Running on Empty

Thursday was a busy day. I was going to stop for gas on my way to Bible study, but I had to run home and get a couple of emails out so I was running late. I left Bible study early to make it to weight training. On my way the needle on my gas gauge bounced back to a quarter tank; the low fuel indicator light even turned off. I decided the gauge was malfunctioning and I had more gas left than I thought.

The rest of the day was a blur of trying to cram a full day of work into the half-day that remained. I ran to FedEx and drove right past a gas station on my way to pick up my girls because I didn’t want to be late. Just one more trip, I promised, and then I would refuel.

As I eased onto the exit ramp for Capital Blvd my dashboard lit up as my engine gasped its last. I coasted part way up the hill before gliding to a stop on the shoulder of the road. I was out of gas.

First I tried bargaining with God: If He would give me a miraculous infusion of gasoline I would go straight up the hill to that station on the corner and never let this happen again. And I’d tell everyone about what He did. Silence and a failed attempt to restart my engine were the only response.

I watched the rain pouring down my windshield and wondered if perhaps some good Samaritan would stop to help. None of the passersby so much as slowed down, leaving me lamenting the good old days when people would never ignore a damsel so clearly in distress.

I considered briefly if there might be a metaphorical lesson in all of this, good for a blog post at least; “Running on Empty” I thought sardonically.

I texted my girls to let them know I’d be late. They said they felt “so bad” for me. I responded not to, that “it was my own fault,” and fought the frustration percolating beneath the surface.

My husband was at a meeting in town. My son was at lacrosse practice. I tried to think of someone who could rescue me. Nobody came to mind. The rain showed no sign of relenting, so I either was going to sit here all day or get moving.

I looked up the nearest gas stations on my phone GPS: BJ’s warehouse club was 1.5 miles south on a treacherously busy stretch of Capital Blvd. As I resolved to being wet and miserable for the next hour I was suddenly grateful that I had chosen sneakers over my usual flip flops and at the last moment had even grabbed a jacket. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for those small, now precious comforts, and opened the door to begin my penance.

My feet were drenched and cold in the first 10 minutes. Cars and trucks flew by me, hurling their insults in the form of wet road muck. When I finally reached BJ’s I discovered that they didn’t carry gas containers and even worse, no one seemed moved by my plight. Instead the clerk suggested I continue walking over to Wal-Mart. (I maybe didn’t receive his suggestion with gratitude.)

The customer in front of me was having trouble getting his gas pump to work. He told me in heavily accented English that if I didn’t mind waiting until he got his own issue resolved he would help with mine.

“Here,” he said, finding a near-empty water bottle in the back of his car. He poured out the remaining contents and filled it with gasoline. “This should be enough to get you up the hill. Get in. I’ll take you back to your car.” I complied, hoping he was indeed my good Samaritan and not a serial killer; but at the moment I was just grateful to be dry.

The music in his car confirmed what his accent suggested — he was far from home. I asked where he was from and he told me Kuwait. “I escaped during the unrest in ’96. I was working there as a civil engineer. I’m originally from Greece.” As we talked on the short ride back to my car he told me his daughter was graduating from pharmacy school the next day, but he would be unable to attend because he could not trust his car to make it through the mountains. I felt sad for him having to miss such a milestone and was reminded that this was someone who had known hardship well beyond the thresholds of my flimsy constitution.

“I will wait to see if your car starts,” he offered. “And then I’ll follow you to the gas station to make sure you make it.” I thanked him and told him I was sure it would be fine. I poured the water bottle of gasoline into my tank hoping it would be enough to bring my car back to life. As I turned the key in the ignition the dash barely fluttered. The battery was dead.

My Samaritan was in for more than he bargained for, and I jokingly told him as much. “Do you have jumper cables?” he responded patiently. I did, thank goodness. He pulled his car beside mine and jumped my engine. At last it sprang back to life.

When I reached the gas station, now an hour late to pick up my daughters, my Samaritan and I parted ways. I wanted to offer him money, but since I knew now that he was a DOD engineer I thought he’d be insulted, so I settled for profuse gratitude instead.

Clearly there at least was a valuable lesson in all this. What did God use this experience to teach me?

  1. As my car depends on me to fill its tank so I depend on Christ to fill mine. When I neglect to take time out of my day to replenish my spiritual reserves I inevitably and quickly run out of gas.

    If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

    John 15:5

  2. Many of my calamities are of my own making, and my pain is often a direct result of my own actions (or inactions). And yet when the consequences roll in I look heavenward and dare to expect a miracle.
  3. Despite my foolishness God still was faithful to move through that very sweet man to help me. And because where God is there is abundance, the gentleman not only gave me a container of gas, but kindly and cheerfully drove me to my car, jumped my battery and shepherded me to safety.

God is a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 46:1

Best of all God never scorns us in our foolishness. He never says, “I told you so.” And even if he declines to provide a miracle He is always faithful.

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.

Genesis 28:5

4 thoughts on “Running on Empty

  1. Love this Nanette and so true, you definitely have a way with words. Point number 2 really hit home, Thanks for sharing your story!


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