Much-Needed ‘Reminders’

Every now and then, my faith begins to fail me. The exigencies of living in a fallen world – filled as it so often is with setbacks, disappointments and heartbreak – seem to “catch up to me” and bring me to the cusp of despair. If maintaining one’s faith in God’s good plan can be helpfully compared to a tank of gas, I sometimes feel myself “running on vapor.”

Jesus, in His great mercy, often stoops down to offer me a tangible, right-here-right-now reminder that He is in all things and superintending all things (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), which is precisely what I need to refill my tank. Jesus offers these here-and-now reminders to all of His people, if we will only ask for “eyes to see” (Matthew 13:16).

I was less than two years into my sobriety from drugs and alcohol when, with considerable financial assistance from my now-deceased father, I purchased a brand-new Mazda B3000 pickup truck. Black with gray trim, extended cab and a built-in CD player, this represented a huge leap forward for me and my five-year-old daughter. In the summer of 1999, I had more or less resigned to a state of permanent singleness in the wake of my divorce and told myself, “I will never again need to seat more than two people safely.”

Even though the interceding 15 years have more than shown me just how foolish I was to predict the future like that – not to mention doubt God’s faithfulness to restore me – that truck meant a great deal to me. It still does. It’s the vehicle that carried me and my daughter through the more difficult days of my dawning sobriety and my halting steps forward toward Christ. I have weathered much while driving that truck, and every scar on it (and me) has been well-earned. When I got remarried in May of 2004, I told my wife I was going to drive that truck until it fell apart.

This past fall, however, it became apparent that I would need to find a safer vehicle with which to transport children – my son and his buddies – to school. Every time I hit a bump in the road, I could hear the kids in the extended cab jump seats crack their heads lightly on the rear windows. Not good. Still, I winced inwardly at the thought of handing my beloved truck off to some stranger or used-car dealer.

Around the time that safety concerns were becoming increasingly pressing, I was driving the boys to school and I happened to see my friend, Eileen Long, dragging out her trash as wet, sloppy snow was falling on Columbia. From a distance, I watched her toss out a bag of trash and mourned that she had only recently lost Gary, her beloved husband and a great friend to our family. I wondered if taking out the trash had been Gary’s chore, and if this additional burden caused her to miss him all that much more. As we drove by, out of the corner of my eye I happened to observe her toss a FOR SALE sign on Gary’s 2004 Pontiac Bonneville.

One much-cherished vehicle gets a new owner.

Within days of seeing Eileen do this, I also discovered that another good friend of mine, Ryan Stoll, told me he was “in the market” for a new car, having just totalled one in hazardous winter weather. Imagine my delight as I realized I might be able to offer my truck to him!

As you might imagine, one thing serendipitously led to another.

When I subsequently discovered that Gary’s car was in fact a Bonneville GXP, it was like the best parts of the “Detroit Boy” in me came out to play all over again. I was thrilled to take Gary’s car off Eileen’s hands and, in turn, sell Ryan my B3000 at “something considerably less than market value.” It was Serious Triple Win time for everyone involved. Ryan now has a truck that he appears to love driving…and I still get to borrow it sometimes. Eileen was able to hand off Gary’s car to someone who both loved Gary and appreciates how he maintained the vehicle. I get to act like a teenager on Woodward Avenue again. (Oh, and our boys travel much safer, of course.)

As of this writing, I have steadfastly refused to modify any of Gary’s settings on the Bonneville; automatic (ultimately unhelpful) seat and mirror adjustments regularly remind me of Gary, Eileen, Ryan and God’s great mercy in all of our lives. Sure, I’ll get around to making the car solidly “my own” someday…I’m just not in any big hurry to do so. Given her respect and admiration for Gary, my wife seems just fine with that, too. We both love driving that car.

Another much-cherished vehicle continues to prowl the

streets of Columbia, encouraging others and keeping

loved ones from cracking open their fool heads.

All of this auto-swapping occurred in early January of this year. But here’s where it gets really interesting.

On Monday, June 16th, I was attending a men’s group meeting when I got an emergency call from my wife. Our son had just gotten smacked in the head by a wooden swing seat and his head was bleeding rather impressively. It turned out not to be a big deal, nothing that a little cyanoacrylate couldn’t fix, but it shook up both Mom and our boy such that my presence in the ER that night was definitely the right call. Even though the wound was not nearly serious enough to merit playing hookie from summer school, Shelly and I agreed to let our boy stay home the next day and “recover.”

On the following Tuesday morning, then, I did not have to make my usual stop at my son’s school but only needed to get myself to work – a very unusual circumstance. I took a different route than I normally would. On the way in, some crazy lady began waving frantically at me while I waited at a stoplight. As her car came up closer, I could see our friend, Eileen, clearly delighted to see me driving Gary’s car. We waved at each other and headed off to work, but I paused briefly and thanked God for His tireless efforts to build for Himself a people and an eternal Kingdom. Not a long prayer, certainly, more of a silent “Thank you,” as the brief stoplight interaction had struck me.

The next day, my wife got this note from Eileen:

Subject: A Sweet Reminder
On Father’s Day and Monday, I was feeling sad and missing Gary so much. Grief hurts and is much like being hit by a wave it comes up, overwhelms you for a time, then pulls back leaving you feeling empty and lost sometimes and others times it leaves peace in its wake. On Tuesday I was leaving for work still feeling the effects of the first Father’s Day without Gary when I felt a nudge in my heart to take a different route to work than I normally use. I have learned to follow those nudges. The song “Amazing Grace” came on the radio and I became tearful. I pulled into the left lane and looked over to the right. There, driving just ahead, was a familiar pearl-white car gleaming in the sun. I drove up next to our former car and in the driver’s seat was Warren Mayer, the new owner. Gary loved Shelly and Warren so much and I know he is smiling knowing that they are using “his” car to benefit their precious family and ministry. It hit me that the great God of this universe must really love me; why I can’t imagine but He had to know how much I needed to be reminded that He is involved in my grief and concerned with the hurt I feel. He sent me on a different route so I could be reminded of His amazing love. The rest of the day, my heart was lifted up and I rejoiced praising God and thanking Him.

Amen. Thank You, Lord, that the hairs on our heads are all numbered and that You hear the laments of Your people. Though we “deserve” none of it, You regularly reach down and nudge us, remind us and encourage us. You are the God who sets wooden swings in motion, who orders our days and all of our circumstances. You are with us in the emergency room and You are also with us at the stoplight. Thank You for the bloody wound that is easily mended and looked much worse than it really is. Thank You for the friends and loved ones that You bring into our lives at just the right time. Thank You for encouragement in the dark times. Help us, Jesus, to remember that You have promised to never leave us or forsake us and that You are with us always, even to the end of the age.

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