I immensely enjoyed the message in Youth Group last night about Trust. Students were urged in Large Group and in my Small Group time to trust God wholly, even when you don’t understand him. We talked about the line between asking God “Hey, I trust you but I don’t understand what’s going on here… in fact I’m hurting a lot… can’t you help?” and telling God “You’re mean and you’ve lied about your compassion.” Psalm 13 was my favorite example of the night to teach from… here’s how David, “A Man after God’s Own Heart” poses his suffering:
Psalm 13 (NLT)
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand? 3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. 5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.
I started the evening out knowing that there was a plan to go to CiCi’s Pizza after youth group with whichever students wanted to go to help with a fund-raising event. I knew I had exactly $12 left to my name for that evening until my pay deposit cleared this morning and that my gas tank was low. I had anticipated spending around $6 for the pizza buffet on myself and then saving the other $6 for Gas if I needed it in order to get home.
Zip forward – we’re at Cici’s… I’m standing in the order line with a student we’ll call Sts* who I haven’t seen in a few months and I had just given a ride. He has $3 in his wallet. I have compassion for him and pay for his meal and my own. $12 gone. Not an unusual action for me. I wasn’t very worried but I knew that my gas light had come on while on my way to the restaurant. From Cici’s I had about 8 miles left to get home and I was pretty sure I would make it.
Towards the end of the night at Cici’s something happened that I should have anticipated. Sts*, Gr* and Tv* all asked me for a ride home. How could I say no? I love all these kids and giving students a ride home allows me time to
trap a captive audience and make them listen to me rant for hours about my personal theological soap boxes engage in meaningful conversation and bonding time with them.
Only problem – The path before me is around 40 miles in total and my gas needle is not bouncing on E, it’s not just on E… it’s below E… it’s RESTING below E… it hasn’t moved. I say a quick prayer to myself and proceed without telling the students in my car about our dire situation.
After dropping off Gr (our first stop) I’m finally beginning to get a little nervous. Not much can wreck the euphoria of the great night I’ve spent with these guys, but the anxiety does creep in a bit. I decide to reveal my secret to them about the gas tank as I have to explain why I’d be stopping at a random gas station in the pouring rain late at night. I stop at the gas station and with futility I try my debit card and my two credit cards on the pump that I know are already over limit. Naturally none of them work. It’s late, it’s pouring, and I want to go home. I get back in the car and tell Sts and Tv… “Hey dudes, no gas for me tonight”. The guys look at me like I’m crazy and ask a few meaningful questions about what I meant but they don’t have much power to help… we proceed on our journey.
I drop off Sts at his house who seems all too eager to be home. Just as we get under way to our final destination I hear Tv saying things under his breath like “Darn it” and “oh man”. I ask him what he’s upset about and he explains that he has an anxiety problem and that my fuel situation is making him very nervous.
Great time for a lesson, right? Yeah! Honestly – I knew we’d be ok even if we did run out of gas. So as we drive up a country dirt road in the deep black downpouring night, I pray confidently out loud with Tv. “God, please give us the fuel to get Tv home safely so he can learn not to be nervous. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.” Tv nervously but enthusiastically agrees Amen! as if to make sure God heard him clearly through my windshield.
We’re about 27 miles into our journey now and the gas needle is still stuck and resting comfortably… perhaps even comatose in it’s home well below the bottom “E” mark on my scale. The fuzzy amber fuel light shaped like a small gas pump seems to be glaring at me a bit more sharply by the minute as it cuts through the darkness into my eye… almost mocking me as if to say “you shouldn’t make promises to students as lessons that you’re likely to fail”.
“Yes, I know, that was kinda stupid”… I think to myself. I pray silently “Please bail me out Jesus!!”
The time has finally arrived… I successfully drop of Tv at his home and continue on my way. I have about 10 miles left to get home and I’m wondering when I’ll run out of gas. I take a small risk in getting on the interstate highway so I can be home faster, knowing that this consumes more fuel, particularly with a strong head wind and downpouring rain which requires that I run the climate system to keep my windshield clear. I’m smiling knowing that even if I get stuck, my point was made to Tv because he made it home… I thank God out loud.
