It was my intention to begin driving early this morning in my ride share career,. I hadn't set an alarm. My "old man" alarm is sufficient these days. I squinted at my iphone and was disappointed I was up so early. I shuffled over to the bathroom at 5:00am. Going back to sleep was not an option. My brain was now fully engaged on Sunday's sermon, last minute Christmas, and where I might find customers who needed rides today. By 5:30 I was dressed and in my car. I placed water in cup holders to offer my passengers and candy canes in the wells of the door handles to give my riders a special little Christmas treat.
I always turn on both my Uber and Lyft apps while I'm still in my garage even though I rarely get a call until I get near downtown or the University of Tennessee Campus. As soon as I turned my Lyft app on, however, it "chimed". The chime is the sound that indicates a rider is looking for my help. I grunted as I noticed the rider was sixteen miles away and the drive would take about 25 minutes. I have five seconds to decide whether to take the ride and after a momentary pause I begrudgingly touched the "accept" icon on the screen. Normally, a ride is at the most, five or ten minutes away. Because it was so early, however, and there were so few drivers, I was "chimed" for this distant call.
I turned on some Pentatonix Christmas music to brighten my mood and by the time I reached the West Knoxville address I was in good spirits. My "Lyft" app sent a message saying, "Be sure to welcome them, this is their first ride with Lyft."
"Welcome to Lyft" I said as they shut out the frigid night air, closed the door, and began to settle into the warm air of my Prius.
"Oh this isn't our first ride. It's just the first time we requested on her phone" said the young man. "Our trip will have four stops." He said.
Four stops can mean a long quiet ride, or sometimes a lengthy life-giving conversation. I decided to engage. We talked about their three kids, their jobs, and how, slowly, but surely, they were beginning to advance in life. They were so pleasant. He even bought me a coffee from Pilot on our first stop.
As we made our way to the second stop we needed to get off on Merchants Drive. "Do you know where that is?" The young man asked.
I had to make a choice at that moment. I could tell them I pastor a church off of Merchants, but sometimes that changes the dynamics of the conversation. Some people quit being themselves when they discover they are talking to a "preacher." I almost didn't tell them. Since were were going to drive right past my church, however, I decided to let them in on a little more about me.
"Actually, yes." I conceded. "I do know Merchants. In fact, I pastor a church one mile off the exit."
"Oh yea," said my new young friend. "Didn't it used to be called Beth...Beth..."
"Bethesda..." I said.
"Yes, it changed its name a few years back." He said. "I know that church. Funny story. One day, about four years ago this time, I was driving my car on the interstate and ran out of gas. I had no money and I couldn't get anybody to stop and give me a ride. The pastor at the time stopped, bought me a gas can, and filled up my car with gas."
The few hairs I have stood at attention at the back of my neck. "That was me." I said. "I forgot all about that until you mentioned it."
As the reader you need to know that I am no Mother Theresa. This is not my practice. In fiver years, I could count on one hand the times I have stopped along the road to help someone. Something, that day, however, prompted me to stop and help that guy. The memory of that cold night came flooding back.
The girl in the car filled in the details of the story. Even though she wasn't with him during the incident, he had shared that story with her multiple times. "It was shortly after we had our third baby." she said. "He turns five today."
"Every time I pass your church I think I need to stop by." said the young man.
More emboldened, I went for the ask. "Maybe its not a coincidence I'm up earlier than normal driving." I said with a smile on my face. "Maybe its no accident that you called me within two seconds of me turning on my app and you didn't cancel me even though I was twenty five minutes away." I made my "elevator" speech gently but thoroughly.
He agreed that this seemed more than coincidental. I invited him to church and had wonderful conversation over the next hour of driving to all of the stops he needed to make. When I dropped him off at work, I gave him some candy canes and a card with our church information on it. We exchanged phone numbers because he has some trade skills that may come come in handy for me one day.
I don't know what if anything will come of it. I only know that God loves people so much that he works in the mundane details of our days to put us together and lift each other up. I'm sure I got more out of my conversation with this precious young couple than they did having to spend over an hour with a pastor who talked their legs off.
I'm glad my man alarm went off. I'm glad I accepted the distant call this morning. I'm glad i went ahead and mentioned I was a pastor. I'm glad I stopped to help him four years ago. I'm glad for the wonder of being part of an adventure that defies my comprehension, supersedes my logic, and transcends the most mundane encounters into Divine appointments.
Phil Nordstrom Author
Life Church Knoxville
We're an inter denominational church in Knoxville, Tennessee that believes that all people matter and should experience the love and power that comes along with a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.