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.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Ironically, one of my devotions in “A Moment to Breathe” is entitled “A Cure for “If Only”. At a time when I was questioning “If only” I had done things differently in my parenting, maybe my relationship with one of my adult children would be different. While looking through some old books in the attic (deciding what to keep and what to give away), my dad’s sermon notes fell out of a book into my lap. My dad had passed away five years before. The sermon was entitled “A Cure For if Only.” What a God moment that was. It went on to talk about how Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, but what they intended for harm, God intended for good. The bottom line of the message is that God is sovereign and NOTHING can thwart the good and sovereign will of the Lord. God can, and does, redeem circumstances all the time. God has control of ALL my “If only” ponderings. Reading your story also makes me realize just how many “near misses” God has saved me from in my life. Thirty seconds here, an hour there, a different person who stopped to help, a different roadway taken….I am thankful for Him watching over me and simply have to trust all my “If only’s” to Him. Great thought provoking post!
Mary Carver says
Bev, I’ll have to look for your devotion in AMTB! I haven’t read them all yet. 🙂 This is a great reminder that sometimes our near misses and God’s protection don’t look like things we are easily thankful for. Joseph’s story is a prime example of that!
Michele Morin says
As I read your story, I realized I was holding my breath . . . how amazing that God peeled back the layer of unknowing that usually covers our days and let you see the What If.
Lately, I’ve had to keep coming back to the sovereignty of God as a force for good. He’s totally in control, He loves me, and He’s good. When I bring all three (and I have to say them all, one by one) together into my awareness, it’s easier (not easy, but easier) for me to accept the things I don’t understand.
Mary, I always appreciate your voice here. Thanks so much for word that open my eyes to the big picture.
Mary Carver says
Michele, I love what you said about remembering all three truths together. He is good, He is in control, and He loves me – it’s only when I recognize and rest in all three of those things that I can find some peace with the “if onlys” of life. Thank you for sharing that reminder!!
Thank you for this it is very timely for me – wondering these days a lot about God’s providence and my part in it. A week ago, I skidded on the ice and was heading for a large tree to only find myself when I stopped facing the direction I had come from, avoided the tree, I hit a car but only damage to my vehicle and walk away with just aches and soreness (all quite a wonderful miracle – it was if he lifted my car). yes, it’s a hassle sorting out the aftermath with the insurance company and I’m not feeling myself but all is well.
Mary Carver says
Wow! So grateful you are okay, even if your car is not!
Carla J says
Mary, If we reflect back on life events many of us can see a dozen at least of these thirty second moments. My hubby and I had our first before we were even married. His dad had planned a weekend trip to a National Park and sightseeing.
The trip was through the mountains north and west was the plan, and making a loop before returning to our beginning location. Heavy rains happened that Saturday night.
When we returned on Sunday late afternoon, we had to make a few detours for flooded roads. We had no idea how bad the rains were that night. Learning later that evening a dam had broke on the east side of the mountains. The water destroying everything and killing many in it s path.
We would have been on that east side of the mountain but for the decision made in “thirty seconds” to go east to west instead of west to east.
The extra long potty breaks at the rest area to let the boys run off some energy. Then once back on the highway we saw a terrible accident.
God has been so good to us and still leads us.
Mary Carver says
What an incredible story, Carla! Thank you for sharing it and the way the experience pointed you to God’s goodness!
Thank you, Mary! I just remembered a thought that came to me (unquestionably from God) some years ago: “If you have a flat tire, for example, don’t complain, shout, stomp your foot or use profanity. That flat tire may have saved you from a wreck just a little further down the road.”
Thank you for “…trusting in the One who has all our days – and seconds – numbered makes a world of difference.”
Mary Carver says
I’ve heard that, too, Vickie. It can be hard to remember at times, but so wise!
God speaks to us in so many different ways but so many are blind and don’t realize the signs. Maybe it’s a special gift He has given me. Thank you God for opening my eyes and ears and heart.
