Roadblocks to Breakthroughs
On Sunday, Erica shared with us the story of her work journey and the roadblocks she has faced to getting a permanent teaching license. Erica pointed us to Psalm 121 which asks the question, “Where does our help come from?” Where does our help come from? Years ago before the days of cell phones and iPass, we were driving our little yellow Omni on the Northwest Tollway near Chicago. I stopped to throw change into a basket labeled “No Foreign Coins,” waiting for the light to change to green and the gate to rise when we first heard it—it sounded like loose gravel rolling around in the guts of the car—and, suddenly, I shared the car's indigestion. But we were surrounded by a sea of automobiles all intent on one thing: getting through the gate and resuming cruising speed. We gurgled along to the next highway oasis, where I stopped to phone my mechanic brother-in-law.
“Should I keep driving it? I asked when he finally came to the phone. To the people standing around making credit card calls on their business expense accounts, I’m sure it sounded like a casual question. But to me it was a matter of survival. I had twenty dollars to make it from Wisconsin to Ohio. I couldn’t afford to replace the transmission. I couldn’t pay for a tow. I didn’t have money for a hotel. My wife was five months pregnant and the cold Chicago wind blew snowflakes across our path into the dark night. “Hard to say, Dwight. You might want to drive it.“He was nine hours away. He couldn’t come and look at it. He couldn’t fix it over the phone. He couldn’t even tell me what might be wrong. We were on our own. “What should we do?” I said as Kim and I stared out the window together. “We could try to find a mechanic,” she offered. I shook my head. “Not a chance. We have twenty bucks and an out-of-town checkbook. This is Chicago.” We walked out to the car and I started it. Together we listened to the engine. It sounded like loose gravel rolling around in an old coffee grinder. Everything inside me said this car should not be driven. But there was nothing else to do. With the lights of Chicago filling the horizon, we set out, hoping to reach my brother’s home in Indiana before the mysterious metal parts straining to work together under the hood refused to carry us any further. “Let’s try to make it to my brother’s house,” I said. He lived in the middle of Indiana. A limousine whizzed past. Around us were hundreds of cars, now little more than headlights and taillights, each racing down the Kennedy Expressway, each filled with its own life and thoughts, preoccupations and destination. If a little rusty yellow Omni coughed and sputtered and limped to the side of the road, no one would stop. No one would even notice. We are, of course, always fragile, always only a breath away from eternity. But sometimes you feel it more than other times. Maybe that’s why God fills the Bible with examples of Him rescuing people from all kinds of trouble, big and little. Kim drove and I dug the Bible loose from our baggage and opened it to the 34th Psalm. Squinting in the dim light I read, “I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” “If He’s going to do it, now would be a good time,” I said to Kim. “It’s the Sunday before Christmas. I know nothing about fixing cars. We have twenty dollars. We don’t have the money to pay for even a small breakdown. We can’t afford a hotel. We couldn’t even pay a taxi to get us to one. All we can do is sit on the side of the road and wait to be robbed of the little money we have.” The car choked as we slowed down for the snow. We held our breaths. Was it going to die? No, it lurched forward. We were still moving. Yet a sinking, shaking feeling of helplessness hung on to me, stubborn, not wanting to leave. The snow was coming down hard now. I switched on the radio. “This is a big storm. We expect at least six inches and we may get as many as sixteen. Motorists in Chicago and Indiana are advised to use extreme caution. If possible, stay off the roads altogether.” For a long time I said nothing. I just sat there listening to the sound of an uncertain engine trying to keep pace with a stream of freeway traffic. Then I said, loudly enough for only Him and me to hear, “Do you ever get tired of giving me a hard time? Do you ever feel like picking on somebody else?” The radio stopped broadcasting weather and started playing music. I expected Christmas music, but instead I heard a Christian praise chorus: “Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.” I knew I ought to give thanks, but I didn’t feel like it. Our business was failing. My desk was littered with bills I couldn’t pay. We couldn’t afford a decent car, and had scarcely enough money to make it home for the holidays. It seemed like the more I tried to put God first, the more everything went wrong. “Sometimes I think you’re just using us for some kind of celestial experiment,” I told Him. But I kept on reading. