I’m usually a little out of sorts when I leave the prison. My head and my heart both seem to be going in crazy directions. When one has a family member tucked away from the world, aspects of life can seen hopeless, helpless and senseless. Last week’s visit was no different.
On the two-hour drive there, I noticed I’d need gas in my car at some point before heading home..
“I’ll get it at the station just outside the prison’s entrance,” I thought to myself.
There’s not a lot around the prison, but the gas prices at this little country store are typically about 10 cents less than the station in town.
Silence… that’s what my son and I shared as we exited the doors and walked toward the car. It’s awkward to feel like you have had a “good” visit with someone when you do your visiting with concrete and glass separating you and your loved one. But it was a good visit. It was better than many we’ve had to have, and we both knew it as we walked across the parking lot. My words were chit-chat, but my heart and my head were a mess.
“I’ll let you drive in a little while when we get on the straight stretches on the other side of town, and I need to get gas at that little station just down the road,” I told my son. It’s all I could really say.
I exited the prison’s driveway, drove down the road and pulled into the gas station at the country store. As I got out of my car to walk around to the pump, an old ’70s Chevy pickup pulled in right behind me. A gray-bearded man in a John Deere ball cap motioned for me to come over to his truck.
“Ma’am,” he said in a southern drawl, “What’s your license plate mean?”
“It’s a Bible verse, Sir. It’s a verse that means a lot to me. It’s Romans 8:28,” I said to him.
“Oh?” he asked inquisitively.
“Yes, Sir. It’s a verse which tells me that no matter what my problems, no matter what my troubles and no matter what my challenges are, God is going to work them for good because I love Him.”
“Is that what it says?” he slowly pressed with more curiosity.
“Not with those exact words, Sir, but that is a sense of what it means,” I shared with him.
He nodded his head at me, and said, “Ma’am, you have a wonderful day. Thank you for telling me that.”
He smiled at me, gave me a wave and pulled his rusty ol’ pickup truck into a parking spot. I moved toward the pump to insert my credit card to pre-pay for the gas, but I saw him get out of his truck, look my way and give me a glance under the brim of his cap.
“What did that guy want?” my son asked from the passenger’s window while I put the nozzle into the tank.
“He wanted to know what my license plate means,” I told him.
With an eye roll, my son said, “And I’m sure you told him.”
“As a matter of fact, I did.” I said to my son. “I didn’t initiate the conversation; he did, but I did take a moment to explain it.”
“I’m sure you did, Mom…”
When I got back into the car, my son just looked at me with an “are you serious?” kind of face. We’re in a phase — and at a point in his life — where faith-based decisions and choices keep coming up. He’s struggling just a bit to submit to them with a cheerful heart, and he rolls his eyes at me quite often when I look at him and want to launch into one of my “there’s a lesson in that…” discussions.
“You know…” I started. “You know… maybe he needed to hear that today. Maybe he’s looking for some of the hope in that verse. Maybe I was supposed to stop here at the same time he was pulling in. We will never know… just maybe, Son.”
“Ok, Mom… whatever you say…”
Was I there to answer an old man’s question and give him some hope? Or was that old man there to ask me a question which would remind me of His hope?
Was I put there in that moment? Or was the old man put there? Or were both of us put there for different reasons and for different conclusions over the same conversation?
Was I in the right place at the right time to show my son how faith boldly intersects in every aspect of our lives? Or was he in that passenger’s seat in that moment to witness how, in fact, it does?
Was I there in that moment to get my thoughts away from my broken heart? Was I there in that moment to hear my own words and to really HEAR His words in the process? Was he an old man in a truck, or was he someone else?
We can never know how all of the incidences in our lives are woven together, but Romans 8:28 serves as a regular reminder to me for the things I do see and do experience.
Life has been a challenge over the last four years, but through it all, my hope is only growing in His ability to work ALL of it for good — my good, my son’s good, my family’s good, the good of others — and ALL of it for His glory. I do struggle in the moments and in the circumstances, but the precious chances where I find myself outside of the moments and circumstances and in the midst of how Romans 8:28 is being made reality are true blessings.
Dear gray-bearded man in the old, red Chevy… thank you for stopping to ask me about my license plate. I didn’t just tell you about Romans 8:28 in that moment, I experienced the beauty, the possibilities, and the reality of one of many ways it is being fulfilled. I found HOPE in your question.
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