I was 16 years old, working the evening shift at a clothing outlet in Kittery, Maine’s southern shopping mecca, to earn Christmas money after school. Since I didn’t drive, my mom was supposed to pick me up at 8:30 p.m. when the store closed and we’d finished tidying up.

Only, on this night, by the time all the other employees had left and the manager was locking up, my mom wasn’t there. In Maine in November, anything after 5 p.m. might as well be midnight. That’s how dark it was as I stepped onto the freezing sidewalk, wondering what to do.

“Would you like me to wait?” The manager jingled her keys, looking concerned.

“I’m fine.” I tried not to sound as worried as I felt. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to inconvenience her. Surely Mom would be here soon.

Alone in the dark, I scanned the nearly-vacant parking lot, praying to see the familiar lights of our little blue car. Nothing in life draws me closer to God than an awareness of my own need, be it physical, spiritual, or emotional. I suppose that is one reason he allows us to experience difficult situations, so we’ll know our own need of him.

All the other stores along the strip had closed, but across the parking lot a fast food restaurant still had its lights on. After ten minutes, so cold I was shivering, I walked to the restaurant and took a seat.

The staff behind the counter didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t have money to buy anything as they cleaned grills and swept floors. Fearfully, I glanced from the parking lot to the clock behind the counter, begging God for my mom to arrive before the restaurant closed at nine.

“Call to me and I will answer you,” God says through the prophet Jeremiah (33:3). But was he really listening?

A few minutes before closing, all the other customers had left, and I was beginning to panic. Where was my mom? And what would I do if she didn’t come? Please, God, I prayed, send someone. Was it a few seconds later? A minute? The door suddenly opened and a man walked up to the counter.

“Are you still open?” he asked.

The employee glanced at the clock – not quite nine – and sighed. “Sure.”

“Great!” said the man. “Because I’ve got an entire busload of folks outside, and we’re hungry.”

The restaurant quickly filled with people – many not much older than me. As they ordered and sat down with their burgers, I learned that they were from Youth With a Mission, a Christian group that travels around the world sharing God’s love.

Twenty minutes later, just as they were heading back to their bus, my mom pulled up. Nearly three decades later, I forget why she was late. But I’ll never forget the overwhelming assurance that God hears and answers prayer.