Shifting Gears

My parents moved from Detroit to Philadelphia in September 1975. I started university the same month, and I paid my tuition, room, and board by continuing my high school janitor job in Detroit, about a half-hour drive from Ann Arbor.

That October—forty-two years ago this month—I drove my white, 1967 VW Beetle to visit my parents in their new house for the weekend. It was a six-hundred-mile drive. Three short miles from home, my poor old Beetle’s transmission shifted its last gear, grinding itself to death.

My parents picked me up, we had a great weekend, and I hitchhiked back to Ann Arbor after hearing my dad preach in his new church.

My dad was a pastor of a small church, and my parents lived paycheck to paycheck. They couldn’t afford to help with tuition (which is why I drove to Detroit on weekends), and they certainly couldn’t help with my car repair.

I was in a bind. I needed my car so I could drive to work, so I could pay tuition, but I only had $350 in the bank for repairs.

Mom Did What She Could

My mom couldn’t help me with money, but she offered to find a local repair shop. She sat by her phone all day Monday calling shops. She made over fifty calls, but the best price she could find was $1,000 for a rebuilt transmission (with a two-year warranty) or $700 for a used transmission (with a one-month warranty). Both prices were beyond my budget of $350.

She went to bed that evening feeling sad for her son (thanks mom!) and frustrated with repair costs. The next morning, she realized she had tried hard to help me, but she had forgotten to pray. She shifted into reverse, and dashed off a prayer for help.

Immediately (three seconds after her “amen”) the phone rang. The caller asked for, “Costa’s.” She said, “Sorry, wrong number.” Thirty minutes later someone else asked for Costa’s. The phone continued to ring, and by noon she had received a dozen calls for the same company.

Mom reported the problem to the telephone company. They said they had published the wrong phone number in a new directory, giving out my parent’s phone number instead.

The operator gave my mom Costa’s correct number in case anyone else called.

The Coincidence

Out of curiosity, my mom called the number. It belonged to a repair shop that specialized in “foreign” cars. It was located mere blocks from my parents’ home.

Mom asked if they could repair a VW Beetle transmission. Costa’s said that they had a rebuilt 1967 VW transmission in stock, one that someone had reneged on. They could install it for $325. Mom said my car was three miles away. They said they could tow it for $25.

The next weekend I hitchhiked back to Philadelphia, wrote a check to Costa’s for exactly $350, and drove my Beetle back to Ann Arbor with a rebuilt, two-year warrantied transmission.

Lessons learned

Last Friday, my mom reminded me of that wrong-number car repair from forty-two years ago. I immediately recognized three important lessons.

First, before moving forward, God often asks me to shift into reverse—that is, repent! —and just ask God for his help. He loves it when I acknowledge my total neediness.

Second, the most common commandment that I break is God’s commandment to “Remember!” I’m beginning to make a list of big and small answers to prayer since my youth. Just shifting into a little remembrance has renewed hope for my current drive. Why do I continually forget to remember?

Third, I have to ask myself, “Was that wrong number just a coincidence?” If so, maybe I need to down-shift from praying for more miracles and into asking God for more coincidences.


P. S. Prayer is more than one-way communication with God, us shouting our needs God. Prayer is two-way communication, talking with our Father and God speaking back. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

After all, what did God save us for? To know him personally.

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What do YOU think?

10 thoughts on “Shifting Gears

  1. Sam, you know God is leading me on a self-awareness journey. Two things standing out so far. We must backup to become aware of our weakness, to repent of that weakness in order to accept Gods grace. Most of us are so busy proving our strengths, value and worthiness that we forget our greatest weakness is to remember we need the gospel just as much on the journey, as we did at the launchpad.

    Great story and lesson

    • Hi Pat,

      It seems God has you in the place of the wilderness, which is never fun but can be very fruitful. We look back and say, “That’s exactly what I needed.” But in the middle it feels anything but what is needed.

      Tell you what, I’ll pray for you, and you please pray for me in my own wilderness!


  2. Sam,
    I forwarded this story to my 23 year old son. He called last night telling us that he was taking his car into the shop today for . . . transmission problems . . . for which he doesn’t have the money! After reading today’s story, I instructed my wife Christy to listen for a call from Costa’s!
    Thanks for passing along such a great reminder of how/why we should have faith!

    • Hi Kerry,

      May God grant your son even better coincidences than he granted me (and my mom).

      It’s funny (well, no it isn’t funny), how I can remember God’s past actions and still doubt him in the present.

      I believe; help my unbelief.


  3. This brought tears to my eyes. God is so good! Just this morning, God sent a man and his son from my church to repair my sink. It was such a blessing. God is so generous toward us!

  4. Sam, I could have posted that photo for the 1975 “off to college in the Bug (but mine was a ’69 and light beige)”. No insights to share other than God is amazingly intimate when we are fully open to Him.

  5. Thanks, Sam-
    Great idea about writing down answered prayers. I should star this while I still have the ability to remember!