Two days ago, I went to HEB with the little man. We were in need of diapers. After finding the best deal on a mega-pack, we headed back to the car. The sun was shining bright and we were both looking forward to the day. I had been invited to meet friends at Starbucks and catch up over coffee. Judah was excited about the prospect of sweet treats while the mommies talked. We wasted no time and loaded the diapers, returned the shopping cart to its metal corral, and began the buckling-in process.
Any parent or grandparent knows that this daily chore can indeed be a lengthy process. Straps can get twisted, bottoms have to scoot back, and a small battle of “put your goldfish in the other hand” has to ensue just to get arms through the appropriate belts. This day, however, an unforeseen turn of events was underway. Our buckling-in routine was about to be altered.
Just as I clicked the second-to-last buckle in his 5-point harness, the car door behind me closed on my legs. This left passenger door has a tendency to shut on its own, so at first, I really thought nothing of it, and simply without looking pushed against the window with my left hand. I had intentionally parked next to a vacant spot to make the bucking-in process easier, so I wasn’t concerned about swinging the door into a nearby car.
But, despite my attempt, the door didn’t budge. I quickly turned, confused as to what was happening. Through the window I saw a black car slowly pulling in to the spot next to me. Only 8 inches or so from the side of our car it crept in, pushing firmly against the car door at my back. The pressure on my calves was increasing. I thought, “What is this moron doing? Don’t they see that there is someone in here?” I twisted my upper body, lower legs pinned between the car door and the running board. While pushing on the door window with my left forearm, I pounded the tinted window of the black car with my right fist. I heard the bodies of the two cars crackle, and for a second, questioned if the sound was that of fracturing bone. It soon became evident that there was no driver to hear my determined and desperate knocking. “What in the world???….”
More confusion set in…
“Where did this back phantom car come from?”
“How am I going to get out of here?”
“I’m all alone…”
Scenes flashed though my thoughts: Aron Ralston, who cut off his own arm with a dull knife to escape his entrapment by a boulder, a long-ago tragedy of a high school friend who, while sitting on the hood of a parked car was hit head-on by another car, severing both legs, and a fearful glimpse of myself–life dramatically altered by the loss of limbs.
I sent out a few desperate one-handed texts to my husband and the friends I was to meet asking them to pray. I see now that my texts were altogether confusing and painted a much more frightening picture. Sorry, y’all. 🙂
I struggled to push against the child car-seat and the door that unrelentingly pressed in. Even with my best resistance, the gap between the door and the car grew smaller. I thought, “I don’t know how long I can keep pushing.”
I spotted a woman putting away her groceries in her trunk across the lot. I yelled, “Help!” through the crack in the door. She turned and looked. I screamed again and she came running. I quickly tried to explain what little I understood, “this car came out of nowhere and there is no one in there, and my legs are getting squashed, and I don’t know what to do, but I need out, and the door is still trying to shut…” I could hear the trembling and panic in my voice, which only gave affirmation to my fear. She, too, was trying to wrap her mind around what was happening. “I don’t know what to do!”, she said. She ran to the back of the car to read the license plate number. She apologized profusely for having to find a paper and pen, because she wouldn’t be able to remember the number on her own. Then she was gone to find the owner.
It felt like an eternity. I felt alone. I felt trapped.
Then I heard her voice return and that of a man. Then I spotted him, a 76-year-old hispanic man. He slid in sideways between the two vehicles and asked if I was okay. “Yes, I think so”, I said, “but that car is still pressing in on the door and my legs are pinned. I can’t move.” He slid back out and I heard him call on others to push the car in reverse. One man came, but instead of helping to move the car, opened up my SUV’s door on the opposite side and asked, “why don’t you just climb out this side?”
“I can’t…I’m stu…”
And just like that, he slammed the door shut and was gone. (WHAT?!?!?)
The benevolent army veteran returned and squeezed in again and positioned one shoulder between the door and the frame. He helped me fight the door for a few more centimeters. I heard the black car door pop and crackle as we strained. I wiggled my left leg free and stepped into the car, my right leg still pressure packed, as it was closer to the smaller angle of the hinge side of the door. We hustled and as soon as I felt the ability, I slid my leg towards the crack. My shoe fell to the ground and I pulled my leg into the car just as my rescuer backed away from door. It slammed shut in my face and I watched through the window as the grimacing man held his breath as the car continued to roll.
As soon as my door was clear of the car, I opened it and recovered my flip-flop. The ebony Mazda kept cruising until it met the cart stall across the way. At that point, the car owner and the store manager appeared. The police were on their way and I reassured everyone that I didn’t need an ambulance. The tear-filled owner explained that she put her standard transmission car in neutral and forgot to put the emergency break on. If I was talented enough to drive a standard, I am sure that I would have made the same oversight many times.
