TITLE: Accidental Providence
By Anne Warden
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Daddy was the superintendent of a heavy construction company that was building two bridges over the Feather River in the semi-arid hills of southwest Idaho. He stayed near the jobs in the tiny, vacation community of Paradise Hot Springs.
One afternoon I settled in for another boring ride. The real fun would begin once we reached Paradise. Trails in the piney woods might entice me to explore. Or I could play in the large mud-bottomed pool, fed on one corner by a cold stream and, on another, by the hot springs.
The couple who owned the little store bordering the pool broadcast the latest hits over tinny-sounding speakers above the water. My favorite record album featured Nat King Cole and I would sing along with gusto on Ramblin’ Rose and Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer.
As we drove away from Nampa that Friday toward the hills, I gazed into a clear sky. An occasional hawk soared above a field. Black and white magpies, with their long tails, dotted the fence posts. Once we’d left the highway and were climbing, dust swirled up from the gravel road. Not a single breeze stirred the sagebrush. It was unusually hot for early May – too hot to keep the windows rolled up. So we tolerated dust in the car.
Mama and I chatted about things that are important to a child. Or we sang songs from Sunday School, most of them based on Bible stories. I was an ordinary five-year-old, unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. Bible stories were just that – stories. I didn’t know they were also history. And when I was told, “God loves you,” those three little words meant nothing to me.
But my small perspective was about to be given a big jolt.
Idaho’s vast scrub hills were sheep country. This meant any flocks we’d meet on the road had the right-of-way. That day we were running late because we’d encountered more sheep than usual. But I didn’t mind. Watching the dogs run back and forth around the fringes, corralling stragglers and keeping them all headed in the same direction was a welcome distraction from the weekly monotony. It was amazing how the dogs knew their job so well rarely did a sheepherder on horseback need to call out an order. The sheep moved along from one grazing area to another in a noisy but organized manner. Bells around the necks of the lead sheep clanged above the bleating of the rest, calling the flocks to follow.
Because of the unusual number of sheep delays, daylight was waning as we topped a ridge to see the Anderson Ranch River cutting through the gorge below. A grasshopper had found its way into the car and it chose that moment to jump onto my head. I wasn’t normally frightened of insects. But something suddenly landing on me was enough to startle me out of the front seat and into the back. Even after I discovered my tormentor was nothing more than a little grasshopper, I didn’t climb back into the front. I stayed right behind my mother, perched among the baskets of food and freshly laundered clothes.
The road sloped down the side of the ridge and made an abrupt turn to cross an old wooden bridge that spanned the river. Just as we took that turn, something happened that transformed all my anticipation of the weekend ahead into fear for survival.
A tire blew and my mother lost control of the car.
We skidded side to side as Mama fought to keep us from diving into the water. When the station wagon finally quit tearing up the gravel, it collided head-on into the bridge abutment on the right. A loose timber came smashing through the windshield,
exactly where I’d been sitting a few minutes before.
We climbed out of the car, shaken. I was in tears. Mama looked me over and, once she was sure I was unhurt, she assessed our situation. We were on a lonely mountain road and hadn’t seen another vehicle for several hours. We were still a long
way from our destination. It was getting dark. And the evening air held a biting chill.
I asked, “Mama, how are we going to get to Daddy? He doesn’t know where we are.”
My mother knelt in front of me in the gravel. She hugged me reassuringly and said in her matter-of-fact manner, “Honey, God knows right where we are. He’ll take care of us. And He will get us to Daddy’s cabin.” Then she began to pray aloud.
A few minutes later we heard the sound of a truck coming over the ridge above. Looking up, we saw headlights. It turned out to be a sheepherder’s truck. The young driver stopped, helped us retrieve a few belongings from the car and then took us to Paradise Hot Springs.
While we were bumping along, the herder mentioned that something unusual had occurred at his camp that morning and it had required him to make an unscheduled trip to the nearest town. He said, “Ma’am, you were just lucky I happened along when I did, or you two might have been stuck there a very long time.”
My mother was not going to let that young man think ‘luck’ had anything to do with our amazing day. She explained that God had probably sent him to town that morning so he would be on his way back just when we needed him. She also gave God
the credit for sending a grasshopper to scare me into the back seat so I’d be out of harm’s way when the timber came through the windshield.
We later found out God had also given my father an urgent sense of something wrong and he had stopped cooking dinner in order to get on his knees. He had been praying fervently for our safety when the accident had occurred. And he was still praying
when the sheep truck drove up to the cabin.
The next morning, Daddy went back to the accident scene. He saw something we’d missed the evening before. Both of the right wheels were hanging over the gorge and the car was resting on its chassis. He realized another miracle had been orchestrated for us. If I’d been startled into the back passenger seat, my meager weight moving
around on that side might have been just enough to topple the car on over the edge. But I’d climbed in behind Mama instead – with our total weight on the upward side.
God had indeed known right where we were. He had maneuvered events to meet our needs. He’d indeed taken very good care of us. And my mother had used the opportunity to tell a young sheepherder about God’s providence.
It was that day when I first realized God is real. And that His love is beyond measure. It was also when I first saw a pivot point of faith – no matter what circumstances come our way, God always has the situation under His firm control.
Because of His obvious interventions that day in the mountains, my narrow child’s view was profoundly broadened. And from that day to this, I’ve carried a conscious awareness that I am never alone.
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