March 5, 2017

CNF/Essay by Diane Quick-Machaby: "The Hitchhikers"

Diane Quick-Machaby is a native Floridian living her entire life in North and Central Florida.  She has two grown daughters and has lived in the Jacksonville area for over 28 years.
After being a Stay-At-Home Mom, Room Mom, PTA Mom and Community Activist, Diane began her career working with nonprofits in Northeast Florida.  Since the early 1990’s, she worked for the City of Jacksonville’s Keep Jacksonville Beautiful Programs, Habitat for Humanity in Jacksonville and St. Augustine, and Home Again St. Johns, an agency that works directly with the homeless of St. Johns County.
In 2015, Diane joined her husband to start their own business, Art 4 Charities, which partners with nonprofits in their fundraising efforts.
Diane and Terry Machaby live with their long-haired calico cat, Scarlett, in Nocatee, Florida and attend Crosswater Community Church.
When God Showed Up is the first book Diane has authored and published.  She recently started working on her second and third books and should have them available in the near future.

Sometimes as we begin a random act of kindness we have no idea how we might affect someone else's life or how that one gesture might turn out. As you will read in this next story, I had no idea when I picked up two homeward-bound hitchhikers on the Interstate that the series of events which occurred over a two-day period would end up with such an amazing outcome. God works in the most mysterious ways and as He leads us we can feel and see His Presence.
On my way home from work at Habitat for Humanity in St. Augustine, Florida on November 12, 2007, I had to pick up a package at an exit just north of the city when I noticed a middle-aged woman, a young man and three small dogs making their way north along the Interstate. I knew they must be homeless, or trying to make their way back home, as they were laden down with a backpack and small piece of luggage.
I prayed, "God, if they’re still out there when I get back on the road, I might pick them up."
They were and I did. (I must mention, I don’t typically pick up hitchhikers but seeing this couple carrying all these heavy packs with these three little dogs on chains and leashes just broke my heart).
All five piled into the back of my Dodge Caravan. My initial thoughts were to drive them just ten miles north to the exit near my home. After hearing the forty-year-old mother, Sandy, and her nineteen-year-old son, Michael, tell of how they came to St. Augustine to start a new life, how that did not happen and how they just wanted to get back home, I wanted to do what I could to help.
Michael said they had not eaten for two days so I stopped at McDonald’s and picked up burgers for them and their three small dogs to eat in the car. The dogs were clean, quiet and appeared to be well-behaved. There was a Chihuahua, a miniature Doberman pincher and the smallest was a poodle mix. I decided I would drive them out to I-10 so they could head towards I-75 which would take them up into Georgia.
During the forty-five-minute drive to northwest Jacksonville, I listened and thought about their situation. By the time we got to I-10, it was getting dark and cold and I felt I couldn't just leave them on the side of the road so I made a quick decision to put them up in a motel for the night. The motel I selected was next to a truck stop and I hoped that they might get a ride with a truck driver heading west, the direction they needed to go.
The next morning when I called Michael’s cell phone, he told me that although they asked a lot of truckers, they didn't get a ride. I told him that ‘it just so happened’ that I would be heading to Valdosta, Georgia later that day to attend a family reunion, (which only occurred once or twice a year) and that I would give them a ride that far.
They were thrilled that I might be able to get them that much closer to home which was near Nashville, Tennessee, over six hundred and fifty miles away. When I thought about what was going on at work that day, I realized there was nothing more important than trying to help this family get back home. I called my staff at Habitat for Humanity and informed them of my plans. They were concerned about what I was doing and promised they would pray for us.

