“Please Jesus help me, I need you to show up!” I prayed that in the midst of my best-worst day. Yesterday was one of those days that, as I recount it to people, I feel the need to insist that I am not exaggerating. I wept in my car as I said this prayer pulled over at an abandoned gas station somewhere in Alabama. I was heading back to Nashville to catch my return flight to California after having a busy week filled with inspiring meetings and getting to see my young niece and nephew for a couple of hours.
The day started on a high note and took a dramatic turn downward.
I spent the morning having breakfast with my beloved niece and nephew in Huntsville, Alabama. I was feeling pretty exhausted but with a full heart. I needed to get back home Saturday night so I would be back in time for our Sunday services. I pulled over to get some gas for my rental car, not realizing the gas station was abandoned. I reached into my purse and immediately my heart dropped… I couldn’t find my wallet. This wasn’t good. I hadn’t seen it since earlier that morning at a market in Huntsville – two hours away from the Nashville airport and nearly 45 minutes away from my current location. I immediately called my brother and begged him to go look at his house. He searched through the house but my wallet was not there. I began to panic as I looked at the clock – I had at least an hour and a half drive and my flight was leaving at 5:30, boarding at 5. It was now 2:30. How was this ever going to work? I just wanted to get home.
As I waited at the gas station, my phone kept going in and out of reception. With what little reception I had, I called the airline to ask if I could take a later flight. After a long pause, the answer came back that there were no flights after 5:30pm – it was the last flight out. The earliest I could get home was Sunday afternoon. I closed my eyes and prayed again, “Come on Jesus, I need you to show up!”
As the clock ticked, I called a friend who suggested I drive to the nearest open gas station and he would give his credit card number to cover my gas. I used the last little bit of gas to make it to the closest gas station. I ran in with a tear-stained face, explained my situation and begged for her to take my friend’s credit card information. She looked at me empathetically and said she would check with her manager. Her manager denied the request. The tears were beginning to well up in my eyes again as this day was getting awful. The cashier looked at me and said, “Look honey, clearly you need to get somewhere – let me get you some gas and get you back on the road.” With her help I was going to be able to get somewhere, but where?
Just then my brother called to announce that he found the wallet. We chose a location between the two of us and met on the side of the highway. I put the Nashville airport back in my navigation and panic set in again – I wouldn’t make it until exactly 5pm. “Alright Lord, I am going to need you to show up in big ways.” I won’t tell you how fast I drove, but I made it to the airport at 4:53pm. I still had to drop off the rental car. I threw my keys to the attendant who was kind enough to catch them and yell back at me “You’ll make it.” I ran to security, and the TSA attendants saw my absolute panic when I couldn’t get my tickets to pull up on my phone. “It’s okay Sarah, slow down, you are going to make your flight,” the agent said with a big smile. I ran to the gate as I heard my name over the loud speaker for a last call boarding. Just as I got to the gate, another announcement came: “Sarah Heath, please return to security and retrieve your ID.” There was no way I was going to make it back to the security check point and make it on the plane. Here came the tears. The gate agent said, “Sarah, go ahead and board and I’ll get someone to grab your ID.” I sat down sweaty and filled with adrenaline. Perhaps it was my appearance, or maybe my dramatic entrance, but it opened up conversation between those seated around me and I spent the next 2 and half hours having amazing conversations and feeling as though I had just experienced a miracle of some sort.
Why do I tell you this story? Because as Advent approaches, the season of waiting, I know many of us feel the panic I felt. Whether it’s the panic of finding the perfect gift, feeling the lose of someone during the season, or as pastors creating the perfect Christmas service, the season of waiting has become the season of panic and rushing. It took this crazy day for me to notice something – as I was begging for God to show up… God did.. in the amazing people who supported and helped me. Advent simply means the appearance of God. I have a feeling I will need to remember this unexpected Advent a couple of times during this busy season.