Recently, I said these words to my wife as we began to panic about twenty-five miles north of Jackson, Wyoming:
“God is with us. He will help us and provide for us. This is no surprise to him. We need only to be faithful and not lose heart.”
It was the second day of our much-anticipated family camping trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We were a good five-hour drive from home, and our vehicle’s transmission had just completely failed.
The day before, as we started an almost 3,000-foot ascent into the park, I heard and felt a grinding noise and the reluctance of our well-worn GMC Yukon to move forward. “Oh, no. This could be really bad,” I thought, but it seemed too late to turn back.
We set up camp and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation. The next day, because it was pouring rain, we loaded up the Yukon and drove forty miles into the town of Jackson, Wyoming. Again, the Yukon began to rev and act up. Now, I’m old enough to know better than to respond to these warning bells with my instinctive and familiar proud naivete, “Maybe if I ignore it, it’ll resolve itself.” Regrettably, I have been quite slow in learning to heed these warnings. Many times have I concluded, “I can pull this off. What are the chances that it will really happen…?” Some of the penalties have been quite inconvenient and even painful for my family and me.
This is where I found myself wrestling internally: Should I tell my wife and family or (pretend to) act as if I’m still with them? Inside, I was a million miles away as several scenarios ran through my mind—all of them ending in, “We’re in trouble.” But if I tell them what’s going through my mind, will it unnecessarily alarm and worry them? Will it ruin the spirit of this holiday together—our only family trip of the year? What if it’s just the early signs of a weakening transmission and not its final gasps of life? Maybe I can nurse it through the trip and all the way home.
Believe me, I’ve heard my wife ask, “Is something wrong?” more times than I’d like to acknowledge. Typically, I’m churning on something but trying to hide it from her. It’s always better to beat her to the punch. Often, she interprets my quietness as frustration or irritation with her or the children. That’s no good. Who would want to live with a husband and father like that?! So here goes… I shared with my wife what I’d heard and what I was concerned about. After a few thoughtful questions, she interrupted the banter in the backseat and called us to prayer. She asked several of our children to pray. I concluded with a prayer that underlined the gravity of the situation.
As we drove back to our campsite, the Yukon got worse, sticking in first gear. God seemed to not answer our prayers. We were stuck, and far from home. Our worrisome predictions suddenly materialized before us. Every mechanic in a two-hour radius was booked solid for two weeks. Rebuilding the transmission would require an additional two weeks once a mechanic became available. Apart from U-Haul, no rental company would rent us a truck to tow our camper home. And even if we could find an available U-Haul, there was no way (legally or safely) to transport a family of seven in a box truck. (Yes, I’m ashamed to admit that I momentarily entertained this possibility.) Together, we prayed again, and this time the children joined us with a bit more sobriety.
As the sun set and the rain poured down upon the windshield, we sat in the car. My wife began to despair. There was truly no solution to our situation. I had no idea how the Lord would help us but the Lord had always proved faithful, so I implored her to not give up hope and to trust that his help—not our resourcefulness or creativity—would come.
Into the silent tension, I heard my son shout, “Hey! Isn’t that Mr. Ross?” I quickly rolled down the window to peer through the wet darkness. Indeed, my dear friend Dennis and his family were walking toward us. They had just arrived for a weeklong camping trip and as “luck” would have it, had selected—six months earlier—a campsite, among the vast expanse of the park, that was only three sites away from ours! “What are you guys doing here?!” The absurdity of my question was obvious, but I didn’t care; I was elated. The Lord had sent Dennis, who was willing to lend me his three-quarter-ton pickup to help us out. Early the next day, we carefully nursed a faltering Yukon, a borrowed pickup with camper in tow, and a grateful Team Sironi all the way home.
We continue to talk about this story as a family. How God graciously provided at just the right moment. How he continued to provide after we got back home with an experienced and generous mechanic. I’m amazed at God’s grace to us. There were other blessings too. During the trip we saw grizzly bears, a massive bull elk, deer, a fox, buffalo, and other smaller animals. We fished. We mountain biked. We played board games into the night. But what I think we’ll remember is God’s salvation and multiple generosities from family, old friends, and some new friends we made along the way.
As we thought back on God’s provision to our family, my wife voiced the obvious: “God, if you promise to be with us and you are so immensely powerful, why would you allow the transmission to go out in the first place? Why not just let us be encouraged with a fun and restful family trip?” As clear as the Teton air, the Lord gently and firmly responded with a smile, “But then you would not have seen so clearly my protection and provision.”
It’s true. Without these trials, we would not have known as much about the hand of God; our children would not have witnessed with their own eyes his provision and active presence; Dennis and his family would have missed out on the encouragement of being used as vessels in a time of great need; friends and family who checked in on us later would never get to hear of God’s great deliverance; and we would have no story of God’s compassionate mercies to share.
Offer unto God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows unto the Most High, and call upon me in the time of trouble; so will I hear you, and you shall praise me. (Ps 50:14–15).
All seven of us can say “amen” to that.