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On The Road with a Faithful God

"They were glad when it grew calm; He guided them to their desired haven." (Ps 107:30)

I was in the Navy in 1986, stationed on board the USS Canisteo in Norfolk, VA. My wife and three young children lived in our hometown of Elmira, NY. I would get home as often as I could, but it was hard to do; Norfolk is about 500 miles south of Elmira. So, I usually only made it home for a weekend at a time every couple of months. We owned an old car, but Bonnie needed it more than I did, so she usually had it. Sometimes, I would fly home; sometimes I would ride with someone; other times I had the car and would drive it home and fly back.

Well, as Thanksgiving approached, it became clear that I just wasn't going to be able to make it home; I would spend the holiday aboard that old oiler, far from home. To make the most of a bad situation, I told some shipmates that, since I would be stuck on the ship for the whole weekend, maybe some mates would pay me to take one of their watches (an assignment or post; perhaps on the bridge or, in my case, the radio shack). Sometimes the only thing keeping someone from going home for a long holiday weekend would be one or two watches. I would enable them to go home; they would pay me $20 or so for my help. By Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a few people had expressed an interest in my services, but nothing firm had been established.

Yet, as I woke up that Tuesday morning, I felt I heard a voice say very clearly, "You are going home for Thanksgiving." I immediately knew it was the Lord, and I whispered in reply, "Lord, I have no way home and I've already talked to some people about taking their watches for them." "You are going home for Thanksgiving," the voice said again.

I jumped out of bed and got ready for the day. As soon as I walked in to the radio shack where I worked, I said "I'm going home for Thanksgiving, so I won't be taking anyone's watch this weekend." "We thought you said you didn't have any way home," someone replied. Someone else asked, "How are you getting home?" "I have no idea," I answered, "But God just told me I'm going home for Thanksgiving, so I'm going home."

Well, they had a good laugh over that. They weren't ridiculing me or being abusive; these were my friends. They just thought it was all a little absurd, so they had some fun ribbing me. I didn't mind - I certainly "joked around" as much as anyone in that shack, so I just stood there, smiling and taking it.

Just then, while they were laughing at the thought of God talking to me about my holiday plans, there was a buzz at the door. A radio shack on board a US Navy vessel holds lots of sensitive data, much of it highly classified. So, the front door had a combination lock to prevent just anyone from wandering in. Whenever anyone had business to do with the radio shack, they came to the door and rang the buzzer.

We opened the door and in walked a former shipmate of ours - let's say his last name was Sextant. Sextant was a Radioman on the Canisteo the day I arrived. While he didn't like me much at first, we became friends before he transferred to another ship in Norfolk earlier that year. I believe this was his first time back on our ship since he had left. We were all glad to see him.

Sextant said his ship had just pulled into port and that he was headed home for Thanksgiving. "You live near Pittsburgh, don't you?" I asked. "Yes," Sextant answered. "Are you driving?" I asked. "Yep," came the reply, "I'm leaving tomorrow morning." So I asked him, "Can I catch a ride?" "Sure," he replied, "You just let me know where you want to hop out." He knew I lived in upstate New York, so he could only be of help to me for just so far up the road.

We talked about how he would connect up with 270N out of Washington, DC, which emptied into Interstate 70 - his road home. We decided we would split up where route 81 crossed route 70 - very near the Pennsylvania border. He was going to drive me over half way home. I mentioned how he was taking me basically all the way to Pennsylvania, and that how I lived only a few miles above the Pennsylvania border in New York. I looked around at the guys in the room who had been having a good laugh at my expense only a couple of minutes earlier, and said, "So, all I've got left is Pennsylvania; I think I can handle that." No one was laughing anymore.

I called my wife to tell her I was coming home, that I had a ride most of the way, and that I would have to hitchhike across Pennsylvania to get home. She didn't like me to hitchhike (though I often did) and offered to drive down to get me. But that represented a 7-hour round trip, even if all went well. That was nearly as long as it took me to drive home from Norfolk. I couldn't let her do that. Finally, we agreed that she would meet me in Williamsport, PA - about a 90 minute drive south from our home. We agreed to meet at the McDonald's on the north side of town. There's also one on the south side, near the Little League Museum, but I didn't want her to drive through Williamsport. There were some potentially confusing spots and Bonnie rarely drove on the highway alone.

The next morning, with my sea bag in hand, I walked off the ship and out to Sextant's car. There was a young woman sitting up front, so I hopped in the back seat. I sat behind her on the passenger side. Sextant immediately said to the young woman, "Watch what you say, he's a Christian." He was often like that with me - somewhere between poking fun at, and showing a grudging respect for, my faith.

I said "Tom, if you only knew how much God wanted to prove to you that He's real and wants you to acknowledge Him." Then I blurted out "What can God do to show you He's real?" We were looking at each other eye-to-eye through the rear-view mirror. He replied, "Let there be some nice weather." It was drizzling in Norfolk, while snow was predicted for up in Pennsylvania and New York. So I said, "Tom, when I get out of this car, the sun will be shining!"

Well, that was enough of that conversation for him, so he put the car in gear and pulled out. I sat in the back seat, thinking, "What did I just do? What did I just promise him?" I prayed to God in my mind "O God, please forgive me if I went too far. Please let the Sun be shining when I hop out of this car!" Basically, I had just written a check in the Spirit and now I was asking God to cover it.

