I'll never forget the last time my wife
Becky and I drove through Tennessee and Kentucky. It was early
January, back in 1996.
We had just spent Christmas and New Years
in Greensboro, North Carolina. Not with family or friends, but in
motels. We were seeking God's direction for our lives, and had been
drawn by a combination of circumstances (and a very tentative faith)
to the Greensboro area, where we'd spent about two weeks.
The "funny" thing about all this was that
I was not really a man of faith at all in those days. I had been far
away from God for about 11 years. Iíd been "on my own" and had not
been much of a man of prayer or faith.
But the trip from Montana to California,
then out to Maine, and then down into North Carolina, had been in part
an act of faith and obedience. My wife and I believed that the Lord
was doing a spiritual work of some kind in our lives. We also shared a
desire to "return to the Lord," and to serve Him in some way, and to
find whatever He might have for us in this life.
I had just been offered a good job in
Greensboro, in publishing. But everything inside me said not to take
that job. Something down inside said to leave town instead, and to
continue our journey. So, leaving Greensboro, we headed toward Kansas
where my oldest son lived.
I was not happy with such an insane idea
-- I really did begin to think that I must be losing my mind -- but I
left, in the growing hope that God might truly show us His will for
our lives. I mostly felt like an absolute fool, but I dared to hope
I drove our '94 Ford F150, and everything
we owned was in the back, under the cap. This trip would eventually
cost us everything. We had spent all our cash and then had maxed out
our credit cards. Now, every other day or so, we were being forced to
sell a camera or some other piece of equipment in order to pay for
rooms, food, and gas.
We drove out of Greensboro with very
little money. I should have waited until I could sell something, but
I was angry with myself. And I was also angry with God because I felt
that He was "pushing me" to see if I would trust Him. So I drove away
from the city in a huff, without taking the time to get cash for the
I cooled some as I drove, my anger slowly
transforming into worry. What if we ended up stranded somewhere in
the middle of nowhere? But I wanted to prove to the Lord that I did
have some kind of faith in Him. I tried to ignore the worry and to
think very clearly about what I should do next.
I drove north up into Virginia as the sky
turned a solid gray and a drizzling rain began to fall. Then we turned
westward, driving down into Tennessee and on to Knoxville where it was
raining steadily. There we spent the night.
Driving along the highways, I noticed
every so often that someone had spray-painted something in black on
the concrete pylons of some of the overpasses. I tried to decipher the
words scrawled there. Again and again they said: "TRUST JESUS."
That was not an option for me. I believed
in God but had no confidence at all in Jesus. At that point in my
life there was a big distinction in my mind between God and Jesus.
Leaving Knoxville the next morning, we
drove toward Nashville on our way to Paducah, Kentucky. It was still
raining, and we had not driven far when the rain began to turn to
slush and then to snow. Before, and then again after Nashville, I saw
the graffiti a couple more times on freeway and railroad bridges:
Right, I thought. I had no faith in Jesus.
I had given up my faith years before.
As I said, I believed in God. But I
doubted that Jesus was much more than a well-intentioned but
misdirected young man who had died a tragic death. In the months that
would follow this trip, I learned that one of us had certainly been
confused and misled -- but it wasn't Jesus.
I kept fretting over the fact that we had
just spent what little money we had on gas and a motel room. But I
drove out of Knoxville too early to try and sell anything. Soon we
would need gas again, and we would need food. And then we would need a
place to sleep. I wanted to stop in Nashville and sell something to
get some cash.
But I was "driven" as it were, to stay on
the road. So I kept to the road, heading up to Kentucky.
About half way between Nashville and the
Kentucky border, the half freezing rain mixed with snow became serious
snow and a hard wind out of the west -- not a good combination for
driving. Inside my stomach, my faint hope turned colder and colder.
Nothing good could come of this trip, I thought.
Another pylon flashed by with a message:
"TRUST JESUS." And then there was another.
Right, I kept thinking to myself. And what
can Jesus do for me here and now? We need shelter and gas and food. I
need money. I NEED MONEY RIGHT NOW!
The weather got a lot worse very fast.
Later, I would see the reports on the news about the surprise blizzard
that shut down New England. Right now, though, I could see for myself
that it was quickly shutting down the road to Paducah.
We had a CB radio and a couple of scanners
with us. I could hear truck drivers talking about the weather
conditions. Soon after that the 18-wheelers also started leaving the
freeway, heading into truck stops for shelter. When the big rigs wonít
stay on the road, it isnít safe for anyone to be out there. Yet out
there we were with our 2-wheel drive pickup and everything we owned.
I had no money for a motel room or food.
I had no money for gas. I had maps, but I didnít really know where we
were, and I was afraid of wasting precious gas trying to find
someplace to sell something. So I stayed on the highway, hoping for a
town big enough to at least have a pawnshop, a trading post or
anything helpful, where I might sell something else for cash.
I was pretty sure I didnít have enough
fuel to make Paducah. And who wants to cut it close in a snowstorm,
especially when youíre far away from everything familiar?
