My family’s Christmas plans are always changing. Our friends know we actually thrive under last-minute arrangements. But the last two Christmases were a next-level change of plans.
It was New Year’s Eve 2015, and my wife and I had just shared a sub-par gas-station sandwich in our mini-van full of our three kiddos, plus one in the belly, Christmas presents, and our family’s new beagle-basset hound puppy, Trigger. Despite the sandwich, things were great. The brisk weather, bare trees, and gray sky sandwiched the highway as it ribboned through the humble Pennsylvania Mountains.
We were less than two hours into our 20-hour trek home from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma City. As I came around one bending hill, I got a snow-globe-like view of the winter scene. Actually, that’s the last view I remember before running down the highway, away from my family and our upside-down van, trying to chase down Trigger. He was, understandably, bolting away from where he had just been thrown through a broken window into a small creek at highway speeds.
Let me back up to how we got to this point. A few days before Christmas this same year, we set off to Pennsylvania from Oklahoma City to see our family. We only see them about once a year. The last time we were together, everyone got a nasty stomach virus, and my wife and I spent the day after Christmas in the emergency room while she miscarried. So, it was really important to us to have a positive trip to Pennsylvania this particular year. We decided to trust God for a better trip and go back.
About 30 minutes into our drive, one of our tires blew up. I got safely over to the shoulder, put on my spare, and it blew up about three minutes later before I could get off to an exit. No tow truck company was willing to transport a family and pup. Thankfully, a good friend came to bail us out and drove us to get a new tire and even some breakfast while we waited.
Our trip was delayed by about four hours, but we pressed ahead. Four hours was also the amount of time by which we missed two rare December tornadoes in two different states along our drive. Eventually, we made it to Pennsylvania with our new tire, had great time with our family, no one got sick, and the sweet little girl in my wife’s belly was healthy as ever. So far, our plans to repair the nightmare from the prior Christmas were still working out.
Now back to where we started. I was running down the highway and then up a wooded mountainside when I looked back to see an ambulance helping my family. As I jumped from downed log to boulder and over barbed wire fence, chasing after Trigger’s trail, I start praying the closest version of Psalm 23:4 I could remember.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort me.
As my feet jumped back and forth, my mind did too. I had quickly checked my whole family’s health before running after the dog, but was the unborn baby okay? Did I miss something with my three-year-old? Would the van blow up? Was a brain hemorrhage just waiting to happen? What’s that pain I feel near my kidneys? I jogged through the cold, dark woods where I had last seen the dog. He was gone. What would I tell the kids? The kids! I’ve got to get back to the kids. I will fear no evil. You are with me. You are with the baby.
The series of events that happened next are completely impossible to capture in less than a book, so I’ll just make this extremely abbreviated list.
- A local hunter tracked Trigger for at least an hour.
- Probably a dozen drivers stopped to help us.
- A trucker parked and let our family sit in his warm trailer for at least an hour.
- A woman helped me gather all the Christmas presents our van had thrown.
- A local restaurant cleared a room to give our family temporary shelter.
- Another woman made a viral Facebook post about Trigger.
- The police officer stayed late on New Year’s Eve to help find Trigger.
- Truckers’ wives reported their husbands spotting Trigger along the highway.
- Church pastors, staff, and friends called with their prayers and support.
- My in-laws did more than I could possibly list. Really.
- My sister-in-law went behind us to rally friends, family, and strangers to literally buy us a nicer, newer van in a matter of days.
- A complete stranger spent 48 hours tracking, and eventually finding Trigger back at the scene of the accident, alive.
- Another sister-in-law took Trigger to the vet.
- Local TV stations and newspapers spread our story.
- Our aunt got my wife in to see a doctor who found our unborn baby to be thriving.
Thriving. In the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, despite what no one could plan for, we were thriving. I had never felt so loved.
I still don’t know why so many things went wrong before they went right. I’m writing this as my wife drives down the highway in our newer van with Trigger and our four kids—including baby Serah—who is singing ga-gas at the moment. We’re 10 hours and several mishaps into another holiday road trip, and I’m reminded of Mary, Jesus’ mom. She was planning on getting married to Joseph as a virgin. Then, she found out she was pregnant even though she hadn’t slept around. I wonder how Joseph felt when he found out his future bride was carrying a baby that wasn’t his? Added to that, she was claiming this baby was a gift from God. Some of you know how Joseph may have felt.
Virgin conception hard to identify with? Try this one. Mary’s now in labor after a long road trip they probably had to take just because Caesar wanted more taxes, and all the hotels are full. How’s that for a change of plans for Christmas? Joseph and Mary rolled with it. As a result of their trust, they got to parent the Savior of the world. I still don’t know exactly who our four kiddos will grow to be (or why this dog who literally just threw up in our van was worth saving). Yet, we do know, like Joseph and Mary, we have God’s children on board. That doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen to them. But, as long as God’s our Father, we will trust Him, and we will fear no evil. You know what else we know? Having to rely on everyone and their mother in the middle of the woods in Pennsylvania does a lot to remind you that you’re not the one who makes the plans anyway.
So, if your plans have changed this Christmas, look to God who never changes, and who sent His Son to fulfill His great plans for you.