Beth Williams says
God sees the big picture. He’s in control & always good & sovereign. I am continually amazed at how He keeps us safe.n Slow cars in front of you, stop lights, detours. All part of His plan to help us avoid accidents. We can question why & if only–but the truth is God knows what’s best for us. I could say if only I had stayed at my reception job instead of going to medicine. I might be working full-time. But…my dad got real sick & needed me full-time & now my in-laws are needing me. God knew all this and has given me a good part-time job. I don’t believe in coincidences. It is always God working for our good. A nice parking spot, missed accidents, checks in mail when you need it. That is God working on your behalf. Thanks for sharing a great story. You always have great life stories that fit into Christianity.
Mary Carver says
Beth, what a testimony that you are now available to help your family! Thank you for sharing your story with us!
Joey Rudder says
Thank you for sharing your story, Mary. I can really relate! There have been so many times God has “slowed” me down to keep me safe, sometimes revealing to me what was on the road up ahead and sometimes giving me no reason or explanation at all. But I’ve learned (and try to remind my husband 😉 ) God will slow us down to protect us. I will lose my keys and leave late. The car won’t start right away. One time I pulled onto the road only to hear in my spirit, “Turn around.” “What? But we’re going to be late, Lord.” My daughter and I were on our way to VBS and thankfully I obeyed and turned around and drove back home. We managed to just pull into the garage when I realized the tired had gone flat. It was “fine” when we left…or so I thought.
I’m thankful we serve a mighty God who watches out for us, using what seem to be insignificant instances (you not being able to reach your purse/me losing my keys) to protect us. Maybe one day God will show us a scrapbook of all the times He kept us safe without our even knowing it…then again, maybe He won’t. Maybe He will just hold us instead in those protective arms of His and smile, stroking our hair and welcoming us home like the awesome and loving Father He is.
Blessings to you!
Mary Carver says
Wow! What an amazing story, Joey – that you heard the Lord and obeyed is really just as incredible as Him protecting you that way! Thank you for sharing your story with us!
Thank you for your words today! I’ve had a lot of “what ifs” and “if onlys” here lately. I’m facing what could be the most difficult season of my life and I have lots of questions. Reading your devotional today, however, helps me to see that no matter what the outcome is of my currently situation, God already knows it and is way ahead of me. I need only to trust Him.
Becky Keife says
Kim, praying for you today as you surrender your questions and trust God through these great difficulties you face. Reading through Colossians 1 helps me in similar seasons, claiming the trust that Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together — heaven and earth and all our circumstances. So glad you’re here and that Mary’s words encouraged you.
Thank you, Becky
In my ‘if only’ moments I often think of the story in Joshua 3 of the Israelites crossing the Jordan river and how that timing had to be exactly perfect if God used a natural disaster (landslide, etc..) to make the waters ‘pile up in a heap’ during a time when there were flood waters. His timing was perfect! His timing is always perfect even, and especially, in our ‘if only’ moments! Thanks for the awesome reminder of this truth today!
Mary Carver says
Yes, that’s a great story that goes along with this theme. Thank you for the reminder of God’s timing and protection!
I thank the Lord for the “30 second” occasions and I can remember many and am positive there are many of which I am not aware. There are two main times though that I wish we had experienced the “30 second” intervention. First, my mom was killed by a drunk driver and I asked the Lord why didn’t someone get a flat tire or leave earlier or later etc. The worst part is that I am not sure of my mom’s spiritual destination…she never shared a decision to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as her Saviour but a friend had a conversation with her which left her thinking maybe my mom had gotten saved. The second time was when a speeding driver hit black ice and spun into the car in which our son and I were passengers. Our son and the baby I was expecting were both killed and I was left with life altering injuries after almost 4 months in the hospital including 6 weeks on life support and numerous surgeries. People ask if I can see a divine purpose in either situation…I cannot … but I still believe God is good and does good. He is sovereign. Lately though, even though it is many, many years later, the tears are flowing again. Life has brought new and more painful circumstances. As for God, His way is perfect. Thank you for this reminder.
