A road trip meant eight over the speed limit, an audio book and cruise control. A full tank, snacks and an empty bladder beautified the afternoon: satisfaction dulled the senses.
Eyes were slower to see a car on the shoulder, hazards blinking. Ears missed the eerie absence of sirens. Nostrils struggled to place the odor of skidding tires. We were a quarter mile away before the small clues registered; a half mile before the U-turn.
Still no sirens, but a woman held herself while looking down the embankment. Skid marks and gawkers pinpointed the rollover accident. Though many slowed and stretched their necks, only she stood by the carnage.
She had a look that screamed, "Slowing to see is different than stopping to help!" Hearing her required seeing her; required lifting gazes from dashboards, touchscreens, mirrors and feedbags.
Small clues are easily missed.
We stopped and I crossed the freeway. Her husband was an off-duty emergency medical technician (EMT). He followed the trail of wreckage and was assuring an upside-down family that everything was going to be OK.
He had a clue of what to do.
My heart thudded in my ears because I was clueless. What did I expect to be able to do, really? "Stand back, I'm a chaplain," was as foolish as the notion that anything in my hands would serve any useful purpose. The first aid kit and water bottles felt clumsy and inadequate as I descended into naked awareness.
With people in need, disaster swirling, my family watching and help yet to arrive, a yawning chasm of insufficiency began swallowing me. Stripped of the police officers, fire fighters and medical technicians that pepper the ministry, my do-gooder façade was cracking.
At the bottom of the hill, I heard the Lord say, "...apart from me you can do nothing."
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." ~ John 15:5
Coming to Jesus is a perennial, and singular, event: we come to Jesus but also come back to Him. A prayer, "Speak Holy Spirit," helped me find small clues.
A passenger kept mentioning her purse, so I started searching. Shortly after the coolheaded EMT passed her care to on-duty caregivers, the Lord revealed her bag among weeds. The wreckage smelled like baby wipes and plowed soil. I embraced the scat work of gathering strewn cell phones and wallets.
"Perfect," crooned the state trooper as he plucked the drivers' licenses, like grapes off a branch. While lights and sirens blared, the Holy Spirit emphasized the connection of vine and branch. Playing a role in crisis was a way to bear fruit, but remembering my family kept me connected. Up the hill I went, grabbing a vine to help with the climb.
Getting out was harder than getting in. Hand over hand on the vine, the weight of the afternoon descended. My mouth was dry, and legs weak, but my heart was full.
The Lord has drawn our family, and a team of prayer and financial partners, into missions among first responders. A chaplaincy training schedule is year-round. Mileage, registration and accommodations for local, regional and national trainings are covered by a regular, generous prayer and financial team. In an emergency, we defaulted to our lowest level of training.
At the bottom of a ravine, surrounded by chaos, the training kicked in: pray without ceasing; listen; watch; do the next right thing; breathe deeply; slow down; trust the process. Because the team sends us to trainings, the Lord was able to use my trembling hands and feet in chaotic service.
Since the accident, the Holy Spirit has continued teaching while riding-along, raising support, waiting, sharing scripture, listening, counseling, speaking hope and getting ice. Christian outreach among police officers gave our family the courage to whip the U-turn.
At the top of the hill, my family was tucked safely in the vehicle.
"What happened down there, Dad?"
At the bottom of an embankment, Jesus revealed small clues, easily missed.