Click, click, click… May 5, 2012

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Possibly nothing is more terrifying than knowing about trouble that might happen, probably won’t, but doesn’t seem to want to go away.

It was 1990 and I was traveling with my family in California. We were in the Sierras, scheduled in the town of Lone Pine. Now, to get to Lone Pine you first had to drive to Nowhere, take a sharp left turn into the forest, drive about eight miles through the underbrush, and then all at once–you’re there.

Our means of transportation in that season was a 1977 silver Mercury Cougar pulling a travel trailer which had given up the will to live years earlier. We had decided to resurrect it from the tomb, reverently believing it was our savior.One of the more bizarre aspects of this particular trailer was its lighting system. There was a series of little wires which looked like disconnected arteries desperately pleading for a heart, which had to be strategically placed in the correct holes to make sure that when we put on our brakes or turn signals, the people behind us could be aware of our transitions. It was a hit-or-miss project.On days when the lighting actually worked well, like Viking warriors, we felt that the gods were with us. On those days when the lighting lost its sense of illumination, we were constantly nervous about all stops, turns and passing officers of the law.

One particular night, as we were leaving Lone PIne to head north, we were cruising along–my son Jerrod (then about fifteen) in the front next to me; my wife, Dollie, and oldest son, Jon Russ, and our little three-year-old, Jasson, in the back seat. Those in the rear had already fallen asleep. It was a moonless night, a little bit chilly. Suddenly our lights began to blink ferociously, accompanied by the horrific sound of a “click-click-click.” I immediately pulled the car over and asked Jerrod, who was in charge of the lights, to go back and work on them. He was a fine, industrious young man, so he leaped from the car, went back, opened the trunk–where the lights of the trailer connected to the car–and came back and said, “It all looks good, dad.”

And he was right. It was about twenty-two miles of “good.” Then, all at once, it began doing that startling “click-click-click” again. Pulling over, I decided I had better go back with him and check it out for myself. I reached in the glove compartment for my flashlight, and discovered that the batteries were dead. So I stepped out of the car into the chilly night air, and was immediately greeted by the mournful howling of a coyote. I cannot describe to you how disconcerting such a sound can be when the air is cold, the night is dark and you’re confronted by a problem that you have absolutely no idea how to address, let alone solve. I was not an electrician. My God, I didn’t even know an electrician.

So the two of us climbed into the dark trailer, crawled on our bellies to the back-end, where the lights went into the rear of the cab, and without being able to see anything, attempted to negotiate rewiring our system–ala Helen Keller. About that time, I looked out the rear window of the trailer and saw the shadow of red, flashing lights. We had apparently acquired the interest of a passing highway patrolman. I crawled out of the trailer and went back to talk to the policeman. I explained my situation and he offered us the use of his flashlight for a few minutes, which was very handy and enabled us to complete our best attempt of not knowing what we were doing.

Just as we were finishing up, he got an emergency call on his radio and he had to take off, wishing us well. As he left, my son and I walked slowly to our car, knowing that in short seconds we would know if our particular patchwork had actually “quilted” our lights together. There was the another call of the coyote as I climbed into the car, turned it on, and we flicked on the lights. They worked.

We rejoiced. Being the believing sorts that we were, we actually said a couple of “glory hallelujahs.” Our little praise session for divine inspiration lasted another twenty-five miles before “click-click-click” returned to taunt us, reminding us of our human ignorance and frailty.The true horror of the experience was that the interruption was intermittent. In other words, we could drive ten miles and the lights would be just fine, and then suddenly we were in the middle of a disco show.

We tried to pray. Let me tell you something about prayer. Prayer is a wonderful thing to do when you’ve been given an accurate diagnosis of a problem, the prognosis is clear and you are fully aware that any human effort is probably not going to meet the need. Yes. Ask God’s help. But ignorant prayer is often a plea for grace. And grace resembles mercy. And Jesus made it clear that mercy is only obtained by us if we’ve extended it to others. So it’s difficult in the middle of a dark night with flickering lights annoying your travel, to ask for mercy unless you’ve already been living a merciful life yourself.

We were fortunate. Although Jerrod attempted to slumber, periodically our car’s tribute to Saturday Night Fever went off with its “click-click-click,” awakening him with a start. We somehow survived the experience and made it to dawn, when, with a great sense of relief, I reached over and turned off the headlights, thus ending our ordeal.

At our next stop, we discovered that the problem had nothing to do with the trailer, the wiring, or anything beyond the front dashboard of the car. We had a bad light switch, which turned on the headlights.There was a short in it, so anything we could have done would have been meaningless.

It was a good experience. It taught me that the grace of God is often more valuable to me than the intervention of the divine. Because unless God was going to come down and heal my light switch, nothing was going to work. And honestly, if God’s going to heal something, it probably should be that little girl in a hospital somewhere in Alabama who’s dying of cancer instead of my ailing car part, don’t you think? Most of the time what I need is the mercy of God instead of having all my problems solved in one big explosion of blessing.

And receiving that mercy requires that I live a life of giving mercy to others. It’s a good deal. It’ll get you through the night–and keep you from being eaten by coyotes. 

  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. This is awesome
    And absolutly 100% true….
    I was there…:)

    Like


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