Observation. It’s key in life. I have a substantial lack in this department unless I specifically tell myself to pay attention. . .and I’m a writer. . .someone who should have mastered the art of observation long ago.
Another key in life is knowing laws and rules. I thought myself to be pretty good at this. I was proven wrong not long ago. But, I wasn’t alone. My visiting sister and her two teens, along with my husband and our two teens, headed out on an adventure that became so much more.
A river in our area filled and overflowed, five feet over flood stage. We’d driven there a couple times to check on it since it’s so close to our house. It even managed to show up in our backyard about 15 years ago. My sister called it an ‘angry river’. My husband laughed and said if she really wanted to see it angry, she should see it at the mouth as it entered the Gulf. And so began our ‘incredible journey’.
We followed the river until we could go no further. A fence with a ‘U. S. government’ sign hanging on it stopped us. After gaping at the ‘angry river’ for several minutes, we turned around planning to head for the beach. But before we got too far, and as my husband is telling about the tanks holding oil reserves on the opposite side of the road from the river, my oldest son hollers, “Alligator!” I glanced down and saw it too. Knowing my sister and her kids had never seen one, I told my husband to turn around, which was quickly echoed by all the others. He dutifully obeyed, pulled off the road, and stopped next to a fire hydrant.
“Take a picture,” was the next order given. Don’t know by who. Could have been me but I don’t recall. My sister got out with two cameras, stepped to the edge of the grass, and began snapping photos of said alligator. As we all urge her to get closer, (yes, I urged her too) I also notice that a security vehicle has pulled out of a gate. Not much later, I see a man, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, get into the passenger side of said security vehicle. They then pull onto the road and stop. I listen as my husband tells her to go halfway down the bank, that he’d go with her to protect her. I laugh at the comment as I notice two more security vehicles pull near the gate of the facility. Visions of a newspaper article shortly after 9-11 come to mind about a person taking pictures of a refinery that had been arrested. I’m thinking surely that’s not going to happen now. Surely not. Of course it won’t. I mean, we’re only taking pictures of an alligator.
My sister refuses to get any closer and gets into our vehicle. My husband now notices the security vehicle sitting on the road. He waits for them to pass. When they don’t, he backs onto the road and begins to leave. The lights on top of the security vehicle begin to flash. My husband starts to pull over, then returns to the road saying, “They’re not after us. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
I noticed that when we started to pull over, so did they. When we returned to the road, so did they. I told my husband, “They’re after YOU. You have to stop.” He did. They promptly pulled in behind us. The driver walked very carefully up to us, the strap over his pistol removed, his hand on its handle. The passenger of his vehicle stood at his open door, the barrel of his rifle pointing at the back of our vehicle. Not a comfortable sight. The driver finally reaches our door. He peeks inside.
“How many occupants?”
He speaks into the radio attached to his shoulder. “Occupant times seven.”
The gate to the facility opens and out come the other two security vehicles. They pull in behind the first. Suddenly, another one rushes out and pulls ahead of us. We are now completely surrounded by vehicles and men with their guns unstrapped, though they haven’t pulled them, but their hands are on the handles. The uncomfortable level has now increased six times…at least.
“Sir, do you realize that when you pulled over, you were trespassing on government property?”
The officer gave us a brief rundown, then asked for my husband’s driver’s license and told us to sit tight. Yeah, right. Like we were going anywhere. With seven handguns and one assault rifle at the ready, we were sitting tighter than he could imagine. They were gone quite a while. One of my sons says he has to go to the bathroom. Like we all didn’t by then after they've scared the you-know-what out of us. We told him it wouldn’t be a good idea to even open the door, to just hold it. Then the first officer returned and asked my husband to get out and move to the back of the vehicle. Oh boy. My sister, her voice trembling, asked, “Are they going to arrest him?”
I answer in a very confident, “Naw,” while inside I’m asking myself, “are they going to arrest him?”
Several minutes later, they ALL return, well, except for the guy with the assault rifle. He’s still hanging back with the barrel still pointing at our vehicle. They asked to see the pictures. They let my sister keep all but one, which showed part of the facility in the background, and let us go.
As we drive away, my husband is giving his accounting of what all was said when he left us. He jokingly said that he told them it was my sister’s fault and that if they wanted to arrest someone, arrest her. But that if they chose to arrest him, he’d choose to forego the one phone call if they’d guarantee that they’d have his sister-in-law out of the state by the time he was released. Yes, we can laugh about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t much of a laughing matter.
I have this habit of looking for the spiritual aspect of odd things that happen to me. A dear friend of mine, Lisa Ludwig, does the same thing on her website – www.elizabethludwig.com – but using her dog. She calls them Maxisms. I guess you could call mine Janelleisms. And yes, I realize I just likened myself to a dog. . .(probably not the first time) but I’ve met this dog, so I don’t mind. Anyway, on to the spiritual aspect. It’s simple, but bears repeating from time to time.
As I looked back on that incident, I realized that if we had been more observant, we would have known we were still driving along a government facility. We allowed a swollen river and a large alligator to distract us. If we had known the rules, the laws, we would have known that to pull over and stop was illegal. We thought we hadn’t done anything wrong, but we had. We got away with saying we didn’t have any idea—which we didn’t—but we can’t use that excuse for breaking God’s laws. He’s written them down and made them readily available to us. There is no excuse. Not even blaming our sin nature will cut it with God. We are held accountable for our actions, or lack thereof. Thankfully, God, like the officers (this time), gives us second chances. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. But oh, wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if we didn’t have to ask for second chances so often? Read His book, observe His laws, and maybe, just maybe, the need for second chances will diminish.
And if all else fails, blame your sister.