*NOTE* This is part three of a three-part story from last week. Part one focuses on the background for my nightmare trip to Redding, part two focuses on the actual experience and part three looks at the deeper meaning and how it relates to my past.
“Unbelievable that Old Biff could’ve chosen that particular date. It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance, almost as if it were the temporal junction point of the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.” – Doc Brown, Back to the Future Part II
Maybe I should just never drive on March 5. Perhaps that day has some sort of cosmic importance to my life like Nov. 12, 1955 in Back to the Future. Or maybe I should just be more conservative about listening to weather reports and not take the risk.
I have long been a believer that God has a distinct plan for my life, and my strongest support for that belief was the night of March 5, 2004. That night, to put the story as briefly as possible, I fell asleep driving home and crashed my car in such a place and way that, if not for a miracle, would have led to complete destruction of my vehicle and likely the end of my life. Instead, I walked away physically unharmed and continued to drive my car with no repairs for many years.
Every year on March 5 I reflect on one of the pivotal experiences of my life. It was one of the most terrifying things I could ever hope to live through, and I still remember eerie specifics from that night. Whenever I begin to doubt my faith or purpose in life, I think back to that night. I still have pieces of my car’s door panel that my mom dug out of a guardrail in the middle of the night, serving as a constant reminder that I should never take for granted the fact that I’m alive.
So nine years later I go through probably the only more terrifying driving experience I’ve ever had than that night in 2004. This isn’t something I didn’t realize until later, either. As I spoke with my mom and sister at various points during my vigil on the side of the street (thank God for cell phone service in the middle of nowhere where I was stuck) I recollected where we’d been exactly nine years earlier.
It is so easy to go through each day without realizing that life is passing you by. Ferris Bueller even spoke to that in his famous quote about how life moves pretty fast. I’ve often fallen into the trap of coasting through each day caught up in just getting everything done and moving on. It is during those times that my faith suffers, when I become more distant and forget to devote time and thought to what is most important in my heart.
But it all comes to the forefront in a moment of need. I know a lot of times we point to this as a point of hypocrisy – we dismiss God when the going is good, but turn to Him when we’re in need. But I think it’s only natural that we reach out to who we trust, who we hold most dear, who we want to help us, in our times of need. I know I called my sister and my parents as I was going through this difficult experience. Pretty much the whole time I was alone on the side of the road, I was on the phone with one of them. They helped comfort me in the realization that while alone, I was never actually alone.
But even as I spoke with them, whenever something else came up I would immediately tell them I would need to call them back. As I was still trying to drive and finding myself sliding around and struggling to maintain control, I would hang up the phone and simply talk to my Father. Even as I was terrified that something really bad could happen, I could feel His presence. I knew that just as He’d protected me nine years earlier, He would carry me through this somehow.
By the end of the night, my parents, sister and brother-in-law had all lost almost as much sleep as I did. My sister kept checking in with me even after I told her to go to bed since she had to go to school and teach early in the morning. My dad had endured a long travel day back from Chicago and still stayed up late with me. And my mom was working through a cold and chemo sickness, and she never let that keep her from talking with me almost continually until I finally went to bed at 5 a.m.
I’m not necessarily one to claim that March 5 has any sort of special significance, but at the same time I would not quickly dismiss it as entirely coincidental like the Doc in Back to the Future. I believe God uses difficult experiences to grow us and teach us His love for us, even if we can’t see how that was the case until years later (if ever). While I don’t believe He divinely ordains difficult circumstances in our lives, as one of my previous pastors has said, God doesn’t waste a hurt.
Nine years ago God used a terrifying experience in my life to reaffirm my faith and my purpose. It will always stand as one of the most important nights of my life, truly helping to define who I am, what I believe and how I live my life. Exactly nine years later, God used yet another terrifying experience to remind me that I am never alone. Even as I was not feeling particularly alone leading up to that night, I was never abandoned. Well, the Caltrans guy who claimed he called a tow truck when he didn’t kind of abandoned me, but I’m thinking more metaphorically here.
Trying circumstances will always teach us far more about ourselves and those around us than easy times ever could. While they are horrible in the moment, they are absolutely worthwhile. When my sister asked me in the middle of the night, in jest, whether the play was worth it, I told her that right then it probably wasn’t but within a few days it would be.
Sure enough, repairing my past mistake of missing Beauty and the Beast on Broadway came with a big cost. More than $500 in total, to be at least somewhat precise without trying to quantify lost sleep and lost years of the horrified parents (thank God the grandparents had no idea!)
But just like that drive home nine years earlier was worth it, this trip absolutely was as well. Having said that, I might think twice if I have an opportunity to drive someplace late at night next March 5. The Doc would expect at least that much.