I did chance an exit somewhere along I-24,
maybe the Hopkinsville turnoff, or some place like that. Risking the
loss of gasoline, I drove around some, looking for a place to sell
something. But I found nothing.
I wanted to rage against my circumstances,
but something calm way down inside me seemed to direct me in spite of
my dread and fear, to get back onto the road and keep pushing for
Paducah. My brain said it was a stupid, stupid move.
Never drive in unknown territory with
marginal fuel, and no money -- especially when the roads are already
frozen over solid and the snow is still flying hard on the wind. Too
many bad things can and will happen. And then where will you be?
Soon after we returned to the freeway I
saw a dark blur on a pylon up ahead. I already knew what it said.
Sure enough, just before it passed from sight, I could make out
through the blowing snow a spray-painted slogan: TRUST JESUS.
If only I could just do that, I thought.
If only life were that simple.
Yes, I thought to myself, if I could just
decide to trust Jesus, and then my gas tank would suddenly be full of
fuel, and my wallet would be filled with cash, and we could stop at
the nearest motel (or cafe or anything) and get safely inside, then I
would be a fool not to believe. But no matter what I think, what I
believe, those things are not going to happen.
Jesus would have to be much, much more
than a mere man to help us now, way out here. Even my faith in God
didn't make me feel good about my circumstances.
The storm raged on, dumping snow amazingly
fast, and adding more and more ice to the road. Convinced that I was
a fool, I still drove on, deeper and farther into that white
blindness, going nowhere. I can't remember how much longer I drove
that day. The road just seemed to stretch on forever, and the needle
on the fuel gauge sank down to empty, right past the warning zone.
Everything everywhere was white. There was
no traffic. Once in a while some other idiot would drive by on the
opposite side of the highway. But the northbound side had cleared of
all traffic. Only the snow, blowing straight out of the west, and our
pickup truck remained on the frozen highway. Both tanks on the truck
were now on empty.
I would be forced to stop soon, no matter
what. With no fuel, there would be no heat in the truck. We would be
at the mercy of the raging storm.
Thatís when I saw a highway sign. It said
something about Paducah. And finally I saw the exit. And then we drove
off the highway and into the west end of town. We were in Paducah.
We'd made it.
My wife and I remember Paducah very well.
I could still find no place to sell anything on that end of town. Out
of gas, we dared not drive around very much. What could we do? Only
one thing came to mind.
Even though we were well over the limit,
and the credit had already been shut off days before, my credit card
was somehow approved again. So we filled up both tanks with fuel and
then got a room for the night.
Right behind the motel was a Super
Wal-Mart that was open all night. I walked over to the store through
the snow and the freezing wind (not willing to give up my parking spot
right in front of the room) and picked up a few things we needed.
We returned to the highway the next
morning and continued on our way to Kansas. Not far out of Paducah,
we began to see stranded vehicles. We saw 18-wheelers, 4x4s, and
other vehicles scattered here and there in the snow. Lots of people
had simply not made it to their destination.
But we had made it into town, and into a
warm room -- with no breakdowns, no loss of control, no accidents. We
had not run out of gas. We had not been stranded in the storm out on
the highway. God had clearly been with us.
The messages on the pylons kept nagging at
me, almost goading me. Had Jesus been our help? I had not prayed to
Him or trusted in Him. Not even when it looked really bad for us out
there. And in the days and weeks to come, I would still not admit
that Jesus was anything more than a good man.
But God was busy speaking to me in many
ways. I couldn't get the message out of my thoughts. "TRUST JESUS."
It had been burned into my thinking by the circumstances of our drive
through a dangerous storm.
Needless to say, the Lord would continue
working on my heart. And in time, I began to understand. We reached
Kansas and visited with our son. And then our searching continued,
back into the mountain states and beyond.
By October of that same year, our journey
finally moved on to a new level. There I would finally see with
perfect clarity that Jesus Christ is the very Son of God, the one and
only Savior of the whole world, and that He truly is LORD of all lords
and KING of all kings -- not only on this earth, but in every other
plane of existence. By the grace of God I came to see this truth in
the Scriptures, and I saw it in my own life as God wonderfully opened
Life gets really scary sometimes. And we
can get ourselves into all kinds of strange circumstances. Our faith
can become all mixed up, and can even be taken away, if we flirt too
much with sin and unbelief.
Even when we commit to obeying God, to
following the Lord, we sometimes try to do so on our own terms, in our
own strength, and according to our own rules and ideas. But we soon
learn that God will not jump through our hoops. He is God. He is in
control. We are not.
Fortunately, the Lord marks the path for
us, in ways that even fools can eventually recognize the signs and get
the message. I'm as big a fool as has ever lived, but even I was
finally able to read the writing on the walls along the pathway of my
The greatest message that God has ever
given to human beings is this one: TRUST JESUS. It's good for the
saving of a soul, and for the mending of a life gone wrong. And it's
good for everything else that any of us will ever truly need, both now
and for always.