Frustrations of daily life. I stared out the car window at the intersection twenty feet away. The Texas sun glared off each windshield and every piece of chrome on the cars passing by. Although the air conditioner blew blessedly cool air on my face, I could mentally feel the already blistering heat. Ten forty-five. I had planned to be back home seated at the computer by now.
I had driven by this in-and-out vehicle inspection site, one a half miles from my home, earlier but had passed it by because of the long line. Then I had driven two miles to another shop that the internet said did inspections. However, a sign just above the bays where you drive your car in for an oil change said “Sorry, but we no longer do state vehicle inspections.” I had backed up in a corner in their little parking lot, out of the way and, trying not to be mad, looked up “car inspections near me.”
“Ug! I hate the internet! I said, my voice loud in the car’s interior. “Why is it so hard to look up anything anymore!”
The list of inspection sites on my phone showed a phone number and links to a website and directions but without clicking on the directions, there was no way to tell the address. The little map with pins on it did not have the streets labelled.
I could feel my breath getting shorter as the irritation rose. I could also feel a twinge of chest pain. That often happens lately when I start getting upset. I consider it my personal early warning system, an urgent message to calm down NOW and take things slower NOW.
(If you have chest pain, please see a doctor. I pay attention to chest pain but I can, with a fair degree of confidence, modify my behavior and wait for it to ease because I am under the care of a cardiologist who so advised me.)
So, trying to calm down I hit the directions button and followed the voice to the next site. I parked and walked to the door. Another “We no longer do vehicle inspections.” The thin skin over my elbow felt like it was roasting. Back in the car, one more sip of the iced water I carry with me all summer long, one more session with the phone, then one more site and one more sign.
“I give up.” I said and drove back to the original site close to my home. Thankfully, there were only two cars in each of the two lanes ahead of me. I pulled in line and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, a man came to my window, took my payment, then said as he reached for the handle of the car door, “We’ll take it from here.”
This was one of the speedy inspection stations/speedy oil change places and it looked, from driving by, that you sat in the car while the car was inspected or the oil was changed. I had come here because I did not want to go to a service shop where you had to sit and sometimes wait an hour. That was hard on my touchy hip.
Stifling another deep sigh—it was not this young man’s fault and I was sure he saw disgruntled faces all day long—I asked “Where am I supposed to wait?” I realized that sounded sarcastic.
He gestured to two picnic benches resting, barely, in the shade of a little Mexican restaurant, then pointed at the crew of men paving the section of asphalt driveway next to the inspection building.
“They are paving our spot.”
Too upset to immediately hear the sarcasm in my words and apologize for sounding upset, as I normally would have done, I nonetheless was aware I needed to do something.
“Thank you,” I said with a softer tone and an attempt at a smile. “I appreciate it.”
Forgive me, Father. I am listening now. I walked the twenty feet to the two picnic tables, grateful that the corner of one bench was still in a three-foot wide strip of shade before the advancing sun removed that one last bit of shadowed coolness in the entire block. The air was filled with the tantalizing smell of cooking beef.
“Okay, I said, “I’ll start the book I brought with me on do-it-yourself physical therapy for your knees.” But when I looked in my purse, I realized I had left the little book in the car.
Once again, I sighed. “Okay, Father. I realize You are trying to tell me something. I am sorry for getting so upset. I will just sit here and listen for what You want to say.”
I looked again at the intersection next to the inspection site, at the hot glare, the cars whizzing by, going in four directions. People out and about, many of whom would not have the luxury of going back home and staying inside, out of the heat, for the rest of the day.
Then I looked at the construction crew. Two men were using huge push brooms to smooth out the fresh asphalt. They all had long sleeve shirts and long pants on, a phenomenon I had thought peculiar when I first came to Texas ten years ago from Florida. I had learned since that people wear long sleeves because the Texas sun is more vicious than the Florida sun which passes through softening, highly humid air.
“How hot are they?” I wondered. “And they do this kind of work all day and all year long.”
There was a loud repeated thudding as some machine, just out of my sight, pounded away, breaking up a new section of pavement to be worked on, I presumed.
“And they have to listen to loud machinery all day long, too.’
“Freda, you need to be more grateful and stop complaining! What a wimp you can be! You are acting just like the Israelites complaining about sweet tasting manna.
“Expect trials to multiply.” Then I thought of the devotional by Charles H. Spurgeon God had brought to my attention through a friend earlier that morning. When I got home, fifteen minutes later, I pulled out my well-worn copy of “Beside Still Waters” and turned to page two. It began:
“God does not put heavy burdens on weak shoulders. God educates and tests our faith by trials that increase in proportion to our faith. God expects us to do adult work and to endure adult afflictions only after we have reached a mature status in Christ Jesus. Therefore, beloved, expect your trials to multiple as you proceed toward heaven.”
Spurgeon expounded on that theme, recalling that, in Abraham’s old age God had tested Abraham (Genesis 22:1). Spurgeon warned “to never plan on a rest from trials this side of the grave.” He concluded by reminding us that we must stay in the fight and use our armor because we are in a war. We “must watch, pray and fight” and we must expect our “last battle to be the most difficult, for the enemy’s fiercest charge is reserved for the end of the day.”
Finally, deep understanding. This was a theme I had danced around in my solitary ponderings and in conversation with a friend who has also undergone a long string of troubles and trials, as I am sure you have also. But this time, on this pyretic morning in Texas, going about the routine of taking care of the ever-growing mound of small and trifling matters necessary to sustain life in our world, God gave the strength necessary to truly embrace this truth and accept it, rather than run from it as I had before.
Why I need to be more grateful. “Okay, Father. I see this clearly now. And I also see that You have all these last few months, with all these challenges, been equipping me with one of the best shields, that of developing a truly grateful heart.
You know when I first started consciously trying to be grateful, for the everyday little things right in front of me as well as for seemingly big things, it felt like just an exercise. I still had so much complaining going on inside at the same time I was saying ‘Thank You, Father, for this home, this furniture, all the food in my cabinets, the money that pays the bills, the dependable car I drive. . .’
But it has become more sincere and now I really mean it when I express my gratitude to You. You have renewed my heart. Thank You, Father. I could not do it, no matter how hard I tried but You did.
And this is part of why You wrote Philippians 4:6-8 too, isn’t it, where You told us not to worry, to just ask You for what we need and to keep our minds fixed on good things.
6 Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God.
7 And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
8 For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].
This thing about being grateful all day long is part of verse eight, part of the good things we are supposed to be thinking about, isn’t it Lord?
So, Father, I will think about good things today, I will think about all the wonderful things You are doing in my life and the lives of those I know and in this entire world. I will be grateful that I know You are all-powerful and also so very loving and merciful and that You help us in all our weaknesses and always will. I will strive to be more mindful of how great You are and how awesome it is that You take time to be involved in the details of my little life. I will be grateful. for . .