The steamy Southern California day relents as dusk’s cooling Pacific breezes blow in, and the frenzied home-makeover photo shoot comes to a successful close. I can hear the ocean as I walk through the lobby of the beachside hotel that’s been my home base for three days. The waves, with energy to spare, dance in the dark under periodic illumination by moonlight.
I love the ocean, but tonight I am at odds with it. All I want is to eat supper and go to bed. I want the waves to go to bed too.
I glance at people laughing over late-night dinners and drinks in the bar. It’s Friday night and they’re ready to party. I can’t wait to fall into the crisp white bed. I need a shower and a meal. I will decompress over room service.
I’ve been thinking about this brief respite all day while climbing ladders to hang draperies, lugging furniture, crafting DIY projects and shielding a new white sofa from a toddler with a full glass of chocolate milk. Now, my reward is so close I can taste the lemonade I’ll have with supper. Tomorrow, I will sleep in before flying home.
I enter my room, flip on the light and the phone starts ringing. I answer. It’s my husband—he’s calm, but there is trouble at home. Fortunately, it’s not the kids and no one is dying, but we need a solution to a major financial problem by noon tomorrow and I need to be there. In a rush, I change my flight and pack to leave. I call the front desk for a cab. I have 20 minutes to meet the driver if I’m to make the midnight red-eye flight home.
It’s 10:30 p.m. when I sit down on a beat up minivan seat. The driver says something, but his accent is so thick I can’t discern if he wants the sickly yellow interior light turned off. The light makes it hard to see anything but blackness outside the vehicle. I ask again, “Should I turn off the light?” He says nothing but, instead, presses hard on the accelerator. I look for his driver information on the back side of his faded bucket seat and other places where it could be. There is no identifier posted. I look to his rearview mirror and he’s looking at me. I make the decision—the light stays on.
We ride in silence, two strangers in a cocoon of yellow light on I-405. The trip should take an hour—I check the time and watch for signs that we are traveling the correct route. Outside looks otherworldly. We’re in a black stretch with few businesses and this usually hectic artery through the heart of L.A. is strangely void of heavy traffic. Intermittent beams from headlights smear over the side windows. After the light passes, I see again my reflection off the glass—a tired woman sitting alone in a worn-out van.
I contemplate how easy it would be to become lost to horrific circumstances and never be heard from again. I look at my shoes. I’m glad I changed from flats to sneakers.
Thoughts roll through my mind about the problems at home. It’s always something—the house fire that left us homeless, my illness and my husband’s job loss that left us with no health insurance. Not good for a family with four children. Things are much better now with both of us employed again, but it still feels like we are running in front of a freight train full of bill collectors.
I am saddened. We’ve been born-again Christians for over a decade and we still struggle for peace, for knowing how to solve the problems this crazy world hurls our direction. Depression covers me like a heavy wool blanket on a cold night—it feels familiar and strangely safe.
Images fill my mind. I’m in a dark attic. It’s the first time I’ve been to this place. I’m drawn to the small space where the pitched roof meets the floor. I can’t see into the darkness, but I’m drawn to go deeper. You can rest here. You can get away from your worries. Curl up and fade into nothingness. No one will miss you. I am tempted but suddenly I recognize the one who is whispering—it’s the enemy of my soul.
I’m startled for a moment that I had let my guard down. It strikes me; I was almost prey. I blink several times and my glassy eyes refocus. I look down at my bag and reach inside for my Bible. I know I can trust it to provide clarity and truth. I need the answer, God. How can we get out of this mess, once and for all? I let the Bible fall open and start reading from Proverbs.
“Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public square; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: ‘How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? … For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.’” Proverbs 1: 20–22, 32–33, NIV © 1984.
“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1–5.
Then God gave me promises:
“For the LORD gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.” Proverbs 2:6–9.
“For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways … For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.” Proverbs 2:10–15, 20–22 NIV.
I’d read about wisdom before, but this was different. The truth of wisdom unfolded before me like a great carpet to success. I read like a long-distance runner, trying to pace myself so as not to miss a valuable word but eager to get to the end. The Word was my refreshing drink.
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Proverbs 3:1–12.
Then God gave me more promises:
“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:13–17.
“She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed. By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding He set the heavens in place; by His knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew. My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared. Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’—when you now have it with you. Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason—when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence. The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. The wise inherit honor, but fools He holds up to shame.” Proverbs 3:18–35.
Nine hours and three airports later, I walked into our house a little after 8 a.m. The family room was cold—there had been a storm and the electricity was off. I dropped my bag and sat across from my husband at a little table by the window for light. We prayed and then I opened the Bible and started to read. We had a long way to travel, but we knew we had good directions.
Follow-up: It’s been 15 years since that trip. The lessons I learned during that long night traveling home not only solved the trial at hand, but also put our family on a more peaceful path with countless blessings—one of which is Life:Beautiful magazine.