A few weeks ago, my husband Ryan, our daughter Deise, and I drove up to Syracuse for a regional church conference. While there, we hung out with our good friends Kurt and Amy at their apartment complex pool. Our girls got to swim together while the adults caught up. As we left the complex, this happened:
We were driving down a busy street in front of a large shopping complex, and an elderly gentleman pulled out without seeing us. My husband braked hard, and no one was hurt, but our car was toast. (Or rather, it was fixable, but it was so old and its mileage so high that the insurance company decided the repairs would cost more than the worth of the car.)
Here’s the crazy part. Less than half an hour ago, we’d gotten four new tires. Which were now on an undrivable car. Wanna know why we’d gotten those tires?
It happened like this: While driving up to Syracuse, we stopped to see my son, Daniel, who was at a math camp at Bard College for a few weeks. (Yes, my son is a math nerd. Since he’s returned from camp, he’s been busy trying to discover algorithms to solve Rubix cubes.) We rescued him from cafeteria food for the afternoon (“They serve tofu dogs. They’re terrible.”) and let him pick his food of choice. He picked tacos. So we drove to this little place we’d seen in town. As we entered the driveway, we heard a loud pop or crack under the car. We stopped; Ryan checked around to see what had hit us and saw nothing. We found out the taco place was closed and went elsewhere. End of story, we thought.
Except, that when we got to Syracuse, it turned out our tire was leaking. Ryan filled it with air once, but that was only a temporary solution. There happened to be a tire store close to Kurt and Amy’s house, so while we girls swam, Ryan and Kurt took our car to the tire store. The tire guys took one look at our tires and said all the treads were dangerously worn down. So Ryan got all the tires replaced, then hopped in the car to pick Deise and me up. That’s when the accident happened.
So, let’s review the sequence of events:
- Daniel’s taco craving leads us to a leaky tire. And the taco place isn’t even open!
- We replace all 4 tires, to the tune of $200.
- 15 minutes later, we get into a car accident. Those $200 tires are now on a worthless car. (We joke about posting the picture of our wreck on Instagram with the hashtag #look ma, new tires!)
Oh, yes, and we’re on vacation!
Not a great story, right? $200 down the toilet, plus a wrecked car, during what’s supposed to be a rejuvenating getaway.
But what if we tell the story a different way? What if Daniel’s taco craving actually ended up preventing us and the other driver from serious injuries? What if, because we had four new tires with new treads instead of four old tires with substandard treads, those new tires were able to slow down the impact of our collision enough that we all walked away, unhurt? What if God used Daniel’s hankering for Mexican and a mysteriously flat tire to look out for us all?
Now, can we prove that’s what happened? Empirically, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Of course not. It’s absolutely possible that this sequence of events was random. We could absolutely choose to lament those beautiful, shiny new tires that are going to waste on a busted car somewhere in a collision repair shop in Syracuse. But we’ve chosen to focus our attention elsewhere, to tell a story of God’s providential timing and protection.
Life of Pi author Yann Martel summed up the meaning behind his novel like this: “Life is a story; you can choose your own story; a story with God is the better story.”
Sometimes faith is not just believing in God in the abstract; it’s the story you choose to tell.
What’s your story?
P.S. Here’s our “new” used car, a Toyota Scion XB. When we briefly lived in Hawaii, we had an older version of this car that the locals called a “tofu box” because, well, that’s what it looked like. This more recent model is less boxy, but the name has stuck.