We all love to hear stories that reveal the power of God and His amazing hand at work.
But what about those stories that don’t have a good ending? Do you have a few of those? Are you living in one right now?
When a story is in the making, it’s usually not one that’s told.
Which reminds me of a story I don’t think I have ever told. A story from when I wanted to upgrade my car. A story that, to this day, challenges me to trust God for the ending of every story….
It was a hot, muggy day in July. My sister and I were driving from West Virginia to Chicago for a Journey to the Heart Reunion in my old, “t-rusty” 2001 Toyota Corolla.
It was a great little car! Great gas mileage, didn’t require much maintenance after the previous owner, my brother, had squeezed out all the quirks of the lemon a couple years ago, and it even had what I called a “courtesy door”, one of those back passenger doors that would only open from the outside providing opportunity for me to look like a true gentlemen (at least, on those special occasions when I actually remembered to politely end my passenger’s luxurious, knee-popping imprisonment in the tightly budgeted space behind the appropriately reclined drivers’ seat).
We had just crossed the border into Ohio when Esther get’s a phone call.
“Do we have room for an extra passenger?” she asks me.
I look into the luggage-filled prison behind me.
“How much luggage would she have?” I replied.
Somehow, we managed to pack in a third passenger, but when it came time to return home after our activities in Chicago, I seriously wondered how we would fit it all in again.
This wasn’t the first time that we had packed out the Corolla! 2000 miles round-trip to Texas is a long way to drive with three passengers, their luggage for a few weeks and a dozen or so potted peppers to deliver to relatives….even if you weren’t camping along the way!
And then there was Conference season. The Lenspiration booth wasn’t getting any more compact as the years rolled by.
When I first bought the Corolla I was envisioning travel mostly by myself. But in a family of 8 siblings and when working in ministry and with wanting to spend time with people….that was hardly the case.
So one day, while scheming and squishing and squeezing for the umpteenth time, this novel idea finally hit me, “Why don’t you get a car with more space?”
So thus began the research.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but after thinking and praying about it for a good amount of time, I finally decided on the car that I thought would best suit my needs: a 2010 Subaru Outback, preferably from a southern State so I wouldn’t have to deal with rust, and within my price range of course.
Soon, God started pulling things together.
I was traveling through Texas on business. Online, I found a 2010 Outback, a silver one, with the right price tag for sale in Houston. I had a little less than a week before I needed to head to Arkansas to shoot a wedding, so I began to wonder, “Was this the right time to go for it?”
As I talked to God about it, though, in my spirit I felt the answer was, “No”. I simply didn’t have a peace about it.
So I asked God why; “Why do I not have a peace about this, God?”
And you know what He said? I’ll never forget it!
At this stage in our life-stories that God is leading us through, it can be pretty fun. It’s faith-building to have a goal, to run into roadblocks in our pursuit of that goal, and then to discuss with God what to do about those roadblocks….or maybe, sometimes, to rethink the goal. Roadblocks are invitations to enter into His presence. And regardless of what God might say about the roadblocks or the goal, being in God’s presence and spending time with Him to work through those struggles is simply, unexplainably invigorating! In His presence is fullness of joy. And it’s from this fellowship that heat-level feelings of peace are God-formulated and direction for how to take the next step are God-decided, regardless of how logical or illogical the decision may appear to be on a physical level.
So, what did I feel God was saying this time? It was so incredibly logical.
“James, you need to have a buyer for your Corolla first.”
“Duh. Of course! Why would I want to own two cars at the same time for an indefinite amount of time anyway?”
So I posted a little something about wanting to sell the Corolla on Facebook that night and went to bed contentedly, fully expecting to work on this part of the process for the next couple of months.
Well, to my great surprise, I had three potential buyers for the Corolla the next morning!
By the end of the day, one of them was so serious about buying it, he said he would fly a guy down to Houston to pick up the Corolla so I could drive the new car off the lot!
So I went back and asked God, “Is it the right time to go for it now?”
And the answer this time seemed to be, “Yes”. So I started to get excited! I was a little nervous because I’d never done anything like this before, but at the same time, I felt inexplicably confident because I knew I wasn’t doing anything that God didn’t want me to do.
So, I started moving forward.
I called the dealer. The silver Outback was still for sale. I called the buyer and told him he could go ahead and fly his guy down. A day or two later, I drove myself down to Houston.
I stopped at a BB&T bank to withdraw the cash. Of course, they did their thing to make sure I was who I said I was. But even after that, they still seemed hesitant to fulfill my request.
“It’s really not a good idea to carry that much cash around with you. Are you sure you are going to pick up the car today?”
In my mind, sure, why wouldn’t I?
“Well, I really do recommend you make your withdrawal somewhere else. You see, this bank was robbed a few days ago, and….”
Oh. “I get your point.”
My next stop was the airport to pick up Louis, a jolly Hispanic guy whose stature and build rendered seating in the prison behind us truly impossible now.
On our way to the dealer, I found out that Louis was a mechanic! He sounded like a good one too. And it was there that I began to realize, having never bought a “real” car before, just how vulnerable a situation I was in. God was being so gracious to bring a mechanic to be right there with me as I took a look at this impending investment. I will always be indebted to God for this unexpected gift.
When we arrived, things just didn’t feel right from the very beginning.
The dealer was enthusiastic but didn’t offer very direct answers to my very direct, pre-planned questions. The car was in much worse shape than it looked in the photos online. Louis and I took it for a spin. It was just so, well, “old” feeling. I wasn’t impressed and it certainly didn’t pass Louis’ inspection.
“You aren’t going to buy this car, are you?” he asked.
Where was my confidence now? I guess I had had peace about going to look at the car, but now, did I have peace about actually buying it? Wow. That was a totally different question. And in my spirit, the answer to that was an unquestionable, “No”.
But then what would I do?! Had Louis flown all the way down here for nothing? What would I tell the buyer for the Corolla….“Sorry, go pay for another ticket to fly Louis back without a car.”?
I was really in a pickle. I would never advise anyone to ever intentionally get themselves in a situation like this. Just because God has led in one direction doesn’t mean that I can base all my plans on the fact that He will lead the same way I expect in the next situation. Don’t tempt God.
But maybe, since it felt like God had put me in this situation, the things I now knew about the car were God’s way of telling me to go ahead and buy it, and trust him to work out whatever problems would lie ahead?
Obviously, this is a possible solution, but it was not the solution I felt God was leading me to do in that moment. We had time. Louis didn’t have a flight to catch or anything. We would spend some time thinking through our options.
So, I thanked the dealer and we left the silver Outback behind.
This was the death of a vision. But that same, inexplicable peace stayed with me. I still felt as confident as ever that God was in this. We’d just take it one step at a time.
We went to spend the night with some friends in the area. Whether or not I had a new car, earlier I had figured it would be wise to make arrangements to stay in Houston that night (do you think God ever appreciates a little foresight on our end sometimes? ). When we arrived, I felt like shutting myself up in a room so I could weigh the options and make a clear battle plan for the next day. But, while that might be the right option in some scenarios, it wasn’t the right one here. We ate dinner together, we talked together, and I actually went swimming with the younger guys after dark in their backyard! My mind was brainstorming at 100mph the entire time, but the fruit of trust was allowing me to enjoy spending time with others even in the middle of the unknowns of the current situation.
I stayed up till 1am that night looking for used Outbacks online in my price range. Thanks to Robert & Kendalyn helping me out (they happened to be there that night too), I felt like I had three options I could check out the next day. One in Houston, one in Dallas and one somewhere in between in a town called Rusk.
The next morning, during my devotions, the peace about pursuing these options was confirmed after Job 27:11 popped out to me, “I will teach you by the hand of God: that which is with the Almighty will I not conceal.” God would make the end result very clear.