Well I prayed it through and let it go. We small-talked along the way and I'm sure we stopped a couple of times as we headed north. Our ride through Virginia and Maryland was uneventful; I have no recollection of it these many years later. But what happened at the junction of Routes 70 and 81 is etched into my memory!

As we drew near to the junction, the number of lanes expanded. Tom pulled off the highway to the right. Up ahead, a half mile or so, I could see the big green highway signs - to the left was Tom's route 70, to the right was my route 81. I hopped out with my sea bag and thanked him for the lift as I closed the door. Just as he started to pull out, I remembered our initial conversation of several hours earlier that day. I yelled "Tom! Tom! Hold up!"

He hit the brakes as his girlfriend rolled down her window on the passenger side. They were both looking at me as I said, "I told you God wanted to show you He was real; take a look at the weather." The rain had stopped and there was a general clearing to the sky; the sun was shining through broken dark clouds. The blood seemed to drain from his face as I said, "Thanks for the ride, Tom. Happy Thanksgiving!" He pulled out and I turned to the business at hand - hitchhiking across the state of Pennsylvania.

As is often the case with those young in the Lord, my emotions back then went from one extreme to the other. One minute I would be so excited I could believe God for the impossible; the next minute I could be deeply depressed, thinking some sin in my heart or obstacle in my path was sure to ruin me. As Tom pulled out, I was quite excited and thought my trip across Pennsylvania would be a breeze. It wasn't.

Shortly after I started hitchhiking, a young man, possibly about my age, picked me up. Almost immediately, he started talking about how I could go over to his house and watch a movie with him. "No thanks," I said, "I'm heading home for Thanksgiving." He became quite insistent about going to his house, making me uneasy. I said, "My wife is meeting me in Williamsport, PA. We have three little kids at home that I haven't seen in a month." That didn't seem to matter; I think he was hoping I lived a double-life. He asked me point blank to come home with him to have sex. "No Thanks!" I said emphatically.

He immediately pulled over and ordered me out of his car, though we were nowhere near any exit that I could see. It started drizzling again as he pulled out. I hadn't prayed that it would never be cloudy or rainy again - just that the sun would be shining when I got out of Tom's car. Tom was gone and the rain was back.

Soon, a state trooper picked me up and told me I couldn't hitchhike on the highway. He said he would take me off the road at the next exit and that I would have to hitchhike from there. I still don't know why they built that exit, because it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. The Interstate was high above me on top of a hill. I doubt the cars and trucks flying by were aware there was a cold, lonely sailor standing at the bottom of that desolate ramp.

After a long while, I became chilled to the bone. Yet only two cars turned at the nearby traffic light and drove past me, on and up to the highway. The longer I stood there, the more frustrated I grew. I grew worried I wouldn't arrive in Williamsport before Bonnie. I was afraid if she didn't find me at the McDonald's where we had agreed to meet, she would wonder if she was at the right place or if I had decided to press on toward home. This was long before cell phones; there was no way for me to call her. With every passing minute, I grew more and more agitated.

Finally, after a third car drove by me, leaving me stranded far below the highway and many miles from my destination, I erupted in anger at God. "How can you just leave me standing here like this? You know I have to get to Williamsport before Bonnie! I've prayed! And now I am stuck here..." I was interrupted in the middle of my tirade as something caught my attention in the corner of my eye.

It seems the driver that had just passed me had a change of heart. It was his taillights that caught my attention. Looking up, I quickly said, "I'm sorry. Thank you." And I hopped in the back of the car.

There was an older couple in the front seat. They apologized for passing me. "We felt God told us to back up and pick you up," said the husband from behind the wheel. In one short sentence, he had let me know they were religious and that God was more to be thanked than they for this ride. I told them I was a Christian and that I was struggling to get home for the holiday weekend. Well, it wasn't long before we were deep in wonderful conversation. That couple encouraged me greatly in the Lord and even prayed for me as we traveled toward Harrisburg.

That was as far as they could take me, but it was a good stretch of road. Besides, I was relieved to be on the move again, as well as happy to be in their warm, dry car. When I hopped out of their car I was fired up and ready to see what God would do next. As they pulled out, I stood by the side of the road, full of faith. I said out loud, "I know You are going to get me to Williamsport safe and sound and ahead of Bonnie. You can do anything. In fact, you could have that car right there pick me up! I was looking at what would be the first car to pass me as it came around a sweeping bend.

Sure enough, that very car pulled off the road, stopping right by my side. Once again I sent a 'Thank you!' up to Heaven and hopped in. The driver asked me where I was from, assuming I was heading home. "Elmira" I said. "I'm heading to Corning," he replied, "I can take you that far, but I'm going to make a stop first." "That's Okay," I said, "I'm actually heading to Williamsport." "That's where I plan on stopping." He said, "I always stop at the McDonald's there - the one on the north side of town, not the one by the Little League museum. I'd rather get through the town before I stop." I was stunned. He was going to take me all the way from Harrisburg to Williamsport, to the front door of the very McDonald's at which my wife and I had agreed to meet.

I arrived only a few minutes before my Bonnie lass. I bought a cup of hot chocolate and sat down even as she walked in. "Oh, there you are!" she said. "Here I am," I replied, "Wait until I tell you about the day I just had!"

My name is Matt Schilling. This is only one of at least a dozen amazing ways in which God has demonstrated to me personally that He is alive and well and mighty to save. I want to assure you there is nothing God cannot do. There is no problem too tough for Him to solve. No one is in so much trouble that He can't help. Call on Him! You'll be glad you did.

© Matthew Schilling 2005

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