God speaks through dead car batteries

If the title of this post sounds crazy, that’s OK with me. I would think the same thing. If you actually know me, though, then you might expect a good story. I have a few of those to tell.

I am a psychological scientist and a trained researcher. I will spare you the rest of the details. It’s enough to know that science is one of the ways that I find truth, and that I see no conflict between that approach and my faith, another way that I find truth. I need both, and lately I have been praying for more faith. It’s been hard for me to find the Light in recent days. Maybe you are having the same problem.

I know that I can’t bridge the gap to God, that God has to do it, met by the feeblest effort of my will. I also know that God communicates in ways that will make sense to me, in ways that are familiar across my life. It often takes the form of Weird Stuff. I’m a big fan of Weird Stuff, the improbable and unlikely and unforeseen, the ridiculous combination of events that leads to a good outcome. When things should go badly but instead they go well, that’s usually God. I had one of those moments last week and it connected with similar moments in my past. I want to tell those stories.

Dead car battery last week

This spring, I took on the job of mowing the lawn at my Masonic lodge. I needed the exercise and the activity and it has been good for me. I have also saved the lodge some money.

Last week, I was catching my breath and cooling off after mowing in the afternoon when Rudy came in to strip and wax the lodge floors. We got to talking and then he asked me to move my car so that he could unload supplies. My car wouldn’t start, just made a bunch of clicking noises. It could have been the starter but I hoped that it was the battery.

Car batteries don’t fade like they once did. They are good until they are suddenly gone. I had no problems on the trip to the lodge but suddenly my car did nothing. However, Rudy turned out to be one of those guys who can fix anything.

Jumping a car is probably easy if you know what to do. Most things are. I know that if you make a mistake then you can electrocute yourself or blow up your battery and much of your engine and maybe blind yourself with battery acid. I know that I don’t know how to do this and shouldn’t try, but Rudy was great with it. My car started immediately and I drove to a shop that was able to replace my battery for a reasonable price incredibly quickly. The job was finished and I was on my way in 15 minutes.

The battery is science. Most car batteries have a life of about 60 months. That one that died last week was the original battery, in my car when I bought it in October 2015, and I planned to replace it later this month. If my car sat on the lot for a few months before I bought it then the battery was over 60 months old. I don’t know the chemistry behind it, but I know that this is how long car batteries last with decent care. Car batteries die. That’s science.

The timing is faith. I was in a safe place, with help, when it happened. I was able to get a replacement in plenty of time to make a medical appointment later on the same day, and had no problem getting to work on the next day. It’s hard to imagine a better time and place for a dead battery, and that fits with another thing that I believe about God, that God works within the rules of the world. When the event goes better than it might, better than it probably should, that’s God. I remembered other times when God spoke through car problems.

My father’s death

I was there, helping my father and supporting my mother, when he died, because of one of those improbable series of events that started with a dead car battery. It was November 2013. I had been separated for more than half a year and I was dating a woman in New Jersey. I went to see her on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and we went out at sunset. I needed something from my car so I turned on the cabin light, but left it on. That and the cold that night killed my battery.

I called for a jump start and the mechanic pushed me hard to buy a new battery. I saw the corrosion on the contacts and almost agreed, but the car started right away and the mechanic backed off. I was still worried so I made an appointment with a friend who had a repair shop in Delaware, going there on the day before Thanksgiving.

The service appointment took most of the day but that wasn’t a problem, and the minor repairs were done around 4:00. That’s when it started to sleet. I didn’t like the thought of holiday and rush hour traffic in sleet, but I knew some good back roads to my parents’ home. Dinner with my parents was better than anything alone in my apartment and the weather became worse, so I spent the night on the sofa. It was safer. I planned to get up early, go home, and go to church that day.

Instead, I slept through the alarm. I had been pulling brutal hours at work and I was exhausted and I woke too late. My father and I had a ritual about his making breakfast when I was home, and we went through it and had waffles that morning. After that, I borrowed their computer. That’s where I was when I heard the crash.

My father had a few heart attacks, I’m not sure how many, before that day, but the timing of the last heart attack was God. My parents were traveling for the holiday, and four hours later, he would have been driving at highway speeds in holiday traffic with my mother beside him. To have the same heart attack under those conditions, rather than on his own breezeway and in his own kitchen? I shudder and refuse to think about it more.

The rest of the story of the day is too private for this blog. Besides, it’s enough to tell the sequence of events and decisions that put me where I needed to be when I needed to be there. The story reminds me of another incident.

The missionary flat tire

My first job after college would have been at a summer camp in the Poconos. I had the job and was on my way, about a mile from home, when one of my tires blew out. That car didn’t have a spare so I walked back home and called the camp to say that I would not report for work that day. 

That’s why I was home when the unexpected call came, setting in motion the series of events that made me a United Methodist missionary, and from there to my Master of Arts in Christian education, which solved some problems with my academic record and set me up for admission for a second round of graduate school, my career in psychology starting with my Master of Arts in counseling psychology. 

I remember the admissions director telling me that she would not have accepted me based on my undergraduate record, but with over a full grade point increase from the bachelor’s degree to my first master’s degree, she admitted me. My studies of Christian education, the religious and didactic aspects, run more in the background of my work now, appearing more at specific times like this post, and that time in grad school was valuable in other ways, but I also see how it started with a flat tire about a mile from home and made a career and a life possible. I saw none of that at the moment that I heard the distinctive whoop-whoop-whoop sound of a blown tire.

Assembling the car parts
We can’t bridge the distance to God. Instead, God does all of the work and speaks to us in ways that we understand, ways that are often predictable and constant in our lives. For me, it’s often strategic and perhaps even holy car trouble.

I’m not great with mechanical things. I once set out to replace a lock and accidentally learned how to replace the core instead, which was a better solution. I was thrilled. I was once mystified when the battery on this laptop died, as I had the cord plugged into the wall. It turns out that you have to plug the other end into the computer, too. Still, I’m not completely clueless. My clinical skills often help me to figure out where a mechanical problem is, but I don’t know how to fix it.

For me, cars ride the center line between science and mystery. I know enough to have a sense of some of the rules and rationality that govern them, but not enough to give me the illusion of control. When things go wrong, sometimes the event is a curse but the timing is a blessing, and I believe that God works like that, within the rules and systems.

Peace, all


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