I also called my pastor and my friends at the Christian radio station, 99.1 The Promise, that I listened to, told them the story of the hitchhikers and asked for travel prayers. Because the station is broadcast on the Internet we virtually had people all over the world praying for us that day.
I arrived at the motel at 10 a.m. to pick up Sandy, Michael and the three dogs then headed west on I-10 towards Valdosta. We talked most of the way and they explained how they'd ended up in their situation.
Sandy had separated from Michael’s father then lost her job. A cousin who lived in St. Augustine had brought her and Michael to Florida thinking they could find jobs and housing and begin a new life there. Things didn’t work out the way they had hoped so the mother and son made the decision to head back home on their own.
At times, Sandy got emotional during her conversations. On more than one occasion, she touched my shoulder and through her tears expressed how much she appreciated what I was doing for them. "You’re such an angel," she would say.
During the long ride, I shared quite a bit about my life and about how I had overcome adversities. I confided that I felt those experiences made me a stronger, more spiritual person, bringing me closer to God and strengthening my faith. Sandy and Michael seemed inspired by my honesty.
As we made our way into southern Georgia around noon, I decided to continue driving north towards Macon. I told Sandy and Michael that I didn't need to be at my aunt’s house near Valdosta until around dinnertime so I felt I had time to drive them a few hours further north into Georgia and still get back before dark.
Along the route, the three of us talked a lot about where we were from. I told them of living my entire life in North and Central Florida with half of my life spent in the Daytona Beach area and half in the Jacksonville area.
I reminisced about growing up in a small fishing community on the Daytona peninsula called Ponce de Leon Inlet and that my childhood home sat a few hundred yards from the tallest lighthouse on the East Coast of the United States. I also mentioned that my family had been in the charter fishing business all their lives but that my brother had moved his business to Charleston a few years prior.
At one point, I asked what type of industry was in their area and why there was such a high rate of unemployment. Michael mentioned a few businesses in their town that had closed down and he also stated that he had worked for the Trane Company.
I asked, "Do you mean Trane Air-Conditioning?"
He said, "Yes, I worked there last summer with my dad."
Although I didn’t know it at the time, that conversation, and that question in particular, was crucial to what would occur later in the day.
Shortly after, we stopped for gas and to pick up some lunch to eat along the way. Sandy and Michael enjoyed their Chick-Fil-A meals, which they had never had before, and the dogs liked their chicken nuggets, too.
As we drove on, something compelled me to try to get up past Atlanta before I left them off. I was concerned and apprehensive about driving through the city because I had never done so before, especially in rush hour traffic. With Michael giving me good directions, I made it just fine. It was then that I told them that I would need to start heading back towards Valdosta.
But where would be the best place to leave them? A rest area? I hadn't seen one in a long while and wasn't sure where the next one would be. A restaurant? A truckstop? A gas station or convenience store?
I chose an exit on I-75 just north of Atlanta and stopped at a convenience store that had gas pumps. I filled my tank and went to the restroom, all the while thinking to myself … How am I going to leave them here not knowing where they are going to sleep or how they are going to make it home?
It was then that I decided to put them up in a motel another night hoping that a friend or family member could come down and pick them up the following day.
When I came out of the store, I found Sandy asking a well-dressed, businessman in a luxury sedan whether he was heading north on I-75 and would he be willing to give them a ride. He was, and offered to take them as far as Chattanooga. I was thrilled to hear that and they were, too.
I gave Sandy and Michael a hug and a little money for their trip home. They gathered their dogs and belongings and piled into the man's backseat. I patted the man, whose name was Dennis, lightly on the back of the shoulder, thanking him and handing him my business card. I asked if he would give me a call and leave a message to let me know how things went. He said he would and then took his business card out and handed it to me.
That was the very instant that God "showed up."
Dennis worked for the Trane Company! Come to find out … Dennis even knew Michael’s father!
Although Dennis was an executive with the Trane Company headquartered in Chattanooga, he knew Michael’s father by name and that he worked in the plant in Nashville.
What are the chances that could occur? I knew then and there that I was meant to be the one to pick up the family in St. Augustine, to put them up in a hotel the first night and to drive them to Atlanta and that Dennis was going to deliver them the rest of the way home.
And that was exactly what he did!
Not only did Dennis drive them to Chattanooga but he drove them all the way home to Nashville, over two hundred and seventy miles out of his way!
I wanted to share this story with you because I know that things happen for a reason. Sometimes we don't always know why at the time, but as they unfold, it becomes quite apparent.
God is definitely with us!

© Diane-Quick Machaby

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