Judy Gordon Morrow says
Kathleen, your profound losses take my breath away, and my heart breaks for you. I am so, so sorry that you have endured such intense suffering. The scripture you quoted, Psalm 18:30, “As for God, His way is perfect,” marks my baby’s grave (she died after just a few heartbeats, one month before her due date), and I have relied on that eternal truth through many painful circumstances. The verse goes on to say, “The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in HIm.” I pray for fresh comfort for you during these new times of trial and pain and that you will find our God to be your shield and refuge. I pray the Lord will be gracious to you, shine His face upon you, and grant you His favor, my precious sister in Christ. Consider yourself hugged with my prayers today.
Mary Carver says
Kathleen, I’m so very sorry for your losses. Your stories are the flip side of this coin, wondering why God didn’t slow down our lost loved ones by thirty seconds. I have those stories as well, and holding the two (situations that ended “well” and those that did not) at the same time is so hard. In the end, I’m simply thankful for a God who understands a bigger picture than I can imagine and for faith that He, indeed, is good and loving and working all of this out. Peace to you.
Jeri DeGroot says
I recite Phil. 4:8! Whatever is True….
What ifs are not true, they are the same as should’ve, would’ve and could’ve.
Thank-you for sharing your breathtaking what if story. I’m so glad that you and your daughters were kept safe.There are plenty of times when I think back wondering, “what if?” Which leaves me all the more amazed and grateful for how the Lord intervened, like yesterday, for the first time I saw a cougar dart across the highway pulling into a neighboring town. I frequently hear about them in my community, and if we’d left a bit sooner or later it would have been missed, for which I am grateful for because it was much different than I had imagined.
Blessings to all,
Mary Carver says
Oh my goodness, Penny, a cougar crossing the highway is scary! Thankful you were safe – and that you shared your own “what if” story with us here.
I cling to the truth that whatever may come, good or bad, God will use it to further His Kingdom, and that’s ultimately what I strive to ask for. I pray that bad things don’t come upon myself, my family, my friends, etc., but I also pray that if they do, that something Good comes out of it. That it can be used to further the Kingdom and bring Glory to God. Because how can I maintain anger or sadness–how can I not have Joy–when the ultimate result of a happening is the Glory of God?
Oh, the gift of perspective. May He always be in control, even when we, in all our humanity, lose sight of His sovereignty. I love that He’s a God who occasionally gives us glimpses behind the curtain of grace, opening our minds afresh to His loving-care. — How worthy He is of all our worship, all our thanksgiving, all our lives. ♥
Mary Carver says
Amen, Brenda! I love that God knows us so well and loves us so much that He, as you put it, lets us look behind the curtain sometimes. He is, indeed, a good, good God!
Melissa Henderson says
Thank you for sharing this message with us. The “what if’s” have plagued me many times. Nowadays, when we are stuck in traffic, I say, “Well, the Lord didn’t want us to be at a certain place at a certain time, so, we’re just going to wait our turn.” Patience is something learned over time, especially in traffic. God bless you and your family.
Mary Carver says
So true, Melissa – traffic is definitely a good learning ground for patience! And waiting our turn – that is a lesson I’m still learning!
colleen @thegiftofmondays says
I believe our lives are filled with 30 second questions of what difference did it make? What difference did we make? What did we miss? What did we avoid? What did God save us from? Where is God leading us to? And those moments are often disguised in ways that display our frustration and complete missing of the bigger picture. Most would not have seen what you saw in those 30 seconds. Most would have just told a story of a long day and an accident they witnessed. You saw what God needed you to see. That life is fragile and important to be lived. Thank you for the reminder.
Becky Keife says
Mary, my heart was beating faster and faster as I read…because I know that kind of “look what could have happened” place. I’m so thankful you and your girls are safe! And thankful for the reminder that God holds all our what if’s in His sovereign hands. I often remind myself of Jesus’ words, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” I don’t have to spin my mental wheels worrying about what kind of trouble will come; instead I can fix my mind on the overcomer!
Rebecca Jones says
This is exactly why we have angels watching us. I have see many instances when I know they were. Coming upon a car on fire, near misses on the freeway, looking for a card in the grocery store, and missing an overturned van. If only we really knew, and maybe it’s better we don’t.