On a Saturday morning I found myself with arms and mind overflowing as I hurried my girls into the car for a little road trip. Blankets and snacks and books and gift bags somehow made it into the car along with my people, and we were off.
The first half of our drive was fairly peaceful, with the girls glued to tablets and books and me tuned into the podcast episodes I’d missed during the week. We arrived at the party, mingled with family and friends, ate some cake, and played with the birthday girl. Then it was time to hit the road again.
The sun slipped behind the horizon sooner than I expected, and my girls lost interest in every single thing they’d brought along sooner than I hoped. Soon, I was not just sleepy but irritated and desperate for solutions to both situations. Realizing my daughters needed my earbuds to hear and watch a movie together, I reached for my purse in the passenger seat.
Oh, that’s right. My purse hit the floor when I hit the speedbump on my looking-for-Starbucks detour a while back.
With my eyes on the road, I leaned over and waved my hand around in an attempt to grab my purse, but I couldn’t stretch far enough. Completely annoyed with everything in the world by now, I sped up the ramp of the next exit I spotted. I paused at the stop sign just long enough to put the car in park, check for oncoming traffic (there was none; it was a deserted exit), unbuckle and grab my purse. I pulled my earbuds out of their little pocket, tossed them to my girls in the back seat, and got back on the road.
Heaving a big sigh, I told myself to simmer down. We’d be home soon enough. After all, that stop had probably only cost us about thirty seconds. What difference could thirty seconds make?
Eight hours since first leaving town, we finally neared our own exit. I could see our water tower shining in the dark, and I felt relief. We were going to make it. I hadn’t fallen asleep, nor had I screamed at my girls as they fought over… I don’t even know what they were fighting over, but it was SOMETHING.
But then, right in front of me, two cars began speeding and swerving around each other battling for… I don’t even know what they were battling for, but I hope it was important. Because in an effort to out-drive or out-pace each other, they smashed into each other instead. I hit my brakes and cringed, certain the flying debris would slam into my windshield or slice open my tires.
Thankfully, we were just far enough behind the accident to escape any damage ourselves, but still I breathed heavy and fast as I watched the two injured vehicles limp over to the side of the highway. I drove past them and into my town, pulling into the gas station and calling highway patrol right away. The dispatcher transferred me, then someone asked me questions I couldn’t answer (I didn’t know if anyone was hurt; I didn’t know how many people were in each vehicle). And then I heard sirens. What seemed like every emergency vehicle our small town owns sped past the gas station on the way to the highway.
Shaking, I hung up the phone and gassed up my car. Trying to hide the tears that were threatening, I got back in my car to my four-year-old’s interrogation: What happened? Who were you talking to? Did you call the police? Are you freaked out? Why are you crying? What’s wrong?
We made it home, quietly carrying in only about half of the things littering our road trip weary car. My husband, anxious to see us after a day apart, gave hugs all around and then helped me get the girls in bed.
It was only when I sat down and settled into my comfy chair that I lost it. My husband patiently listened to me babble about how close we were to the accident (“This close, no not that close, maybe a bit farther, but it felt closer, it was really close…”) and how it just takes a second.
It just takes a second. Or, in this case, it took about thirty seconds. If I hadn’t pulled off the highway to grab my earbuds, if I’d been able to reach my purse on the floor of the car, if my purse hadn’t fallen in the first place — we would have been smack dab in the middle of those two cars.
What a difference thirty seconds made!
What if, what if, what if? It could’ve been us, it could’ve been us, we were so close, it could’ve been us…
As my tears and adrenaline ran out, so did my words. My husband is a truck driver and, coincidentally, he recently witnessed a fatal accident. Just a few seconds earlier or faster, and he would’ve been the truck hit by the car that crossed the median. He would’ve been the truck that flipped and landed in the ditch. He would’ve been the news story the next morning.
So he understood how shaken I was. He let me cry and talk and shake my head and stop and start sentences that made little sense about how little sense things like this make. He didn’t have an answer for my questions about why and how and why, though. I’m not sure anyone does.
Why did God keep us safe? Why didn’t He keep those other drivers safe?
When things like this happen, I go a little crazy. I let myself spiral into a pit of questions and doubts, and I strain at the discomfort of being so completely out of control, of being so helpless in determining my future. I have the audacity to question God’s decision-making skills and demand reckoning for the results of every little what if and if only.
Years of belief are all that protect me from staying in that dark, swirling place. Heaven knows head knowledge doesn’t do a bit of good when the questions start. But even as I shake and stutter, I hear a still, small Voice reminding me of the things I know — and the things I believe.
I hear the whisper that God works all things together for my good and His glory…
I remember that even if [insert bad thing here], He is still good and worthy to be praised…
I hear the Voice ask what kind of gifts I expect from a heavenly Father…
I remember that even when the worst happens (and it will, sometimes), He is with us…
And little by little, I can breathe again.
Eventually I sank into bed, weak from the adrenaline drain and the stress of the day. My body was weak, and so was my heart, but somewhere in there was the belief that I can trust God to be in control, that He won’t be derailed by my detours, that no matter what the day’s outcome He is always with us, always protecting us, always working things out the way they should be.
My brain is wired to look at lots of angles and imagine many scenarios. I question and I wonder, and I don’t think God minds one bit. He knows — and He knows that, deep down, I know — He is still on the throne and still in control, no matter how late or early I am, how planned or spontaneous my days are.
I don’t know how to answer the what ifs and if onlys of life, but I know the One who can. And, it turns out, thirty seconds here or there don’t change a thing, but trusting in the One who has all our days — and seconds — numbered makes a world of difference.