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and He delivers them… A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all…” Suddenly it was clear. God wasn’t asking me to give thanks because He thought I liked driving a car that could die at any moment. He wasn’t asking me to give thanks because I relished the prospect of being stranded in a blizzard with my pregnant wife. He was asking me to give thanks because He knew that was the only way He could transform my fears into faith—faith that God still rescues His people from all kinds of troubles. I bowed my head and prayed. “Thank you for this snow. Thank you for the noises in our car. Thank you for the troubles in our lives. We thank you for these things, not because we like them, but because we know that you will use these bad things for good in our lives. No matter how many troubles we have, we will affirm that you, God, are still good.” We made it to my brother’s home. The next day was Christmas Eve. It dawned sunny and much warmer. We started our car and the gravel noises were gone. We said goodbye and headed out. Ten miles down the road I got out to knock the windshield wipers clear from the ice that had formed overnight. It was then that we made the discovery: Our wipers didn’t work. Neither did our window washer. Over the next twenty-five miles we learned that our directionals, our brights, our radio—none of those things worked. And, after someone nearly rear ended us, we found out our brake lights weren’t working either. It was one of those slushy, muddy days when every passing truck covered the car with a layer of goo and without working windshield wipers, everything outside the car was a dim gray shape getting sometimes larger, sometimes smaller. We pulled into the service lot and I talked to Ted inside. “Have you checked the fuses?” he wanted to know. A few minutes later after Ted had put his head where feet usually go in our car he walked inside with me. “Got yourself an electrical problem,” he told me. “Too bad we can’t fix it today. Too complicated. Besides, all my mechanics are going home. Merry Christmas!” “Well,” I told Kim as she anxiously awaited the news, “it isn’t the fuses.” There was nothing to do but clean off the glass and wait for a chance to turn left. A little way up the road we came across a woman in an old car—the kind that was made before they started making cars out of plastic, the kind that could chew up the highway in its day. All around her traffic was moving and she herself was furiously turning the key but nothing was happening. My heart went out to her. What could I do? There was no room for her in our jam packed little car. I had no ability to repair her car. I couldn’t recommend anyone who could fix it. She wasn’t far from a service station, and I thought of pushing her car after a tide of shopping traffic had taken us well beyond her. It occurred to me that I could pray for her. So I prayed, “Father, please look in on this lady and her car. Please make it so she can be with her family for Christmas. I pray that you will guide her to the right mechanic. I pray that good, honest people will fix her car and that they won’t charge her too much. I pray she’ll still have money left over to buy Christmas presents for the ones that she loves.” Kim leaned over and stated the obvious. “Why don’t you just ask God to fix her car?” “Oh, yeah,” I admitted, “that never occurred to me. Lord, would you consider—I mean would You please fix her car? And, come to think of it—I forgot to ask—would you please fix ours?” Over the next ten traffic lights the speed limit changed a half dozen times, and trucks splattering mud were everywhere. Driving was tiring and nerve-wracking, especially since though we knew the cars were out there, we didn’t know exactly where they were. We were able to make out a pair of Golden Arches. The prospect of free restrooms and salty French fries got the best of us. We pulled into the parking lot. A quarter hour later, as we were pulling out, I reminded Kim that we had forgotten to clean the windshield. “It’ll just take a second,” I said as I jumped out and scooped up some snow. I was about to rub the snow over the glass like I had done so many times already, but my hands froze in midair. Something was wrong. I looked inside. Kim was laughing. Was I doing something wrong? Was my hat on crooked? Then it registered. The wipers. They were working. When I climbed in the car, Kim signaled a right hand turn and turned on the radio. “By the way,” she said as she searched around for a radio station, “I forgot to tell you. When we were back at the dealership, I was praying. I told God I’d be glad when we had enough money to afford a nice car that wouldn’t break down. Do you know what He said?” I shrugged my shoulders. She smiled. “He said, ‘What! And miss all this fun?!’” Where does our help come from? What kind of God helps us? A God who understands how fragile we are, how helpless we are apart from Him. Dwight