Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Midnight Hour at The Hot Spot

A circumstance in the life of our family reminded me afresh this weekend to recognize God's hand in the little providences of life. 

In 1991, our high school youth choir at church sang a song by Michael W. Smith called "Hand of Providence."  I vividly recall the rehearsal in the sanctuary choir loft when our young inquiring minds wanted to know, "What does providence mean?"  We stopped H. S. Yarborough, our director, and he carefully and thoughtfully tried to give us an explanation that we could understand. 

Merriam-Webster defines providence as "divine guidance or care."

The evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem gives a lengthier one . . .
God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.  (Systematic Theology page 315)

When we find the front-row parking space at the movie theater, it is easy to recognize providence.  "Thank God!" we exclaim.  However, when a friend dies in a sudden car crash, it is much more difficult to recognize this theological reality.  Such is part of the push and pull of finding a relevant faith.

This past week, my family surprised me with tickets to the Clemson and UNC football game at Death Valley.  Though we are not huge football fans, we enjoy once every two or three years traveling to Tiger Town and experiencing the highs and lows of Death Valley.

We tailgated, visited Mr. Knickerbocker, paid $6.00 for a Sprite, experienced the 25 most exciting seconds of college football, cheered with the crowds, took pictures of the balloon launch, ran into old friends, and enjoyed the band at halftime.

Being a pastor-family, we knew that Sunday morning would come quickly, so we decided to leave early and beat the crowd.  After walking 1.3 miles to our car, we got out of Clemson at a good time.  After traveling on I-85, we took our shortcut exit through the country.  Traveling that dark road, I noticed several unfamiliar lights appear on my dashboard.  Being a man, of course, I ignored them and drove harder. 

Suddenly, weird things started happening.  The turn signals no longer worked.  The headlights went out.  Then, everything on the dash went to zero.  The RPM's, the speedometer, and everything else bottomed out.  Two days earlier I introduced our family to the 1980's classic tv show "The Greatest American Hero."  Ralph Hinkley's car begins doing weird things as he drives in the desert.  Suddenly, a UFO appears and gives him a super suit which gives him super-hero powers.

So, when the dash went berserk my daughter leaned over to her mother and said, "Maybe aliens are about to appear and give Daddy a super suit."

Finally, we pulled into the only gas station on that road - a nice big Hot Spot with lots of lights.  After getting the car jumped and checking things out, my father-in-law determined that the problem was the alternator.  So, there we were at the Hot Spot in the middle of no-man's land way out in the country at 10:45 at night.  I had my wife, three children, and my father and mother-in-law. 

To make a long story short, we called a member of our church who lives not terribly far from there.  He graciously came out about 11:30 at night and took my six travelers to our home.  He called later and offered to come get me, but by then I had secured a tow truck.  Thank you, Joe Pitts, for your Good Samaritan help.

My family arrived at our house at midnight.  I had the joy of spending two hours in the Hot Spot.  I looked at lots of packages of crackers, nuts, and candy bars. 

The wrecker arrived at 1:00am and took me home.  He wanted cash on the spot.  Now, it is a challenge to come up with $140.00 cash at the Hot Spot in the middle of deep and dark country at 1:00am Sunday morning.  So, I told him that if he drove me through the ATM at the bank in our town, he would get the cash.  So, we pulled into the bank together about 1:30am!  A first for me.

What a good feeling it was to arrive at our house at 1:45 and see the big blue van settle into our driveway.  I pulled into bed about 2:30.

Thinking over the experience the last several days, several obvious inconveniences come to mind.  What a mess to deal with that late on Saturday night when my in-laws are with us.  How not fun to fork out the money for a wrecker and then more money to fix an alternator.  How tiring to get up and teach Sunday School and preach after only four hours of sleep.

However, when I dig a little deeper, I find one of the providences of God in my life for which to celebrate.  We drove out of Clemson before the horrific after-the game traffic.  What if our van shut off in the middle of that mess?  We drove about 20 miles from the university to our short-cut exit off of 85, and then we made it about 20 miles on that dark and lonely road until arriving at the gas station.  That Hot Spot was the only station open on that road.  From the Hot Spot to Laurens, SC, there is virtually nothing on that road.  Most of it is a narrow, two-lane road through nothing but country. 

With our alternator out, which means there could be no hazard lights to warn other vehicles of our predicament and our cell phones having sketchy reception, that could have been a disaster.  I cannot imagine my six passengers walking on that road at almost midnight in such dangerous conditions.

So, I have been thanking God instead of complaining.  Alternators go out.  That happens to most vehicles after so many years.  We stopped at the single-best spot for us to stop between Clemson and Laurens.  My father-in-law's presence helped me determine the problem.  My friend Joe lived close enough to offer assistance.  And, I got to experience the Hot Spot at the midnight hour.

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