Presidents’ Day this past week reminded me of my first ever trip to the White House, in fact, my first trip to Washington, D.C., when I was twenty-seven.

Even though I grew up in southwestern Virginia only about five hours from the Capital city, I had not been there earlier in life. My family did not take vacations when I was young, primarily because my father was a long-distance truck driver and when he had time off, we understood that the last thing he needed was a road trip.

But on May 12, 1988, I was a young political aide and my employer had scheduled a one-on-one meeting with then-Vice President George Bush (now known as George H. W. Bush).

I worked for the late religious broadcaster and then-presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who had come to meet with Bush to tell him that he would soon be dropping out of the race and endorsing him. They had fought long and hard over the past year for the Republican nomination with “Pat” (as everyone in his orbit called him) coming in third behind Bush and Kansas Senator Bob Dole. “Dole beat me 2:1 and Bush beat all of us 3:1,” he surmised the outcome in the car one day.

I knew nothing of how the White House grounds were designed in those days, having seen it only on television, or even that most of the offices referred to as “the White House” actually were located next door in a building called the Old Executive Office Building (OEOB) that had formerly housed the War Department, and since 1988 has been renamed for President Dwight D. Eisenhower (EEOB). So, when the meeting occurred in the Vice President’s smaller West Wing office rather than in his larger suite, it was unnoted by me.

Millions of Americans have toured the White House since President John Adams moved in back in 1800, and likely thousands have been inside the West Wing for meetings. I am quite certain that all would attest to the feeling one gets when there. It is special like no other. I have been there several times in later years and actually have found myself more awed by the surroundings, their grandeur, and their importance, in later visits. But that first day I will never forget due more so to the personal drama I experienced than to the reason I was there.

Security has tightened over the decades at the White House. Grant was known to walk a block away to the lobby of the Willard hotel, where those seeking favors (now known as “lobbyists”) learned to come and seek him out. On the other end of the security pendulum, in the Vietnam protests during Richard Nixon’s presidency the property had to be surrounded by school buses and dump trucks to keep rioters away. And since the 9/11 attacks on America, security has gotten even stronger, although more sophisticated.

In 1988, visitors to the White House complex could still park along West Executive Avenue, which lies between the West Wing and the EEOB. I drove a rented Lincoln Town Car that morning and as I approached the heavy gated entrance we had been given in advance, a uniformed Secret Service waved me through, where I parked in an open space facing east toward the White House.

We exited the vehicle and walked under a white covered walkway into the west entrance. I did not know then that the Vice President’s office is actually situated just above that entrance, beside that of the Chief of Staff. Once inside, another uniformed Secret Service officer checked our identification, verified that Pat’s name was on a list, and handed us badges bearing the letter A. I was not part of the meeting, so I walked back outside to stand by.

And that’s when my trouble began.

I chatted with yet another officer who was stationed in a white guard station about the size of two phone booths. He was quite nice and seemed to enjoy the company.

Upon my asking the location of a restroom he pointed and said, “Go in that door and you will find a rest room just inside.” So, I walked toward where he pointed and entered the building, finding myself in the press briefing room that I had seen on television so many times.

I was alone except for a few reporters who were typing away, unaware of my presence, and so I looked around briefly. None were famous, so I was not tempted to strike up a conversation. Famed newsman David Brinkley has said that he stopped traveling with presidential candidates during his career after noticing that he drew more attention than the candidate he was there to cover.

With that A badge around my neck, I potentially could have walked through the press room and into the West Wing itself. But I was not that adventurous, and upon leaving quickly learned that I had stayed inside for too long. The shift had changed, and a new Secret Service man was in the little guardhouse when I walked out.

Upon seeing me he became extremely upset, demanding to know whoI was and what I was doing outside the White House. “That’s an inside badge you are wearing. Why are you outside?” he demanded to know.

That part of the grounds is virtually inaccessible these days, and in fact, just feet away are green tents for the White House Press Corps in an area they refer to as “Pebble Beach.” There, they wait on an almost constant basis for late breaking news to happen inside the building.

I was not exactly scared but was quite startled, unable to conclude what I had done wrong. There was no question that he saw me as a potential threat. I explained who my boss was and what I was doing there, and why I was outside, but that made no difference to him.

“Okay if I just go back and stand by the car?” I asked.

“You get INSIDE your car and STAY THERE!” he demanded. “And do it RIGHT NOW!”

So, I dutifully complied knowing better than to give him any more feedback. And there I sat inside the car . . . waiting.

Eventually, Pat and his aide walked out from under the awning with ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson in hot pursuit.

When they reached the car, I opened my door and stood in order to receive them, when, suddenly, about a hundred feet away, the large gate which I had driven through earlier opened and a motorcade pulled up.

Next, a very large, dark sedan (they were what was referred to as Presidential navy blue in those days) stopped under the covered entrance. I soon saw that it was the vehicle commonly referred to by the Secret Service as “the beast” when an agent opened the passenger side rear door and President Ronald Reagan got out and, briskly but not hurriedly, walked into the building.

There he was, the President of the United States. I could not believe my eyes. But there was no time to revel in my serendipitous presidential experience. Knowing to sit tight until the motorcade had departed, I announced, “There’s Reagan,” and sat back down.

Only in recent years have I realized that the Secret Service officer was not being unreasonable that morning, that the quickly approaching Presidential motorcade was the reason for his angst when seeing me sauntering around the White House grounds. Then, and now, I have wondered why the officer going off duty had not warned his relief that he had just let a guy go to the restroom. But had he done that, I might have missed seeing President Reagan, supposing they kept me inside the press room—but hopefully not in the rest room itself.

This experience, though, is perhaps a metaphor for our lives and the experiences which we face, and especially the Lord’s intervention in our daily affairs. Our job is to be obedient, flexible, and trustful that He has our best interests at heart and that His watchful eye always knows what is approaching us from every direction. There are times when He lets us walk around at our own pace, exploring new territories, and others when He must be stern to guide us, protect us from harm, or, sometimes, even to extend His rod of correction.

The Father cannot always tell us in advance why He does certain things, and that is when, in the words of the famous 19th century pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon, we must realize that “when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”


Image from Shutterstock.