February 14, 2008

Living Trustfully

2008 1504 page28 capRUSTING GOD IS WHAT LIFE IS ALL about. This statement has been my motto for several years, starting while I was on study leave at the University of South Carolina. Since then I have had many occasions where this fitting statement has had special meaning for me.

Almost 10 years ago my daughter Anita and I were driving across the United States in our Toyota Camry station wagon. The car was full of my belongings from a two-year stay in Columbia, South Carolina. Anita was accompanying me and helping me drive from Bowling Green, Ohio, to Walla Walla, Washington.

Suddenly, without warning, on Interstate 80 between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, the car engine made a strange, loud hammering noise. I had no other recourse but to stop by the roadside. A gas station was visible about three fourths of a mile down the road, but would the car actually go that far? Anita and I looked at each other. We prayed, then I repeated my motto, “Trusting God is what life is all about.”

2008 1504 page28 We decided to try driving the car to the gas station; staying by the side of the road seemed unfruitful and dangerous with the large trucks barreling past. On the shoulder of the highway we inched our way toward the gas station. There was no garage at the station, no towing service, no one to help us.

I spotted a man pumping gas into his car, and I approached him and asked if he knew anything about cars. “A little,” he said. So I asked him to come listen to the engine and perhaps tell me what was wrong with the car. It took only one second of listening to the engine’s hammering sound for him to tell me matter-of-factly, “This car isn’t going anywhere.” Anita and I were stunned. I’d had my car serviced before the journey home and everything had been in order.

“Now what are we going to do?” we asked each other. We were stuck. Anita had a plane ticket to fly from Pasco, Washington, in two days to Bowling Green State University in Ohio for the second year of her master’s program. Our plans had been carefully laid out, but God apparently had different plans. That’s why trusting Him is so important.

A Friend, Indeed
Denny Marshbanks, the man who passed judgment on the Camry’s condition, saw our dilemma. He noticed a public telephone at the gas station and said he would help us any way he could. First he called rental car companies to see about renting a car for the drive to Walla Walla. Too expensive. Anita and I could each fly from the nearest airport to our respective schools, except that I had too many things to take on a plane. We could lease or buy a car. Renting a vehicle from U-Haul didn’t even enter our minds.

Questions for Reflection

1. Share briefly an experience you had in which help appeared apparently out of nowhere.

2. What’s your first instinct when faced with some unexpected obstacle? Is it natural? Is it prudent?

3. Just as God uses others to get us out of predicaments, He uses us to help others. How have you been able to come to the aid of someone in need?

What would be the most difficult situation for you to trust God completely? What would make it easier?

Denny phoned his wife, Pat, in Lincoln, telling her of our predicament. She invited us to their home so they could help us review our options. We had never before gone anywhere with a stranger; yet we felt compelled to go with Denny. We phoned AAA to have the car towed to the nearest repair shop in Omaha. We drove to Omaha and got the shocking news that with parts and labor, repairs would cost at least $3,000, and it would take two days to get the job done.

With that knowledge, we drove to Denny and Pat’s home in Lincoln. Denny told us about his car, a Ford Contour. Denny was a truck driver by profession and fairly knowledgeable about cars. He said, “If you can find a car like mine, you’ll be happy with it.”

Pat fixed a nice meal for us that included corn on the cob, sandwiches, potato salad, and fruit. Anita and I met their two children. Their son seemed seven feet tall and their daughter had Down syndrome. We talked about Christianity, about God’s care for us, about trusting Him.

We talked about Walla Walla College (now University) and how Denny’s mother was a social worker at a child welfare agency. Pat and Denny called various car dealers in order to check on car brands available, prices, and mileage to more clearly narrow our options. By this time we concluded that the best option was to purchase a good used car. Time was quickly passing and we needed to get on the road in order to meet our deadline for arriving in Walla Walla.

Let’s Make a Deal
Denny and Pat made a list of car dealers and what was available in my price range at each dealership. Anita and I drove Denny’s Contour to the first dealer in Lincoln. The first car we were shown was a ’95 Ford Contour. We each test drove the car, listened to the engine, examined the upholstery, the body, and the trunk, and felt satisfied with its performance. After appropriate price negotiations, I put the car on my Visa card, signed the registration papers, and drove off in the new car to load our belongings from the Camry in Omaha. Denny came with us to assist us with the transfer of luggage. Then we took him back to Lincoln. Five hours from the time we first heard the disconcerting hammering in the engine we were back on the road to Walla Walla.

What did I learn from this experience?

  1. Trusting God is what life is all about. I knew that already; this just reinforced the concept in my mind.
  2. God has plans for each of us that may be different from our carefully laid plans. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart,” said the wise man, “and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5, KJV).
  3. God sends a variety of people to help us when we are in need. Of all the people we could have met, Denny Marshbanks was there just when we needed him.
  4. God knows our secret wishes. My secret wish was to have a different car in Walla Walla. My Camry was 11 years old, but it still had a few more years of service in it (I thought).

God used this unanticipated experience to strengthen my faith in Him. While I wouldn’t choose to repeat this incident, I know with certainty that if something like this ever happens again, my faith in God will see me through. Because trusting in God is what life is all about.

Marja L. McChesney is a professor of social work and sociology at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington.