So I was walking toward a trout stream the other day with a friend I had not seen in years. We ran into each other on another stream earlier in the morning, and we were catching up as we went to the next spot. He told me about his family, and mentioned that his college-aged son was going through a rough spot right now. I’ve had my share of rough spots too (we all have), but the more he talked, the more I sensed God tugging at my heart and mind.
“I’ve asked for help,” he said. “I just wish someone could talk to him.”
“I’ll go,” I said. “It’s no accident that we met up like we did. There is a reason.”
And so, last week, I drove down to Athens, Tennessee early one evening to meet up with his son. His schedule was full, so we ended up meeting later than expected.
We talked over dinner. We talked about God and life, loss and hopes, struggles and joy, grace and faith. It was a great time, and we agreed to meet again. Just two men-one in the fire, and one still smelling of smoke-walking alongside each other.
As I left Athens after dark, I saw I needed gas, so I found the first opportunity along the Interstate to fill up the tank. As I stood at the pump, I noticed a little SUV with a raised hood in the dim light just at the edge of the parking lot of the gas station. Behind it was a U-Haul almost the size of the vehicle itself, and poking around under the hood by the light of a cell phone screen, were two women.
I drove over and asked if they needed help.
Minnesota to Florida.
No idea where they were.
I told them that they needed to find a place to stay for the night and then find somebody to fix it in the morning. Since my friend’s son had picked the dinner spot earlier, and since it was surrounded by hotels, I suggested they drive down to the area from which I had come.
They followed me down, and then, about two hundred yards from the hotel’s entrance, the transmission gave up the ghost. I pulled around and walked to their window. They were crying. The stress of it all had gotten to them.
I told them it was all going to be okay, tethered our vehicles with tow rope and pulled them to the parking lot of the hotel. As I was untying us, we continued to talk. They found out I was a pastor; I found out they had been praying for help.
They said that they now knew that I was there, at that gas station, at that time, for that specific reason. I agreed with them that God’s hand was all over the evening.
“You know,” I told them. “I live about an hour north of here. Tonight is the first time I have ever stopped in Athens.”
“Really? Why were you here?”
“Yeah. Funny thing about that. So…I was walking toward a trout stream the other day with a friend…”
Two minutes later, they were in tears, and I was fighting back my own. We all realized just how out-of-control life is, and how in-control He is. I prayed for them and thanked God for His perfect timing. They got my number so they could let me know when they arrived. We all hugged and went our ways, resting in the care of a sovereign God.
Got a text from them the next day that they had made it safely there.
Then yesterday came…
Got up early, decided to visit some isolated streams I had never before fished. Got everything together, drove into the Park and found a tiny pull-off near a series of pools tucked away in the trees. As I assembled my rod, I couldn’t find my reel. I was certain I had packed it, but it seemed to have disappeared. This could not be. I just drove over a half-hour to get there, and I didn’t have my reel. Unbelievable.
“There is a reason, God. Right?” I said. Climbing back into the driver’s seat, I drove home.
Then, after searching again, I found it.
Under a blanket.
In my truck.
I stood there, staring at it like a prisoner finding the key to his cell under his own pillow. It was with me the entire time. Doubly unbelievable.
I sighed and drove back to the stream, back to the pull-off, assembled my rod (again), and then it began to rain. “No matter what,” I said. “I’m going to fish.”
So I was walking toward the trout stream, just about to disappear into the trees…and my friend (whose son I had visited) pulls up in his vehicle and rolls down his window. We just stared at each other. He said, “I can’t believe I am running into you here at just this moment. What timing!”
“You have no idea,” I said.
He and his lady friend climbed out and stood under an umbrella as we talked about his son and stranded motorists, lost reels and found opportunities, struggles and joy, grace and faith. And there, with heavy raindrops pattering the brim of my hat, on the edge of a trout stream, we three held hands, and my friend prayed.
And I thanked God, once again, for His perfect timing.