God: The Active and Present Force
Even when a situation seems hopeless, listening to God and asking for direction does the trick.
My oldest son and I left a small summer camp where he had been a camper in central Missouri with about $60 and a rental car. Our destination was Boston via car and train. Money was clearly tight, and the only communication tool I had was a prepaid cell phone.
We drove seven hours to Chicago where we would catch the train. We spent $35 on gas and $10 on food, leaving us with about $15. I now had about 10 minutes left on the cell phone. I knew that God had seen us through our trip out to the camp a couple weeks earlier despite our very limited resources. I also remembered that God had provided the funds for our son to attend camp in the first place. I was confident that we'd make it home safely. Still, I prayed for the strength to trust Him the rest of the way.
My third cousin offered to pick us up at the airport where we returned our rental car, which saved us a little money. She drove us around Chicago for a while and took us to a grocery store where we spent $8 on some food for the train home. Then she dropped us off at the train station with $7 and 1 minute left on my phone. I figured that once we were on the train we'd be "safe" -- meaning we'd get home -- and I could call my wife and let her know.
We arrived at the station around 9 pm, about 45 minutes ahead of time, and tried to check my son's trunk so they would put it under the train and we wouldn't have to worry about it. When we got to the ticket counter, the ticket agent told us that the trunk was overweight. So we moved to the side to unpack some things and then got back in line.
When we got to the ticket agent again, he informed us that the train was no longer accepting baggage because it was leaving in 20 minutes. He told us that we could take it to the train and see if the conductor would let us bring it on; otherwise, we'd have to leave it at the station, or we could wait for the next train. However, the next train to Boston didn't leave until the next night. This was not appealing at all as we would have to impose on my cousin for a night and would get back a day later, which meant that my wife would miss a day of work in order to meet us at the station.
At that moment, I was very aware that my son was standing next to me and that however I reacted would teach him a lot about how men are supposed to react to difficult situations. So I did not get angry with the man, although I really wanted to.
Over the two or three months before this trip, I had read the first five books of the Bible -- also known as the Torah, the Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch -- and I had finished a week or so earlier. The overwhelming impression I had from reading these books was that God was an active and present force in the lives of the Hebrews. I felt that God was an active and present force in my life. I also noticed while reading these books that whenever the Hebrews forgot about God or forgot that they served Him, there was trouble. So I didn't want to forget whom I was serving.
I said two simple prayers: "God, you are right here and I can't forget that." The second was, "Where do you need me to be right now?"
When my cousin dropped us off at the train station, she offered to take the trunk and ship it to us. Faced with the dilemma of either staying in Chicago for a night and arriving home a day late or leaving the trunk behind, I decided to call my cousin to see if she could come get the trunk. Since I wanted to save the 1 minute left on my cell phone, I took the 4 quarters I had in my pocket and set out to find a pay phone. The phone ate all my quarters without ringing through once.
I went back to the ticket counter and asked if I could use one of their phones. The man simply said no, but he suggested that I ask the Customer Service office if I could use their phone. He told me the train was leaving in about 10 minutes. So I ran to the Customer Service office and tried to call my cousin. Three times I tried and three times the phone rang three times, then went dead -- no answer by my cousin, no voicemail, just dead.
At that moment, I had $6 in my pocket, could not contact the one person I knew in Chicago, and had to get my son, his trunk, and myself on a train in just a few minutes.
I started to freak out a little at this point, but then I closed my eyes and prayed again: "God, you are right here with me. If you need me to spend the night in Chicago to share your Word with someone, I will do it. Just show me who needs to hear it."
While all this was going on, I could hear in the background that two porters were having an argument over their radios about helping a woman get on to her train. One of the porters, who was in the same room as I was, was being very demanding, insisting that someone come immediately to pick up this woman. The second man was trying to say that he was on his way and to stop yelling.
Then suddenly the second man came walking into the room. For some reason I said to him, "I need you to help me." He responded that he'd be right back. I told him that I didn't have time for him to come right back. He turned back to me and said, "I'll be right back." He then went into a back room and spoke privately with the man who was yelling at him.
About a minute later, he came back, looked me right in the eye, and said, "Are you the guy with the red trunk?"
I said, "Yes, but they won't let me take it because it's overweight."
He looked right at me and said, "You got what you got. Let's go."
I hesitatingly protested, "The ticket guy said the conductor might not let it on since it's overweight."
Again, he looked at me in the eye and said, "You got what you got. Let's go."
He put the trunk on his cart and then drove the woman who needed help, my son, the trunk, and me to the train. He drove us right past other passengers getting on the train. He stopped at our train car, grabbed the trunk, walked right past the conductor, put it in a safe place, and then gave our tickets to the conductor, who punched them and welcomed us on board.
While my son found us seats, I shook his hand, gave him a hug, and thanked him. I told him that he just saved us. He smiled and drove off. The train pulled away about three or four minutes later.
After a minute or two of silence, I turned to my son and said, "I think God just sent an angel to get us on this train."
After a minute or so, my son told me that he had been very angry with the man at the ticket counter for not helping us. But when he got on the train he knew that he needed to forgive the man. So he did.
A bit later, I decided to use the last minute on the prepaid phone to call my wife. When I went to dial the number, I discovered that I didn't have 1 minute left; I had none. I had no way of letting my wife know we had made it onto the train.
I said to myself, "If God got us on this train, he'll get us from the station to our house. He's taking us all the way, just like he took those Hebrews." I spent the entire ride thanking God for His goodness and presence in my life.
Sure enough, my wife pulled up to the station just about the time we finished dragging all of our baggage out to the passenger pick up area. I had $2 left in my pocket.
I still don't know how that man knew we had a red trunk that needed to get on the train to Boston. I don't know why my cousin's phone didn't ring. I don't know why the pay phone ate my quarters. I don't know why the ticket agent was not helpful.
But I know that God is active and present in my life -- in that moment and each day.