At church on Sunday we sang one of my favorite songs, At the Cross by Hillsong. As always, I sobbed when we got to, "You tore the veil, you made a way, when you said that it is done." But this time another part touched me even more: "You go before me. You shield my way."
Immediately I flashed back to last Thursday, when I had a meltdown on the way to a hair appointment. If you've been reading my blog long, you're probably not surprised at the idea of me having a meltdown, but this one was different: I was all by myself!
As always, I had waited to the very last minute to leave, yet I wasn't worried since it was midday and the traffic should be light. But I knew I was in trouble before I even reached the freeway. Not only was the traffic creeping across the overpass, but even the access road was backed up. I sent up a silent prayer. "Please help me get through here, God." (Because I have a very, very important hair appointment.) I drummed my hands on the steering wheel. "Come on, come on, come on!" I muttered.
And then I remembered one of my memory passages: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I said another prayer and asked God to help me have peace as there was nothing I could do about this snarled traffic. Taking deep breaths, I forced my shoulders down and away from my ears, willing the tension to drain away.
Eight agonizing minutes later, I saw the cause of the delay. A firetruck and an ambulance were blocking the right lane, and paramedics were working on a man on a gurney, down on the golf course to the right of the freeway. "Forgive me for my impatience, God," I prayed. "Please help that man!"
Back at 70 miles per hour, I figured I could still almost make it to my 2:00 appointment. At this rate, I'd probably be five minutes late. What I didn't include in my calculations was taking the wrong exit. It had been about three months since my last appointment, and I wasn't sure of the exit. One exit looked familiar, but I thought, "Not this one. I think it was one exit past this."
I took the next exit, and it felt familiar. I took a right on Harwood Road and started looking for the salon on the left. It wasn't there. Well, maybe it was a bit farther than I remembered. I drove on through about four more intersections, all red lights. When I reached the street where Bill had lived before we got married, I knew I'd gone too far. So I turned around and went through the same four red lights I'd just sat through. I drove two more intersections past that--all red--and decided I'd gone too far again.
By now it was 2:10, and I thought of calling the stylist, but then I remembered that I'd given my appointment card to the girl I met at Women of Faith. That was the reason that I'd forgotten to show up for my last appointment just two weeks before. Now Angela would think I was standing her up two times in a row! "I'll call Bill," I thought. "I'll have him look up the number on the Internet. Except I can't remember what the salon is called.... He'll find it." I reached for my phone. That's when I realized I had left it charging on the kitchen counter. Argh!!!
I made a screechy U-turn and sat through the same six red lights again. As I sat at one of the lights, I remembered a story Sheila Walsh had told at Women of Faith. She said she had missed a connecting flight once due to storm delays, and she had to wait through some long lines to get a ticket on another flight. She was terribly frustrated, wondering why she had to go through all this aggravation. While she was waiting in line, she noticed a man with his arm around his wife, and she wondered if the woman was sick. The man saw her and whispered something to his wife, who turned around and burst into tears when she recognized Sheila. It turned out that the couple was going through a very hard time, and they had needed to get away, but they were stuck in the same delays that Sheila was going through. The wife was distraught, and the man had been praying that God would show her some sign of his love for her. And then she saw Sheila, whom she absolutely loved because she'd heard her at numerous Women of Faith events. Could God have grounded all those planes just to encourage one woman? Sheila thought so. She encouraged us to slow down the next time we found ourselves in a frustrating delay, and to ask God if there is a reason He wants us in this place at this time.
"Okay, God," I said, still clutching the wheel with white knuckles. "What's the purpose in this delay? Why can't I find the salon? Is there something I'm supposed to do, someone who needs my help in some way?"
There was no answer. As I stomped the brake at the next red light, I went on, "Is there a REASON why I have to hit every light red? EVERY LIGHT?? Why can't I catch one green light, God? Am I not supposed to get my hair cut? Is that the reason?"
Due to my broken radio, the silence was heavy. At the next red light, I started to yell and pound the steering wheel. "Why, God? Why does every light have to be red? WHERE is the salon?"
When I came to Bill's old street again, I turned around and went through the red lights one more time. By now I was sobbing. It was 2:20. I decided to go farther this time as there was no way I could have passed the salon four times and not recognized it, even though I couldn't remember what it was called. One more intersection down, I found it.
Now 25 minutes late, I didn't even bother to clean up the tear stains, just rushed inside. "I'm here for Angela," I gasped to the bemused receptionist. Angela rounded the corner with a welcoming smile.
"I'm so sorry!" I began, spilling out the whole story between sobs. We figured out that I had taken the wrong exit, and I should have made a left onto Harwood instead of a right.
"It's okay!" she said, easing me into a chair for a lovely shampoo and scalp massage. "Just relax. A hair appointment isn't supposed to be stressful!"
On the way home, I couldn't even enjoy my gorgeous hair. "I'm so sorry!" I began. "I don't know what got into me, God. But I know the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart, so I obviously need you to work on my heart."
I was reminded of Allyson's sleepy tantrum just that morning, when she wailed about one thing after another. Looking over her head, I had exchanged a knowing smile with Bill before I folded her in a hug and planted a kiss on her cheek. I felt that God was smiling in gentle amusement at me now, and kissing my cheek. I sighed in contentment and just rested in the assurance of his love.
I never did figure out why I had to endure such frustrating delays. No one burst into tears of joy at the sight of me, nor did I narrowly miss a catastrophe (to my knowledge, anyway). Maybe it was just a test that I failed miserably, but still I learned a valuable lesson.
During Sunday's worship service, I had a shiver of recognition when I realized God was surely shielding my way last Thursday, and every other day. Though I can never know it, I feel sure he has spared me from so many calamities.
Have you ever had an experience when things worked out for the best in an unexpected way? A time when you saw God shielding your way, or a time when He used a difficult situation for someone's good? I'd love to hear your story.