Thursday, April 1, 2021

Our Angel Driver

A lovely blanketing snow began falling that afternoon just like the others we had been enjoying that winter. Nothing unusual about a heavy snow storm in early February. As long as my husband and I had homemade soup, firewood and each other, it would make for a peaceful couple of days. Unfortunately, there was nothing peaceful about the contractions I started experiencing. My due date wasn’t for another month but earlier that week, the doctor had said I was probably going to deliver early. This was the first baby for us and we really had no idea what to expect. Frank and I kept swinging back and forth between fascination and fear – learning all we could about pregnancy and childbirth. Whenever my time came, it would be just the two of us going to the hospital. Our families lived hundreds of miles away from the picturesque mountain town we now called home. We had relocated to North Carolina from Florida just over a year earlier. It was there that a small church tucked away in the valley needed a pastor and we were young pastors needing a church that would let us learn. That’s how we found ourselves living in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Just as Catherine Marshall described in her book Christy, mountain people don’t always take to strangers too quickly. Oh, they welcomed and loved us in their own way but most of our congregation had large families and friendships that had developed over decades. Frank and I often felt lonely and isolated. When we discovered we were having a baby, the sadness lifted and we began preparing to start our family with great joy. We had chosen a wonderful obstetric group in Asheville. The thirty-mile trip into town each month had been a treat for us. After doctor visits, we ate dinner at a favorite fast food place in the local mall. People-watching was a favorite pastime for us. As newlyweds on a tight budget, we had quickly learned entertainment doesn’t have to be expensive. Dr. Wilson, our favorite of the obstetric team, happened to be on call that Thursday evening. When the contractions stayed at five minutes apart for an hour, Frank called to see what we should do. I could see the concern in his eyes as he reported, “Dr. Wilson wants us to come to the hospital now. She’s pretty sure you’re in active labor.” My young husband didn’t have to voice his fears. I already knew. He was anxious about our car which was older and not the most reliable. The snow, now falling as steadily as my contractions, was no joking matter. The ice under the snow could wreak havoc with our tires. We had no chains. None of the regular preparations for this trip were in place because we thought we still had a month to go. First babies are notorious for late arrivals, right? That obviously would not be our story. We jumped into action. The sun was setting and the snow was becoming more treacherous with every passing moment. Frank made quick calls to our families and board members while I packed a bag for us and for the baby. I had long ago chosen the special outfit for bringing our precious bundle home: a warm, one-piece jumper in pale green with yellow trim. Ultrasounds weren’t conclusive in 1983 so we had no idea if we were having a boy or a girl. I paused for one brief moment placing the soft fabric against my face as I breathed in the smell of baby detergent I’d used to launder the piece. “God, we need your help. Please, Lord keep all three of us safe.” In less than thirty minutes, we were set to go. Frank warmed the car, loaded the bags, then helped me ease my cumbersome, aching body in to the front seat. The cold air was like a slap but the snow fell all around us without sound. No one else was stirring on such a dangerous night. Frank moved our old sedan slowly but steadily toward the highway. The windshield wipers slapped a perfect rhythm and the headlights did their best to show a path through the heavy snowflakes. Another contraction hit and I tried to hide the fact that I was having to pant through the pain. Frank glanced over at me and I flashed an unconvincing smile his way, “I’m fine, Sweetheart. You focus on the road and I’ll focus on the contractions.” His hands tightened on the steering wheel. We made it to the highway but snow was already drifting badly. The plows wouldn’t be coming out until morning. There wasn’t another vehicle on any of the four lanes. We inched along in silence, all the while calling out to heaven from the depths of our hearts. And that’s when it happened. Out of nowhere, an eighteen-wheeler came from behind us. The driver carefully passed us then moved in the center of the eastbound lanes. Frank recognized the truck as our answer to prayer—our own personal plow. He quickly directed our car up and over the small snowbank created by the truck’s tires and into the newly created trough. Although the driver could have gone much faster and still been safe, he maintained a slow steady pace that allowed us to follow right behind him. When we realized he must be going all the way to Asheville, we began referring to him as the Angel Driver. We were the only two vehicles we saw the entire thirty-mile trip. We made it safely to the exit for the hospital and Frank flashed his headlights at the driver, a universal sign of thanks. Slowly we made our way the last few miles to the hospital where the ER team whisked me upstairs to a birthing room. Within hours, our precious baby girl Kristin Nicole was born. With blond curls and big blue eyes, she studied our faces just as we studied hers. Complications during the delivery confirmed we had made the right choice in coming straight to the hospital but what a trip it had been. Later that next morning while looking out the window, I thanked God again for sending the Angel Driver. Psalm 91:11 came to me, “For He will give His angels charge concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” The truth of that scripture became literal for us. I wished I could let the driver know what a miracle his help had been. Somehow, I sensed he did know. When St. Peter put out a call for an angel who would help two young parents make it safely to the hospital, our angel put on a trucker’s cap and volunteered. And I think that as he drove on into the snowy night, he wore a knowing smile under that cap.

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