I thought the traffic in Rome was wild. But I think Paris is crazier. We arrived in the center of the French capital with two full cars for a dinner with a member of the American Embassy. Parking spaces that night were as rare as snow in October, so myself and the other driver dropped off our human cargo, and began to drive around the block hoping for a space to open up. That’s when it happened. I lost site of the other car, took a wrong turn, and all of a sudden I was lost. Like an astronaut untethered in space, I began to be sucked away into the orbit of constant, unending, chaotic streams of Parisian traffic.
Motorbikes zoomed by on either side of my car coming within inches of my doors. I wondered if they had a death wish, or if this was normal. There seemed nothing normal about it. The traffic felt dehumanizing, survival of the fittest, every man for himself. Cars freely cut me off. In the roundabouts, drivers poured into side-streets like a stream of rats rushing out of a sewer pipe. I’ve driven a 40 foot tour bus down the LA freeway with seven kids and a wife at 60 mph. That was a Sunday drive in comparison.
Suddenly I was crossing an overpass into a blackhole of urban wilderness when the cellphone rang. It was my host from the Embassy. “I take the bus,” he apologized. “I don’t drive these streets so I don’t know how to direct you. Uh… can you give the name of the street you’re on??” Trying to stay in my lane while watching the mayhem unfolding around me (at least, mayhem for me), I couldn’t spot the streets signs either! “Where are the blooming signs??” I desperately asked. “You have to look…. they’re hard to see… I…” He said something else, the tone of his voice saying it all. You’re on your own now. We both knew it. It would take a miracle to find the way back since the other car did all the navigating to get there.
I turned off on a side road, following a cab who was trying to cut ahead of other traffic. I was able to park for a moment, take a breath, and think. That’s when I heard in my heart:
Mark, you need to listen to My voice. You need to learn to hear Me in the chaos that is coming…
I understood. Okay, Lord. I sat up in my seat and felt a clarity enter my soul like finding the sweetspot of a radio station on an old rotary knob receiver. My sense of direction by now was completely lost under the cloudy night. So I just started driving. The inner “voice” I was tuned into continued.
Follow that car!
I went a few blocks.
This went on for a couple minutes, a seemingly random stream of instructions until finally I turned down a street so narrow that I had to go slow to avoid scraping the cars parked on either side. Then I looked up. And there in front of me seemed a familiar intersection. I looked to my right, and there to my stunned disbelief was the front door of my Parisian friend’s apartment.
“Hello. It’s Mark,” I said over the cellphone. “I think I’m in front of your apartment!” A minute later, my friend was on the sidewalk. We parked the car and walked back to his apartment where a worried group of friends burst into cheers having thought I was irretrievably lost in space. We quickly dubbed it “the Paris miracle.”
A LESSON IN TRUST
It was a powerful lesson for me, or perhaps demonstration is a better word. I have no doubt that God was there guiding me. For a moment, Heaven peeled back the veil and intervened just when I needed it. Reflecting on this, I understood later that this “miracle” was as much for you as it was for me. A message in the darkness that God will care for us in the chaos which is coming to our rebellious world. But I also realize that, if I were to drive into Paris tomorrow and try and let the Lord alone guide me again, I would likely become utterly lost. God isn’t a cosmic vending machine that we can manipulate whenever we choose. His Divine Providence comes… when it needs to come. Always. But we also have to be ready to co-operate with it. We need to have our maps, GPS, or compass; our plans, our common sense, and goals. But then, we need to be docile enough to “go with the flow” when our neatly ordered plans and devices fail.
That is, if I would have become lost all night, God would still have been with me, but His Divine Will would have been acting in a different manner for a different purpose. That I would have had to trust God then too, in a moment of utter seeming abandonment, well that too would have been okay.
That too would have been a miracle, and perhaps, the more impressive one.
First published on November 3rd, 2009.
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