It starts out like this:
I am waiting outside the main conference room for the conference to be over. Gwendolyn and I are bundled up, ready to hit the road. It's 1 pm. Although the ride to Pittsburgh was smooth and without trouble, I feel the familiar anxiety creeping up in my heart. Desperate to combat it, but also fearing what lies ahead, I begin praying, "God, please keep us safe, please protect us from harm, please let us get home smoothly today." Even though I know it's theologically incorrect, I feel like I've "done my duty" by praying this prayer (albeit frantically). Somewhere in my brain, I feel like I'm "good" because of this prayer. Yet somewhere deep inside my heart, I know that the prayer comes out of fear instead of trust. And, you see, that's a problem. Why? Because of this, this, and this.
I ignore the fear, and keep breathing through this:
We reach the car, parked on level five of a massive parking garage. Everything is going well; we're making good time, and we're in good spirits. I hate driving in general, and usually Elliott does all the driving around here, but this time I'm on my own. I'm the one in charge (and I really hate that). While Elliott is driving around a large van full of a dozen or so students, I am driving our little Ford with two girls and a baby. So I swallow the anxiety as I start piling stuff into the trunk. I don't yet realize it, but my brain isn't exactly focused. Slamming the trunk, I skip over to the driver's seat, sit down, and go to put my keys in the ignition.
This is the first hiccup:
My heart sinks. I feel a lump in my throat as my mouth suddenly becomes dry. My hands start shaking. I finally utter: "Guys, you're not gonna believe this..." I let the last word linger in the air as I try to think clearly what the best thing to do is. Nothing comes to mind, and I slur out the rest: "The keys...were in my coat pocket...and I just locked it in the trunk..." I start reaching for my phone, readying to call Elliott who is, no doubt, already on the highway -- readying my words to ask him to come back and save us, when Lauren's genius speaks up. "Don't you have a pop-the-trunk button?" I look over to where she's pointing, and push the button (which I always figured opened the hood). The glorious POP sounds off, and I run to retrieve my keys. "I could KISS you!" I exclaim as I put the keys into the ignition. "This ride won't be so bad after all," I muse. Wanting to start the ride off right, I suggest we pray for the ride. This time, I also add in a, "Please give Gwendolyn peace and help her to sleep well." I think I'm "covered."
I reach into my bag to find I lost the directions home.
We sit for 20 minutes in a line of cars, trying to get out of the parking lot.
It's 1:30 pm.
We finally get out of Pittsburgh convention traffic and onto the highway when, four miles down the road, the tunnel out of the city is completely blocked off.
A police car, two ambulances, and a firetruck zoom by.
We eventually have to make a U-turn on the highway, and receive directions from a Pittsburgh-native who is in the van (which is now about an hour's journey ahead of us).
We take the directions and don't make it back to the highway until 3:30 pm.
I want to cry, but I don't.
Everyone sleeps for a half hour (excepting me, of course).
We stop the car, and I'm fairly certain that Gwen has a fever. She's burning up. I try to give her infant tylenol and she spits it back up. Gwen and I are now covered in sticky, synthetic, cherry goop.
The Starbucks at the rest stop doesn't know what a doppio con panna is.
We try singing.
I am at the end of my rope.
And the whole time, I feel like I'm going to lose it. It takes every fibre in my being to not break down and cry. I call out to God. I ask Him to help. Finally, I just give in to Gwen's crying and start (somewhat audibly) saying verses over and over and over again to myself until I find the truth in them.
I start with the Lord's prayer.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil...
I remember the Holy Spirit.
Peace I give to you; my peace I leave with you.
I do not give as the world gives.
So do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
I move into Proverbs.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart...
And lean not on your own understanding...
In all your ways acknowledge Him.
And I find refuge in the Psalms.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want...
He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul...
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...
For your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Suddenly, I find myself in silence. Gwen has fallen asleep and stays asleep until we get off the highway (and then she cries again). Eventually, I drop everyone off safely, and Gwen stops crying once I pick Elliott up at the truck rental place. It's 9:15 pm by the time we walk into our door.
I tell Elliott how ironic it is that such a journey happened to me. "This is exactly what I always pray against -- exactly what I am afraid will happen to me. The only thing that didn't go wrong was car trouble or an accident. But this is exactly what I always fear."
Of course, Elliott points out and it has already dawned on me that God was using this experience to grow me. There are certain things I fear -- irrationally fear -- to the point where I think if they happen to me, I won't survive. Somewhere inside me, I think that being in a strange city with no directions will kill me. Somewhere inside me, I don't think I will make it back home to safety. And when I pray for protection, I am not trusting the Lord. I am praying because I am afraid.
Last night was very hard. And I am still recovering from the exhaustion -- maybe not so much from the experience itself, but from the emotional turbulence I went through internally. And the reality is, I didn't need to go through so much turbulence because God was still with us. God was still with me. In the midst of feeling like everything was going wrong, God was trying to whisper in my ear, Rachel, I've got this. Don't worry so much. Trust me. You're going to make it home alive. You're going to be okay. But I wasn't listening.
Yet here I am. Home. Safe.
And Gwendolyn is home. Safe. Sleeping. She woke up exceedingly happy.
And even if we didn't make it home safe, it would still be okay. Because God's got this -- this whole "life thing." This whole bigger plan. He's got us. He knows what He's doing. We've got nothing to fear because we are in His hands.
And I'm just beginning to understand that, one unanswered prayer at a time.