God, Propane and Home Depot
I'm writing this note late in the evening. But before I go to bed, I want to record a tiny epiphany from earlier today. Because we were having some friends over for supper tonight, and because we wanted to grill in the backyard, my wife asked me to get the propane tank refilled. I took it to U-Haul, waited for a while, only to learn that I had a "replacement tank" that they couldn't fill. Something about a stuck valve. I went back home and asked my wife where we had purchased the tank in the first place. She couldn't remember so I decided to try Home Depot. Traffic in Chicago is always bad, but Friday afternoons are the worst. The streets are clogged with traffic, people are impatient, there are no shortcuts, people honk at the slightest delays, everyone is tired and frazzled and on edge. It took a long time to go about four miles, and when I got to Home Depot, I discovered that yes, they had propane tanks. All you had to do is bring your old one in, pay $13, then pick up a new one. Easy, except that I left the old propane tank at home. I even went to the trouble of taking it out of the car and putting it by our garage door. It didn't occur to me to take it with me, though it wouldn't have been any extra trouble. I could purchase a brand-new tank for $40, or I could go back home, pick up the empty propane tank, go back to Home Depot, make the swap, and pay $13. So I looked at my watch and decided to go back home, fight the traffic one more time, come back to Home Depot, make the switch and save $27. If anything, the traffic was worse on my third trip of the afternoon.
By the time I made it back to Home Depot, I was in something less than a good mood. Somewhere between frustrated and agitated would describe things pretty well. All this wasted effort just to fill up a propane tank. As I parked, I noticed an Office Depot on the other side of the parking. I went inside, made the switch, paid my $13, and then decided on the spur of the moment to go to Office Depot. I don't have time to go into it here, but I've just switched Internet providers so I can get reliable dial-up access when I travel. I signed up for Earthlink and spent several hours trying to install it on my computer. For reasons that remain obscure, my computer would not download the software. That wouldn't matter except that tomorrow I'm leaving for an important trip to California, and I need my computer to be able to access the Internet. I thought I had seen Earthlink installation CDs somewhere--sort of like those ubiquitous AOL CDs that come in the mail and inside computer magazines--but I couldn't think of a place to find them. Now it was late in the afternoon, I had to get the propane tank home because our friends were coming soon, I was hot and tired and cranky, but I decided to drop into the Office Depot on a whim and see what I could find. Sure enough, right next to the cash register I found a display with free Earthlink CDs. I picked one up, bought two candy bars, and headed for home.
As I drove home feeling pretty good about the way things turned out, the Lord spoke to me. He said something like, "Pay attention to what happened here. You were frustrated earlier because of all that running around, and especially because of that wasted extra trip to Home Depot. But you didn't notice the Office Depot the first time. You saw it the saw time. And now you've got your propane and your Earthlink CD. Why were you upset? I was involved in all of it--the failed valve, the trip to U-Haul, leaving the tank at home, the first trip, the second trip, and even when you happened to see Office Depot. That didn't happen by chance. I was there all along. Everything worked out just fine."
Now I will grant that this episode doesn't rise to the level of life-saving surgery or the feeding of the 5000, but most of life isn't like that either. Somewhere I read that 99% of life is ordinary. And if we're going to see God at all, we're more likely to see him in that 99% because that's what life is mostly about. Life is Friday afternoon traffic, broken valves, misplaced propane tanks, fruitless trips, frustration, extra trips, and things you just "happen" to see. But God is in all of it. None of the stuff we call trivia is without divine meaning.
Charles Spurgeon said God is to be seen in the "minutiae of providence." I love that phrase. God sees when a sparrow falls, and he numbers the hairs on my head. He also knows all about propane tanks, Home Depot, and Earthlink CDs. It's all in there somewhere, part of God's plan on a busy Friday afternoon.