Things that go bump in the night

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:11

It was winter, that’s for sure.

All was peaceful when we left for an Illinois getaway the weekend of New Year’s Eve. The roads were clear and a little fluff of snow made the trees’ underskirts look pretty. Peace itself had settled into the air like a mist.

Boy, howdy, things did change.

After a few nice days of eating too many snacks and playing ninja with the nieces and nephews, it was time to head north. Things were fine until about Grand Rapids. Then it became winter.

The usually easy trip up U.S.-131 was slug-like as giant snowflakes descended en masse on the slush-coated road and the already dim daylight faded to black. When we stopped in Gaylord for windshield wiper fluid, my driver-husband looked beat. After nearly five hours to make a three-hour drive, I couldn’t blame him.

When I offered to drive, he nodded gratefully and looked lovingly at the gas station coffee cup clutched in his hands.

Gaylord to home is usually an easy hour and a quarter. Except when it isn’t.

Winter and the stretch of I-75 from Gaylord to Indian River are like baking soda and vinegar. Nice enough on their own, but put them together and there’s going to be trouble.

It’s a gorgeous stretch of road, don’t get me wrong. One of my favorite drives, when I can see it. But there’s something about the shape of the hills, maybe, or maybe the trees are lined up just so, that makes the snow fly 80 directions at once, swirling over the road as if summoned by magic and blasting into the front windshield like you’re navigating through hyperspace.

I don’t mind winter driving, and I like a good challenge. Even so, it was dicey going. There wasn’t much in the way of traffic on the road, mostly just us, so any tracks in my lane were faint and swirled with white. All you can do at a time like that is keep going forward, eyes on the road, following the tracks and hoping they don’t disappear altogether.

Staying in your lane on a bright, cheerful day isn’t hard. You barely have to think about it. In a snowstorm, though, the lane becomes your everything.

The magician-whirled snow in front of me teased and gapped, showing glimpses of bare pavement and then hiding them away. There was darkness on the left and right that I figured was trees, and the flat space in between had to be road. But my place on that flat space was indistinguishable. With hazy parameters and no tracks to follow, I felt lost, barely knowing which way was forward.

And then, bumpety bumpety bumpety.

Oh, that glorious rumble strip in the middle of the road. I’d forgotten it was there.

On a sunny, easy day, you barely notice those bumps. But in the dark in the snow in an uncertain time, they’re a lifeline. You can feel them under your tire, reassuring you that you’re headed in the right direction. They gently steer you back into your lane and encourage you to keep moving forward.

The bumps help you know where the road is.

You can be going along through life, fine and dandy, and then the road can become unclear. Something new changes the landscape; something old stirs up a whirlwind. A loss. A beginning. An uncertainty. A worry.

Eyes to the road, you follow the known path as best you can, moving forward because that’s the only direction you can go. Make the decision, feed the kids, wash the dishes. Forward, slowly forward.

And sometimes — not always, but sometimes — the road disappears. It’s a whiteout, and you don’t know where to go.

And then, bumpety bumpety bumpety.

When things are going well, we hardly notice them, the bumps. But in the storm, when we are desperate, they are what leads us home.

The unexpected compassion.

The offer of a chair and a Kleenex.

The email, the text, the kind eyes.

The “you can do it” and the “I’m here.”

A lifeline. Each little bump adding to the other little bumps to make a line to be leaned into, a reassurance under your heart that you’re not lost, a little push in the direction you should be going.

The bumps can’t travel your path for you. But they can help you on your way.

We were made by a God who was committed to His creation, though it strayed from Him over and over. We are loved by a God who had compassion for His lost ones, compassion that led to a hill and a cross and a grave. We are cared for by a God who comforts and encourages and says, “I’m here,” and slips bumps under our feet and leads us Home.

And we are sent by a God who uses us to bump our way into other people’s lives and take our place in their lifeline.

It is so easy to tear down. But it’s easy to build up, too. A word. A look. A connection. A moment, just a moment, to see the person inside. They’re all bumps in the line that keep us from spinning off into the night. They matter. They’re needed. They can change the world, bumpety bumpety bump.

It’s winter, and somewhere out there someone is feeling lost.

Be a bump.