It was Monday, March 10. I was in Minnesota, 7 days into a 9-day visit home to visit family and friends after a 4-year absence. The weather was frigid when I arrived on March 4, but the temperature had risen to a more comfortable 30-40 degree range during the day.
I’d been looking forward to this day, one I could spend entirely alone with my son doing some of our favorite things. Our plan was for me to pick him up and go on our road trip from there. Full of gratitude, I drove the familiar roads from Belle Plaine to Green Isle to the farm where he lives. It was also the place I’d lived for 15 years. Going back there always evokes many bittersweet memories.
My son had wanted me to come here to meet his yellow lab Chloe, to see what his life was like now in this season. He and I walked the property and I observed how much had changed. The pine shrubs we’d planted when he was small were now over 10′ tall, while nearly all the trees that had surrounded the perennial garden were gone due to storm damage. The walk to the now frozen lake was much the same, with trees on either side of the path as before. As we walked, he talked while I listened with my heart. I love my son and I am so proud of the young man he has become.
Eventually, we made our way back to the rental car and began our day trip. Our first stop was the Gander Mountain store in Eden Prairie. I needed a new Columbia rain jacket. Although I live on the west coast with Columbia outdoor gear available everywhere from Goodwill stores to major outfitters, I had to go back to Minnesota to find the jacket I wanted. I made a quick purchase there, and we drove across the highway to Starbucks for coffee.
From there, we went north to Maple Grove where we used to spend a fair amount of time. I bought some shoes, and then he encouraged me to get a new phone while teasing me about my old 2010 Blackberry. He was right, so I caved and got a new iPhone. After that, we went to Pot Belly for lunch.
While we ate, he suggested we just go back to my mom’s apartment to hang out together. We made the trip from Maple Grove to Belle Plaine, got settled in on her comfortable furniture, turned on the TV and talked. He just wanted to hang out and that was enough.
The afternoon went by too quickly. He had to work the next day and had some things to do that night, so we set out to take him home, stopping by the nursing home to visit with mom for a few minutes. After saying our goodbyes to her, we set out from Belle Plaine to Green Isle one more time. I dropped him off at home, and we hugged, kissed and said goodbye, planning on seeing each other again before I left.
I had another stop to make that day. I’d promised my 99-year-old great-aunt that I’d visit her one more time before I left and today was the day. Leaving Green Isle, I took Highway 5 to Waconia to the nursing home where she’s lived for several years.
I was already tired and my body was dragging as I walked though the parking lot to the door, down the corridor to the elevator to her floor, then down the corridor to her room. I spent 15 minutes with her and it was hard. She was a bit more confused than the previous visit. I flashed back to memories of her and my great-uncle when I was a kid. They’d been like grandparents to us since they had raised my mom. As I looked at her, I realized this might be the last time I’d see her this side of Heaven. I hugged and kissed her, my heart heavy as I left.
I was flooded with emotion, just wanting to get something to eat and go home. Leaving the nursing home, I remembered I needed a little more coffee for my two remaining mornings in Minnesota. I stopped at Caribou Coffee and bought a ¼ lb. of ground coffee. I thought the service was remarkably slow even though the store was nearly empty. Time itself seemed, well, odd. I felt irritable and chalked it up to being tired.
I walked toward what I thought was my little Buick rental. I tried to open the door only to find that the key didn’t work because it was really a Volkswagen Jetta. I saw the owner inside the coffee shop watching me trying to get into her car. Yep.
Red-faced and shaking my head, I walked to my car, got in, and began a colorful conversation with God about myself. I had my coffee, now to get some food. I drove ¼ mile down the highway and went to a little Italian place call DaVinci’s. They used to have food ready to go, so it was worth a shot. I quickly found out they don’t do that any more. If I wanted food, I had to order off of the menu and wait for it. That didn’t feel right to me so I went back to the car.
I turned back out onto Highway 5 east to the small town of Victoria. I recalled that there had a been a new health food grocery store that had opened a few years ago. They’d have something I could eat. Getting into town, I turned left off of the highway, and right into the parking lot to find the store dark. It was closed. I felt a snap in my head as drove around the block and approached the highway again. Frustration was not only mounting, it was becoming vocal. “Aaaahhhh!!!! Lord, what’s the deal? Why is this going like this? I’m getting further and further away from where I want to be!”
