Parents Out Of Fuel

Some days stay in the memory a long time, this one I will never forget; it was the day that I learned what a terrific sense of humour God has! And I was on the receiving end.

As so many stories do, this one started quite simply… A long time before the word ‘lockdown’ had become the word of the year I set off from the Urban Saints offices in Luton to travel to a venue in Sussex to run an evening training session. I remember wending my way around the M25 glancing at two displays, the one on my SatNav telling me how many miles I had to go, and the one on my dashboard telling me how many miles of petrol I had left. At this point, the dashboard was winning handsomely… at this point…

Around the bottom of the M25 I went, oh there’s a service station, shall I stop to fill up? What, at those prices? Surely I’ll find cheaper petrol later, after all I’ve got enough to get to my destination. Down the M23 I went and then my SatNav took me off onto an ‘A’ road. Now I’ll find a cheaper petrol station…

Then several things happened very quickly. It got dark, and immediately afterwards my SatNav took me off down some tiny country lane, then an even smaller one. Miles went past as I followed the firm instructions of my electronic navigator, now hopelessly lost without it. I was also alarmed to see that the battle between the mileage readouts on the SatNav and the dashboard had reversed fortunes; I now didn’t have enough petrol to get to my destination and what I had left was going down fast!

Into single figures the fuel remaining readout went, then in the time it took Ted Rogers (for the more mature reader) it was 3-2-1 and then a plaintive looking 0 blinked accusingly at me from the dashboard… no fuel left. Now in the comfort of home as I write this, I can reassure myself that they build a few miles into these things so that when it hits zero, the car doesn’t just stop, but in the middle of a dark wood on a country lane with no idea where I am, reassurance was at a premium! So I prayed…

“Father, you know the pickle I’m in, it would be great if you could see your way to finding me a petrol station very quickly please!!”

And, to be fair, as answers to prayer go this one was pretty quick! Within 60 seconds I emerged from the gloom and onto an A road, a brightly lit A road, with a petrol station directly opposite! “Wonderful, thank you Father!”  I lovingly cried as I pulled onto the forecourt, the 0 on my dashboard now looking quite desperate…

As I pulled in, I noticed that the first petrol pumps had those “Sorry Out Of Use” hangers on. So did the next set, and the next. As I looked around increasingly frantically, they ALL had those mocking, vindictive little signs… “Nooooooo!!!”  The shop was open so I rushed in and enquired whether they had any petrol at all; “No, sorry mate, we’re completely out!”  So was I, and apparently the next petrol station was some five miles up the road!

I stormed back to my car. Even the 0 on my dashboard seemed to be mocking me. I had a ‘word’ with God (possibly several, possibly a bit sweaty) about his so-called answer to prayer, very funny, very humourous indeed, to which he replied that he had given me exactly what I had asked for (which, to be fair, he had) and that I should be more specific.

Right then, you want specific? Try this… “Can you please allow me to drive to the next petrol station without running out of fuel, for it to be open, to have plenty of fuel in pumps that work, to take credit cards, including the card I have, for the credit card machine to work….”  (I may have still been listing the specific requirements when I arrived at the next petrol station, which of course delivered on all of these expectations as well as a chocolate bar… comfort food was also needed!) I had learned a lesson, general prayers aren’t as useful as specific ones. Ask for exactly what you need, God knows anyway, but he wants us to think about it properly first.

So, what has any of this got to do with additional needs parenting? Well, there are times when we are simply out of fuel, the zero is flashing on our dashboard. We’ve been drained of all of our reserves, and we’re empty. Those are one of the times when we need to be specific about our prayers. Not what we might want at that point, but what do we really need? What is going to help us the most?

By thinking carefully about this as we pray, God can continue to use us, even in our weakness. In our brokenness, we can still serve him if we allow him to teach us as he works with us to sort things out. And we grow in the process.

If that first petrol station had had fuel, I could easily have thought “Hey, God will just sort it for me every time I’m a bit short of fuel/money/food etc… I’ve just got to ask and there it will be!” But by teaching me this lesson, he showed me that I need to think through my actions and my needs, and learn to receive wisdom, knowledge, understanding, love and more from him, these are the more valuable gifts.

As an additional needs parent, sure there are times when an extra pair of hands, or a moments peace, or even a comfort chocolate bar would be nice, but wisdom, knowledge, understanding, love, these are the things that God longs to share with us. And they are wonderful gifts to receive.

“Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold.”  Proverbs 3:13-14 NLT

Now, where’s that emergency petrol tank…



See also:
Special Needs Dads And The Self Care Challenge

Three Things Special Needs Dads Need To Know

Published by The Additional Needs Blogfather

Mark Arnold (The Additional Needs Blogfather) is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints, co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a ‘Churches for All’ partner, a member of the ‘Council for Disabled Children’, the ‘European Disability Network’ and the ‘Living Fully Network’, serves on the executive for ‘Children Matter!’ and writes a monthly additional needs column for Premier Youth and Children’s Work (YCW) magazine as well as being a writer for Firefly Community, and Key Ministry among others. Mark is dad to James, a 20-year-old Autistic young man who journey's with Epilepsy, Learning Difficulties and Anxiety, and to Phoebe, an 22-year-old history student recently graduated from Winchester University.

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