In my freedom, as people asked if I was okay or needed medical attention, the release of adrenaline and emotion came. I teared up. “I was just scared.” It was all I could muster to say.
In the days since, I’ve been processing how to write about this. As I’ve retold the details of the event to others, the comment was made that this would be good material for the blog. As I’ve pondered the experience and the feeling of being trapped, I couldn’t escape this reoccurring thought…the Holy Spirit.
He has definitely been on my radar lately, and today as I write, it’s no different. My new relationship with the Holy Spirit has given me a better understanding of how I have lived in His presence, yet inattentive to His voice. Like that black driverless car, I have been a vessel filled with all the wirings to drive the course, but have more often than not been aimlessly rolling down a decline on neutral. In my pilotless walk, I’ve been trapping others, pinning them, and bruising them along the way. Walking without an attentive ear to the Holy Spirit has cascaded me into others, without care or concern for their well-being. Without the Spirit in the driver’s seat, my own joy has been sacrificed and I have ended up in places that I don’t belong, in steel and lifeless shopping cart corrals. My own frame has been nicked and dented resulting in years of my own unnecessary damage.
I have a feeling I’m not alone.
I am learning to listen to His voice, to let Him comfort and guide. I sat on the bumper of our Sequoia as the police report was being filed and I clearly heard His urging. He told me to go and pray for the owner of the black ghost car. As I approached her sitting in the driver’s seat, head in her hands, I asked her if she was okay. She explained that she had already had a rough week with work and in her marriage. She was beginning to think it couldn’t get any worse. I said, “This may sound weird, but can I pray for you?”
“YES!”, she exclaimed. And before I could even open my mouth, we were hand in hand, me down on my throbbing knee, her seated with head bowed, and she began…She prayed for me. Sometimes listening to the Holy Spirit causes us to take a risk to love someone else in the name of Jesus, and sometimes He guides us for the sake of our own souls. I was reminded in her prayer that He never left me, even when I felt alone, trapped, and helpless. I prayed for her, her marriage, and the stressfulness of her week, that Jesus would redeem even those details.
There we found ourselves, in the HEB parking lot, having just been the aimless and wandering, the trapped and confused, receiving the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus, and the peace of the Holy Spirit. Wow. Speechless.
The cops (one of which had given me my speeding ticket earlier last month, see the post: What’s the Big Idea?? ) wrapped things up and headed on their way. The manager went back into his store. The good Samaritan got in his white pick-up and drove off. The lady and her dark dented car rode off to work. There I was, standing the the parking lot, as if none of it had happened.
At that moment Paul accompanied by a good friend and the two girls I stood up for our coffee date pulled in. I felt a little odd at first. There was no sign that anything had happened. Because they all love me, of course, they didn’t doubt me, but only showed care and concern.
But, isn’t that also like the Holy Spirit? He does these random, out of nowhere, unbelievable things, then seems to vanish into thin air as soon as others show up. I believe it’s because we have a personal God. In Acts, we see the Spirit move in big and powerful ways in front of thousands for the sake of thousands. He still does this, no doubt. However, for me right now, my lack of faith–lack of trust–exists in the Spirit’s desire for personal relationship with me, not the big fantastical stuff that brings millions to know Jesus. That actually makes sense to me. It’s very economical. But, that He would also orchestrate a phantom car and 76-year-old Super Man so that I could encounter Him and His clear voice–not for the goal of “winning one for the kingdom”, but just for shepherding my heart–is a challenging consideration.
He loves me when I don’t listen and coast without a driver. He loves me when I am trapped in fear. He loves me and continues to pursue me, even after I am His. He desires friendship with me. He gives me personal events that, while I can share them in writing, are yet experienced only by me. I am reminded again of the old hymn that I sing for Judah each night:
I am Jesus’ little lamb.
Ever glad at heart I am.
For my shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my needs and well provides me.
Loves me everyday the same.
Even calls me by my name.
His Spirit is there ready to give unending joy, gentle guidance, ample provision, and personal relationship. I came across a Facebook post promoting the movie Holy Ghost, which is a documentary I have referenced before. It speaks for itself and is eerily applicable:
We’ve been invited to have faith in Him. We’ve been invited to trust Him. We’ve been invited to be His friend. Will we accept His invitation of friendship? Will we allow Him to sit at the steering wheel? Will we risk the possibilities of what partnering with the Spirit of God might actually do? It could change people…whole cities…nations! And even more risky and terrifying–it could change us in very foundational and personal ways. Are we willing to take His hand and jump in to new territory?
Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). I want to have life and have it to the full. My flesh and my attempts to gain this on my own are “no help at all.” I have got to surrender all my efforts–the controls of my car–in order to let the Spirit drive. It’s scary, but can we do it? We’ve been invited.