I turned left onto Highway 5 again, now headed toward Chanhassen. I saw a Lee Ann Chin Chinese restaurant in my spirit. My internal conversation went something like this: “That’s the destination, okay. I can make that work, I guess, although nothing there is gluten free.” By now, it was dark. “To eat in or to take out, that is the question. Momma doesn’t have a microwave, so if I take out, I have to get out pots and pans to warm up my food. Eat in, sigh.”
I paid for my food and walked over to a table with my tray. I was facing a large screen TV on the wall across the room. Anderson Cooper’s news show was on, but I couldn’t hear his voice because the volume was too low. I could, however, read the subtitles on the bottom of the screen.
He was interviewing 4 rescue workers in Spanish Fork, Utah. They had rescued an 18-month-old baby girl earlier that day, an amazing 14 hours or so after her mom had died when their car crashed into a river. These men had heard a voice calling, “Help me!” and had found the baby girl alive in the car. The baby couldn’t talk, so some kind of supernatural being had called for help on her behalf. I knew it was angel. I stopped chewing my food as the gravity of this story hit me. This was a sign. I was there to hear that story at that moment. Tears formed at the corners of my eyes as I saw Father’s hand in saving that baby’s life.
I was really wrecked now, tired, still wanting to go home. I disposed of my tray, left the restaurant and got in my car one more time. I drove through Chanhassen and crossed Highway 5, thinking I was getting on Highway 101 South, which would drop me just north of Shakopee. Too late, I remembered this section of road had been re-routed, and Highway 101 was ¼ mile to the west. Overcome with weariness and trying not to let Miss Crabby have my vocal cords, I turned the car around, made the correction and got on Highway 101 South. “Okay, we’ve got this now,” I said out loud to no one. This journey had been long, but I was in good position now. The highway was well-lit with homes and business on both sides of the road. However, as soon as I crossed over Pioneer Trail, that all changed. This stretch of Highway 101 is dark with a steep decline and sharp curves.
When I reached the safety of the bottom of the hill, I was relieved for only a split-second. My eyes suddenly wide open, I sat up in my seat to pay attention to the unexpected sight in front of me. The Minnesota River Bridge crossing at Shakopee was under construction. As I approached the stop light to turn south at this well-known intersection, I was blocked by a construction pickup with flashing lights on top. He appeared to be running interference for another larger vehicle entering the construction zone. When that truck was safely in position, the pickup backed up, turned around and began heading south on the existing bridge. Ahead of me, I could see orange cones set out to guide drivers. I began following him at a distance, when he took off down the road.
In the dark and unsure of the road in front of me, I proceeded slowly. Out of nowhere, a construction worker with a stop/slow sign stepped into the light to the left of me in the center of the road. He was yelling at us (me and the drivers behind me) to stop. As I looked ahead, I saw that the row of orange cones had big gaps in it, and it wasn’t at all clear where we were supposed to drive. I felt fear in my throat as I looked at the line of drivers behind me in the side mirror. This was not a straight orderly line of vehicles. It looked more like a 2-year-old had randomly set down a bunch of Matchbox cars and trucks. I could see the problem and sense the danger of the situation. The man with the sign was clearly frustrated, and his language and tone reflected it. I opened my window and waved him over to me at the front of the line of cars.
“Honey,” I called to him, “we can’t see where to go. The cones aren’t laid out clearly. I know you didn’t do this, but you might want to stop swearing at these people and bless them instead. Start praying for angels to come and show them the way!”
His expression shifted from one of frustration to one of sober acknowledgement. He now saw the problem and he was connecting the dots. Time stopped. I sat in the car, waiting for our turn to go. As I waited, I saw the bridge, the detours, the whole construction site. I prayed over the bridge, for the protection of all who would cross it, for angels to come and show the way.
Suddenly, I saw the purpose in the journey that night, what I was there for, how the timing had been orchestrated for me to be there, right now. I heard Jesus speak next to me in the passenger seat. “If you hadn’t come here tonight, someone would have died on this bridge.” Tears sprang to the corners of my eyes again as I saw how those familiar roads, stops, and wrong turns had led me here very intentionally and purposefully.
My bizarre road trip that evening had been perfectly timed and planned. I’d never really had any control over where I was going and what I was doing that night. He’d been in charge the whole time with intent to save. Did you get that? His intent was to save. His intent is always to save.
With love from Portland,
(Copyright Laurie Hilgers 2015)