My family just returned from a trip to North Carolina to visit my parents, where we had a wonderful time cooking out and playing at their lake house to celebrate the the Fourth of July. The weather was nearly perfect. Sunny and just hot enough to remind us that it was summer.
But thanks to uncharacteristically low humidity and light breezes (courtesy of Hurricane Arthur), it was gorgeous day to splash in the water, ride in the boat and even shoot off a few fireworks after night fall. So it turned out that the visit to see my mom and dad was very enjoyable indeed!
The trip home… not so much.
Our van broke down with some kind of drive train issue (aka: transmission) and left us stranded on the side of the road a few miles south of Gaffney SC… “Us” meaning 6 people, 3 dogs, and a fully loaded utility trailer. The bright sun on the cloudless day quickly turned our car into an oven and so to escape the heat, we tramped through the briers, over the guardrail, under the barbed wire fencing, seeking shelter in the shade of a large embankment on the side of the adjacent access road.
So, for several hours we were literally laying on blankets and pillows in a gully. (Insert “Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch” jokes here! ha!)
Clif paced up and down the road, trying every option he could think of to get us moving toward home again. (The pacing was partly to try for some better phone coverage, but mostly to get some distance from Laura who seemed committed to “video documenting” an episode of our lives that he was already wanting to forget.)
But as it was a holiday weekend and we had broken down around 6:00 on a Saturday evening, there were no mechanics available, the rent-a-car agencies near us weren’t open, and the ones at the Greenville airport didn’t have any vehicles with trailer hitches.
So, as the shadows got longer, we realized that the only option left to us was to tap Woody, Clif’s 80-year old father, and his Suburban. The kid’s “Papa” would have to make the three hour trip north from Atlanta to pick us and the trailer up, while AAA towed the van 187 miles back to the mechanic near our home. Woody (henceforth known as ‘The Hero of Gaffney’) arrived to get us somewhere after 11pm, but the AAA tow truck didn’t show until 12:45am! Once it arrived, four of us loaded into the Suburban, while Clif and Jason stayed behind with the van and tow truck. Woody and I split the driving duty for the trek back to the city and after a sleepless and bleary night (or morning, depending on how you look at it), pulled into our driveway at 4:45am. Clif’s dad didn’t want to sleep at our house, and there was no way I was going to let my father-in-law drive another 45 minutes across the city by himself after being up all night, so I hopped back in the SUV and took off with Laura trailing us in her car. By the time we dropped him off and made the return trip, it was 6:30am and the sun was beginning to rise… a staggering 16+ hours after leaving my folks house.
It was quite an unpleasant ordeal, but somewhere early on in the process, I encouraged the kids play a silly game I called, “How Could This Be Worse.”
Some ‘worse’ scenarios we came up with were:
It could have been raining, or freezing cold, or the kids could have been toddlers.
One of us could have been alone or sick.
The mechanical failure could have resulted in an accident with injuries.
I think there were even a few possible scenarios that involved zombies, banjo music, and assault weapons!
But, really, the whole exercise had the effect of creating laughter, and we even came away being grateful that God had taken care of us even on a day that on the surface seemed to offer very little to be thankful for.
Now, of course, our traveling nightmare was over relatively quickly and there was no real damage that was done that can’t be fixed by competent mechanic and a couple of good night’s sleep.
But the main reason I share this story is to simply highlight the subtle, but potent power of thankfulness and the critical need for us as believers in Christ to redirect our thoughts by focusing on what we have rather than what we lack.
I think that’s what Paul was trying to tell us in his closing remarks of his letter to the church in Phillippi. Chapter 4, verse 4 encourages believers to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Then in verse 6 he writes “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”
I realize there are a lot of complex and painful things that occur that are way more serious and stress-inducing than a mechanical failure, but choosing how we react to them, and most importantly how we THINK about them is the key to being free and STAYING free from anxiety’s paralyzing grip.
We can always find a way to be thankful if we resolve to do so, because gratitude isn’t rooted in our circumstances, but in our attitude about our situation. And a thankful heart has the power to pierce through the haze and fog and bring you into a clear awareness of the goodness of God which, in turn, becomes the door to deliverance from dismay and disillusionment.
So next time you’re broken down in discouragement and laying in a ditch (literally or figuratively), jack up your attitude and choose to rejoice… knowing that God’s goodness is always the only thing you need to keep trucking steadily down life’s road!