Now I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking… he made it home just fine, didn’t he? Well no, not quite. I have never run out of gas in my entire life before, until last night… but there’s a first time for everything, right?
So I’m taking my 2nd to last turn into my neighborhood. If you know the area, I was turning onto Tejon from 136th. Right there in mid-turn in the intersection my engine dies. I know it’s gas, I don’t even try to restart. Half laughing I get out of my car in the middle of the intersection and in the pouring rain and begin pushing. I’m actually jubilant… was I delirious? No, not really, well maybe. In the moment I immediately felt that I know exactly what was happening here. In fact, I’m still psyched about this today.
I pushed/rolled my car as close to home as I could where I could park it safely. I then ran into the house soaking wet to tell my wife about how excited I am that my car ran out of gas. My beautiful wife half asleep at this point — you’d think she expects me to be crazy, responds sweetly to me and it seems that she’s not even surprised.
I TXT’d the whole story to Tv. We laughed together. What a great night!
Don’t you see what God did there? He made it undeniable that he’s in control and that he loves me. I went 40-ish miles arguably on fumes… doing the work that he set me out to do (Youth Ministry). He honored my prayers for Tv and taking it a step further, he assured my personal safety and happiness by pushing me close enough to home that pushing myself the rest of the way would only be a minor hassle and a not-very painful at all lesson to learn about being smarter with my finances. I could have run out of gas right there on that old dirt road. I could have run out in the middle of the interstate highway on a rainy night where I’m more likely to get creamed by another car. I could have run out before even getting very far away from Cici’s. I ran out about 3 blocks from home where I was able to push my car (part of the way downhill mind you!) safely and easily to my wife’s waiting arms of comfort and joy.
Dare you ever question his power?
Matthew 14:15-21 (NLT)
15 That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”
16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”
17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.
18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. 21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!
I did… have… and will again (question his power)…. but I didn’t last night. I trusted God to take care of me, Sts, Gr and Tv. He delivered me on Faith and a drop of gas alone. Say what you want about how much gas might have been in the “line”… speculate… doubt… that’s ok. I know what happened there and that’s all that matters.
A little update: The last few weeks have been nothing short of harrowing for my family and I.
* Heather was assaulted by a bio parent during an unsupervised visitation hand-off… nobody cared… I wanted to kill someone for a couple days. There isn’t much else I can say about that without getting myself into trouble
* Our baby girl (Foster) Elizabeth whom we’ve had for all 11 months of her life went home to be with her biological family where she’s living in a single-wide trailer with 14 other adults and children with no legal income or stability at all. We pray for her safety and trust God with her. It’s very likely that we’ll never see from or hear about her again. We paid for a great lawyer in this case and we lost because the system is broken… but even in the brokenness of humanity we trust God and we can have peace knowing we did everything we could to protect her.
* False allegations were made against our family by those who would seek to harm us for unknown reasons. We were literally persecuted – a word I do not throw around loosely. We were not allowed to defend ourselves and yet had to (and still have to) suffer the consequences for these accusations/allegations. Finally after about 2 weeks we were permitted a small audience to defend ourselves… we were mostly vindicated (in my opinion) but the damage was already done. We’ll suffer the consequences of this for quite some time. Heather and I really learned to take joy in this persecution because that’s so clearly what it was. We’re confident and comfortable to wash our hands of the situation knowing that God knows the truth and will protect us. We’re re-committed to doing his work even more significantly because of this obvious persecution. We also grew closer together as a couple in ways that I cannot easily explain.
All that to bring us to the events of last night. They don’t sound like very momentous events on their own… but after our last 3-4 weeks of experiences… they were strikingly important to me personally.
Thanks for taking this “ride” with me… next time I promise to have a full tank of gas!
* I’ve decided to make it a point in this blog to not use real student’s names as much as possible. I’m going to think of creative abbreviations that I can use consistently over time to establish character to any readers who aren’t familiar with my students and that will probably reveal identity to any readers who ARE, thereby keeping nothing from anyone but protecting our students. Capiche?