber.
Despite trying to brake slowly to maintain control, I feel the sharp staccato of my anti-lock brakes.
I go over the wood.
Somehow I make it past. I worry for my car. I hit those planks hard. I wait for my tire pressure monitoring system light to come on – an all-too-familiar alarm to me. It doesn’t come on immediately, yet I pull over. The shoulder is lined with stopped cars and I take my place in front of them.
As I roll to a stop, the dreaded light comes on. My first instinct is to check on the tires to see if they are flat or just lost some air. I still had 20 miles until home.
I open my door and see my pastor getting out of his car, parked in front of mine. Relief floods me, knowing I’m not alone. I get out my tire pressure gauge. Every tire is fine, except one, where only 5 pounds of pressure remain.
We decide to drive a little further up, to get away from the chaos we left behind. Fear that a car would lose control and careen into us on the side of the road dictated that more distance would mean more safety.
I know the hazards of being on the shoulder of the Interstate. My daughter is sleeping on the side of the zooming cars. My first fear is for her safety. My second fear is for all of us, standing there, vulnerable. My third fear is for other oncoming traffic oblivious to the dangers ahead of them.
Surely this isn’t happening.
God, please keep us safe. Please keep Alyssa safe. My prayers are of desperation, pleading. Yet I’m ashamed at my next thoughts. Person after person flashes across my mind, lovers of God, whose tragedies the Almighty One did not avert. What makes me different? Why should His divine protection cover me when it didn’t cover so many others?
Another friend from church – my Sunday School teacher – arrives out of nowhere it seems. Quickly in the cold December air, my friends get to work changing my tire.
I drive the last twenty miles, hands gripping the wheel, shaking. Please get me home.
Carrying Alyssa inside the house, I change her into pajamas and tuck her in. My anxiety – which seemed only a gentle murmur when in the moment – bursts forth in a torrent as tears flow unrestrained.
Everything that could have happened plays on repeat in the reels of my mind. I go to Alyssa’s room and lie beside her, stroking her hair, kissing her, listening to her breathe. What could have been haunts me.
I post an update on Facebook because I’m a writer and writing words in emotional situations is cathartic. Then I go to bed.
I will my mind to stop the replays of what ifs and instead focus on thanking God, which helps me drift off to sleep.
Alyssa opens my door in the morning and crawls in bed with me. I get up to make her breakfast. Sitting with my coffee, processing the night’s events anew, I open Facebook. Person after person attributes our safety to God’s protection.
I feel shame as I realize I’m not so quick to acknowledge God’s hand. I want to, of course. But did He actually protect us? Or did everything just happen to work out in safety for all involved? And if He did, why? Why us and not others?
I realize my strong faith in the sovereignty of God has taken a slight cynical turn. God’s glory is above all. His purposes trump all of our will and comfort and security. All that is true. But when did these things I believe about God overcome my faith that He still loves to protect His own?
A friend from church comments on my post: “Just thankful all of you traveled together- He had it all planned since God knows ‘all our coming and going.”‘
Out of all the kind comments from friends and family, this one strikes me afresh. You see, although our church group caravanned to the concert, we hadn’t purposefully caravanned back, yet both my pastor and my friend were right there.
He knows all our coming and going. That’s in Scripture somewhere. I recognize it. I decide to look it up and there it is, right at the beginning of Psalm 139:
Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up;
You understand my thoughts from far away.
You observe my travels and my rest;
You are aware of all my ways. (v. 1-3)
Yes, he observes all my travels. That I never doubted. I read further.
You have encircled me;
You have placed Your hand on me. (v.5)
His hand was on me. Another version I recall says it beautifully, “You hem me in, behind and before.” I can’t escape it. Yes, He was there…
…as I went over the lumber and didn’t think to utter a prayer.
…in my mind when I reflexively didn’t swerve, which could have caused my car to roll.
…when my pastor’s family and another friend were right with me, unplanned.
…beside my sleeping daughter, cradling her in safety.
But why, I still can’t shake, was I protected, when others aren’t?
This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me.
It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. (v.6)
I don’t have to know why. I only have to know that God is good. What He allows and what He protects us from is within the mysterious umbrella of his goodness, but His ways are unsearchable.
Can I quiet this inner cynic and trust? That as His child, He has me? No matter what? That even if he allows tragedy, his promise to hem me in doesn’t change?
I realize my answer is in knowing God. In searching to know Him deeper. And that begins with etching His Word on my mind and in my heart. It begins, today, by reading Psalm 139 in its entirety, over and over.
I don’t have answers. But I can trust the One who does.
I’m grateful, in a way, for this experience. Not only for our safety, but for how God used it to show me what was in my heart. When I’m afraid to admit my cynical thoughts, He knew them all along (Psalm 139:4). He knew this hole in my faith, of which I was unaware, needed repair.
So through this terrifying experience, He brought me to His Word, where the mending begins.
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