Well, Louis and I made it off to a late start. I decided to ditch the first option in Houston for sake of time, and I felt it was too far outside of my price range to negotiate them down far enough. I couldn’t get in touch with the guy in Rusk, so we trucked it all the way to Dallas. I couldn’t believe how long it took us to get to the dealership! It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived.
The procedure went about the same as it did yesterday except I had a much better feeling about this place. The guy we talked to still didn’t seem to be up front about everything, but he did say it would be no problem to knock off the extra $500 that was listed on the lot above what I had seen listed on Craigslist the night before. The test drive with Louis’ inspection went a whole lot better too.
When we arrived back at the dealership after our test drive, Louis and I prayed for guidance. I had to make a decision. God had brought me to this point. Was God going to give me a peace now about buying this one”?
Aggravatingly, the answer felt like another “No”.
How far are we will to go with God? Is it ok if he says, “No”, a million billion times? What will be the last straw for you? When will the fire reach the end of the fuse?
Or am I surrendered so fully to God’s will that at the end of every fuse there are only empty grenades deactivated by trust?
So, as before, I asked God, “Why? Why do I not feel at peace about this?”
And the answer was pretty clear. “The price.”
Even on Craigslist, the price was $1000 over what I knew I should pay. I looked over at Louis and said, “Louis, if they come down $1000 from the Craigslist price, I’ll know it’s the one.”
And with that confidence, we walked inside.
I had never really negotiated like this before. And I really forget what I said. All I remember is thinking that what I said was actually coming out right.
“Aww, that’s crazy,” the no-nonsense lady behind the counter said, “tell you what, we’ll come down $500. That’s it.”
There was a short pause.
I knew I had only one response.
“Nope” I heard myself say.
And I turned around to walk out the door.
I will never forget that experience. It was the most concrete faith-experience I had ever lived through up to that point. God had given directions, and I was following them. I was walking away from a very logical deal, I didn’t have a logical place to go, and Louis probably thought I was crazy, but I felt that it was the way God was leading and that’s what mattered the most to me.
I fully intended to walk out. I didn’t say “nope” as a negotiation tactic. I didn’t turn my back to get them to change their mind. I didn’t walk out because I was a penny pincher. I was just doing what God had told me to do, even if it meant there wouldn’t be a good end to the story.
But God had different plans.
“Ok! Let me call the boss!” I heard the lady call out from behind me.
And the boss agreed to come down the full $1000.
I was shocked!
It sure felt good to have finally see things start to clear up….when suddenly I realized, “The money!”
It was literally 18 minutes until BB&T’s 5pm closing time, and I didn’t even know where the closest BB&T banks was!
I whipped out my phone.
Google Maps said there was one 15 minutes away.
“Louis, I’ll be right back!”
On the way, I called the bank to let them know I was coming and ask if they wouldn’t mind holding the doors open for me if I was a few minutes late.
“Sorry, we don’t let anyone in after 5pm.”
I have never been so tempted to speed in my entire life!
But you don’t have to do things your way to get God’s things done. He could have had me get there late if He wanted to, and I would have to step through that situation by faith just like every other situation, but God graciously let me get to the bank in time. I walked through the doors with only 1 minute to spare.
Back at the dealership, we were able to do the paperwork and get everything squared away without any further troubles. I thanked Louis profusely for his advice and patience. It was sad to see the Corolla go, but I felt like I was in a dream as I drove my dream car off the lot.
Sunset was so gorgeous that night night. A random, Texas backroad served as an appropriate spot to stop and pray, take pictures and dedicate the car to His purposes.
You might say this story has a good ending. It reveals the power of God and his amazing hand at work!
But would I have said that in the middle of it? How would I know it wouldn’t just become a story I would never tell?
Every time I think back on this story and others like it, I’m challenged to trust God for the ending of every story.
God is trustworthy. To the very end. May my perspective on every situation be always like Job’s, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
And the story continues! Here’s what I found out what you probably don’t want to do with a new car….