This is a true story that I wrote as a Lenten Devotional for my church. It is about myself, my good friend Rodney Appleby and the incredible journey God had planned for us as we traveled to pay our respects to a group of fallen heroes.
There are incredible times when, if we pay attention, God reveals the intricacy of His guiding hand in our lives. Once your eyes have been opened to His perfect timing it is hard to ever believe in coincidences again. These glimpses give us a new perspective, not only on the real source of coincidences, but also seemingly chaotic and frustrating events, illuminating their purpose in the journey of life.
One of these God-revealing events happened to me in 2013. In late June, a wildfire in Arizona overran and killed 19 hotshot firefighters from the city of Prescott. Despite the prospect of a 40-hour round-trip drive, my good friend and fellow Christian, Rodney Appleby and I felt strongly that we needed to be there to participate in the memorial service. The first of many “coincidences” put us traveling in a “lights and siren” pickup truck with an emergency pack full of paramedic supplies and equipment rather than the department’s 15 passenger utility van.
We knew it was going to be a LONG journey over some very remote stretches of highway. We planned and prepared strategies for efficiently using our time and avoiding any delays. But God had a different plan. Over the course of our four-day trek, He first led us on a wild-goose chase trying to find a gas station ANYWHERE in West Texas on a Sunday. Later in the trip he sent an incompetent cashier with a faulty cash register to waste our time. An isolated rain-cloud on a bright sunny day doused us with torrential rains for nearly half an hour, slowing us to a crawl. We later had to stop a Russian traveler, who, unbeknownst to him, was peppering the highway with debris flying out from under his fifth-wheel travel-trailer. Last but not least was the infamous gas pump that, despite our best efforts, wouldn’t read our credit card.
The amazing thing about this almost comical array of delays and frustrations is that each and every one of them put us in the path of someone in need…in A LOT of need. At dusk on our first day, we encountered two women and three young children stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. Had we not had the wild-goose chase looking for a gas station, we would not have come across them, we would have been miles and miles further down the road. As it turned out, we were able to get them safely to the next town for the night. Our time with the incompetent cashier delayed us just enough to come across a driver that lost control of her vehicle and spun off the highway through a fence and out into the desert. The random raincloud with an attitude was responsible for us driving upon a vehicle that had just run off the road and rolled down a 20-foot embankment. What a coincidence that Rodney and I, two paramedics, happened to be right there for this man who had life-threatening injuries. The uncooperative gas pump delayed us just enough to happen upon the SECOND roll-over of our trip. Again, two paramedics were on the scene almost as the accident happened and able to render aid to another badly injured driver. To make matters even more “coincidental” the responding medic units were significantly delayed because of confusion as to which county the accident occurred.
On the return trip to Corpus the one delay we DID expect was getting through San Antonio which is typically a madhouse. Not only did we NOT experience any delays, we actually flew through the Alamo City in record time. Which leads us to the last of our crazy events which happened just as we were nearing Pleasanton. We drove over a tall rise on Interstate 37 and almost hit a car PARKED just over the crest in the inside lane of travel. We quickly circle around and engaged our emergency lights to direct cars over to the outside lane. Thank God we weren’t in the utility van. The car had a family in it including two small kids. The father had stopped in the middle of the road because he had run over another vehicle’s bumper and it was lodged under his vehicle. We immediately helped get them moved over to the right shoulder just as two 18-wheelers plowed over the rise traveling side by side. A terrible accident had been avoided by mere seconds. Rodney and I couldn’t believe the timing. But looking back, timing seemed to be the common theme of all the interconnected events of our trip.
Ok, I know this devotional is too long and I apologize for going into way too much detail but this trip proved to be a spiritually powerful lesson for me and I think back on it all the time, especially when I need to be reminded that frustrations and annoyances serve a purpose. In the big scheme of things, the journey to Prescott was just one page in the book of my life but it was profound. We can’t always see it but there is a plan, there is a reason, there is a purpose for everything…even when life doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like. Look at the situations where God places you. Look for what He is teaching you or asking of you. Trust His perfect timing and guiding hand to lead you where you should go. – Dan Sheppard
Isaiah 48.17: Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.