I first hit a deer when I was 17 years old.
Other people my age were going on dates, getting jobs, playing sports…but not me. Oh no. I was hunting without so much as a hunting license. The good news is, the car was still drivable. The bad news is, its bumper fell off as soon as I pulled into the driveway.
“So, uh, I hit a deer,” I told my parents casually, in case the fact that the car was now in two pieces wasn’t explanation enough. I assumed moving to Los Angeles for college would signal the end of my deer-related run-ins (see what I did there?). Unfortunately, my replacement car, a 1997 Crown Victoria (lovingly nicknamed “Crownie”), caused me more trouble than an entire herd of deer.
A few months after I graduated from college, I road tripped to Vegas with some friends to pick up my brother Andrew and cousin Will. What was initially supposed to be a carefree trip back to Los Angeles ended up being an all-night ordeal when Crownie’s serpentine belt broke. The events of the night are a little foggy, but here’s what I do recall: ending up in a middle-of-nowhere desert town called Barstow, pulling into a hotel parking lot as smoke billowed from Crownie’s engine, trying to explain to the irate worker that we could not obey her instructions to vacate the premises because the car was dead, and explaining the same thing to the cops who showed up a few minutes later, lights flashing.
We were eventually rescued by a Triple A tow truck around 5:30 a.m. There was at least one text sent to a boss with the words, “I’m going to be late. Vegas. Cops. I’ll explain more later.” (As Will, who had previously acquired a bottle of juice he wasn’t fond of put it, “I miss the time when my juice was the biggest disappointment of the night.”)
Nobody wants to end up stranded in the desert in the middle of the night, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. (Unless, perhaps, you own a vehicle made in the same millennium you now live in.) The same kind of thing happens in life too. We’re sailing along, doing just fine, and then all of the sudden, BAM! We find ourselves in the midst of a painful, difficult, or unexpected situation. And the scariest part is, we never quite know how long we’re going to be there.
There’s nothing worse than the wilderness. Nothing worse than walking somewhere it feels like God Himself has never been. Nothing worse than calls that don’t come and dreams that don’t pan out and hearts that don’t quite seem to heal.
But here’s what I’ve learned about ending up in the desert: it’s part of life. We all end up there eventually. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves waiting by the side of the road in the midnights of life. Sometimes God miraculously rescues us from the desert; other times He simply stays with us in the midst of it.
I used to think God’s goodness and love was somehow tied to whether or not He answered my prayers in the way I wanted Him to. I now realize His goodness is not necessarily revealed in the changing circumstances of this life, but in the knowledge that He has given us a hope beyond this life. As Christians, our hope can never be rooted in whether circumstances are good; it must be rooted in the unswerving fact that God Himself is always, always good.
To be human means to experience God’s grace as well as the world’s brokenness. We will never make it out of this life unscathed, but we don’t have to stay broken either. God is in the business of making all things new. He has a special place in His heart for those who are stranded in the desert.
Sooner or later, we all end up in the desert. But the very best news of all is this: God doesn’t have a track record of leaving us there to fend for ourselves.