Thinking about Christmas journeys this year. They do seem fitting —as the First Christmas was a journey…quite the journey as it turned out—an unexpected trip, with a long detour to Egypt! And I doubt Mary and Joseph packed much on that donkey, you know?
The UNexpected. That part of the journey intrigues me. Mary and Joseph’s story is famous—and they seem to pass the “test of faith” so well—trusting God with that very thing I dislike: the UNexpected. Some of us handle it better than others, but if honest–most of us struggle with it.
What got me thinking this way was my literal Christmas journey this year, because mine came early. It came early because things have c-h-a-n-g-e-d in recent years…sigh. I’m not a fan of change. (I vividly recall being in the 4th grade and wishing I could stay there forever). But, my visit home turned out great.
For one thing, I got to see special people— old friends that haven’t changed. Being able to sidle up to a table at the coffee shop and chat with a real friend about real things, like we never missed a beat…that’s saying something. Some-thing. You can’t define it—you just thank God for it.
And then there’s family with no drama. Just simple living and simple get-togethers—accepting each other and trying to be kind. Aware of oversights, yes, but carrying on, doing our best to love each other well. And that’s it. That’s what makes a visit great!
But aah…that was in between the journeys. This post is more about the journey. There’s where I learned something. Very interesting. Did not intend to.
But you know how God is, right? UN-predictable. Yep. So, God, being how He is, chooses to teach me a Christmas lesson while ON my journey–probably because I prayed a nice prayer about learning something from the Christmas season. Be warned—those kinds of prayers will probably NOT get answered sitting safely on a church pew. Just say’in.
Well anyway, the journey to TN started out smoothly. Left NC early, Dunkin’s coffee and donut stashed away and headed down I-40 West by 6:15 AM, ahead of the morning rush hour. Cruising in my little 6-speed Mazda-3. Keeping alert with the always cheerful Bobby Bones morning show: “Tell Me Something Good!” Then some James Taylor, praise CD’s, Classical, Christian mix, talk radio–I really like variety!
Kind of like my rambling writing.
But somewhere between Asheville and Hickory it happened. All I remember is that I checked my gas and said to myself, “Self, you better pull off at the next exit, or you will be ‘Dust in the wind.’” I noticed that would be in about 10 miles or so. Meanwhile I decided to call a TN friend and set up a time to meet…
Big mistake. We started talking—and I mean talking. I figured we’d say “OK, see you on Thursday…” and then hang up. But, NOoooo…we got into sticky life issues– and next thing you know I was WAY past the exit!
My husband will tell you I cannot do two things at once—no, not even talk and drive. Not even talk and cook (but let’s not go there). And he is right–sadly. But back to the saga…
By the time I hung up, my nice little digital gas mileage reader told me I had “0” miles left before I ran out of gas. ZERO, big, fat ZERO! not 2, or 3…which would have been bad enough! And the big red “E” (for EMPTY) was on to alert me I was in big RED trouble.
Problem is I had no idea how long that “0” had been on my dash! (You know, how much “grace space” was there–for emergencies–and ADD blondes?).
Needless to say I felt like an idiot. And a scared one at that. (And who cares about Idiot Status at a time like this?) So I did what all blonde idiots with masters degrees do. I raised my right hand toward heaven and began to pray out loud. OH YES. I mean Jehoshaphat kind of stuff (see 2 Chronicles 20).
Because: A: I was driving (somehow) alone, in the mountains, with zero gas left B: The next sign indicated the nearest exit was 6 miles C: I saw brake lights ahead—I kid you not—there was a traffic jam D: I had to pee
Thank God—we were going down hill! For the first mile or two. I put it in neutral and coasted; but then the jam! Now I really had to pee. I don’t think I had been this scared in LONG time. Bc now if I had to pull over it would be VERY AWKWARD and hard to wait for help because of the jam (plus, there were no bushes to hide behind, in case I did have to pee—argh!)
I was still praying aloud while trying not to look at the dash (right—good luck with that!) I had to idle, move a tiny bit, and then gas it—at least 5-6 minutes of this. Finally, just as I thought all was lost, the jam began to clear! I crept along, one mile, then another…shifting gears, praying, and biting my lip. Then—the Exit sign! One more mile.
Holding my breath, I headed up hill now and off the ramp, idled at the light, made a left, and YES! I could have danced into that dinky old gas mart and kissed the attendant! Praise the Lord! Those were some Fumes of Faith right there, buddy. But skip the kiss—I had to pee!
And so, that was my excitement for the journey A. On the way home, Journey B, everything went fine–apparently. I drove 600 miles to the door of my husband’s work site, where we agreed to meet and head out to supper. I ran in, greeted him, and then as we came out to leave he stops and says, “What’s that funny noise?”
Turns out my right front tire was hissing– going flat. Can you believe it? All those miles and the tire goes flat after I get to the parking lot at the end of the journey. A tiny piece of metal embedded in there. Good grief.
I’m thinking maybe, just maybe I had an angel with me this journey. It IS close to Christmas. I’m not kidding, you know. Because after that flat tire I remembered something. Just another prayer I prayed, at the stop sign in my neighborhood–where I paused briefly. (Not my usual routine). Normally I just pray as I hit the Interstate, but this time I felt prompted to stop and pray this:
“O Lord, You…know everything about me. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” (Psalm 139:1-5)
Looking at life as a Journey in faith has helped me–even before this latest “incident” that reminded me how little control I really have. But this taught me to trust a bit more–like that couple on the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph traveling, traveling, traveling on a donkey. Poor Mary. Her journey must have been quite uncomfortable, don’t you think?
And as I mentioned earlier—she and Joseph really seem like pros at handling the UNexpected. First, she was pregnant for crying outloud. (Couldn’t’ she just have let Joseph go and “represent” them?) And it didn’t go easy or “turn out all right” by our standards… I mean, she had to stay outside in a little cave-like stable and give birth with no mom, Aunt Susie, or anyone she knew, to help her!
Because of course, if God could send angels, shepherds, and a special star….He could have provided Mary a decent bed to sleep in that night. But that right there is just the unpredictable nature of God—how He performs a miracle to show us His glory–and right alongside His glory–He allows us to experience the ordinary brokenness of this world. Just ask Paul the Apostle, who later sat and suffered in some of the darkest dungeons—and yet he, too, saw wondrous miracles and proclaimed that Christ loved him deeply.
I guess it all boils down to the whole Christmas event—not just the journey. Remember what the angel said the shepherds? “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today…” (Luke 2:11) Jesus came into the midst of our darkness and brought Light–forgiveness and hope.
No, He didn’t push DELETE and restore the world to a new Garden of Eden, or override our humanness and right every wrong instantaneously, like we think He should have (or do we? since none of us is really pure). We are broken. Every last one of us. But, He took on flesh and became the Remedy.
And that is why despite our longing for all things to be made whole now—we can still taste the goodness of His mercy and wait with joy for the Christ child to return as King.